There are some movies in the world that just make you go, “Why?”
On this very special edition of Bad Movie Night Review, we take a look at two visually interesting yet poorly executed box office flops: Jupiter Ascending, an original story written and directed by the Wachowski’s, and Pan, an original prequel story for the character created by J.M Barrie, written by Jason Fuchs and directed by Joe Wright.
I’ve learned during the course of doing these Bad Movie Night Reviews, that it’s best to follow my gut instinct. I’d been waiting quite some time to review Jupiter Ascending. So when I saw it was available to watch on HBO GO, I knew immediately that it had to be the subject of my next review. Short story be damned! (I apologize in advance to anyone who has been waiting patiently for the next chapter of King Cotton) I also immediately knew that I’d have to pair this movie experience with something a bit more light-hearted. After some consideration I chose to watch Jupiter Ascending along with Pan and decided that the former needed to be dealt with first. Swallow the bitter pill with a glass of Pink Moscato and get it over with quickly.
And Man! Did I make the right choice!
Jupiter Ascending is a visually amazing hot flaming mess of a movie that I still don’t quite understand or care to figure out. It swings back and forth from constant, loud, bright action to super mundane, muted and lifeless exposition like the pendulum of a bipolar grandfather clock.
The story of Jupiter Ascending is, as far as I can follow, about a young woman named Jupiter Jones… Yeah, dumb name. Moving on. So Jupiter is a poor girl who lives with her mother and extended family. She and her mother make money cleaning houses and Jupiter yearns for something more. She agrees to help out her cousin financially by selling her eggs and plans to use her portion of the money to buy a telescope like the one her father had. However, when she goes to the clinic, aliens attempt to assassinate her and she is saved by Cain Wise a wolf, human, alien soldier guy.
It turns out that Jupiter is actually genetically identical/the reincarnation of the matriarch of a royal alien family, and as such, she has the right to her inheritance: Earth. The former matriarch’s three children are in a political tug of war to gain control of that inheritance and each has their own method for dealing with Jupiter.These methods include kidnapping, manipulation, and emotional blackmail amongst other things and yet, the sense of danger never feels legitimate. Despite their casual use of human life, these three siblings never feel more threatening than temperamental children. But before I go too far into this films issues, let me start with what I liked.
For starters, this is an original screenplay which draws inspiration from fantastic space operas from the past and brings it to life with 21st century technology. Jupiter Ascending is a unique and beautiful movie. The use of practical effects, set pieces, make-up, and costuming make for an often, very convincing (though sometimes distracting) look. There is a lot of attention to detail in the design and planning of the world and the various species that inhabit it, which I truly did appreciate. Were there cringe worthy green screen moments? Yes. Were there certain creatures that looked ridiculous? Yes. There were a few moments where the movie tried to make me laugh and the reveal of the little aliens that looked like they came out of M. Night Shymalan’s Signs was not supposed to be one of them but I laughed all the same. Still, the beautiful world building, the costume design, the music, the fact that this was an original screenplay and not just an adaptation of a novel or some other previous work, and the fact that it featured a female as the protagonist were all things that I appreciated.
Now that that’s out of the way… what the hell did I just watch?
I had hoped that, like with many of my previous Bad Movie Night Reviews, that the movie would be so bad it was funny. However, I found it far too confusing and exhausting to find entertaining. Every few minutes I would have to grab the remote to either raise the volume to comprehend their muttering dialogue or turn it WAY down because of a sudden action sequence that would blast my eardrums to pieces. This fact alone made it hard for me to understand the basics of the plot, since the three siblings desire to either acquire or kill Jupiter were explained in dialogue that was often spoken too softly and quickly for me to grasp right away. And just as I’d turn up the volume, someone (Eddie Redmayne) would shout or the scene would change to something far too loud and the volume would come down again.
After a while, the lifeless line delivery caused me to come to the conclusion that the actors had less interest than I did in this story. Very few characters seemed to have any passion while delivering their lines. Even less seemed to know what the heck they were saying. For
example, when Mila Kunis’ character is saved the first time, her reaction to the existence
of aliens is so nonchalant it takes you out of the movie all together. This is a trend that continues as she learns about her being royalty, about the earth being a thing that can be owned by one particular family, about being the reincarnation/genetic identical of a powerful alien family, about the earth being a harvest site for these aliens to live forever, about EVERYTHING. The most we get is mild surprise and Jupiter asking another question so someone can give the audience more exposition. Thus, the audience only ever feels bored or experience mild surprise at best. There is no attempt to illicit a sense of wonder, or shock. The actors seem bored and so we are bored.
There is a sequence in the film where Jupiter is escorted from department to department dealing with the same bureaucracy and mundane paperwork you would expect from any government office, so that she can legally claim her inheritance to Earth. She and her guides take her from one window to another, with each desk telling her that she needs to go somewhere else. It was the most mundane and frustrating thing ever and yet was also the most entertaining. A parody of the absurdity of bureaucracy existing everywhere – even when trying to claim your destiny. Regardless of whether you’re trying to get a driver’s license or claim a planet, it’s all the same bull. But to me, it also (inadvertently) poked fun at the main flaw of this movie. We as an audience are just trying to get to the entertainment portion of this film and instead we are being bounced around from scene to scene, getting exposition and world building elements. Just as we get to a scene where we think we can stop explaining the world and actually enjoy it, the person behind the counter points us to another scene we have to see first. And, like with this series of scenes, we never actually come back to those initial desks. We never go back to those scenes and explore further. We simply take what we get and go home. By the time it’s over, watching this movie felt more like a trip to the DMV than an adventure.
Another major problem with this film is it’s villains. The main antagonist was Eddie Redmayne’s character but really, it was all three siblings squabbling over inheritance rights. As Jupiter is taken from one sibling to another to another, it becomes increasingly clear that each sibling is more “dangerous” than the last. This is to say, that none of them are actually that dangerous. The first sibling simply talks to her with a hint of something sinister in her voice but actually isn’t a threat and is more of a tool to give more exposition. The second one plans to marry and immediately kill Jupiter for the inheritance but when his wedding scheme is foiled by Caine and she refuses, he basically says “drats, and I was this close” and allows them to leave. The third sibling goes as far as to kidnap her family and use them as leverage but when she refuses, he doesn’t have much left to go on. Jupiter is able to bring him to his knees with a kick to the shin and a good hard shove. The realization that Earth’s greatest threat were these three bickering, over aged children made it seem that there was no real threat at all. Sure there are great aerial battles and monster-like creatures involved but they were all defeated either by Caine alone or by Caine and a small group of others – so they couldn’t have been THAT big a threat now, could they?
The last thing I need to address about this ridiculous, complicated plot is the popular idea that many movies have that your protagonist needs to be “the one”. You know, the savior of humanity or the one destined person, or whatever Mcguffin they pull out. They craft a story about a down on her luck, fatherless, blue collar girl with dreams of being more and before she can say glass slipper, she’s being whisked away by a hunky, guy liner wearing, doggie eared, air skating, prince charming character who fights all the monsters and makes her a princess. And not just any princess. Biologically destined princess of Earth. She is THE ONE. Granted she seems a little underwhelmed about being THE ONE, but she is THE ONE nonetheless.
I get so tired of these kinds of destiny stories. You know what would have been different. Lets say the girl the aliens were probing at the beginning was actually the ruler of Earth. (Go figure, a rich girl is actually the princess) But they grab her by mistake and Jupiter learns about the harvest plans for Earth and teams up with Caine to stop it and protect her planet. Let Jupiter be the protector of the Earth instead of a girl that just gets shuttled around, given pretty dresses to wear, told exposition, and ultimately saved.
In all this movie was pretty but highly forgettable. Any female sci-fi fans out there that try to defend this movie as “female centric, scifi, fantasy” or whatever, should stop. You’ll give people the wrong idea. It was confusing, boring, and you figuratively see the actors counting down how many lines they had left to say before the check cleared.
And don’t even get me started on the bees.
Like Jupiter Ascending, Pan is also a highly visual story about a person with a fantastic destiny. Yay, another “he’s the one” movie. Love it.
Pan, is the story of how Peter Pan became the character we all know from the stage plays and movies. It starts with a baby Peter being left at an orphanage by his distraught mother, who promises to come back for him. We skip twelve years later and we are in London circa WWII and Peter is still in the orphanage, battling against cartoonishly evil nuns. But it’s not just gruel for breakfast and missing items Peter and his friend have to deal with. Boys are going missing and Peter wants to find out why. Then, in the middle of the night, Peter and the other boys are abducted and brought aboard a flying pirate ship which whisks them off to Neverland in fantastical fashion. Peter has very little time to enjoy the view. The boys are brought to a mine, where they and thousands of others are being forced to mine for pixie dust for the dreaded pirate, Captain Blackbeard. The story unfolds with Peter teaming up with a young Hook to escape after an incident reveals that Peter can fly and may be the prophesied “Pan” who will free the fairies and bring down Blackbeard and something or other. Honestly, I’m not really sure what was going on after that point because it was hard for me to pay attention after hearing “he’s the ONE” but to be fair, I had just gone through Jupiter Ascending and this disjointed movie wasn’t helping.
What I liked about this movie were, again, it’s visuals. It had a grand scope and the flying pirate ship especially looked like something that could easily be made into a thrill ride at Disneyland. Compared to the other movie, Pan was much lighter and theatrical. The actors were hamming it up but at least looked like they were having fun doing it. During the first half of the movie I was even able to turn off my brain and get a few laughs (intentional laughs on the movie’s part… still looking at you Jupiter Jones). I was able to be a bit more forgiving of many of the obvious green screen issues, the really bad CGI flying effects where you knew that wasn’t a real person, the over the top hamminess of Blackbeard and Smee and Hooks performances, and the questionable reason for mining in the first place by telling myself, “oh, this is a kids movie, well then it’s fine”.
But you know what? No. It’s not fine. And it’s not a kids movie. I’m not sure what it is, or who it’s targeted demographic is because it’s too dark for kids and too hammy for adults.
For starters, this movie does a lot of things that just seem unnecessary. The story of a boy who finds himself in a magical land where he never has to grow up and return to the harsh realities of adult life, especially life in a London orphanage during a major international conflict, is compelling enough without having to make him into a prophesied savior of Neverland. There were scenes and sequences in this film where the actor playing Peter was able to have fun and be adventurous, and curious. These were the scenes I liked because the personality of Peter Pan was there.
However, every time he had to go into “savior hero mode”, all that wonder and child-like innocence was gone. He became a generic stand in for any child savior character ever. So many times during this movie I wanted to shout at the screen, “lighten up kid, you’re in friggin Neverland!” Why did they have to suck the fun out of Peter Pan? Well they didn’t completely. The adults were having LOADS more fun than the kids were – which leads me to my second issue.
Blackbeard and Hook. Dear. God. Like I said, all the stuff with the orphanage, the evil nuns, the flying pirate ship – I was digging it in a kids movie kind of way. However, once they reached the mining site and a chorus of voices began to sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” my confused face emerged and it stayed… for the whole film. It was like Nirvana was the death knell ringing clear and true for this movie. It was my first sign that something had gone terribly terribly wrong. Hugh Jackman was obviously having a great time portraying Blackbeard, but his super theatrical, flamboyant style seemed out of place and distracting when they were making Peter Pan so brooding. Hook, on the other hand, had no hook for a hand. Being as to how this is a prequel, that shouldn’t be a huge negative but the fact that he had absolutely no character traits related to Captain Hook except his dislike of crocodiles made it annoying. If a crocodile hadn’t taken his hand, why was he so afraid of them already? More importantly, why does he seem to be channeling Jack Nicholson portraying an American cowboy? Why shoe in a forced love interest in Tigerlily? That’s more than a little awkward seeing as how Tigerlily has always previously been a Native American princess with a thing for Peter. Why even bother having Hook if we don’t see him become Captain Hook? Why? This movie is just full of why!
Why make Peter the result of a destiny-filled one night stand between a fairy prince… whoever his mother was, I was loosing interest and can’t remember. Why tease Tinkerbell if you’re not going to use her? Why not introduce Tinkerbell and leave Tigerlily alone? She doesn’t do anything in the movie except tell Peter he is “the Pan” and provide some extra muscle. Why use Smee as the character who sells out Hook to Blackbeard? He’s Hooks right hand man, it makes no sense for future installments for Smee and Hook to team up when he’s already sold him out before. If Blackbeard was trying so hard to get fairy dust, that he’d have thousands of workers doing nothing but dig for the stuff, why would he immediately try to kill all the fairies? Why bother lightening the violence by having the pirates guns blow out colorful dust when they shoot but still show violence when a kid literally gets kicked off a plank and falls to his presumable death? Why didn’t you have more scenes of children getting kicked in the face? Those scenes were hilarious to a twisted person like me. Go big or go home – kick all those children. Fun times.
But seriously, Nirvana? Cowboys? Savior Pan? Why? Just – so much why.