The opening weekend for Jupiter Ascending has been dubbed by Variety an “embarrassing failure” which leaves the Wachowski siblings “at a career crossroads”. Their space opera cost $179 million to produce, and grossed just $19 million. By contrast, in the same weekend, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water made $56 million.
The film is a mess. I would like to say a glorious mess, but that’s a little too kind. Film blogger Joel Meadows describes it as “Star Wars directed by Liberace”, but it’s not even camply enjoyable in the manner of, say, The Fifth Element. I still enjoyed it, in a popcorn-munching, at a loose end on a Saturday night sort of way, but I couldn’t honestly recommend it.
I’ve been thinking about what went wrong, and how you would fix it, and I’ve decided it comes back to the absolute screenwriting basics: a) it is never clear in Jupiter Ascending what the protagonist’s goal is; b) the protagonist is a passive reactor to events for almost all the movie, becoming active only at the very climax.
It just goes to show that you can give Channing Tatum wings and magic flying boots, you can stick a blue-haired Japanese girl bounty hunter on a cool hover-scooter, you can have portals that collapse space-time, you can splice human DNA with crocodiles for your baddies, you can pour Mila Kunis into tight black leather trousers and have Eddie Redmayne elegantly chewing the $179 million scenery, but if you don’t follow those basic rules of screenwriting, no one is going to give two hypergalactic hoots about your story or, more damagingly still, your characters.