Review: Jupiter Ascending
By Anne Perry
Posted on February 16, 2015 in Film with tags Film Review, Space
The day after I saw Jupiter Ascending, my husband asked me whether it was good or bad. I had to think about it a bit before answering.
We were, at the time, sharing a sea salt carmel and banana cream doughnut from Crosstown Doughnuts; it was a giant, gooey disaster, a banana cream-stuffed chocolate doughnut iced in banana frosting and topped with a generous helping of crumbled brownie and gooey carmel. The lovely gentleman who sold it to us assured us that the banana cream was made up of between two and three bananas per doughnut. Per doughnut. Given the amount of banana cream that I had to try to wipe off myself after eating the doughnut, I believe him.
Lord, that doughnut.
It was too much. It shouldn’t have worked.
It was awesome.
Much like that doughnut, Jupiter Ascending is a giant, gooey mess. It is perposterously overstuffed, laughably overambitious… and really good fun. I encourage every single one of you to go see it, many times over. If Jupiter Ascending doesn’t get a sequel or two, we’re all losing out.
Now, look. You’ve probably heard distressing things about Jupiter Ascending – it’s a bloated spectacle-fest featuring laughable dialogue, terrible acting, the barest bones of a plot, Sean Bean as a bee-man named Stinger, Channing Tatum as a dog-man (not named Rex, fortunately), and Mila Kunis as the toilet-scrubbing empress of Earth. Oh, and Eddie Redmayne as… something. Oh, and the bee stuff?
All of that is true.
None of it is bad. Let’s take everything in turn.
1. It’s a bloated spectacle-fest: YES, of course it is. It’s by the Wachowskis. They invented the modern bloated spectacle-fest. But, being a Wachowski feature, the film boasts a lunatic, baroque production design and some jaw-dropping effects. I don’t often say ‘go see this film in 3D’ (in fact, I’ve never said it before), but it’s worth it here. This is no dark, ensmalled 3D conversion. This is glorious candy-coloured eye-popping film.
2. Laughable dialogue: I went in knowing about the ‘I’ve always liked dogs’ line. I did not go in expecting it to be played for laughs. The film is just self-aware enough about its own utter absurdity handle it. And yet, the film’s not so winkingly self-aware that it doesn’t take itself seriously. The balance is a dangerous one, but don’t let reviewers put you off: the script-writers know what they’re doing.
3. Terrible acting: Actually, the acting is fine. Channing Tatum is… a dog-man, yes, but he dials down the Magic Mike charm – which wouldn’t be appropriate – and it works. Mila Kunis similarly dials down that sharp energy that made her so compelling in Black Swan… until she needs it, at which point she ramps it up to eleven. In some cases – well, in one case – the acting’s exactly as baroque and over the top as the rest of the film, Eddie Redmayne. Yes, Eddie Redmayne, who’ll probably walk away from the Academy Awards this coming weekend with an Oscar, turns in one of the most unutterably weird performances I’ve seen in, oh, ever, maybe? He plays his immortal space villain as 2/3 John Malkovich in Dangerous Liasions and 1/3 Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal. He’s also on-screen for about 10 minutes total. Much like my doughnut, there isn’t a single word to describe what he does with the role.
4. Bare-bones plot: Jupiter Ascending’s story is a fairly basic heroic journey. Girl learns she’s the reincarnation of a near-immortal space-empress, girl meets ab-riffic dog-man, girl rises to meet her destiny and kicks butt. She’s the hero with a thousand faces, and the film is all about her. If that still sounds problematic, go ahead and tell me what the plot of Pacific Rim was.
5. Sean Bean as a bee-man named Stinger: Is this is a problem? This is not a problem.
5. Channing Tatum as a dog-man: Look, I know it sounds absurd. I know that. It’s fine. I swear, it’s only dumb-sounding on paper. Just go see the film. Within the context of Jupiter Ascending’s own internal logic, it is totally fine. Also he spends about 1/4 of the film shirtless, if that’s your thing.
6. Mila Kunis: You guys, I have seen That 70’s Show. I’ve seen a lot of episodes of That 70’s Show. Did any of us predict that Ashton Kutcher would be its first big break-out star? That Laura Prepon would go on to play one of the most compelling characters in Orange is the New Black, which is pretty much all compelling characters? Why is it such a shock that Mila Kunis – who, yes, on That 70’s Show is unbearable, is actually a good actress? Seriously, her spikey, magnetic, dangerous performance was 100% the best part about Black Swan, an overrated heap of pretentious nonsense. Trust her to carry the role in an underrated heap of baroque nonsense.
7. Eddie Redmayne as… something: I’ve already tried to cover this, but, again, words can’t do it justice. He deserves some sort of something for his performance in Jupiter Ascending. He is a sea-salt carmel & banana cream doughnut.
8. The bee stuff: Well, it turns out that bees are genetically designed to recognise royalty. This is a plot-point that exists primarily to give the animators a chance to show Mila Kunis controlling a swarm of bees. It’s awesome. It also raises a number of interesting questions about, say, the Queen of England.
In all seriousness: with The Matrix, the Wachowskis demonstrated a game-changing visual imagination and acuity and sent action-heavy cinema hurtling into the 21st century. I’m not convinced there’s any film-making team out there that understands better the poetry inherent in visual language than the Wachowskis; from the utterly jaw-dropping effect of the famous ‘bullet-time’ shot in The Matrix to the present, they’re constantly pushing the envelope. They elevate action into ballet (in their failures as well as their successes) and, if you’re anything like me, you like your ballet to be a pan-galactic explodey-fest. Which this very much is.
Jupiter Ascending isn’t just that (though it is a lot of that). It’s also a fun movie with a legitimately strong female lead. And Channing Tatum as a sometimes-shirtless dog-man. And Sean Bean as a bee-man names Stinger. And Eddie Redmayne. And some other bee stuff, too.
Just go see it.