Monday, February 23, 2015


I went and saw JUPITER ASCENDING this weekend. It's a funny thing to go see a movie that is already a notorious flop because even as you're walking into the theater there seems to be an air of desperation about the whole affair. More on that in a second.

First, I guess I should address why I went and saw the movie at all. I'm one of those people who actually liked one of the other Wachowski flops, CLOUD ATLAS. I like how the Wachowskis are goofy and serious all at once. I like that they jumble up high and low ambitions at the same time. They haven't made a movie since the original MATRIX that wasn't messy in one way or another, but, to be honest, I've always been attracted to big ambitious messes. JUPITER ASCENDING has big ambitious mess written all over it--a space opera that lifts from CINDERELLA, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, SOYLENT GREEN, V: THE MINI-SERIES, and the story of Clytemnestra and her children. It's a movie that is as much about airborne battles among the skyscrapers of Chicago as it is about a hidden city in the red eye of Jupiter, as much about the costumes and set design as it is about the sprawling mythology of its back story. In short, it's the sort of bound-to-be-flawed-but-fun thing that I occasionally find myself in the mood for.

I like seeing flawed movies, too, because flaws can be instructional. For instance, both Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis are miscast in the movie. On the surface, this might be surprising. They're big good looking movie stars--so they should be right for a big good looking sci-fi epic. But Tatum is too light a performer to be an action star. His charisma is shallow--and I mean that in a good way, in the same way that someone like Gene Kelly had a shallow charisma. The problem is that action roles tend to dial down the surface charisma of an actor, and what has to take its place is whatever underlying gravitas the performer has. Action roles might be kinda dumb, in other words, but they're heavy. There is no heaviness to Channing Tatum. He's a light comedian at heart, a dancer who wants to charm the audience. When he dials down to action star mode, he disappears. Kunis has a similar problem. Her character has a classic fantasy arch--the poor girl who discovers one day that she's a princess (or, in this case, a domestic servant who discovers that she's the Queen of the Universe), but Kunis lacks the weight for either of these roles. She's too comfortable in her own skin--to comfortable in her relationship to the world around her--to be believable as an impoverished young woman who hates her life. Likewise, once she starts being thrown into incredible situations involving the possible inhalation of the entire human race, her temperature never seems to rise. Even when she's giving it all she's got in the big scenes here, the stakes just never seem that high to Mila Kunis. Again, the failure here is one of casting rather one of acting. Tatum and Kunis give workmanlike performances--they're just wrong for their parts. It's like asking a singer to hit a note out of their register.  

There's something I'd like to report about seeing JUPITER ASCENDING. As I said before, I saw it this weekend, which is well after it has proven to be a flop. (I saw it this weekend because I expect will disappear from theaters by next week.) I was surprised to find, however, a full and enthusiastic audience. Sitting through the screening of this movie as it played well to a full crowd on Saturday night, you would have had no idea that the movie was a bomb.

I was one of the people who enjoyed it. It was fun. It was beautiful to look at. Since it has lost a fortune at the box office, JUPITER ASCENDING will probably be the last time the Wachowskis are given 170 million dollars to make a space opera. I'm glad I got to see it on the big screen where the pageantry and action set pieces could take up a whole wall in the dark. It was worth my ten bucks.

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