Basically, because it’s bad.
And I mean terrible. I saw it last weekend, and it’s a clusterfuck of epic proportions. A film so charmless it makes the VHS footage from my 11th birthday party (spoilers: we had cake) look like a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars. I did an impromptu survey outside the cinema afterward, and 84% of attendees said they’d rather be kicked in the groin by a mad Irish woman than see the film again. I will go on record now: if you think JUPITER ASCENDING is a good film, you are demonstrably wrong.
But you should still go see it and here’s why:
ASCENDING cost 176 million spacebucks to make. That’s a greasy shit-ton of spacebucks. It pulled $18 million on it’s opening weekend; a kick to the lurve machine even by the Warner Brothers’ meager estimations. It’s being touted as the film that will send the Wachowski’s big budget career up in gouts of hellish green flame, and you know, there’s a drunken argument to be made for that. I thought CLOUD ATLAS was a work of unsung genius – say what you will about the movie’s treatment of race, it was still a masterfully executed piece of film, successfully balancing not only multiple themes, but multiple genres (scifi dystopia, post apocalypse action, spy thriller, slapstick comedy, period drama). But CA was based on the David Mitchell book, and it still bombed like the Enola Gay at the box office. Maybe the Wachowski’s don’t have any more good original ideas in them? Some people only have the one. Fair enough.
But here’s the thing – the failure of ASCENDING will not just be ringing alarm bells for any studio exec who wants to hire the Wachowskis for a big budget spectacle film again. It will ring alarm bells for any studio exec that wants to tackle an original science fiction script at all. It’s a brave studio that tries to make original sci fi these days to begin with. A squeaky peek at the list of top grossing sci-fi films shows a fairly obvious pattern to anyone with those eye-things in their skulls: the vast majority of these titles are sequels or based on existing IP. And some of these films seem to succeed in spite of being really shitty movies – the big budget, braindead spectacle of the TRANSFORMERS franchise, the STAR WARS prequels (“I find her . . . intoxicating . . . “), MAN OF STEEL, etc. It seems mainstream audiences are still willing to march like neckbearded zombies see a poorly reviewed, badly made shitpile with a familiar name than risk wetting their pantaloons on something they’ve never heard of.
This is the age of the reboot. STAR TREK. INDIANA JONES (fuck me, really?). GHOSTBUSTERS. ROBOCOP. MAD MAX. These are films I loved as a kid. And the thing is, studios bank on my bullshit sense of whiteboy nerd nostalgia. They know the average 40 something neckbeard with 2.5 sprogs loved Star Wars as a kid, so of course he’s going to drag those sprogs along if the studios vomit out another Star Wars film. The truth is, we need another Star Wars film like we need a fucking hole in our collective heads. The first one was made nearly forty years ago. There’s been more bad Star Wars films than good ones, and yet audiences keep flooding back like junkies. Full of rose-colored remembrances of that first wonderful high, and indulging the doomed quest to feel that magic once more by doing the same thing over and over again.
Here is truth, people: that magic doesn’t lie in a fucking reboot. Or a re-hash. Or another goddman sequel. It lies in original film-makers like the Wachowskis. But this breed of filmaker? It’s a dying one. Young and promising directors who step into the sci-fi arena usually get snapped up by the studio system and put on regurgitation duty within one or two films. Any of you beautiful people see CHRONICLE? Sensational, right? A truly original take on the superhero genre. Cleverly shot. Directed exceptionally. What’s Josh Trank’s follow up? The FANTASTIC FOUR reboot. Niell Blomkamp explodes onto the scene with the brilliant rust-punk madness of DISTRICT 9. What’s he working on 5 years later? The fucking ALIEN reboot.
What happened to our sense of adventure? What happened to the mindset that gave us films like ALIEN? THE TERMINATOR? PLANET OF THE APES? TRON? And yes, even STAR WARS? Out of the box, genre-defining films that broke molds and expectations and linger in our collective consciousness decades after they were made? You think you’re going to feel the same sense of wonder watching yet another Indiana Jones film as you felt when you first saw RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC? I have a bridge in Sydney I’d like to sell you. The dream is over, nerdkid. Open your eyes. Open your mind. There’s incredible, original stuff being written out there, and it’s within your power to see it get made. But here’s the thing. Studios won’t be looking for the new STAR WARS as long as audiences are satisfied with just another STAR WARS.
Seriously? Fuck STAR WARS, people. You deserve more.
We should demand the new. The bold. The brave. We should reward filmmakers who try to give us more than the same old rehashed, rebranded, nostalgia wankery. Even if they fail. And yes, they will fail. The Wachowskis just did. Walking into unknown territory means that will happen sometimes. That’s the risk you take. But unless that risk sees some kind of reward, the accountants of the Hollywood green machine will give us a world where the new is feared around the boardroom table. Seen as too frightening. Not worth taking a chance on. Films like TRANSFORMERS 17: RISE OF THE PROFIT MARGIN will continue to get the big budgets. The big marketing. Great scripts with new ideas and unfamiliar names will never make it out of development hell. Promising new film-makers will get sucked into the regurgitation machine with the lure of big money, and never be seen again.
And our art, and our imagination, and this amazing nerdy culture we’ve built will suffer for it.
So please. Pretty please. With sugar on top.
Go see JUPITER ASCENDING.