People say these things as though they were reasons you should NOT go to see it.
Look, there are plenty of bad movies out there. I have seen many of them. In theaters. Twice. I might even go see “Chappie.”
Sometimes a movie is not merely bad, however. Sometimes a movie stops being bad and ascends to a higher plane, where it is so ridiculous that it is proof against its own absurdity. “Barbarella.” “Rocky Horror.” “The Room.” “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”
“Jupiter Ascending” does not quite belong in their company, but it is the closest thing I have seen in a long time.
I feel like I’m not convincing you. Let me just describe the plot to you, in case you were having any doubts. (When a movie is bad enough, there is no such thing as a spoiler. There is only evidence.)
Mila Kunis is our hero. Her character, she informs us, was born on a cargo container in the middle of the Atlantic. Her father was tragically killed after coming up with the dumbest possible name for her — Jupiter — and his wife felt so guilty after he died that she just went with the name. (This seems to work in movies. No one in a movie ever says to himself, “Huh, you know, I’m sad we lost that promising young captain, but no way I’m calling this child James Tiberius Kirk. That’s asking too much of his personality.”) This is how Mila came to be called Jupiter Jones.
Jupiter Jones is a toilet cleaner. (I would say that she is a house cleaner, but you never see her clean anything that is not a toilet. Also, the toilets all look suspiciously clean when she gets to them. Where does she work, on a movie set?)
But Jupiter is not just any toilet cleaner. She is not just Borax or Lysol or Scrubbing Bubbles. She is the reincarnation or “recurrence” of the Queen of the Universe.
This seems to come as news to the movie, which spends its first minutes setting her up to be the Maid in Manhattan, showing her trying on jewelry and looking at dresses and wanting to sleep in. But her dreams are in the wrong genre. No rom-coms here. You have been sorted into sci-fi, Jupiter Jones!
The original queen bee of the universe left three heirs, Evil Space Brits (played by Douglas Booth, Eddie Redmayne and someone whose actual name is Tuppence Middleton – which is to say, it is a TRAVESTY and SHAME that she and Benedict Cumberbatch did not find each other while he was unattached and produce the Most British Name-Union of All Time) who are scheming and plotting and chewing the scenery. First on their agenda? Kill Jupiter.
On Earth, Jupiter has decided to sell her eggs and give two-thirds of the money to her cousin Vassili, for no apparent reason. “Why do I only get $5000?” she asks. I don’t know, Jupiter! Could it be that you don’t understand how transactions work? Her cousin says some vague slogans about profit that IN NO WAY explain why he will be getting all the money. But Jupiter seems satisfied. She cannot listen because she is too busy thinking about buying a telescope on eBay, an actual plot point that will be relevant later.
She goes in to donate her eggs. It turns out that the people in the clinic are not people but aliens who want to kill her. Fortunately, she gets rescued by Channing Tatum, a space wolf with gravity-defying boots who will spend the remainder of the movie skating around the sky with an expression that looks as though he is trying to remember the date of a historical event without googling it and is drawing a total blank.
He is supposed to look like a wolf. I know that he is supposed to look like a wolf, because the movie keeps telling us this, although apparently there are some problems with “albinism” and he doesn’t have a pack (what’s the word for a wolf without a pack? Lone something?). But he doesn’t look like a wolf. He looks, as a friend with me kept pointing out, like Mr. Tumnus. He has a goatee. He looks as though he is about to bleat.
He aggressively air-skates around the Chicago skyline to protect Jupiter (the person, not the planet) from a series of attacks.
After fleeing Chicago, Jupiter and Channing Tatum take a long car ride to the country to visit Sean Bean. This was the part when the movie seemed to want them to feel chemistry. But they don’t have chemistry. They barely have biology. (I’ll workshop that joke if you’ll see the movie.) The only attraction they seem to feel to each other is the sort of general gravitational attraction experienced between two objects of sufficient mass as the distance between them decreases. She courts him by applying a maxi pad to his space wound and saying “Wow” a lot.
They arrive at Sean Bean’s house. Sean Bean is a retired bee/space cop named Stinger. He said in an interview about this movie that “I know I was half man, half bee, but I didn’t realize the kind of subtleties that would be explored” and “I like bees anyways.” I am not really sure what these subtleties were, other than that he used to have wings and now he does not, and this makes him sad, that there are lots of bees who hang out at his house, and that he says things like “Bees aren’t like humans. Bees don’t lie” and “Bees can tell royalty by instinct.” He told people to see the movie because “all the characters, they are just very interesting, very different, and very… I have not seen anything like it before.”
Jupiter discovers that she can control the bees by waving her arms like a graceful ballet dancer.
They fight off some more angry aliens and then a ship comes to take Jupiter to meet the first of the Evil Space Brits. This one is Tuppence Middleton, who starts off looking like Hollywood’s Idea of a 40-Year-Old Woman (a weird, liverspotted Benjamin Button nightmare) then turns back into Hollywood’s Idea of Youth and Beauty, because heaven forfend that a female villain should have any character motivation other than wanting to look younger and prettier. She explains this to Jupiter. Jupiter, wearing the first of many attractive space dresses, nods along. Tuppence explains that Jupiter’s previous incarnation has handily left her an inheritance, which she needs to go through the Space Bureaucracy to claim.
With Channing Tatum trotting at her heels, Jupiter goes to the Space DMV to pick up her title, a sequence that is worth the price of admission and sure to feature prominently in Republican 2016 videos. (Credit is due to their robotic assistant, Bob, who manages to obtain that space title after overcoming a lot of bureaucracy, and whose quiet determination and evident satisfaction in the completion of his quest are more convincing than anything that happens at any other point in the film.) Terry Gilliam is there also, proving the truth of the old space adage that “all space bureaucracy eventually leads to Terry Gilliam.”
What other movie does this? This is like stopping “Terminator” midway through so the characters can stand in lines and fill out forms.
In romantic subplots, Channing Tatum spends the entirety of the movie turning Jupiter’s advances down as politely as possible. First, he tries to explain that he is basically a dog and that she is a queen and that they should forget it. (Anyone whose leg has met a dog lately knows that dogs are no respecter of persons; he is clearly just being polite.) She doesn’t take the hint. “I’ve always loved dogs!” she tells him.
Later she tries again, asking how he got kicked out of the space army. It turns out that he bit an “entitled” (“Divergent,” eat your heart out!) on the throat for no reason. She asks, and this is a direct quote, “Does any part of you want to bite me?”
Fortunately, Sean Bean arrives to stop this heartbreakingly romantic dialogue, before Channing Tatum is forced to explain that a) no part of him wants to bite any part of her and b) did no one explain the concept of “xenobiology” to her? There is no way a genetically spliced space wolf-man will be compatible with a human woman.
Sean Bean has betrayed them because his daughter is suffering from Movie Disease, the kind where you cough immediately after being introduced and nothing will save you unless your parent betrays the main character. He takes Jupiter to the second Evil Space Brit, Titus, played by Douglas Booth, who is supposed to be the Dissipated Party-Lover of the three. We can tell because earlier in the film we see a shot of him at what appears to be a space orgy, where he and a group of aliens are floating around in a gravity orb fully clothed. (Then again, maybe it had not gotten underway yet. It is so hard to get a space orgy started.)
Jupiter greets him with some snappy words about tax law.
I am not making this up. This is a space opera where the most high-stakes action you can take is to transfer a title to another person by invoking tax code. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS? WHY ARE YOU NOT IN A THEATER WATCHING THIS FILM?
He tries to marry Jupiter for some reason that he says has to do with giving her more property rights. Jupiter, displaying the negotiating acumen we have come to expect from her, agrees. She puts on another pretty dress and starts very slowly getting an official space-ring applied by a space officiant. Fortunately, Channing Tatum and his gravity-defying shoes arrive just in time to stop her from making this decision.
Then they just leave because I guess Titus didn’t care THAT much, even though earlier he was insisting he wanted to kill Jupiter and take Earth.
Jupiter goes home, only to discover that her family has been taken captive by the third Evil Space Brit, Eddie Redmayne, whose henchmen are all grumpy winged lizards. Instead of recognizing this for the reprieve that it is – Vassili was trying to sell her eggs and take the money just a few moments earlier! — Jupiter insists on going to exchange her rights to the entire Earth for their safety. Classic Jupiter.
Everyone else — including a spaceship full of more interesting characters — goes with her because at this point they are invested in seeing how it turns out.
She gets to Jupiter (the planet, not the person) and meets up with Eddie Redmayne, who is about to harvest her family using some nasty drill equipment. He eats several pieces of scenery and talks about his relationship with his mother. He chews so much scenery that he deforests multiple neighboring productions and several amorous beavers stray onto the set to fight for his hand. His Space Villain is a strange, petulant combo of whispering and screeching, Norman Bates with Tourette’s and a fashion-forward haircut. He is what pushes this movie over the edge into Truly Something. He is Anakin Skywalker if Hayden Christensen had been making his more questionable acting choices on purpose.
He tells Jupiter that the only purpose of everything is “to consume” and profit and sneers that some people will always be at the bottom of the pyramid. (Space One Percenters are terrible!) This exciting action culminates in him asking her to sign over her space title to him. This is a relief because the movie was veering dangerously close to action sequences and getting too far from property rights questions, which we all know are what drive people into theaters. But we should not have worried. EVERYTHING in this movie comes back to SPACE TITLES.
Meanwhile, in the Starship Full of More Interesting Characters, Sean Bee has something to say. He tells Channing Tatum, who is still standing there looking as though his thoughts have only partially downloaded, that “I am going to tell you what you are feeling, because you cannot possibly express it or understand it yourself, because of who and what you are” – or words pretty much exactly along these lines. (Dialogue!) Channing, Sean Bee explains, is in love with Jupiter, which is news both to him and to the audience. Sean urges him to go in and get the girl, because he has clearly found his pack, the one thing he has been looking for his whole life! Sure. Okay.
Also the ship is being piloted by an elephant.
Have I convinced you to see this movie yet?
Channing Tatum goes flying in through the atmosphere and breaks the entire economy. A classic Space Fight Sequence ensues once Jupiter refuses to sign away her space title. (SPACE TITLES!) Eddie Redmayne falls a great distance and dies. Mila Kunis falls a great distance and survives. Channing maims, then kills, a winged lizard in a horrible fashion.
Jupiter goes home and goes back to cleaning toilets. Now, mysteriously, this is fulfilling for her, because she owns the whole planet and is dating an alien with whom it is highly unlikely that she is reproductively compatible. Also, her family has gotten her a telescope for no real reason, resolving that critical telescope-related plotline from earlier.
After celebrating her new telescope with her family, Jupiter leaves to go on a date with Channing Tatum, who has gotten his wings back. (Apparently, in space, wolves have wings?) They fly around the city, and this is how the movie ends.
My point is: This is in theaters, right now. This is not something I am making up. This is not some sort of fever dream that struck me and I have just now set down to paper. I did not eat bad anchovies and fall asleep on a law textbook and type out willy-nilly all the bad ideas that came to me. This is an actual multimillion-dollar blockbuster. It is exactly the level of bonkers that is so rare nowadays. It dares greatly. It fails greatly.
Good? No. Heck no. But great.
This is a space movie about tax code. This is a space movie with an enormous sequence at the DMV. It is no surprise that this came out in February, not summer, but the real question is: How did it manage to get here at all?
And this is the kind of epic failure that they are going to stop making if we keep letting them fail. If you don’t see this, it will be your own dang fault that every single movie for the next 30 years is a good movie starring a Marvel superhero. I know, that doesn’t sound so bad. But it is. This is “The Room” in space. This is “Rocky Horror” without the winks to the audience. This is “Plan 10 From Outer Space.” This is “Jupiter Ascending.”
You should be watching it right now.