I’d seen a bit of buzz about Jupiter Ascending, both positive and negative. I didn’t get around to watching it until this week.
The science is absurd, the plot is completely over the top, and about 3/4 of the way through, I figured out why it was working for me.
Spoilers Beyond This Point
This is a movie that has zero f**ks to give.
- Channing Tatum as a half-dog hunter who used to have wings? Sure!
- Anti-gravity skates? Go for it!
- Bees are genetically able to recognize royalty? Why not!
- Sean Freaking Bean? Yeah … better yet, let’s allow him to live through the whole movie!
- But wait, something’s still missing. Oh, I know! Let’s add some flying
- Three villains, each more over-the-top than the last? Of course!
- Not to mention dialogue like, “I am not your damn mother.”
- And makeup/prosthetics people running around shouting, “Bigger ears!” and “More random circuits glued to his face!” and “More elephant trunk!”
In so many respects, this is a bad movie. It has a plot that’s less linear and more like an out of control lightcycle from Tron careening and ricocheting from one set piece to the next. The core premise that Earth is nothing but a farm, one of countless such planets, all so that humans can be harvested to make immortality juice? And also random genetic reincarnation? Calling this science fiction is a slap in the face of science.
Which is kind of the point. It’s not meant to be science fiction. It’s a space fairy tale, with dragons and villains and royalty and an evil prince trying to marry the heroines and a knight in a horrible blond goatee. It’s the heroine’s three challenges — fairy tales are all about the number three. Heck, Jupiter’s opening scenes where she’s getting up at 4:45 in the morning to go scrub toilets and clean houses is so Cinderella.
This is Lana and Andy Wachowski playing, making a movie not to win awards or revolutionize a genre or change the world. I’ve got to believe they spent many a night, possibly drunk, saying things like, “Wait, let’s set this part on a refinery on the planet Jupiter.”
“Awesome! Wait, why do we need a refinery on Jupiter?”
“So we can blow it the hell up!”
I really liked Mila Kunis’s portrayal of Jupiter, the mistakes she makes along the way, her sense of being completely in over her head, her fight scene at the end… (Thank you for letting her beat the final bad guy instead of having to be rescued. I mean, she gets rescued after beating the final bad guy, but that’s only because nobody bothered to give her some anti-gravity skates of her own.)
Then the ending is all, “And they lived happily ever after, dammit!”
“But what about the other two siblings who–
“Happily. Ever. After!”
“Her family has no money!”
“HAPPILY. EVER. AFTER!”
All right, then. They all lived happily ever after.
November 25, 2015 @ 8:20 pm
I unabashedly LOVED that movie, for similar reasons that you did. It was just so much fun. Sparkly princesses in space! Awesome!
(Though I did think that the bee thing made sense as the woman who genetically programmed the planet, doesn’t seem UNlikely to have trained them not to sting her at the very least).
Ian D Osmond
November 25, 2015 @ 8:28 pm
I’ve heard it described as “as if a twelve-year-old girl’s Tumblr exploded onto a screen — and why not? We’ve had plenty of movies based on a twelve-year-old boy’s Tumblr.”
Me, I love it just because I love watching people’s faces as I explain the movie. “… so, Channing Tatum, the space-werewolf who is so much of a rebel that they took away his wings when they kicked him out of the Space Special Forces, so he now uses anti-gravity rollerblades ….”
November 25, 2015 @ 8:45 pm
“This is Lana and Andy Wachowski playing. . .”
Back in the Deepest Darkest Ages, Science Fiction used to be play. It’s kind of a shame that a movie that joyously embraces the roots of the genre took such a beating for Not Being Science Fiction.
But! I liked it, too, and bought the DVD, which I look forward to viewing it again this weekend.
November 25, 2015 @ 9:21 pm
I love this movie unabashedly. Yes, the plot is ridiculous and the science more so, but not only is it a grand quest movie with a fantastic heroine, but it has the sky shootout in Chicago that I’ve waited for my whole flipping life.
November 25, 2015 @ 9:23 pm
Funny you should make that observation, because it really reminded me of early SF. The hybrids could have been Underpeople from the Instrumentality of Mankind, though a friend swears the dragons were Koopa, and the robot luchador guards might have stepped out of the Flash Gordon props closet. And Planet Paperwork was clearly Trantor, by way of Terry Gilliam.
That one scene, though. I never imagined I’d see someone mash up Star Wars with The Graduate.
November 25, 2015 @ 9:23 pm
I loved it. And I think it would have taken less of a beating if it had been released in summer. This has plotless summer blockbuster with things that go boom written all over it. But it was released right when people are expecting Oscar-bait think pieces and period dramas. (Which is not to say that it didn’t deserve some of the criticism it received. I just think the criticism would have been less vehement if the movie had been released in July instead of February.
Jim C. Hines
November 25, 2015 @ 9:48 pm
There should be a Tumblr of people’s reactions to hearing that explanation of the movie.
Jim C. Hines
November 25, 2015 @ 9:49 pm
SF/F needs more playfulness!
November 25, 2015 @ 10:06 pm
I loved Jupiter Ascending so much, and for ALL OF THESE REASONS. I consider it to be basically in the same genre as Star Wars, which I also love because it’s not about science or space exploration–it’s about space princesses and weird aliens and chosen ones and evil emperors.
The only difference is that Jupiter is SO MUCH better than Luke Skywalker.
November 25, 2015 @ 10:50 pm
So glad to know others loved that movie as much as I. Great scenery–including Channing–fun chases, wild sardonic villians. Reminded me of a well-run role-playing game.
November 26, 2015 @ 12:01 am
Anti-gravity roller blades?! I’m so there. Inline speed skating just got a helluva lot faster and vertical.
Pixel Scroll 11/25 Have Space Suit, Can’t Get Through Babylon 5 TSA | File 770
November 26, 2015 @ 12:29 am
[…] (15) Hines Review. Jim C. Hines reviews “Jupiter Ascending”. […]
November 26, 2015 @ 8:37 am
It totally deserves criticism, but it’s still totally enjoyable.
I tell people it really would have been better served as a series rather than a film. It would have been less random new things every few minutes, and most importantly the long format of a show is really the way to get the most out of ‘who do you trust’ thing they do. They set up several interesting characters, and this great arc on revealing family and who does she trust and who ends up betraying her, that would have had such richer payoff given more time. Instead you barely begin to trust someone or care about them before they betray her, and she’s on to the next ally/possible murderer.
November 26, 2015 @ 12:22 pm
Here is my problem with the “happily ever after” part.
Earth has no defenses of its own, and never will because no one except Jupiter and her boyfriend knows that there’s a threat in the first place.
So what’s keeping Earth safe? The power of the people who respect her ownership of the Earth.
Where does that power come from? The plutocratic system which ultimately depends on mass slaughter to make cosmetics.
Jupiter’s “happily ever after” is bought by leaving nearly every other sentient being in existence trapped in a system in which they are essentially treated as livestock.
It’s a great parable about privilege, but not so great as a heroic narrative.
November 26, 2015 @ 5:47 pm
And can Jupiter effect the deliverance of these sentient beings?
She has a dog-soldier and a couple pairs of anti-grav skates. Nobody’s going to follow her, and even if anyone did, the Family holds *allllll* the cards.
What Jupiter can do is hold the planet that belongs to her. For her lifetime.
Privilege belongs — not to Jupiter, who only has to live out a human lifetime before she ceases to be a Problem to those of the Family who remain — but to the Family.
Happy Ever After is not Happy for Forever.
The universe is, at story-end, as it was, at story-beginning, a Dangerous Place. Only now, we’re a little more informed about the Danger.
November 27, 2015 @ 12:56 pm
And that’s her privilege. She can decide to ignore the Danger and live out her life in her happy bubble of denial because she alone is not threatened by it.
There are things she can do. She has the authority conferred on her by the system. This gives her access to information about how it works and it gives her a platform from which to be heard. There have got to be other people dissatisfied with the system. She can find out who they are.
And if she can’t be bothered with any of that, the absolute minimum she can do is warn her fellow Earthlings! She’s got the anti-gravity skates as proof of an advanced technology, and astronomers will have at least seen some weird lights and stuff from the comings and goings of the interstellar spacecraft. She can take the skates to scientists and technologists and give them a chance to figure out how to duplicate that advanced technology.
Perhaps it still doesn’t give Earth much of a chance, but at least it’s a chance, as opposed to no, which is the result of her conscious decision to leave everyone else ignorant.
November 27, 2015 @ 12:56 pm
“…as opposed to no…” was supposed to be “…as opposed to no chance…”
November 28, 2015 @ 3:52 pm
I loved it too. I was hoping for a sequel, though that seems unlikely.
November 28, 2015 @ 4:38 pm
I love this movie so much, unabashedly so, although it was really weird to watch it the day after I’d watched Magic Mike.
Also can we talk for a second about cast inclusivity? We can have the captain of this major ship be a woman and black because of course we can! Gay cyborgs! Everyone’s welcome, it’s friggin science fantasy! I LOVED that there were fewer blue/green/pink people and more y’know, shades of humanity — even in wacky costumes it was still really clear that the entire movie was not just white people, especially white men.
And that cyborg moment? Oh my. I loved the bureaucratic montages so much, and that sudden pause humanized it for me and made me love it all even more.
These are the movies that fill me with joy, because someone said fuck it, let’s do something we love instead of something that will win us awards, and everyone else involved said HELL YES, LET’S DO IT.
I love seeing people in hollywood get to PLAY, because fantasy is FUN and they have the toys to make it amazing, and you can see how much fun people were having making this.
November 28, 2015 @ 11:23 pm
The movie is basically The Matrix with the main genders reversed — Nemo is a woman and Trinity is a man.
But about the two siblings: The universe is not owned by the three siblings. Part of the universe is owned by the three siblings. They have their empire which includes buying planets which they then seeded with humans — their race — which they then harvest when there is enough in crops that the farm isn’t sustainable. They then sell those products to the wealthy of the rest of the universe, particularly wealthy humans. But in the owning of those planets, they have to follow the laws of the wider universe, which include the space cops, many races that they don’t have dominion over, etc. If the three controlled the universe, then Jupiter would not have had to go through all the bureaucracy she goes through to support her reincarnation claim to Earth and its system as a member of that royal family. Contracts are critical in the universe.
At the end of the movie, one sibling is killed, the other has violated all sorts of universe laws and contractual laws and so is basically arrested by the space cops. He may eventually get free on his wealth, but a lot of his wealth is then being confiscated. So the sister wins, because she treated Jupiter properly and let Jupiter go with the space cops. She doesn’t need Earth, because she now gets to take over most of her brothers’ holdings. And she can make deals with Jupiter, who may need her resources down the road. Earth cannot be harvested without Jupiter’s leave, and if there is a violation, then there are armies — the space cops, etc. — to counter it. That’s why Sean Bean is on Earth — he’d been exiled by the space cops to be a marshal on Earth and monitor the planet, making sure the royal who owned it and any others don’t do things they are not supposed to do legally.
So Jupiter does have an army of sorts, and her boyfriend is a reinstated member of it. The laws of the universe back her up. If either remaining sibling tries to invade, there are a lot of consequences to that. It’s obvious that the W siblings planned sequels to the movie, which won’t get made (but might become a comic, I suppose,) which would involve the two imperial siblings. But for the moment, Jupiter and her family are safe because they legally own the planet. However, since Jupiter plans never to exploit her wealth, that doesn’t give her as many resources long term. There are still assassination teams. Which means her boyfriend probably has people watching the planet pretty carefully. The aid they gave to Jupiter enforcing the law gave them an advantage in the universe. She’s an investment and they can use her politically for all sorts of things.
That’s what is fun about their movies, besides the visuals. They don’t always make sense in all things, but there is elaborate world-building in them.
December 8, 2015 @ 8:51 pm
I loved everything about both your “review’ and the comments here. So true and so fun. I even loved that the comments start to drift into “why” and logic issues. Despite how well you note: “HAPPY. EVER. AFTER. damnit!” People just can’t help it… but it doesn’t matter because, as you perfectly said, the film has zero f*cks to give. A 14 yo girl’s tumblr barfing on screen is the perfect frame for this film. Thanks for the fun. It totally reminded me of all the reasons I enjoyed a hugely ridiculous film (actually I KNEW there was a reason bees like me so much. LOL).
December 21, 2015 @ 4:01 pm
Even better (WARNING: SPOILERS):
The heroine’s reaction to seeing them is “OMG I want this. D:”
…And so she does. At the end, once all the fuss is over and there’s time for gifts and fun, they don’t forget and she gets her own pair. A real fairytale indeed! \(^o^)/
Jim C. Hines
December 21, 2015 @ 4:06 pm
SO much better than glass slippers!
December 21, 2015 @ 4:09 pm
Maybe you’ll like this article by Foz Meadow, about the strong similarities with The Matrix:
So… do you disagree, or is The Matrix not sci-fi enough for you either? :p
December 22, 2015 @ 1:31 pm
Honestly, the fozmeadows post is excellent. Whatever anyone thinks of this post, read her compare and contrast. It’s really good fun.