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How to Fix "Jupiter Ascending"

I've been doing a lot of bitching on this blog over the last couple of weeks.  It's been far too long since I wrote something positive.  Time to fix that..., uh, complaining.  Sort of.

I watched Jupiter Ascending last month and I dug most of it.  It's way better than the negative reviews have suggested, although I recognize there are some serious problems with it.  Far be it from me to presume that I know better than a pair of established filmmakers with over twenty years of experience in the industry, but I think I know how they could fix it if they ever decide to Lucas it and release a special edition.

Here's my pitch in short form: Jane Austen in space.

Y'see, Jupiter Ascending is primarily about class and social structure, like most of the Wachowskis' movies.  Some of their movies are more explicitly about upending those norms, like the Matrix trilogy or V for Vendetta, but others, like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, are more about watching how class informs people's attitudes toward life and then putting people of different status at odds with each other.

Jupiter Ascending mostly falls in the latter group.  The vast majority of it is spent following around Mila Kunis, a lower-class maid in Chicago who learns she's actually space royalty and ends up having to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops to cement her claim to status.  Much of the movie is about her awkward interaction with socialites, aristocrats, and other noble types.  In space.

These are the best parts, especially because the movie makes no effort to give the audience any more context than Kunis would have.  So when she has to follow a jibber-jabber robot around the Space DMV in order to get a certificate of nobility, you get to experience the arbitrary nonsense of archaic customs first-hand.  It's a great scene.

I don't think people expected it.

The movie was billed as a science-fiction action epic with huge CGI setpieces and drama.  That stuff is definitely in there, and it takes up a good chunk of time... but it's not really what the movie is about.  All the epic stuff feels shoehorned into what would otherwise be a quirky comedy that just happens to use science-fiction conventions to tell its story.

The drama is a misstep.  It doesn't work in combination with the more grounded stuff.  At worst, I think it makes people doubt which parts of the movie are meant to be funny.  For example, literally every bad review of the movie I've read has made the point that Channing Tatum's character is a hybrid dog / human clone, as if it's unintentionally funny for Kunis to fall in love with him.  But I didn't get that at all - their relationship is explicitly a joke when first presented.  Kunis wrings a lot of gentle humor out of the awkwardness of her infatuation, and eventually it blossoms into something that's charming and goofy and love-affirming, like all the schmaltziest romantic comedies you've ever seen.  It's just hard to see it that way when it's happening next to a super-serious plot line involving the destruction of Earth.

So, here's my suggestion.  Re-edit the movie to cut out all the dramatic action stuff.  Lose Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean entirely and get rid of everything involving the subjugation and/or extermination of humanity.  Change the way Tatum and Kunis meet.  Instead of him saving her from weird aliens who want to murder her, have him just show up at her front door one day as the valet for Douglas Booth and explain that she's wanted in a ship above because the Space Aristocracy just picked up on her genetic imprint and they need to sort out her title.

Then make the climax of the movie the wedding with Booth, where Kunis is torn between her love for Tatum and her obligation to duty with Booth.  Hell, you can even keep the murder plot in there if you really want.  Either way, you end up with a 90 minute science-fiction romcom that ends with an interrupted wedding (everyone's favorite) and a lot more breathing room so the comedy can stand out.

Thinking about this on a macro level, I realize now that this the heart of a lot of the critical backlash against the Wachowskis over the last decade.  They must constantly feel pressure to deliver another Matrix.  It looks like they want to deliver something lowkey and high concept, but they keep adding all this extra stuff to try to get to that level.  I hope they're able to scale back on their next movie - if they do, I bet we're all in for a treat.