When I reviewed the trailer for this movie a couple of months ago, I was massively optimistic about how excellent this movie was going to be. Now that I’ve finally watched it, I have to concede: Jupiter Ascending was by no means excellent, but it was rad as hell. Spoilers after the jump!
Okay, so it’s gonna be difficult to recap this movie, but I’m gonna give it my best shot. (Most other reviews I’ve seen have just kind of thrown their hands up and not bothered.) Jupiter Jones is an undocumented Russian immigrant living in Chicago and working as a maid with her family. Or is she? It turns out she’s actually the genetic recurrence—the reincarnation, essentially—of the empress of basically all of space. The Abrasax family, the heirs to this inheritance, are not pleased to discover someone who could usurp their claims, and want her wiped out. Minions attempt to murder her during a medical procedure, but she’s saved by Caine Wise, Channing Tatum’s part-wolf space mercenary character. After a ludicrously long chase scene, they leave Chicago and run to Wise’s ally Stinger, a part-bee space soldier.
Despite the presence of two arguably competent space marines, Abrasax-funded bounty hunters manage to kidnap Jupiter and carry her off to the Abrasax homeworld. There we meet Exposition Abrasax, whose real name I can’t be arsed to remember. She is a weirdly empty character; she appears to have no beef with Jupiter, and in fact genuinely wants to help her. Her real purpose there is to begin explaining the plot device: a magical youth serum that restores one’s DNA to its prime age, allowing the user to live essentially forever. We later discover that this serum is derived from the harvest of living humans, and that the Earth is one of the colonies the Abrasax family seeded in order to eventually harvest for this purpose. Should Jupiter claim her inheritance, however, she’ll have the power to protect Earth from this culling, so we’re treated to a comical sequence of her trying to maneuver through space bureaucracy in order to do so.
Once she’s successfully been entered into the database of the nobility, we then jump to the spaceship of Tidus, the younger Abrasax brother. He tells Jupiter that he finds the harvesting practice utterly deplorable, and that, if she marries him, they’ll be able to put a stop to it together. Obviously he’s lying—he plans to murder her after the wedding and inherit the Earth for himself—but after our first of two high-tension finale battle scenes, Caine manages to interrupt the wedding just in time. They escape the ship and head home, but Jupiter discovers upon reaching Earth that Balem, the final (and most unbalanced) Abrasax son, has kidnapped her family. He plans to use them as collateral to make Jupiter abdicate her position and cede the Earth back to him. She refuses to do so, though, choosing to sacrifice herself and her family if it means protecting the whole Earth. Then we get to our second climactic finale sequence: Jupiter must rescue her family and fight off the neurotic and creepily Oedipal Balem (while Caine does battle with his talking dinosaur minions)—all while the palace and surrounding city collapse into flame around them.
Finally, we cut back to Earth. Jupiter is back at home, living in her tiny house with her extended family and diligently working her cleaning job. What has changed? Well, now she has a cute part-dog boyfriend, a pair of antigrav space roller skates, and the deed to Earth. So that’s cool. Roll credits.
The plot of the movie is… well, it’s amnesiac at best, constantly introducing characters and then forgetting about them. The lady whose house Jupiter cleans for is only there long enough to introduce the idea of the Keepers (little grey aliens who do the space Obliviate-ing when humans see too much space stuff), and spends that whole scene in her lacy underwear. The Abrasax’s daughter is only there long enough to demonstrate how the macguffin at the heart of the plot works. The bounty hunters who kidnap Jupiter from Earth are literally never seen or heard from again once they drop her off.
The romance plot is awkward and kind of shoehorned in. Jupiter is very forward about being attracted to Caine and wanting a relationship with him throughout the movie, but he seemed uncomfortable with the affection. While it was probably meant to just be a reflection of his angsty space soldier past, I read him as being demiromantic ace. Also, the romantically-framed interest of the Abrasax brothers was super awkward because, like, guys. This woman is the genetic duplicate of your mother, and at times you have difficulty realizing she’s a different person. But both of you apparently want to fuck her? Slow your roll.
The movie does pass the Bechdel test early on, as Jupiter talks with her family members as well as other women. It’s feminist in the loosest application of the word; there are a variety of female characters with different motivations, and although they are mostly thin, young, and white or white-passing, there are some supporting characters of color among the cast. Jupiter does have agency—each of the choices she makes are of her own free will, to protect someone else—but she doesn’t have any power to back it up. Without Caine’s constant protection and rescues, her well-meaning choices would have easily ended with her dead.
The only scene that I found particularly uncomfortable rather than just bad in a fun way was the scene where Jupiter’s first attacked. The medical procedure she’s having done is an egg donation (you can make hella cash donating your eggs) and so she’s not just, like, chloroformed in an alleyway, she’s propped up in birthing stirrups wearing only a thin paper surgical gown. There was something a little rapey about that scene to me, so keep that in mind if that’s something that will upset you.
All that said.
This movie was so enjoyable. It’s schlocky in the best way, like a fourteen-year-old girl’s first self-insert sci-fi/action/romance novel. Ordinary girl finds out she’s a space princess, check. Implausibly attractive genetically modified space legionnaires with generic soldier angst, check. A dimly lit gothic city built inside Jupiter’s great Spot, check. Sparkly momma’s boy space Voldemort as the villain, check. Sean Bean playing a character who doesn’t die, check.
The acting is, well, about on par with the rest of the movie: so ridiculous it’s amazing. Given that she’s playing the purest of Mary Sues (and I say that with a deep and abiding love of the female power fantasy that is the Mary Sue), it’s hard to say whether Mila is not cut out for this sort of character or if it’s just the writing. Channing Tatum is unfortunately left with a lot of exposition-bombing, but he isn’t terrible. (He also spends a solid and inexplicable forty minutes of the movie shirtless, so there’s that.) And then there’s Eddie Redmayne, who is so, so into his role as Balem it’s hilarious. He’s this weepy, cringing, demanding, spoiled manchild of a character who speaks in the exact cadences you would hear if you asked Redmayne to do his best Voldemort impression. He definitely steals the show.
Beyond that, it’s a feast for the eyes. The costuming was off the chain—I could not stop looking at the beautiful dresses, especially the red-white-and-silver one that Jupiter wears for the wedding scene. The visuals are beautiful, whether they’re shots of space or giant starships or cruiser chases through Chicago. It may not be a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s so much fun you can’t help but love it.
If you see one movie about a space princess claiming her inheritance while falling in love with a wolf-hybrid space marine and punching space Voldemort in the face, make it Jupiter Ascending—as ridiculous as the movie is, you won’t regret it.