Jupiter Ascending: A Review

I just re-watched this movie for the third time, and enjoyed it very much. Afterwards I checked some reviews online, just for fun. Fun is what I did not find online. I can’t comprehend why this particular movie got such a bad reception, when we have Dune and Guardians of the Galaxy, and Star Wars movies that make money hand over fist. So, here’s my review. Or maybe it’s more of an analysis, which you can’t really have without talking about most of it. So if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it.

Spoilers Abound

Mila Kunis plays our protagonist, Jupiter Jones. Coincidentally, that was the name of the protagonist in a book series I read as a kid, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. An homage, perhaps?

Anyway, she’s a Russian immigrant to Chicago, with a hard life. She begins to see aliens, and they try to kill her. Another alien rescues her. This is Caine Wise (played by Channing Tatum), a genetically-engineered cross between a wolf and a human. He has been hired to track Jupiter down by Titus, a scion of the Abrasax family who it appears are rich and powerful. Turns out that Earth is just one of many planets in a galactic civilization, and it happens to be part of the Abrasax family estates. Caine doesn’t know why Titus wanted Jupiter brought to him, but a job’s a job. Caine also doesn’t know why the other group of aliens are trying to kill her.

And while all that is happening, we also cut away to meet the Abrasax family. There’s Titus, there’s Balem (played by Eddie Redmayne), and finally there’s their sister Kalique. Apparently they struggle between themselves for power, measured by these estates they each own, and how much they’re worth.

It turns out that Balem is the sibling who owns the Earth (which is really worth a lot), and he’s sent his own people to kill Jupiter (as opposed to Titus, who wants her brought to him). Oh, and Kalique is also plotting about Jupiter, but appears to be gathering intelligence at this point.

So far, so good. Our protagonist is an innocent whose eyes are being opened to the existence of this galactic civilization, and she can’t imagine why they want her dead. Oh, and we encounter the team that’s out to capture her as well, although I suppose that the difference between capture and kill isn’t clear to Jupiter as she’s fleeing (with Caine’s help).

The visuals are great, things are moving right along, and we’re getting background information. Certainly on a par with the beginning of the first Star Wars movie. Already better than Lynch’s Dune. What’s the problem?

Caine takes Jupiter to meet Stinger Apini (played by Sean Bean!), an old buddy of his from the Legions. Well, maybe not so much a buddy, as they get into a fist fight as soon as they meet. But while that’s going on, we can’t help notice that Stinger’s house is surrounded by bees. The bees are everywhere, but they begin to congregate around Jupiter. Then they start reacting to her hand movements as she tries to shoo them away. Reacting as a group, in big waves. Jupiter laughs in delight, and the others kneel to her and address her as “Your Majesty.” Bet you didn’t see that coming.

We are also introduced to Stinger’s daughter, who doesn’t have too many lines.

Then we get more backstory. Bees are engineered to recognize royalty. Jupiter is a “recurrence” of an important “entitled” class member in their galactic society. Caine’s lupine instincts overcame him once and he tried to rip the throat out of one of the entitled. He would’ve been killed as a result, but Stinger (apparently his former commander) took responsibility. So they were both drummed out of the Legion instead, and lost their big bio-mechanical wings too (they still have the bio-ports on their backs). Those Legions must’ve been pretty cool! In fact, Caine took this job working for Titus so that he could get Caine reinstated along with getting his wings again. Oh, and for himself as well. But Titus didn’t tell Caine that Jupiter is a royal, so now they need to get Jupiter to the Aegis (apparently a law enforcement agency), who will safeguard her on her way to register her royal status with galactic civilization.

And even more stuff. This civilization is responsible for killing off Earth’s dinosaurs, who apparently were intelligent and a threat to “seeding” Earth with humans (or some breed of human, anyway). Which is what galactic civilization does.

I don’t have any trouble following this. Just about every review seems to complain that they can’t understand the plot. That was all clear to me; the actors come right out and tell us what’s going on. The only thing I didn’t hear was that the entitled who Caine attacked is Balem Abrasax. I mean, maybe it ended up on the cutting room floor, or maybe there was a line somewhere that I didn’t quite get, but either way it really isn’t important to the plot. Balem never tries to get Caine and take revenge, but he does wear a high collar and his voice is raspy. It’s kinda cool to know why that is.

So Balem’s team makes a another attempt on Jupiter, but turns out some of the team really work for Kalique and they snatch her instead of killng her. Jupiter meets Kalique and we get more backstory. Genetics is this civilization’s religion, if you will. Jupiter is a one-in-a-million genetic duplicate of the prior head of the Abrasax clan, Kalique’s mother (who is dead). And the mother left an inheritance for any such duplicate that might appear. A recurrence is considered to be the original, re-born. And this is why Jupiter is now a royal. And part of her inheritance will be the (very valuable) planet Earth, so that will be taken away from Balem.

The other info dump that Jupiter gets is that the thing of greatest value to this civilization is time. In other words, a longer lifespan. Kalique is 1400 years old, her mother was over 90,000 years old when she died (she was murdered). And the people of these “estate” planets are the resources that are harvested to enable the entitled to live these unimaginably-long lives. Kalique demonstrates by descending into a pool, and coming out looking about eighteen years old.

While Kalique is bonding with her new “mother,” Caine arrives with Aegis officers and a starship. They demand that Kalique release Jupiter, but Kalique says she only wants to welcome Jupiter and help her. Jupiter believes her, but goes along with Caine and they are reunited with Stinger on the new Aegis ship.

Jupiter and Caine have a moment in private, where she expresses her attraction to him. He tells her it’s impossible, since he’s an engineered person (called a “splice,”), and she’s royalty. Jupiter doesn’t handle rejection well.

I will point out that the acting thus far has easily been on a par with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. It beats Dune without breaking a sweat. (Get it?)

The Aegis ship arrives at the capitol planet Ores, and they negotiate an excruciating bureaucracy (including a cameo by Terry Gilliam) in order to confirm Jupiter’s new status. But eventually they do, and she gets a nifty holo-tattoo on her arm. She also gets a little “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” thing so she can study up.

Then misfortune strikes and both Jupiter and Caine are captured by Titus, as a result of Stinger’s betrayal. They are separated, and Titus plies his wiles on Jupiter. She demonstrates that she had time to study by citing the laws that he is breaking by detaining her. He tells her that he is only concerned for his people, and they will discuss the matter over dinner.

He also meets with Caine, who has been imprisoned. Since crossing Titus means getting thrown out an airlock, Titus makes good on his reputation and proceeds to implement those consequences. But not before boasting that he’s going to marry Jupiter and then kill her, so he can acquire her inheritance. Oh, the cad! This is certainly more dastardly than anything Jabba or Lando could’ve concocted!

But no one took Caine’s high-tech boots away from him. Did I fail to mention them? They’re grav boots, and he tends to skate and soar with them. Anyway, he grabs a mine and detonates it near his chest, and we see that his outfit hardens into a space-suit so he doesn’t suffer from being dumped out the airlock. He doesn’t have a lot of air, but he gets rescued by the Aegis ship at the last moment.

Meanwhile back on Titus’ ship, the villain explains that the populations of those estate planets are seeded, raised and eventually harvested in order to manufacture the substance that Kalique demonstrated when she was rejuvenated. Poor Titus pretends he has realized that this is Not Right, and that he wants to protect as many people as he can from such a fate. Thus he proposes, quite literally, to Jupiter that they marry and with their combined power they can save countless lives – including those of the humans of Earth. He manages to fool Jupiter, and she agrees to a marriage in name only.

Of course, while all of this is happening, Balem has been throwing fits because he hasn’t been able to get his henchmen to kill Jupiter. So he captures her entire extended family and squirrels them away on his big processing plant hidden inside Jupiter’s (the planet) atmosphere.

Back on the Aegis ship, Caine confronts the captive Stinger. Stinger says that he turned them in to Titus because his daughter was sick, and he needed the money. Caine establishes that there are no other factors that might tempt Stinger into betrayal again, and they join forces to attack Titus’ ship and rescue Jupiter before she is married and killed.

After a daring rescue in the nick of time, our heroes learn that Balem has Jupiter’s family. In order to ensure their safety, she will have to abdicate her position in Balem’s favor. Caine tries to talk her out of this action, but she refuses to listen. She travels with Balem’s team, and Caine and the Aegis ship are prevented from following when a giant portal closes, almost crushing their ship.

Thus far we’ve had battles on planets, battles in space, big starships, alien worlds, all kinds of bizarre creatures, sneering villains, and some very impressive costumes. We’ve learned more and more about this setting, right along with our protagonist. It’s not a difficult plot. The scheming machinations of the members of a Great House should be familiar to fans of any space opera or empire (fictional or historical). The effects have been first rate. The acting is superior. Again, I’m having no trouble following the plot. The tone is the equivalent of something like Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s refreshing to have a female protagonist in a science fiction blockbuster. So what’s the problem with the reviews? Which I’m certain affected box office. I still don’t get it.

I don’t feel the need to detail the end of the movie, but there is nothing like any story-telling faux pas to be found here. I really like this movie. There are few space operas in film, and I’m a fan of the genre, so this movie gets high ratings from me. If you have something to say about how this movie falls short in some way in entertaining its demographic, I’d like to hear about it. If not, go out and buy it. Now.

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