Jupiter Ascending is bad. Like STAGGERINGLY bad. Not funny bad, not cheesy bad, just “how in the world did people this incompetent make The Matrix” levels of bad. When it comes to science fiction, I have no gag reflex. I can choke anything down and get some joy out of it if you give me spaceships and lasers. Jupiter Ascending makes Transformers look like Star Wars by comparison.
It fails on every level of rudimentary storytelling. It begins with a five minute voice over monologue about how the titular Jupiter’s parents met, and tragedy happens, and she’s born on a container ship, and … it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Nothing they blather on about is in the slightest way relevant to anything else that happens for the next two interminable hours. The dialogue is so cliched, so badly written, that the only thing it is comparable to is the affront to the spoken word of the Star Wars prequels.
Remember the old adage of storytelling, “show don’t tell”? It’s a good thing they spent $200 million on visual effects in order to have at least a half dozen different monologues droning on about their nonsensical plot. Because when they actually do switch gears to showing stuff happening, the movie becomes even more painfully unwatchable.
This film is wall-to-wall filled with the worst science fiction action sequences I have ever seen on a screen. Michael Bay might make horrible and stupid movies, but even though what’s happening on screen in his giant set pieces is idiotic, at least you can tell what’s happening on the damned screen. Jupiter Ascending does not feature a single action set piece in which the viewer can actually tell what’s happening. They’re just twitching explosions of fast-moving CGI and continuous pow-powing like an ADD eight year old with his Ritalin swapped for LSD tossed into a ball pit of action figures. It’s the opening battle of Revenge of the Sith, over and over again.
And let’s not even get started on the visual idiocy of Charming Potato’s silly flying boots with which he surfs and roller blades through the air. Remember how you wanted to die when Legolas surfed on a shield? Try an hour of that.
Don’t think that you can take refuge in creative and breathtaking alien worlds either. The aliens are all just “rat-face human” or “elephant-face human” or “what the fuck is Eddie Redmayne doing with his voice human.” The ships and settings have no character to them, nothing to distinguish them, and so they just feel like they’ve been spliced from any of a dozen generic sci-fi action games on the XBox. George Lucas might have ridden his franchise down like Slim Pickens, but at least the man had the ability to make a visually distinct world. There’s a ten-minute sequence in the middle of the film dealing with space bureaucracy that seems like it’s trying to be an homage to Terry Gilliam, but is so out-of-place and self-conscious that it’s painful to watch.
The basics of the film’s setting annihilate any expectation of an interesting story being told. So in the film’s world of 100,000 year old human aliens who set up planet-farms to harvest human juice to drink to stay young, if someone happens to be born with exactly the same DNA as someone else who previously lived at some point, they’re treated as the reincarnation and inherit their stuff. And I thought that watery tarts throwing swords at passing travelers was a terrible way to decide who wields supreme executive power. Does this mean that twins are like common-law married at birth? Awkward.
The point at which the movie made me outright angry was when Jupiter says that they won’t think she’s royalty when they find out what she does for a living, and is told “it’s not what you do that matters, it’s what you are.” Stepping back from the immediate topic of Jupiter’s job scrubbing toilets to the more general statement there that runs through the whole film: fuck you very much you monarcho-fascist apologists. What you do (as in your actions, not your job) is literally the only thing that matters and those who say otherwise are the vestigial limbs of aristocracy or the sorts who can think off-hand of at least three ways that concentration camps could be useful. This sort of chosen one who has never done a damned thing but gotten a special snowflake microchip rammed up their ass at birth is the worst sort of lazy story. I suppose you could make some argument that the film is satirizing such notions, but satire requires competence to pull off, and bothering to satirize a world view that went out of style with the Victorians seems a waste of science fiction.
This movie is interminable, boring, uncreative and had no business ever making it to screens instead of being unceremoniously dumped on a DVD-only release before the Wachowskis’ director’s guild badges were symbolically stripped from their shoulders and burned on a pyre of Waterworld DVDs. When I got home, I was scared to sit down and read for fear that the movie’s taint would give my books story-cancer.
Oh and Sean Bean doesn’t die. They actually made a movie so bad that Sean Bean survives.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.