Trailer Face-Off: Maleficent vs. Jupiter Ascending
Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Jupiter Ascending vs. Maleficent, two fairy-tale inspired, female-centered tales with a modern twist.
Jupiter Ascending is a rags-to-riches tale that falls somewhere between Snow White and Star Wars. In a future where gods rule over “underdeveloped” planets such as Earth, we meet Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant carrying out a bleak existence as a janitor. Jones soon encounters Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-interplanetary military hunter with both wolf and human DNA who is now under the tutelage of a Han Solo-esque mentor, Stinger (Sean Bean). After saving her from a fatal injection by ill-intentioned scientists, Caine explains that due to an astrological phenomenon on the night Jupiter was born, her DNA marks her as the universe’s next leader, and thus he had been sent by the Queen of the Universe to kill off her competition. Instead, Jupiter and Caine whisk off around the universe to battle the Queen and her minions armed with the sage mentorship of Stinger, and yes, romance blossoms.
Maleficent retells the story of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent (played by Angelina Jolie)’s point of view, and reveals her previously unknown motivations behind the curse she lays upon Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning). While the classic 1959 Disney movie informed us that Maleficent was a wicked fairy embittered by her lack of invitation to baby Aurora’s royal christening, it turns out that her gripe with Aurora’s parents, King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) and Queen Ulla (Miranda Richardson), stems from a conflict over land going back to when Maleficent was a young woman herself (young Maleficent is played by Ella Purnell and Isobelle Molloy). Consumed by revenge and a fierce protectiveness over the moors on which she resides, Maleficent places the famous curse upon the infant princess: at sunset on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a poisonous spindle and die. (The last part is amended by one of her fairy godmothers, so that she will fall in a deep sleep until revived by the kiss of her true love—Prince Phillip, played by Brendan Thwaites). As such, tension builds slowly as we see Princess Aurora (young Aurora played by Vivienne Jolie-Pitt and Eleanor Worthington Cox) raised by her fairy godmothers Thistlewit (Juno Temple), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Flittle (Lesley Manville) in hiding while Maleficent watches her from the shadows, biding her time until the princess comes of age and she can strike.
Queen vs. Fairy
Based on the trailer for Jupiter Ascending, we’re not quite sure who the Queen of the Universe is, though the credits list a number of potential antagonists (Tuppence Middleton, Doona Bae, Vanessa Kirby). We’ll generously assume that ambiguity is a strategy for boosting anticipation. On the other hand, Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is a delicious visual incarnation of Eleanor Audley’s broody sultriness as the voice of Maleficent in the original movie. With her ghostly pallor, blood-red lips, phosphorescent green eyes, and devilishly-horned wimple, Jolie easily scores a win as the most-feared Disney villain.
What do the Matrix franchise, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas have in common? The relevant answer is that the Wachowski siblings wrote and produced all of them, and are now responsible for Jupiter Ascending. Maleficent is the directorial debut of production designer Robert Stromberg, who worked on Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, and Oz the Great and Powerful. While Stromberg’s previous films are very beautiful, they didn’t have much in the way of storyline. We’ll have to go with the duo that consistently turns out a plot to match visual accoutrements.
Advantage: Jupiter Ascending
Besides having a real-life name closely interchangeable with Charming, Channing Tatum as Caine is clearly the only reason that Jupiter (at least immediately) isn’t murdered. He does the right thing by going against his genetically-programmed role as bounty hunter of the universe and disobeys the Queen’s orders to kill her, and fights for her right to the throne of the universe while sporting very adorable pointy ears. In Maleficent, Brendan Thwaites plays Prince Phillip in one of his first major big-screen roles, but this version of Sleeping Beauty focuses intensely on the relationship between Aurora and Maleficent. Any romance is entirely secondary.
Advantage: Jupiter Ascending
Essentially, it’s a case of fairy tale versus fairy tale. Jupiter Ascending loosely follows the story of Snow White: current queen becomes jealous of her successor, consequently sends a reluctant huntsman to kill her. In this update, which blends the characters of prince and huntsman, the aliens, spaceships, and fate-of-the-universe really expand the story. However, we’re wary of major alterations to the classic stories that filled our childhood selves with wonder, so we’re going to go for Maleficent. As adults, we’re also much more prone to secretly empathizing with the dark side.
Unfortunately, Mila Kunis doesn’t quite live up to the badass cowgirl of the universe that her character’s name, Jupiter Jones, suggests. The trailer focuses mostly on her damsel-in-distress moments: nearly taking a fatal injection to the neck, asking if she’s been kidnapped, and falling backwards off a very tall skyscraper. At the age of 15, Elle Fanning has inspired a cult following based on her delicate pixie features and princess-like golden locks, which has manifested as a successful fashion career on the side. In the trailer for Maleficent, she brings a similar innate, if somewhat naïve, confidence to her Princess Aurora, boldly inviting a startled Maleficent to come out of the shadows and show herself. Fanning’s heroine certainly rises to the occasion.
The trailer for Maleficent is not action-packed by any means, barring a final explosion of green flames and hedges of thorns, but it doesn’t need to be. Our fascination with the beautiful villain with the self-descriptive name begs for a more dimensional story, rather than a faddish update.
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