Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Review

High concept, high budget, and highly confusing.

Welcome back to the Month of Misses! It's that lovely time of year when I have free range to see whatever movie I want and not be limited by funds, availability, or even time. I can just sit down and watch it whenever I want! And let's start this month off right with one of the most infamous movies of the year. A movie that was delayed by seven months, had a huge budget, and was generally received with mixed to negative reviews. Ladies and gentlemen, Jupiter Ascending.

Jupiter Ascending was originally released on February 6th after a seven month delay in order to create the necessary special effects. Apparently, the movie had so many special effects that it needed months to finally perfect them. I'll be getting into that more later on, but why didn't I originally see it? Well, as a stroke of misfortune, I actually was going to go see it. I had my tickets purchased and ready to go... but my car broke down. I was physically unable to reach the theater to see it on the only free day I had. Life works in mysterious ways. And now, over a year after its pre-delayed release date, I have finally seen one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. To say my feelings are conflicting is a massive understatement.

Let me upfront by saying that yes, I do like Jupiter Ascending. It's nothing revolutionary, but I had a fun time watching it. It's remarkably flawed and has more problems than a diabetic after eating out at the Wonka Factory, but I still liked it. The overall reaction to the movie has been pretty negative, but it has received a cult following for its "campiness" and how it is "female centric". To those two remarks I would say "this movie isn't even close to campy" and "true, but that's not what makes the movie special to me."

Jupiter Ascending is not campy. It is many a things, but campy is probably one word I wouldn't even think about calling it. "Campy", as a term, is always difficult to describe for movies, but the best way I can describe in my own vocabulary and how I perceive it is when something is obviously goofy and fun to a person, whether it's in the dialogue, the plot, or how the characters interact with each other. When we watch old 50's movies and see people use words like "swell" or "golly", that's campy to us because we're putting our modern perspectives unto the movie. It's funny to us because it's not how we act. Or if a person was having a pleasant conversation with a woman, who was laughing, then just slapped him in the face. It's campy because it's funny, even though it's being played earnestly. Essentially, it's cute to watch. At least for me, that phrase doesn't describe Jupiter Ascending at all.

Our story revolves around a woman named Jupiter Jones, born into a poor Russian family down on their luck. However, she is then targeted by mysterious aliens, who turn out to be assassins, bounty hunters, and trappers for a rich intergalactic mining family, called the Abrasax. The three siblings are all looking for Jupiter for one reason only; she has the exact DNA of their centuries year old mother, and in her will it stated that her next genetic duplicate will own the entitlement of Earth. One Abrasax wants to welcome Jupiter as her mother, one wants to marry her to own Earth and mine it for crystals made of humans that grant immortality, and the lest one just wants Jupiter dead because he had mommy issues. So under the protection of a half wolf, half human bounty hunter, Jupiter needs to claim her title and hold of the nefarious Abrasax family.

If that synopsis sounds overtly complicated and looks like it's trying to do too much, then you wouldn't be too far off. I can't find any direct sources for this claim, but I remember hearing concepts that the directors, the Wachowskis, wanted to make this movie into a trilogy, alla their original sci-fi blockbuster, The Matrix. Instead, it looks like they shoved all three potential movies into a single one, and it shows. Whether it's repeating the same plot points again and again, or how expendable and forgettable most of the characters are, so much content is spread so thin in the movie.

Now to be fair, this would be at least passable if the content was interesting. Hell, the Wachowskis' previous movie, Cloud Atlas, was essentially trying to smash six separate stories together into a single two hour movie, and Cloud Atlas is criminally underrated in my opinion. So, while it is possible to compress dense material into a single movie, Jupiter Ascending is not dense. Instead of compressing intricate philosophies into a small package, the movie opts to compress plot details with no much to say about the meaning behind it.

I'm at a loss for how to accurately describe what was right with this movie and what was wrong, but I've come up with a short list of what works and what doesn't. What most definitely works are the elaborate CGI implemented into the film. It may have taken an extra seven months to finish, but hot damn are these special effects something to look at. They're massive spectacles ranging from huge star ships to planetary mining corporations. This movie is drop dead gorgeous to watch. Not only that, but the world itself is pretty interesting. It feels like we're only getting a snippet of the full universe and I want to see more of it. It just seems so vast and has so many interesting facets to it that I just want to explore this world for a little while longer.

That being said, my lord these characters are dull. Nearly every character featured in this movie is woefully underacted to the point where they seem like they're bored with the entire project. Mila Kunis sounds bored by everything in this movie, Channing Tatum tries to emote but fails, and every member of the Abrasax family is just dull with no real discernible goals or personalities. The only exception is Eddie Redmayne as Balem Abrasax, who is so delightfully bad. He will either mumble all of his lines in a weird faupish accent, or just randomly scream in the most over-the-top fashion possible. What's even better is that he will only scream for three or four lines in the entire movie, making each outburst all the more hilarious. But yeah, everyone is really, really bad in this movie.

And yet, I can't help but liking it. It could be a mix between the high concept and poor execution, or the super pretty special effects, or Eddie Redmayne's strange awfulness, but there's something about this movie that I can admire. It's not a complete failure, but there's just a certain charm to how strange this movie. I wouldn't call it campy, but I would call it a guilty pleasure. There are a few movies in this world that we can accurately articulate why we like them. We like them because we just do. And that's Jupiter Ascending. I like it because it's Jupiter Ascending.


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