Jupiter Ascending is looking like a very expensive flop. According to IMDB, it cost $175 million dollars to make, and had an opening weekend of $19 million. It’s gotten terrible reviews; a Rotten Tomatoes score of 22. You’ve probably heard what a bad movie it is. I’m here to tell you that none of that is true. My wife and I went to see it last night, and we had a blast. It’s fast paced and fun, visually stunning, and tells a story that’s certainly out there, but that is coherent and holds together and is never for a second boring. The Wachowski siblings are immensely imaginative sci-fi story-tellers, and while this isn’t The Matrix, it’s a thoroughly engaging piece, with contemporary political relevance, even. We both liked it. It’s a movie that needs, and that will reward, your support.
As one of my friends put it, it’s a movie where the final scene involves a werewolf doing battle with a giant lizard, a fight taking place in and on Jupiter (the planet’s) red spot, while a huge factory there explodes around them. While that’s true, it leaves out the turbo-powered gravity-defying sneakers worn by the werewolf (played by Channing Tatum). Add to it Mila Kunis having a super-cool superpower–she’s able to control bees, which she sends swarming around bad guys trying to kill her–an extended comic scene about the universe’s worst bureaucracy, and Eddie Redmayne alternately whispering and shouting all his lines, and you’ve got yourself a space opera that dares actually be operatic, by golly.
The Jupiter of the title is actually Jupiter Jones, played with moxie and bravado by Mila Kunis. She lives in Chicago with her Russian emigre extended family, including her Mom (Maria Doyle Kennedy, so terrific as Mrs. S on Orphan Black). The family has a maid service business, and Jupiter’s specialty, apparently, is cleaning toilets. Her life sucks, in other words.
Turns out, she’s actually royalty. Like, one of four ruling members of the most powerful family in the universe. She’s an Abrasax, and she has three part-siblings, each of whom owns huge amounts of the universe. Earth, it seems, is tiny, but kind of important, because it’s a perfect source for this liquid with magical life-extending powers. Super rich people will do anything (will pay anything) for that liquid.
Spoiler alert: skip this paragraph if you don’t want the plot ruined. The magic life-restoring liquid is actually soylent green. It’s people. That’s why the Abrasaxes want Earth; they intend to harvest our excess people. We’re a particularly good source for the stuff. It’s all about profit, in other words.
Alright, so, Jupiter is a perfect genetic match for the three Abrasax siblings’ Mom, and the richest Abrasax, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), wants her dead. He sends an assassination team to Chicago to dispatch her. But they’re spoiled by Channing Tatum, playing a former-soldier-turned-mercenary, Caine Wise. He’s half wolf, and has, as mentioned, these awesome rocket power shoes. He rescues Jupiter, and takes her to his old partner/mentor, Stinger, (Sean Bean). See, he’s been hired by Titus Abrasax (Doug Booth), an effete sensualist who wants Earth and its potential profits. But instead, Caine and Stinger deliver Jupiter to Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton), ruthless socialite, who sort shows Jupiter the ropes. And Jupiter makes her claim to Earth ownership, negotiating this horrendous intergalactic imperial bureaucracy to accomplish it.
Suffice it to say that Jupiter gets to spend some time with each of her Abrasax family members, discovering how increasingly loathsome they are. Meanwhile, she’s increasingly attracted to Caine, who seems pretty much into her too, but he’s got that doggie DNA problem. (“But I like dogs,” Jupiter assures him).
There’s also, it seems, a inter-galactic police force, led by Diomika Tsing (the stunning Nikki Amuka-Bird) trying to force all the Abrasaxes to play nicely together. And meanwhile, Caine keeps having to fight various baddies who are trying to kill Jupiter. Who does some pretty impressive fighting herself.
Sci-fi can (and some would insist, should) have some contemporary relevance. Stories about imagined futures ought to, in some sense, comment on our problems and needs. I don’t think that’s a requirement, but Jupiter Ascending surely meets that challenge. For all its flash and action, this is a film about income inequality, is it not? The super-rich don’t get rich on the backs of the poor, they literally kill poor people so they can bathe in their extracted human essence. Until they’re challenged by a tough American girl who grew up scrubbing toilets. I think the film makes a strong political statement.
The film is failing in box office terms, and it doesn’t make sense. Compare it to the Terminator movies, which it somehow resembles. Cosmic politics playing out on Earth? Ginormous creatures doing battle in the sky, midst ‘splosions? The difference is that Jupiter Ascending is 47 times a better movie. (Yes, my phone has that app). The Wachoskis can stage a big CGI action sequence where we can always tell what’s happening, we’re always oriented in time and space, and we actually have the time to care about or worry about characters we’ve come to like. The spectacle, in a Wachoski film, isn’t just awesome, it means something. I know, comparing them to Michael Bay is to damn them with faint praise. But this was a fun movie, an enjoyable time in the theater. The last Transformers movie was a bore. I never cared about any characters in it, couldn’t follow the back story, and couldn’t bring myself to care enough to follow the plot.
It was also a big hit. This one cost a lot to make too, and won’t be a hit. And that’s a shame. At least they got my ten bucks.