Sometimes, you dare to hope that the latest big budget sci-fi movie might actually be, if not amazing, at least average. It’s bound to be flawed, but maybe it will be entertaining. So, having seen some screenshots of Jupiter Ascending at the end of last year, I found myself interested in watching it – and it never once occurred to me to wonder why the film had sunk without trace upon its cinema release.
The reason, of course, is that Jupiter Ascending is a terrible film – a feature so poor that it should be banished to movie purgatory with all due haste. Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, the daughter of a Russian mother and an astronomer father, the latter of whom was brutally murdered before Jupiter was even born. Flash forward twenty or so years and Jupiter now lives in Chicago with her extended family, where she cleans the toilets of rich neighbours for a living and dreams of a better life.
What the population of Earth doesn’t know, however, is that they are just one entry in the stock portfolio of Balem Abraxas, the eldest sibling of a rich family who make their money by harvesting planets full of humans and using the cells to create what is essentially the elixir of life. With its population of seven billion unsuspecting souls, Earth is almost ripe for harvesting, and that makes it so valuable that both Balem and his two younger siblings – Kalique and Titus – have a keen interest in it.
Meanwhile, Jupiter’s life is far less glamorous – to the extent that she’s willing to go along with her cousin Vladie’s suggestion that she sell her eggs to a fertility clinic. For some reason, Jupiter makes only a token protest at the fact that Vladie intends to walk away with $10,000 of the $15,000 dollar payout, even though his contribution to this enterprise is minimal at best. Perhaps it’s because she’s too busy thinking about that $4000 telescope she wants from eBay – presumably she views its acquisition as a link to her dead father, but it’s hard to get behind her when she a) shows no real interest in astronomy and b) could easily start out with a cheaper telescope. If she’d amassed a collection of inferior telescopes and wanted a really good one to further her astronomical observations, then maybe I would care, but as it is, this seems like an unnecessarily expensive purchase.
At any rate, Jupiter has filled out the paperwork for the procedure under the name of her best friend Katherine, and for some reason this causes grey aliens to appear and attempt to abduct Katherine right in front of Jupiter’s eyes. Jupiter snaps a photo, but when her mother phones, the aliens are disturbed and disappear, leaving her with an inexplicable photo and no memory of the experience. Presumably, they also erase all memory of her best friend as well, as the unfortunate Katherine plays no further part in the film.
Instead, Jupiter heads to the clinic to have her eggs harvested, only to find that the doctors and their accompanying grey aliens are actually out to kill her. Fortunately, deus ex machina is on hand in the form of wolf-man Caine Wise, who spends the rest of the movie rescuing Jupiter from harm in effects-heavy set pieces. He even has a set of anti-gravity rocket boots, which apparently channel the power of gravity into differential equations – an explanation so nonsensical that they’d have been better off not bothering.
Caine takes Jupiter to see another extraterrestrial human – Stinger (Sean Bean), who, according to Wikipedia, is a genetic splice of human and honey bee, a fact which is never once alluded to in the film. He does, however, keep normal honey bees, who immediately gather round Jupiter because, apparently, they have been genetically programmed to recognise royalty. Wait, what – I hear you ask. Yes, Jupiter is (sort of) royalty – more on this in a moment. No, this plot point has no further significance apart from setting up this revelation. And no, I have no idea if the bees would have the same reaction to, say, the Queen of England. Stinger also happens to be Caine’s old commanding officer from a time when they were both in some kind of military squad where everyone got prosthetic wings, because, er, space battles are so much cooler with them. Unfortunately, Caine is deathly allergic to all royals who aren’t Jupiter, and when his wolf blood caused him to bite one, both he and Stinger were dishonourably discharged and sent off to become grizzled cynics.
Now, at various points in this synopsis, I have used the power of hindsight to explain things more clearly than the film bothers to do at any particular point. I will once again be doing this in order to succinctly explain Jupiter’s royal status, instead of dragging it out as slowly and painfully as the film does. Now, by virtue of bloodline, Jupiter is just the normal Russian-American she appears to be – she is neither descended from royalty nor married to it. Instead, she is the ‘genetic reincarnation’ of the deceased matriarch of the Abrasax family, who lived for some 91,000 years before being murdered in mysterious circumstances (her children are a relatively sprightly 14,000 or so).
Now obviously the probability of this happening is so vanishing small as to be unbelievable, although we can perhaps mitigate that somewhat by considering that a) we don’t know how many billions of humans are scattered across the galaxy in different planets and b) maybe the Abrasax family has cheated by using their society’s vast knowledge of genetics to play around with human DNA and increase the likelihood of genetic reincarnation. Nonetheless, this only means that Jupiter is genetically identical to Mrs Abrasax – it doesn’t mean she actually is the deceased matriarch, and nor, would you think, should she be more entitled to the Abrasax fortune than the blood relatives and next of kin. If this is a new inheritance law, then it’s a very stupid one, and the lawyers who came up with it should be shot.
Anyway, at Stinger’s place, our heroes are attacked again, this time by mercenaries who abduct Jupiter and take her to see Kalique. Kalique is delighted to not only explain all this dead mother nonsense, but to show off the effects of the amazing elixir that has enabled her to remain youthful for millennia. Kalique is especially interested in having Jupiter lay claim to her inheritance, if only to stiff her annoying brother Balem.
Nonetheless, Jupiter is soon rescued from Kalique’s clutches by Caine and a bunch of galactic police, who show up more to provide needed firepower at various points in the story than to make any sense. If the galaxy is ruled by the Abrasax family, then who do these police work for? If there is a higher power or democratically elected government, then where are they and what are they doing? These are questions for a film with more than a rudimentary self-awareness of its surroundings.
What follows is the only really entertaining bit of the film, a slightly amusing parody of bureaucracy and red tape in which Jupiter must fill in many forms and grapple with unhelpful officials and their tautological requests. Jupiter manages to claim her inheritance – on paper at least, but on the way home, she and Caine are detained by the youngest Abrasax sibling – Titus. Titus reveals to Jupiter that Soylent Green is people the elixir is made of humans, and that his mother was actually killed for wanting to stop this horrific practice. If Balem has his way, Earth will be next on the chopping block – but there is a way to stop the madness. All Jupiter has to do is marry Titus, and he will save the Earth from his greedy brother.
Since Jupiter has no agency or opinions of her own, she placidly agrees to marry Titus, which, if nothing else, allows us to see her dressed up in a gorgeous dress that I wouldn’t mind wearing at my own wedding. Of course, Titus isn’t just out to marry Jupiter for the good of all mankind, and instead plans to kill her after the wedding and take Earth for himself. Whilst the sensible thing to do would have been to keep this to himself until all was said and done, he instead feels the need to go all stereotypical villain and tell Caine all about it, right before blowing our hero out of an airlock. Fortunately, Caine has the presence of mind to open a compartment full of space suits as he’s blown out into space, and is able to leisurely grab for one and activate it without freezing or asphyxiating in the vacuum of space. He doesn’t even suffer any radiation poisoning, which just goes to show that being a wolf-man is an amazing thing indeed.
Naturally, Caine is then rescued by the galactic police, and returns to Titus’ spaceship just in time to save Jupiter from the bonds of holy matrimony, literally rescuing her just before the magical futuristic ring clamps its way over her finger.
Jupiter is still keen to get out of this madness (and who can blame her?), but of course there is one more sibling who must step forward – Balem himself. Upon learning that he has taken her family hostage, Jupiter (the person) must go to Balem’s secret refinery on Jupiter (the planet) to trade her ownership of the Earth for their safe return. Jupiter naturally agrees to this, only to realise that, for legal reasons, as long as she retains the Earth, Balem will not harvest the planet and kill anyone on it. It’s unclear why any of this would stop him, as he clearly has the technology to do it and there’s nothing Jupiter can do to stop him – and he probably has the firepower to ward off whatever the galactic government turns out to be.
But nothing needs to make sense here, for it is time for a final boss battle. It turns out that Balem’s awesome refinery is so shoddily built that Caine is able to critically damage it just by crashing into it with a small ship, after which he has a climactic fight with Balem’s draconic chief of security, a battle I could barely care about since it was hardly like it was the confrontation of two great nemeses, just a couple of guys who only met for the first time mere minutes before. Of course, Balem himself falls to his death, as all villains must, ensuring that the day is saved and no one righteous has to die.
Back on Earth, Jupiter’s family have no memory of what happened to them, whilst Jupiter herself finds a new cheerful acceptance in her life of getting up early and scrubbng toilets – since she’s also secretly the owner of Earth. She even gets that telescope she wanted, since her otherwise penniless family are somehow able to scrape together $4000 between them to buy it, instead of perhaps using that money to er, rent somewhere better to live? Send Jupiter to college to get qualifications that will enable her to not have to scrub toilets forever more? And what’s more, she even gets to keep Caine as an extraterrestrial boyfriend who comes and visits her for flying dates involving gravity boots and his newly restored prosthetic wings – not that either of them exhibited any personality or genuine chemistry, but as per the rules of film, they had to get together nonetheless.
And thus concludes a film that barely made sense, and certainly did not deserve to be watched or even made. Join me next time for more sci-fun.