Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis, 2015)
There is no tail.
Once upon a time, there was a suitcase full of money, which was in the wrong hands, and kept falling into the hands of two lesbian lovers – and it was gloriously of its kind and sui generis and said oddly interesting things for lesbianism for two male writers and directors and was ludicrously over designed. But once Bound (The Wachowskis, 1996) was released, the directors opened the suitcase and took the money and made The Matrix (1999) and it was of its kind and soi disant and was ludicrously over designed. It kind of worked as long as you didn’ttake its sexual politics too seriously and got het up over Trinity. And because the film left us wanting more, for once we got this and the conceit of storing humans for energy just fell apart. And so, after produced films and adaptations of manga Speed Racer (2008) and of novel Cloud Atlas (with Tom Twyker, 2012), they put their bid in for either a Star Wars sequel or Marvel adaptation with Jupiter Ascending.
What we have is a fabulously overblown Cinderella cross bed with Beauty and the Beast. Jupiter Jones’s dad (James D’Arcy) had a hilariously inadequate telescope in Russia and is killed in a random burglary before Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is born. Relocated to Chicago, she is forced to clean toilets and sell her eggs in order to buy a slightly less pathetic telescope. This brings her to the attention of the Brassica family – Tightass, Kale and Bok Chou – who own vast swathes of the galaxy and have seeded Earth as a source of anti-ageing cream. Jupiter, it turns out, has exactly the same DNA as the Brassica’s dead mother and thus owns Earth.
A Marvel-style diverse posse (Africa American with Mohawk, one-eyed cigar chewer (I may have imagined the cigar) and blue haired Japanese girl with poorly invisibility cloaked flying motorbike)) are after her, as is half-dog, half-man fallen angel Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). He’s there to protect her, sort of, but he’s being paid, and half of Chicago is temporarily destroyed although no one seems to notice (the humans can be reprogrammed, you see). They seek refuge with Chicago-based Sheffieldian bee keeper Stinger Apini (Sean “marked-for-betrayal-and/or-death” Bean), and before you know it, Jupiter is in the planet Jupiter, dealing with the threatening threesome who for some reason want Earth above all other planets, and can achieve this by marrying her, or something. Jupiter has to be rescued, repeatedly.
Eddie Redmayne has just won a BAFTA for being Stephen Hawking, and frankly his whispering simpers won’t trouble the academy for next year. I’m reminded of his curious performance in Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, 2007), a troubled bisexual teen who may or may not have sex with his own mother. The Freudian reading of that film writes itself, even down to a convenient dog collar of disavowal, and I guess in Jupiter Ascending we have an absent daddy to explain why the Brassica siblings are closer to barking than Caine ever is. As the Jupiter base, the scenery and the plot fall apart bit by bit, the jeopardy is both cranked up (we have a toilet cleaner trying to climb an endless ladder!) and reduced (have these get out of jail free cards). Beneath CGI and possibly the odd bit of latex we have a frustrating number of British accents and Torchwood refugees, who were presumably cheap to buy when the film was in the UK. We have an elephant as a pilot who appears to be called Ganesha, settings which would have John Martin received for his oil paints and a redressed Ely cathedral to Keep It Real.
So Jupiter is great because of her natural genes and Caine is great because of his spliced jeans and we have an sfnal family melodrama where meritocracy never comes into it. Earth as a means of recharging batteries makes as much sense as the Matrix set up, and would make an average episode of nu-Who.
I’m actually depressed to dislike this movie – it’s kind of obvious it’s going to be pants and I was genuinely hoping to be able to make a case for it as the next masterpiece. It’s a film with a female actor at its heart – although it gives short shrift to and forgets about the other women. The sisterhood of her family is under developed, as is the discourse about the sale of her eggs (and Redmayne’s speech about capitalism). I might even have been sold by the Groundhog Dayness of her daily grind, but frankly Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, 2015) did it better.
ETA: I read this and this as they appeared, obviously, and both are clearly sound points of view. I didn’t reread them until after I wrote my piece. Unconsciously, I evidently channelled the punch line of the second blog. I regret not finding a Michael Caine joke (and since Caine is not a member of the Abrasax clan I was spared the need to find a vegetable joke riffing on his back catalogue) or being snide at the character being called “Wise”.