and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Magic Mike XXL (2015) is not that it has a credit for ‘tool manager’, though it does, nor that, thanks to a too-tight posing pouch, we finally get a glimpse of Channing Tatum’s wagging little doggie tail, but that in this post-truth era of alternative facts someone bothered to keep a full and accurate record of the great shirt drought of ought ’15…
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2014) is not the way tumbleweed blows across the Tatooine desert when Simon Pegg makes his desperately unfunny ‘Rey gun’ joke, nor is it the revelation that the ‘home’ Han is so glad to be back at is the one in which his grandkids have dumped him, where he rooms with Bruce Campbell’s Elvis and Ossie Davis’s JFK, no, the best thing about the new Star Wars movie is the eighteen months of misdirection during which Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill straight-up straightface lied about the next Jump Street movie cross-over being with the Men in Black franchise…
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Foxcatcher (2014) is not the way it expresses its breathtakingly realist commitment to capturing not only the look of the real people it depicts but also the spirit of a resurgent Reaganite America through the medium of ridiculous but biographically accurate nasal prostheses, but the way in which it enables Mark Ruffalo to again demonstrate his astonishing range as an actor and the Paul Muni-like way he disappears so far into the role he is playing so that we barely even see him any longer…
Since posting my single-sentence review last week literally (and very precisely) more people than I can count of the fingers of one hand have asked me this question. I would have thought the answer obvious, given the content of my review and the cunning way it replicated the film’s structure by interminably concatenating random elements until it was finally time to just give up and end on a damp squib.
In reply, I could go on about the ill-thought-through galactic setting, undoubtedly made even more incoherent by frantic pruning so as to enable one or two more screenings per day during the opening weekend before bad word of mouth completely killed any box office. I’m not asking for the well-argued space opera universe of Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), and I’m actually quite fond of the really dumb single-climate-planet ‘moons of Mongo’ style of sf universe if you give me some reason to give a damn about what happens on them. But it’s not unreasonable to want something at least as good as The Chronicles of Riddick (Twohy 2004).
I could go on about the stupid plot, also undoubtedly pruned to even greater stupidity, but plot has never been a Wachowski forte. Neither has pacing, as the swimming-through-cold-molasses Matrix films amply demonstrate.
I could even suggest that film really needed – I don’t say this lightly – to be longer. A little less rushing around might have given those cgi worlds, the main characters and the even-thinner ciphers surrounding them the chance to take on substance and identity. Fore-ordained plot functions might have developed into something resembling characters and relationships. Which might even have led to jeopardy and thus suspense.
Lumbering Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) and Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) with each other was a major casting error. At no point is there a trace of chemistry between them – not even early on when he sweeps her up in his arms, and absolutely everybody in the cinema got a little bit swoony. (I am mildly appalled and thoroughly delighted by my own swooniness at that juncture. It was, for all its embossed supermarket romance paperback cover illustration claptrap, the one moment in the film that for me possessed a genuine affective charge – and not just because I have always loved dogs.)
One could respect Jupiter for not falling for such claptrap if it had been part of some sort of consistent characterisation about resisting sex/gender norms. But it wasn’t. Last year both Guardians of the Galaxy and Edge of Tomorrow possessed a strong female character – Zoe Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and especially Rita (Emily Blunt) – who was more interesting than the male lead but not permitted to be the protagonist (there is a far more brilliant version of Edge of Tomorrow to be made with Rita as the viewpoint character). With Jupiter Ascending we at last have a stupidly expensive blockbuster sf movie with a female protagonist – and her main functions are: a) clean toilets for rich people; and b) repeatedly step aside to let the male lead become the protagonist. And rescue her. Again and again and again.
But what really makes Jupiter Ascending suck is its humourlessness. It pushes the gaming aesthetic to a new level, linking sequences of fight-and-flight kinetic spectacle with passages of connecting narrative as leaden and joyless as the worst cut scenes.
Sure, it does have one witty moment, which also makes Jupiter briefly credible and likeable as she explains the injured Caine’s good fortune in stealing a woman’s car, and it has four other amusing moments (which I won’t describe because I really can’t remember what they were).
But that is all.
I am not one of those people who thought that Guardians of the Galaxy’s lightly comic tone was a major development, but it certainly helped. Nor am I demanding every space opera be a work of camp genius, such as Flash Gordon (Hodges 1980). I would even have welcomed all that witless lumbering around if Jupiter Ascending had been as absurdly certain of its own significance as is Zardoz (Boorman 1974) or Dune (Lynch 1984) or even Star Trek: The Motionless Picture (Wise 1979). At least then Eddie ‘The Whisper’ Redmayne’s moment of metalepsis, when he steps out of the narrative to explicate the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it anticapitalist subtext, would have generated the hoots of derision it deserved.
But a little humour would certainly have transformed the relationship between Jupiter and Caine, a genetically-engineered human/dog hybrid, into something less painful to watch and far more credible.
Why does he fall for her? Because dogs are easily won over by attention and affection. Because dogs are loyal. And because dogs are often really really dumb.
Why does he keep rescuing her? Dogs love retrieving things – sticks, balls, princesses, whatever – and are often really really dumb.
And just imagine being in that audience when Caine did good and the camera swooped round behind him to reveal – to laughter and cheers and applause – his little tail wagging.
I for one would have swooned all over again.
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Jupiter Ascending (2015) is not that Meg’s name suddenly makes you flashback to all those Alfred Hitchcock presents The Three Investigator novels you read as a kid; nor is it Channing Tatum being, yet again, so much better than the film he is in either warrants or deserves; neither is it ditto Sean Bean or Nikki Akuka-Bird; nor is it watching all those respectable British thespians hamming it up in exchange for filthy Hollywood lucre; nor is it that the film looks so pretty, though it does; nor is it the comforting familiarity of the Wachowskis’ inability to construct a plot (except when James M. Cain did it for them decades earlier); nor is it the profoundly reassuring sense of your own embodied existence provided by the Wachowskis’ inability to pace a film (be honest, The Matrix is a good 40 minutes longer than it needs to be just because someone somewhere was scared folks wouldn’t understand what was going on, a fear cast aside in the sequels, with their more purely modernist and thoroughly interminable commitment to durée); no, it turns out the best thing about Jupiter Ascending is none of these things at all, but instead the sheer audacity of the title’s claim that not the entire film but merely its ending is complete and utter arse…