In Defense of Jupiter Ascending: Treat Yo Self!

Before we get started, anyone want to get out? I’m quoting Captain America because I am about to defend Jupiter Ascending like Steve Rogers defends freedom. Here’s your fair warning. If you’re still here, you should also know that I’m not coming from the perspective of ‘it’s so bad, it’s good.’ I genuinely, un-ironically, liked the movie. I think the vast majority of criticism and trash talking of the film is unfair, misapplied and reeks of double standards. I am a proud Ascendant (what the fandom has adopted as the fan name) and I am going to go HARD.

If you haven’t seen the movie (YET), you are probably wondering what the hell it’s about. Maybe you’ve seen some posters of Mila Kunis looking gorgeous in a runway-ready gown with some truly enviable hair at your local theater (see image above), or you saw the trailer somewhere. So you know it somehow involves space, Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. You may not even know that “Jupiter” is the name of Kunis’ character. In a nut shell, the film is about a poor Russian immigrant who discovers that by virtue of nature being a Game of Thrones-like lottery game, she has “won” and is the exact genetic copy of one of the universe’s most powerful queens. The children of this queen are some of the most powerful people in the galaxy because they have a monopoly on the most lucrative industry in the cosmos: the buying and selling of time (read: immortality) via a substance which is “farmed” from humans. See, it turns out that Earth is just a farm and we humans are just crops waiting to be “harvested”. Luckily for us, Jupiter Jones, as the sort of reincarnated form of the queen, owns the rights to the planet. Her children aren’t so happy about that. Kidnapping and assassination attempts ensue. As does rescue by awesome space cops, Channing Tatum and Sean Bean—a human/wolf hybrid and a human/bee hybrid. Jupiter has to stay alive, meet some really extended family, figure out who she can trust, claim her title and, for the first time in her life, be Somebody and make the hardest and most important decisions of her life (which all OUR lives depend on).

Got that? Great! Now let’s consider some of the most common criticisms one-by-one:

1. The plot is stupid/doesn’t make any sense

I find this one to be odd. The plot makes sense from the premise set up by the film and the in-movie explanations of the universe supports it. This is especially true if you are a genre fan. Particularly of epic science fiction or fantasy. You should be used to stories that require a lot of set-up, have detailed and complicated backstories AND require active viewing. If you are a fan of Star Wars, Dune, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings etc., you have no room to talk about complicated/crazy plots. Things DO move fast in the movie and there is a lot of information thrown at Jupiter in quick succession. Fair enough. But that’s the point. She, and we, are thrust into a situation where everyone else has all the necessary information and she is desperately trying to play catch-up because her life literally depends on it. You have to pay attention and remember details. I’ve now seen the movie twice and it took the second viewing to feel like I really had a handle on it. 

2. Jupiter Jones is a standard damsel in distress

Does Jupiter need rescuing? Yes. Does that necessarily make her a damsel in distress? No. Anyone in Jupiter’s position would need rescuing. Jupiter understands very little about the world she has just been thrown into. She has to rely on other people to explain stuff to her and to get her out of jams. Sometimes. She also makes mistakes and sometimes trusts the wrong people, like we ALL do. But Jupiter Jones is also brave and resourceful and a quick study. She makes decisions and accepts the consequences of them; she does the right thing because it’s right, not because it’s easy, and she’s strongly moral and assertive. She’s a fully rounded character who reacts the way most of us would react in her place.

3. The movie is like the fanfiction of a 14 year old girl brought to life with 100 million dollars

But, like....and? I mean, if you’re trying to say that like it’s a bad thing or convince me that this is not something you have not-so-secretly longed for in your heart of hearts, then we need to talk. First of all, why do you hate joy? Do you not like fun? Or pretty things? Or pretty people? Or movies involving all three of these things? Can you get help for this? Second, this is not about fanfiction on the big screen. This is about fanfiction on screen centered on the FEMALE GAZE/Experience. This is a girl fantasy with a girl at the center and now suddenly people care about “story integrity in sci-fi movies” (question: Am I alluding to another sexist faux movement)? Like we all haven’t spent decades watching bro-centered sci-fi/fantasy/escapist movies? Movies like: Star Wars, The Avengers, Transformers, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, G.I. Joe, The Fast and the Furious and so on into literal eternity. There are no criticisms about Jupiter Ascending that aren’t also true of a LOT of films that get way less shade and hate thrown at them, but are also much worse.

4. The film is derivative and a mish-mash of lots of other films/shows/ideas

Again….and? So is everything, but with much less imagination and ambition. Pop culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Everything is influenced by something else. Keep in mind that Jupiter Ascending isn’t based on a book or TV show. It’s an original idea that is chock full of ideas and inspiration from everywhere and the movie brings all these ideas together pretty successfully. We’re talking Dune, Gattaca, Soylent Green, The 5th Element, The Wizard of Oz, Repo: The Genetic Opera, the work of Bruce Sterling, Doctor Who, The X-Files, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars…and those are just the ones my friend and I noticed on our first viewing! It’s admirable. People are forever complaining about how Hollywood has no new ideas and why, oh why, must yet another beloved property be remade and childhoods “raped” (I’m looking at you, Ghostbuster and Annie “fans”), yet here’s an original idea that’s fun, has heart, fully-rounded characters, diversity, ambition, and looks ah-mazing. Like, what more do you want??

Okay, real talk. Why should YOU go see Jupiter Ascending?

  • It’s so much fun. SO. MUCH. FUN.
  • GREAT action sequences. Like, whoa.
  • It’s probably one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Seriously.
  • If you like costume porn, go see this film. Gorgeous “this makes me want to weep” costuming.
  • Lots of diversity. Awesome ladies everywhere and a universe full of people of color.
  • I see the film as a strong critique of capitalism, imperialism and an interesting subversion of the white savior trope by filtering it through the immigrant experience.
  • I immediately wanted to know more about the wider world of the movie. I want to read or see the prequel. This is good and immersive world building.
  • The film isn’t perfect and it has some legit issues which can and should be discussed, but we should applaud a film that literally shoots for the stars. We want more films that aim high. Films that ask us to “expand your universe”—one of the Jupiter Ascending taglines. Films that appeal to our adolescent selves before we were told what was okay to like and what is “quality” versus what is (supposed) crap.
  • And maybe the most important reason: It is okay to like a film like this. A film centered around a girl who’s an undocumented immigrant who hates her life, then finds out that she is one of the most important people in a galaxy filled with fanfic tropes (wing!fic! Human/animal hybrids! Space royalty!), sweeping operatic scores and sumptuous looking clothes, hair and people, a definite queer aesthetic and vibe. A movie you know you are not supposed to like. Watch it anyway. Like it anyway. Treat yo self. Because you deserve Jupiter Ascending. We all do. 
Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on February 16, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.