Maybe it’s my recent diet of hoity-toity Oscar hopefuls or maybe it’s my epically low expectations, but I kind of had a tepidly good time in “Jupiter Ascending.” It won me over in the same way that bag of tater tots in the freezer wins you over: You’d never call it good, it’s not good for you, but it’s all you have in the house and has its own freezer-burned charm.
It would take more bandwidth than this post to list the bedrock problems with “Jupiter Ascending,” a sort of space soap opera that blends a wacky sci-fi world similar to the lesser-loved “Star Wars” prequels with a family similar to that of ’80s classics “Dynasty” or “Dallas.” It ain’t good.
Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a Cinderella type who cleans toilets for her immigrant family’s business in Chicago. Like all Cinderellas, she’s destined for grander things. She’s really a space princess, somehow both matriarch and heir to a giant space fortune. A part-human, part-wolf bounty hunter (Channing Tatum) finds her on earth and kidnaps or rescues her from forces trying to kill her. These forces are sent by her son and business rival Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne). Off they go into the universe, to fight for her right to return to earth and continue to clean toilets.
Jupiter Ascending, Brain Descending
If you suspend a significant portion of your brain, the plot kind of makes sense. Jupiter, it turns out, is the genetic rebirth of a woman from an aristocratic family and, therefore, entitled to resume the place held by her former genetic twin. The family runs powerful business interests (more on this later), so her genetic children would prefer she did not take back the inheritance she gave them. It does beg the question: Why bother to kill her if she’s going to essentially reincarnate anyway? Reincarnation really messes with estate transfer laws.
But don’t ask that question. There is nothing to be gained.
This space dynasty controls an essential commodity. Because they’re big business, doncha know, all they care about is getting richer and richer. They don’t even care that they run an industry that would make Soylent Green blush. Evil businessmen will be evil businessmen, after all!
The plot, such as it is, takes poor Jupiter to some deeply weird moments. They’re not weird in a spiffy, otherworldly, trippy space kind of way, but in Dan from HR talking about his hemorrhoids at an office party cocktail kind of way. Not exactly evil, but not exactly okay, either. For instance, Jupiter’s backstory has her mother giving somewhat graphic birth to her in a crowded shipping container on a cargo ship between Russia and the United States. A later subplot has her no-good cousin Vlad convincing her to sell some eggs to make a quick buck. And a love scene forces poor Mila to say, “I love dogs” in an odd, semi-sexual kind of way.
Bad Enough to Be Entertaining
If it weren’t for these moments, the film would be a decent choice to take the kids for a flick on a cold February day. There are some cool dinosaur soldiers and some battle segments that are better than sitting at home waiting for spring. Rated PG-13, the film has only a few light swear words and no sexuality except a naked backside getting out of a bath, another example of a weirdly toned moment. The violence is pretty mild, with lots of fights and Chicago getting ripped to shreds, but no gore or deaths shown. As it is, only take kids if you want to answer a lot of questions about what kind of eggs a girl like Jupiter could be selling.
Part of the charm of the film is watching two great actors give terrible performances while their other work is still in discussion for best actor. Redmayne, who is waiting to find out if he’ll take home a golden statue at the Academy Awards, moans and half-whispers. He stares all dead-eyed. He screams maniacally at odd times and relishes inflicting pain like one relishes a double bacon cheeseburger. Basically he out-Voldemorts Voldemort.
Tatum is not any better as a soldier so stoic it becomes clear he actually just does not have emotions. You can almost hear the actor inside whimpering.
Despite all this, I didn’t hate the film. It’s bad enough to be entertaining. There’s even a good part. In the middle of the movie, just as you’ve given up all hope, there’s a segment that brilliantly skewers the Department of Motor Vehicles and is quite fun. If the whole movie was on that level, we would be having a different conversation.
The weirdest thing about the film, though, is the end. (Beware: Spoilers). When all is said and done, Jupiter returns to scrubbing toilets and the horrific space industry run by her family goes on. What was the point of all this? Except to blemish otherwise beloved actors’ careers, we may never know.