The Movie Scab: Jupiter Ascending

The scab you're picking at is called execution."

--American film producer Scott Rudin.

Monkey Boy picks the movies!
Monkey Boy picks the movies!

Jupiter Ascending: Ack!

Monkey Boy and I want to make something clear: We’re not celebrating the fact that The Wachowskis failed to deliver the goods. It’s always a sad and disappointing day to movie lovers like us when we see talented filmmakers we respect squeeze out a $175 million dollar turd into the Magic Christian’s sewage filled swimming pool and then tell us, if you want it, come and get it (movie, The Magic Christian, song, Come and Get It, Bad Finger).

Now, you can blame the massive amount of money The Wachowskis spent on the movie. You can blame the moviegoer who, some say, didn’t want to see Jupiter Ascending because it wasn’t a sequel or connected to an established, recognizable movie franchise, i.e., it was original, a rare commodity in Hollywood these days. You can blame the studio for shifting the release from warm and toasty summer to brrrr-cold-as-hell February, traditionally, not a big budget movie-friendly month.

All that may be true to a degree. All that may apply in some way, shape and/or manner. All that may have helped this movie flop, which it indeed has. It is not exaggeration to say that Jupiter Ascending may be one of the biggest, most costly movie flops of the year.

But not all flops are created equal. A few years ago, Walt Disney released a movie called John Carter, another big budget disaster. Like Jupiter, it wasn’t a sequel or connected to an established movie franchise. It was, in fact, original like Jupiter. But that’s where the similarities stop. If you compare John Carter to Jupiter Ascending, the first thing you’ll notice is that one movie is well executed and the other is not. One movie is well told, the other is not. One movie should have succeeded, the other did not deserve to.

Which one should have succeeded? Well, it wasn't Jupiter Ascending

The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the people who made it, and that would be The Wachowskis. Yes. I said it. Outloud. And if you don’t like that, fan boys and girls? Go home and cry to mommy.

Our hopes and expectations were not high, of course, but even so, Monkey Boy and I wanted The Wachowskis to succeed. We were rooting for them. Go, The Wachowskis, go! What hope we did have was modest, like, maybe they’d get it together this time, at least enough to rise above the disastrous Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. (Like it or not, that’s something The Wachowskis have been struggling to do ever since and it may be part of the problem.) We did not wish them ill. We didn’t want Jupiter Ascending to descend to the lowest levels of mediocrity like M. Night Shyamalan's inept After Earth or Darren Arronofsky's dim-witted and environmentally preachy Noah or Ridley Scott's shamelessly stupid crapfest Prometheus, the prequel to Alien. (And now that I think about it, you have to wonder why Hollywood keeps putting these guys in the director’s chair. Is it because they made one or two good movies a long time ago? Is it some kind of entitled loyalty that only One Percenters understand? Or is Hollywood dumb as a barking pug that never learns the dogs it sees on TV are not real?)

So when the moment of truth came, the Wachowskis could not bend their spoon. But the rabbit hole goes much deeper than that: The truth is, The Wachowskis did not have to bend their spoon.

All they had to do was make us believe it was there.

This confirms without doubt now that The Wachowskis are not the saviors of the movie business that everyone thought they were. They are not the Ones. They are not spoon bending messianic Neo from The Matrix. They are just plain old fallible human beings. Big sigh. Big relief. They can relax now. And maybe practice what they preach and make a good movie again.

Here’s Jupiter’s plot: The average toilet cleaning girl from the earth-block turns out to be a princess and heir to one of the most powerful families in the universe and it’s up to her to save the world. It’s Cinderella (1697), Star Wars (1977), Heavy Metal (1982), Dune (1984) and Brazil (1985), among plenty of others, all rolled into one, and because of that it made me think of crappy '80s scifi movies that tried too hard to emulate Star Wars. Most of those movies were well intended and woefully inept, and for the ones that rose above ineptitude, respectable execution couldn’t save them because they were predictable and ordinary. There was nothing extraordinary about any of them. They were carbon copies of one another. That made them boring, embarrassing and they tanked at the box office.

And that’s exactly what Monkey Boy and I found here. Jupiter Ascending is boring. It’s boring because we’ve seen this movie before. We didn’t care because it’s so darn ordinary. It may be pretty to watch (kudos to the effects team, the reason Monkey Boy gave this movie one Ack!) and it may be original in the sense that it’s not a sequel and/or part of an established movie franchise, but Jupiter Ascending plays out like an unoriginal, clichéd made for TV movie, a Lifetime Channel Drama nobody gives a crap about.

Monkey Boy and I wondered if it was a joke. When you think of The Wachowskis, you don’t think ordinary. You don’t think safe. And Jupiter Ascending is about as ordinary and safe as it gets and in all the worst ways playing it ordinary and safe can mean.

This made me wonder if The Wachowskis were pulling an Andy Warhol and thumbing their noses at the very industry that worships them?

I suppose we’ll never know. Not that it matters.

At the same time, the movie pays homage to some extraordinary stories and storytellers, most notably film director and auteur Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King). He even makes an appearance in the movie after a lengthy sequence that could have been taken right out of Brazil—it’s nowhere near as good as anything from Brazil, of course, but OK, that’s fine, got to respect that. I get it: It’s Terry Gilliam. But strangest of all, the sequence meant to honor Gilliam is a bewildering mess that isn’t funny, nor does it inspire veneration, even though that’s the intention.

Maybe that's what happens when you use too many sources and try to squeeze them all in one movie. You just get bland tasting mess and a lot of who cares, which pretty much sums up this movie.

And will someone please tell me what is up with Channing Tatum’s color-changing mustache and goatee? I mean, was I on drugs when I saw that? Was I tripping on some hot buttered mescaline in my popcorn or what? In the original trailer, Tatum’s facial hair was white as snow, and that makes sense because his character is a hybrid albino/wolf. And then, viola! After the studio shifted the release date, new trailers had Tatum wearing a muddled-blond ‘stache/goatee. Colorized by the Digital Gods, I guess.

I suppose we’ll never know. Not that it matters. And it doesn’t.

But the Elephant Alien Man does matter.

Jupiter Ascending has a zoo full of colorful aliens from outer space that look like animals from planet earth—dogs, cats, rats, bats, elephants and you get the idea. I can’t explain why they look like animals from planet earth, but I can tell you that they look as dumb as a bag of lobotomized mewing kittens. At that point, you know the merciful thing to do is drown them in the river, right? When the Elephant Alien Man trumpets a terrified scream through his flexible proboscis? Reduced Monkey Boy and me to tears. I kid you not. To tears. There are lots of moments like this in the movie, unintentional funny bits, and they don’t make the movie “so bad, it’s good.” Just bad.

Mistakes as large as this make me think The Wachowskis are buying into their mythology, and the director credit in Jupiter Ascending agrees with me. It looks like this:

Directed by The Wachowskis.

When I saw that, I guess I was supposed to be in awe or bow or something. That has to be the explanation why this movie sucks so bad. They're like President Obama. He believes his mythology too. The real world, however, does not, and I think that applies to The Wachowskis and Obama, God bless 'em and I wish them well.

Finally, there’s Mila Kunis, the star of the movie who, for whatever reason, did not convince me she believed in or even cared for the world The Wachowskis put her in. When her character, Jupiter Jones, is thrust from cleaning toilets on boring old planet earth to the amazing, wondrous world of Jupiter Ascending she reacts as if she's from Colorado and stoned out of her gourd.

The only actors that made me care about their characters were Channing Tatum and Sean Bean. I could have watched an entire movie about them. Kunis? Pass the chips, I’m sleepy. And the spoiled mamma’s boy who was supposed to be the villain? I don’t care if he just won the Oscar for Best Actor! In Jupiter Ascending, he’s a whispering, whiny bore. Where's Darth Vader when you need him? Nowhere in this movie and it needs him bad.

My rating: Tell the bartender your name is Neo. Make sure you’re dressed in rubbery black clothing, black sunglasses on. Order five Blue Pill’s and slam them back, one after the other. Order five Red Pill’s and slam them back. Smoke a pack of cigarettes. Eat an Oracle cookie from Colorado. Once you attain a State of Kunis (stoned out of your gourd), tell everyone in the bar to wake the hell up because they're asleep and controlled by dopey machines and you're here to save them. When they ask why you can save them, tell them it's because they're stupid lemmings and, duh, you're the one wearing black rubbery clothing! At that point, you'll get your ass kicked, they'll send you to the hospital, not the movie theatre, and you'll miss Jupiter Ascending.


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