TR Review: Jupiter Ascends and Brings My Nerd-Boner With It


I want to tell you that Jupiter Ascending is the Wachowskis’ true follow up to the Matrix series. That it’s an epic piece of universe-building that takes similar themes (rich elites draining our life forces, red pill/blue pill notions of truth versus happiness), clothes them in anime trappings and comes up with a glorious mishmash of Dune, Island of Dr. Moreau, The Fifth Element, Lifeforce, Men in Black, King Lear, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Cowboy Bebop, John Carter and Brazil (Terry Gilliam even makes a cameo as if to endorse this, playing the crazy-haired eccentric role normally filled by John Hurt in every fantasy movie ever). I want to tell you this because to me, it is true.

I fear, however, that it may meet the same critical and financial fate as many of the movies I just now compared it to. But let’s be optimistic.

At heart, what we have is a Cinderella story with a ton of cybernetic augmentations, both metaphorical and literal. Conceived into a life of relative comfort, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) becomes an illegal immigrant after her father is killed in a robbery. Born on the boat to America, she struggles with her extended Russian family who crowd a tiny house, and cleans toilets and carpets all day to contribute to the household income. Yet even that’s not enough – when we meet her as an adult, she’s on the verge of selling her eggs in order to make enough money to buy a telescope on eBay that reminds her of the father she never knew.

Meanwhile, on a far distant planet, three decadent siblings of the Abrasax family (yes, Abrasax) discuss the seemingly apocalyptic process of “harvesting” worlds, and debate which of them should possess their late mother’s favorite world…Mars. Just kidding. It’s Earth, of course, because we are the most important people in all of space and time. Except we sort of aren’t, because it turns out humans were seeded on this planet and many others and spliced with local DNA to inspire faster breeding. If you’ve ever heard of Soylent Green before, you know where this is going.

Back on Earth – Chicago, specifically – Jupiter encounters disappearing aliens who look like miniature Grays cross-bred with zombies, as well as a team of bounty hunters which includes a mohawked black dude, a purple-haired and multi-pierced Asian girl with goggles on her head that would never actually fit over her eyes, and a one-eyed cyborg wielding a huge gun that makes crop circles. Fortunately for Jupiter, Channing Tatum is here to save the day, as a character named Caine Wise, a soldier with wolf DNA enhancements, as well as stubs where his cybernetic wings used to be before they got cut off.

Before you can even make a beastiality joke, the movie goes there – Caine tells Jupiter they’d be a bad match because she’s of noble blood and he has more in common with a dog than her. She responds, in a line that will likely crack the entire theater up, “I love dogs; I’ve always loved dogs.”

About that noble blood – thanks to something something future science, and galactic royalty who live for millennia by sucking the life from others, DNA can eventually reoccur in the same sequence it once did, under logic similar to the mythical 100 monkeys banging on typewriters to create Shakespeare. At that point, you get scientific reincarnation, and Jupiter is, in fact, the genetic return of Momma Abrasax, who died at the age of 91,000 or thereabouts. As such, she is entitled to claim the Earth, unless one of her original kids can persuade her otherwise.

Also there are winged dinosaur men, because why not?

Thankfully, the Wachowskis are in on the joke – unlike, say, After Earth, which requires you to embrace something painfully earnest without mocking it, the sibling directors are once again trying to essentially do live-action anime, embracing the weird mix of tones (to western eyes) that Japanese cartoon sci-fi often has. It’s telling that when Larry Wachowski became Lana, she basically transformed herself into the image of a real-life pink-haired anime girl, and now that she’s comfortable in that skin, it seems the siblings have finally gotten comfortable again with that kind of material.

I was never much of a fan of their Speed Racer, not because of the world it created or the fast action, but because it was overlong and the characters weren’t interesting. In Jupiter Ascending, on the other hand, I like Jupiter Jones and dog-boy Tatum, I dig Sean Bean as a beekeeper who is himself infused with bee DNA, I enjoy the decadence of Douglas Booth’s Titus Abrasax as he fucks dragonfly women in zero gravity, and am both amused and creeped out by Eddie Redmayne’s vampiric Balem.

Plus the dinosaur guys. Did I mention I love the dinosaur guys?


Each Abrasax sibling inhabits a distinctly different environment, and all are space-movie wet dreams – Geof Darrow is one name among many of the conceptual artists that you might recognize. Meanwhile, the spaceships flown by single pilots constantly shape shift as if in a force field – there are gaps between pieces that hover in unison, and the overall effect is one of genuinely alien technology, even if, in true Star Trek fashion, some of the “aliens” are just humans with funny ears. Well, after all, most of them are humans who have simply had DNA augmentations – I’d love to know what the elephant-faced guy’s story is. Get on that, fanfic scribes.

An older colleague of mine told me he got burned out from repeated scenes of Mila Kunis jumping across platforms and hanging from stuff – first of all, if that’s bothering you, there are bigger issues of the story failing to win you over. Secondly, I think somebody more used to video games might not think twice about constant platform jumping and hanging on; it’s a trope born in our lifetimes that doesn’t necessarily strike us as odd until we try to do it for real. That aside, the action is great if a little confusing in 3D – the Wachowskis never let you forget they helped invent bullet-time and know it better than anybody else, while Tatum’s combat moves come straight out of a Street Fighter game. An extended spaceship fight over Chicago is obviously trying to one-up Michael Bay’s recent Transformers battles, and it succeeds…except that it’s so intense and disorienting that you can’t believe Jupiter Jones isn’t puking her guts out by the end.


If I haven’t conveyed yet that this a big movie in every way…it is. David Lynch’s Dune and David Twohy’s The Chronicles of Riddick wanted to be this kind of darker space opera; Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon had similar ambition but safely couched it in satire. Jupiter Ascending is the kind of movie we often say we want – an original, non-sequel/non-remake take that is very much the directors’ vision, with all the resources necessary to achieve it. I would hope that even someone who does not love it as I do would support that concept.

For me, it may take a Star Wars to dislodge it as the film to beat this year.