Forget every newspaper review you read: Jupiter Ascending is a brilliant movie.
I went and saw it with my girlfriend and my best friend. The three of us caught a matinee at the Mall of America. Two o’clock on a Friday afternoon, the second week after the movie had opened. It was on one of the smaller screens, and even then maybe half full, if we’re being generous. It’s always interesting to see the other geeks and weirdos that wind up seeing movies headed for cult status when they’re first released.
Jupiter Ascending is a weird movie, and that’s why I’m glad it exists. The five second summary: there is a girl named Jupiter (Mila Kunis). She’s a cleaning woman from a family of Russian immigrants in Chicago. Except really she’s the reincarnated matriarch of one of the richest families in the universe. An ex military werewolf bounty hunter (Channing Tatum) is sent to protect her. They have adventures! Space DMV!! BEES!!! Even from just that you can tell it’s gonna be a weird movie.
It’s actually weirder than it sounds, and smarter, and more self aware.
MILD SPOILERS: The heart of this film is a critique of capitalism. Jupiter is the head of the Abrasax family. They live for thousands of years because of a rejuvenating treatment that involves harvesting whole planets worth of people. Obviously that’s pretty damn evil. The three Abrasax children try to manipulate their reborn mother, hoping to acquire Earth and its people as a resource to turn into profit. Jupiter has to learn how to navigate their world, and protect her home planet. It’s a great big adventure, with peril and pretty dresses. It’s beautiful.
Like, actually beautiful. They were obviously given a lot of money to make this movie, and it shows. It’s wonderful to look at, and all the special effects are top notch. There are times when the plot gets a bit twisty, the logic might be a bit ragged along the edges, but it always looks good.
Look it. I just… I swear, this is an important part of the movie, look how pretty it is!
Look at outer space!!!!!
There are dinosaur creatures. With wings. And long powerful tails.And Channing Tatum fights one on a planet that is starting to explode. And that action sequence maybe goes on a bit longer than it would have to, but it’s stunning. It’s just. Channing Tatum fights a dinosaur thing. You just have to go see it, I’m not doing a good enough job explaining how epic this was.
I loved how gloriously weird this movie is. Hollywood is such a machine, it knows the best way to make money is to not take risks. Yet sometimes things like this slip through. Andy and Lana Wachowski made The Matrix. I guess if you make The Matrix they’ll give you millions to make weird movies with space princesses and flying dinosaurs.
(Also, it’s worth noting that Lana Wachowski is a trans woman — I’m trying to think of a trans director with a higher profile than her, and am coming up empty. I actually can’t think of any other trans directors, which is super sad, and makes me feel like a failure as a queer movie buff.)
(There’s a New York Times article about the lack of women directors, and one of the big roadblocks women face is that they aren’t given opportunities, so they don’t have a chance to establish themselves, so they don’t have a body of work that makes them appealing for larger jobs. I’d say it’s definitely significant that Lana Wachowski gets the sort of opportunities she does because she started her career while presenting as a man. Her and her brother made the blockbuster Matrix series, and have been giving a lot of freedom since then.)
There’s something very queer about this movie, in a sense that it’s “a flexible space for the expression of all aspects of non- (anti-, contra-) straight cultural production” (Doty 3). There’s something odd going on here. Jupiter and Caine are the central heterosexual romance, but their relationship is interesting. She’s a princess, he’s a disgraced bounty hunter, their power dynamic isn’t something I usually see on screen. There’s at least the possibility of a very kinky reading of their romance. (SHE’S ALWAYS LIKED DOGS?)
Also, the way the family is constructed is very queer. The straight nuclear family is nowhere to be found. Jupiter was raised by her mother, surrounded by other relatives. The Abrasax family is highly dysfunctional. They’re all ancient, but look like they’re the same age as Jupiter. We only get hints about the children’s relationship with their mother, but yeah…not very maternal. And with Jupiter as their new mother figure? Very weird.
Yet at the same time, family is very important. I don’t want to get into the plot, because the plot doesn’t make sense, but there are moments when Jupiter has to think about how much she values her family. She puts things on the line for them, and yet does not see them as the most important thing on earth. Family is a motivation for a lot of the action in the film, but in an unconventional way.
I enjoy this movie in a queer way. Alexander Doty writes that “queer positions, queer readings, and queer pleasures are part of a reception space that stands simultaneously beside and within that created by heterosexual positions” (15). On some surface level Jupiter Ascending is a big space action movie. But there’s also something more going on, if you want there to be. Or maybe even if you don’t. Maybe that’s why it got so many bad reviews and didn’t catch on with the main audience for sci-fi action movies — it’s just too queer. That might be true. That might be why I loved it.
There are problems with this movie. People have questioned how it portrays Russian immigrants. If you squint at the plot too long you might spot some holes. Some of the action sequences drag on too long. But it’s a fun, weird movie. It’s not going to be like anything else you see this year.
I don’t see a lot of movies in the big theaters. I don’t like spending so much money, and I’m a grump who doesn’t like going places and doing things when there’s netflix at home. But I made a point of going to see Jupiter Ascending right after it came out. It’s the type of movie I need, and a type that isn’t made that often. It’s a weird movie! And as a weird person, whose interests are not usually catered to by the Hollywood machine I think it’s important to go support the weird movies. Maybe then they’ll make more of them. And then maybe they won’t seem so weird. And then maybe I won’t feel so weird? I mean, probably not, but maybe it won’t matter so much.