Something strange and rare is happening now at your local cineplex. “Jupiter Ascending,” a film that has a 23% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is gaining a small legion of dedicated fans. But not with, the usual suspects when it comes to devotion to objectively awful space operas, disenfranchised young men. “Jupiter Ascending” has broken new ground by becoming the first cult classic sci-fi film that will be buoyed into infamy by young women.
To quote the rallying cry of the ‘Jupiter Ascending” fandom, “This movie is garbage, but it”s OUR GARBAGE.”
Every year billions of dollars are spent catering to the child inside grown men: the one who wants to fight the aliens, shoot the ray gun, zoom through space, and save the day. Some of these movies are great (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) some of them are mediocre, (“Star Trek Into Darkness”), and some of them are terrible (“Man of Steel”). But all of them are familiar to both audiences and critics, which is why even the dreck is forgiven as “a fun romp.”
“Jupiter Ascending” took the road less traveled, into the wish-fulfillment of prepubescent girls. Around half an hour into the film, Channing Tatum despondently regales Mila Kunis with his life story – he is the orphaned half-albino runt of a space werewolf litter forced to use anti-gravity rollerblades to fly because his bionic wings were stripped when he was dishonorably discharged from the space military – and something magical happens. Every woman who ever wrote herself into her favorite universe via fanfic, every girl who created an amnesiac elven vampire princess and role-played in a chat room, every chick who ever wanted a blaster by her side and a submissive werewolf boyfriend at her back, every one of them whispered, “Finally. It is our time.”
Hollywood has tried to capture what it thinks is the right model for science-fiction heroines. They”ve been martial artists, badass weapons experts, and stoic survivors. Basically, most competent sci-fi women fall into the Strong Female Character trap that strips anything feminine from a character and replaces it with Arnold Schwarzenegger with boobs. “Jupiter Ascending” gets it right. Women don”t always want superhuman robots to look up to. We want to be the same klutzy nobody who is cosseted and petted and told we”re special – despite all evidence to the contrary. We want that the coming-of-age story boys have starred in a thousand times over a thousand years. Lana Wachowski looked at the likes of “Star Wars” and “Transformers” and decided it was high time for a female character to go from whiny nobody to beloved galactic hero.
On that front, “Jupiter Ascending” succeeds with flying colors. An everywoman with no particular skills is plucked from obscurity to become the The One™. Mila Kunis is a reincarnated space princess who can save Earth from being harvested by claiming her birthright. She is whisked away by her crush (Channing Tatum) and introduced to her wise mentor (Sean Bean) as they set about keeping her alive long enough to be legitimized. Because this is a fever dream of a film that knows women might have to wait 20 years for another taste, everything is exaggerated. Sean Bean is the wise old bee-hybrid but he is also going to wrestle angry Tatum while Kunis and the audience stare appreciatively. Every new location needs an appropriate wardrobe change. All the men are in love with Kunis or, barring that, are scantily-clad for maximum objectification. The women are the most competent, level-headed characters. From Tuppence Middleton”s Machiavellian schemes as Kalique to Nikki Amuka-Bird as the space cop captain to Gugu Mbatha-Raw”s string-pulling mouse-hybrid assistant, the general tone of the film is “Oh these silly boys with their war games and orgies. Let the women handle the real work.”
The movie even flips the script on Women in Refrigerators, leaving Kunis to grow up in the rarest cinema household, one dominated by women.
Does Warner Bros. know what a rare commodity they were sitting on? Based on this trailer and this one, which are set solidly in the male gaze and position Channing Tatum as the lead? Not even a little bit. Instead of focusing on the delicious fashion eye-candy, the prevalent shirtless man-candy, and that the plot is literally ‘Cinderella in Space,” Warner Bros. positioned “Jupiter Ascending” as just another sci-fi shoot ’em up. By not skewing to the female gaze, they failed to court the demographic the film itself is targeting.
But it”s not too late! The best thing about geeky women is they have a huge social media footprint. If Warner Bros. so chooses, they can infuse life into the anemic official Twitter account. Throw seriousness to the wind and get down into the fandom dirt. Big budget female wish-fulfillment is a niche market just waiting for senpai to notice it. Notice us, Warner Bros.
Yes, “Jupiter Ascending” suffers from a meandering plot that makes no sense, a flat character arc for the main protagonist, ridiculous scenery-chewing acting, and an overabundance of backstory. It is objectively a garbage movie, but it”s OUR GARBAGE.