Warning: There are spoilers ahead.
Last summer, Warner Bros. abruptly pushed “Jupiter Ascending” back 10 months only weeks before it was due in theatres.
The latest sci-fi movie from the Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix” trilogy) supposedly needed to complete visual effects. It was expected to be the studio’s big summer movie after Johnny Depp’s $US100 million budget “Transcendence” flopped.
I think we know the real reason the reported $US175 million Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis movie was moved.
“Jupiter Ascending” is terrible.
Don’t take my word for it.
In addition to press, there was a number of general audience members in attendance who received free advance tickets to the media screening. (This is normal. You can usually get these through websites like GoFobo.)
Here are some of the things viewers were saying as they headed out of the screening:
“It wasn’t bad … it was horrible.”
“It was embarrassing.”
“That’s what they spent $US150 million to $US200 million on?”
“I can’t even explain the plot. You kill humans … so you can use their genes?” (more on this in a bit)
The movie follows Kunis as Jupiter Jones, your not-so-average looking maid who cleans houses for a living with her obnoxious Russian family. One day, she finds out there’s a bunch of other species living outside of Earth and that she’s actually the ruler of our planet. Two groups of different people, one led by Titus (Douglas Booth) and another by Balem (Eddie Redmayne), are out to capture and murder her so they can have control of the planet.
Why do they want control of the planet? To harvest humans. The aliens have apparently been using human cells to create a regeneration serum for some time.
Yep. That’s it. The whole movie is about aliens wanting to preserve their youth by killing humans.
In a point that’s sort of glossed over quickly, but better explained in the film’s production notes, Jupiter is what is known as a “recurrence.” She’s born with the exact genetic DNA as a royal that just passed away and for some reason this now makes her the reincarnation of that person.
But, unless I missed something, it’s not clear how anyone knows Jupiter even exists. It’s not like her father or mother were royalty. Jupiter has no clue she’s royalty, and once she learns she is, she doesn’t find out that she has any secret, magical powers. So the basic premise of the film, where aliens are worried about Jupiter, a lowly, humble, toilet scrubber overthrowing all of them, is pretty thin.
I don’t remember the last time I’ve said “What is going on right now?” (not in those actual words) so many times during a film screening to myself. This isn’t because I couldn’t follow the movie’s plot, it was just because what was occurring on screen: the dialogue, the acting, the strange-looking characters were all so bizarre at points that there was no other way to react.
Here are a few of the things I’m talking about:
1. There’s a ridiculous bee scene
Early on, when Jupiter is learning she’s royal, there’s a scene where a group of bees start to follow her. (Why are there bees hanging around? Why not?) The group slowly builds until there’s a giant swarm surrounding her, but not stinging. When she moves her arms, they move with her. When she asks why they do that, you’re sitting there waiting for a good response. Instead, the answer we receive is that the bees sense royalty. The audience cracked up at this in disbelief. To add insult to injury, this was followed up with the line, “Bees don’t lie.”
I’ve never wanted to relive the Nicolas Cage bee scene from the 2006 “Wicker Man” remake, but this was all I could think of:
2. Random egg selling
There’s a crazy subplot early in the film where Jupiter considers selling her own eggs at the behest of her sleazy cousin (you can’t make this stuff up) to make some easy cash. He wants to buy a big flat screen TV and Jupiter has her sights on a $US4,000 telescope on eBay. What?
3. Mila Kunis slaps a sanitary pad onto Channing Tatum to patch up a wound.
I guess this was supposed to be humorous. It’s not. It’s kind of just gross, especially when Sean Bean, who plays a secondary character, later tears it off on screen, waving it at Kunis.
4. Channing Tatum is a half-human, half-wolf
You read that right. He doesn’t have a tail, but he does have a keen sense of smell, some pointed ears, and, yes, he does growl a few times in film. Honestly, he looks ridiculous, and because of that, and some added eyeliner, it’s difficult to take Tatum, seriously. Even his name is Caine, an obvious reference to canine.
5. Kunis’ character continually hits on half-wolf Tatum, and it makes for the most awkward screen time and dialogue ever
The two actors have chemistry; however, the romance between the two feels so overtly forced, even the audience could tell. There’s a scene in the movie where Jupiter says she’s into Caine. Here’s how that conversation goes down.
Caine: “I have more in common with dogs than I do with you.”
Jupiter: “I love dogs.”
The audience burst out laughing at this. Later in the film, there’s even an overt reference to “Beauty and the Beast,” to describe their relationship.
6. The creatures are terrifying.
An early scene in the film shows a group of short aliens trying to abduct a woman. These are some of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on screen, and it’s probably why you haven’t seen a trace of them in marketing. The film’s production notes say they’re supposed to “resemble classic grey ETs.”
The same goes for a bizarre lizard/dragon mashup with wings.
Some of the characters just look like knockoffs of other sci-fi animals. There’s an elephant-looking creature that pops up a few times that looks like a mix between Ten Numb and Max Webo from “Star Wars.”
You can sort of see him here in the background.
7. And then there’s Eddie Redmayne’s character, Balem Abrasax, who is on a completely different level of crazy in this film.
After a masterful Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything,” Redmayne gives a pitifully poor performance as a spoiled brat. He comes across as a fragile, strange creature, who speaks in eerily calm, creepy whispers. Then there would be these disjointed moments when he would scream out loud at people. Audiences laughed every time this occurred.
It was as if Redmayne was actually channelling the awkwardness of Michael Sheen’s vampire character Aro in the “Twilight” movies. It was essentially the same role.
The Wachowski’s said they wanted to put together a bunch of genres — a sci-fi film mixed with a thriller, an “action epic,” and a “love story,” but in doing so, it’s hard to figure out what this film wants to be.
There’s no question that it’s a sci-fi flick, but other than the ridiculous premise, the entire film doesn’t feel original. It has the feel of “The Fifth Element,” for its elaborate and outlandish space creatures and ship designs, and “Ender’s Game” (for same space visuals). However, unlike “The Fifth Element,” I doubt we’ll be seeing re-runs of this on cable television anytime soon.
There were three good things about this film:
1. There’s a point near the end where Kunis (sort of) beats the crap out of Redmayne’s character.
I was waiting for Kunis to be this break-out strong female character, and other than a few small parts in the film, she’s not. She’s whiny (she complains about how she hates her life in the beginning of the film), she’s insanely gullible (she’s convinced to marry a guy she just met in practically seconds even though he plans to kill her), and, except for a brief part in one of the film’s climactic moments, she plays the D.I.D. (damsel in distress) to Tatum’s character for most of the film. Sigh.
2. Channing Tatum’s gravity boots
Caine soars through the streets and skies of Chicago and other worlds with these special anti-gravity shoes. Imagine using a hoverboard turns your shoes into flat roller skates and you have the idea. It was probably the most entertaining part of the film.
3. The visuals.
There’s no question that there was an incredible amount of time devoted to making sure the film was visually beautiful. The film’s production notes mention that to get the right shades of purple, indigo, and gold into the film’s background at one point, they shot the film at a specific point of the year in Chicago between 5:15 and 5:45 a.m. That’s dedication, but it’s something viewers won’t appreciate because most moviegoers aren’t going to know that going in to the film.
18 months were spent visualising costumes and hundreds of alien looks and hybrid human/animals for the movie before filming began.
However, this is the downfall of “Jupiter Ascending.” There’s too much attention to detail and too little focus on the big picture. If the Wachowski siblings spent as much time on the story as they obviously did on the film’s aesthetics, the movie may have had some potential. However, the visuals alone are not going to sell me on a movie. There needs to be some meat and potatoes with my gravy.
Right now, BoxOffice.com is tracking the film to make $US19 million opening weekend. The duo’s last film, 2012’s “Cloud Atlas,” starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, debuted to $US9.6 million. Instead, Paramount’s “Spongebob Squarepants” sequel, which has been over a decade in the making, is expected to dominate the weekend making $US35 million.
One thing’s clear.
There’s one must-see Channing Tatum movie this year from Warner Bros., and it’s not going to be “Jupiter Ascending.”
“Jupiter Ascending” is in theatres Fri. Feb. 6.
Watch a trailer below.