Charles Dickens was contrasting London and Paris circa the French Revolution when he wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." But he might as well have been discussing Jupiter Ascending circa 2015.
You see, Jupiter Ascending is a sci-fi film from the Wachowksis that creates an immersive and well imagined world, which is the best. It is also a crazy mess about a dog-man who flies around on rocket roller skates while he's trying to save a reincarnated princess from being murdered / having to clean toilets, so it is also kind of the worst.
It is the sort of trainwreck the defies easy categorization. There are times when it manages to be the epic space adventure it desperately wants to be, but there are other times when it is so poorly executed it defies belief. It exists in a weird no-man's land between respectability, laughability, and mere weirdness.
In fact, it is such an overstuffed and messy movie that I'm going to have to review it in two parts; there is just too much to talk about for me to get it all into one review. This first section will focus on Jupiter Rising's overall plot, which involves interstellar travel and a wedding between incestuous space aristocrats. The second section will be spent delving into its little details, which include 40,000 year old pregnant women and psychic bees. Strap yourselves in, folks, cause its gonna get bumpy.
Jupiter Rising is the story of Jupiter, an illegal immigrant living in Chicago who has big dreams and a crappy day job. Well, her day job is theoretically crappy: she's a maid, which is generally an unpleasant occupation, but it seems like Jupiter only ever cleans luxury penthouses that are already spic-and-span. Actually, she seems to spend very little time even pretending to clean and a lot of time rifling through the rich people's closets and dreaming about a life where she, too, could own such fancy duds. Sure, that's a bummer, but it beats actually, you know, working.
Anyway, one day when Jupiter is about to sell some of her eggs so she can afford to buy a mysterious telescope on Ebay (don't ask) she gets attacked by some alien bounty hunters. Now, you would expect that this would be the end of Jupiter - after all, how could an unarmed and untrained human ever defeat armed space-mercenaries in combat - but she is magically rescued in the nick of time by Caine, a human-wolf hybrid who has to wear flying shoes because the military cut off his wings when he got court-martialed.
You know: as John Prine would say, I hate it when that happens to me.
Soon enough it is revealed why all of these various aliens are attacking and or saving Jupiter: apparently she randomly lucked into having the exact same DNA pattern as the last uncontested queen of the universe. Now, if she just happened to be a genetic clone of a random person it probably wouldn't matter much, but as the "reincarnation" of the former queen Jupiter might be eligible to inherit all of her stuff. Which is good news for her, since the Queen owned a lot of quality merchandise (including the entire planet Earth). However, that is bad news for the queen's three children who were going to get a pretty sweet inheritance before this interloping earthling showed up and spoiled their fun.
The bulk of the movie's back half is given over to the three children's different plans to get rid of Jupiter. That's right: Jupiter Ascending spends its first half on exposition, only kicking the plot into gear halfway through... and then it decides to start three different plots at the same time. Now, I’m going to completely ignore Kalique’s machinations; they don’t end up mattering much. However, I do want to spend some time discussing Balem and Titus’ very different schemes, because they offer more proof that this movie is simultaneously the best and the worst.
Let’s start with Titus, who decides to go the Machivalean route and get what he wants through political subterfuge. He recognizes that Jupiter is very gullible and not at all ready to rule the universe, so his plan is to back her claim in space court and then once she's installed on the throne he can manipulate her from behind the scenes. As such, he presents himself as a good guy, then convinces Jupiter that he is the only person who can protect Earth, and then talks her into marrying him - that way if she ever does get wise he can just bump her off, at which point he will still be the uncontested kind of the universe.
(By the way, Jupiter is remarkably okay with marrying someone who is theoretically her son, and who is also tens of thousands of years older than her. Then again, her marital options so far have been a de-winged wolf-man and a space prince, so I get why she chose the space prince.)
The Titus plot is silly – I mean, it all hinges on interstellar incest which should not be a thing – but it is also fun because it culminates in a big fancy intergalactic wedding which is, of course, interrupted by Caine, who has a god-given duty as the male lead of the movie to interject at the exact moment when the space priest asks if anyone has any objections. Titus' pre-wedding machinations are campy fun, and the resulting zero gravity fight scene in the cosmic chapel is pretty cool. It would have been a good ending for the movie.
Sadly, it is not the ending of the movie. Not even close.
You see, the instant the Titus storyline wraps up Jupiter Ascending goes into hyperdrive on the Balem storyline. This is a double fuck up, both in the sense that the movie came to a convenient stopping place and then barreled on anyway, and also in the sense that it tried to follow up a fun storyline with a dumb one. You see, Balem’s plan to defeat Jupiter isn’t complex at all – his strategy was to beat Jupiter to death with a pipe while mumbling very Freudian things under his breath about his conflicted relationship with his mom. (And I do mean mumbling; Eddie Redmayne delivers all of Balem’s lines with a patrician whisper (unless he is shouting because it is very important that we understand that he is EVIL.) It is a terrible performance, one that is actively irritating.)
The fact that the movie ends on the Balem storyline is such a bummer. I mean, forget the fact that that having two endings is redundant; I’m far more annoyed that Jupiter Ascending thought that it could get away with such a generic conclusion. For better or worse the first 85% of this movie was seriously committed to it’s off the walls ideas, so the fact that the Wachowskis decided to wrap it up with a warehouse fight where the bad guy was trying to kick the heroine off a balcony is just beyond disappointing.
Speaking of endings: it is time to wrap up part one. If you aren't Wachowski-ed out yet you can click here for part two.