With Indiana Jones-like reflexes, some friends and I caught the second-last screening of Jupiter Ascending in our city last week, and let me tell you that was one wild ride. If you haven’t had a chance to get your eyeballs on it yet, I’d recommend at some point you do—it’s got something for everyone: hover boots, gratuitous and meticulously gorgeous costume changes, buff dudes with wings, spaceship battles, royalty-sensing bees, and Eddie Redmayne being the hammiest villain I’ve seen in a while, while simultaneously sounding like he has the worst sore throat ever for the entirety of the movie (now that is what should have won him the Oscar). It’s also a story about a girl discovering that the universe revolves around her, which is not something most cinemas seem to have seen for a while.
Now, if you’re wondering if this post is going to be a detailed essay declaring why Jupiter Ascending is the next great feminist masterpiece, I’m afraid I’m going to let you down. Jupiter Jones (yes, that’s really her name, despite it kind of sounding like it’d be more suited to an old country and western singer than a sci-fi character) isn’t a perfect heroine—though, bland as she is, she manages to somehow be more relatable and interesting than other young lady characters that have appeared recently in other sci-fis aimed at young people. The most recent Transformers came up in our post-movie discussion, mostly because Jupiter Ascending kind of felt, in many ways, like the antithesis to that franchise. If the Transformers movies are made to be popcorn-flavoured wish fulfilment and cool car-robot fantasies for teenaged boys, Jupiter Ascending is popcorn-flavoured wish fulfilment for teenaged girls.
The first step to equality among the sexes is having an equal amount of trashy media for each of them. Well, that may not be true, but since a lot of trashy media exists, you may as well use it. I found myself appreciating Jupiter Ascending the same way I found myself appreciating movies like Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, which were both easy-night-in comedies with all the usual trappings: awkward situations, crude humour, Rebel Wilson… but where you’d usually see those things starring and (generally) aimed at men, these starred and were aimed at women. Not to say of course that women can’t enjoy The Hangover or any other of the million movies about dudes doing dude things and collapsing into a hilarious mess, the same way men can (and did!) enjoy Bridesmaids.
And Bridesmaids’ humour didn’t come from “haha, look at those women getting diarrhoea in their formal wear!” it just felt like “haha, look, they’re getting diarrhoea in their formal wear!” Which is not the kind of humour I enjoy, I’ll be honest with you, but seeing it there in a form that acknowledged that women could not only also find raunchy, ridiculous comedy funny, but that they wanted to see themselves in it, was kind of nice. Everyone wants to see themselves in the media they consume; representation is important even when it involves dirty jokes or space princesses.
Back to Jupiter Jones (that really is her name) discovering that the universe revolves around her: well, it would feel contrived, except that it’s a cliché we’re used to seeing. In fact, one of the comments that keeps resurfacing in any review of this movie is that it feels like a fourteen-year-old’s first novel given a blockbuster budget. And hey, I wrote stories about girls my age discovering they were Cosmically Special despite their ordinary life and low self-esteem when I was that age. I think a lot of people do—the first novel you write is supposedly 80% autobiographical, so it makes sense that the first story a kid writes (and girls, especially) will be a story about someone like them being an unlikely hero in a fantasy world of their choice (mine had super powers).
So hell, maybe the reason why so many people (myself included) found themselves blatantly enjoying this movie so much was that it spoke to our inner fourteen-year-olds. And all the current fourteen-year-olds are probably enjoying it even more, even if they’re not yet at that liberated state that you tend to enter somewhere around university age where you stop being self-conscious and actively advertise your love for trashy sci-fi. If you want to watch rocket fights and galactic conspiracies unfold while a blatantly attractive person—whose entire purpose in the story is to help and be attracted to the character you most see yourself in—runs around doing badass things with little clothing on, and Transformers doesn’t quite appeal to you… now you have Jupiter Ascending.
Is Jupiter the next great literary role model for the women’s movement? Well, on one hand, she’s (realistically, mind you) useless and pinballed around for most of the movie, on another she does own a good portion of the galaxy as we know it, and also there was that one scene where she tended to a wound with a sanitary pad. You could analyse the deeper meanings and implications of this movie up and down and backwards, but in the end, I think it is what it is—a fun, ridiculous, wish-fulfilment-fuelled romp across the solar system, but with a girl at its centre instead of your regular grade middle class white boy (Jupiter’s even an immigrant, to boot).
That on its own is enough to make Jupiter Ascending stand out, even though by all rights it really should fall into cult classic/bargain bin/“well, that happened” category. The one-sided nature of the eye candy movie genre should tell you that there’s a market for this—it’s subversive to have the universe revolve around a teenaged girl, and to have all the fan service come from the buff space warrior wolf hybrid (he gets wings later too, something I know my fourteen-year-old self would have been all about. In fact, there was a character in that super powers story with wings…) who primarily exists within the story to sweep her off her feet. It’s the same old shtick, but it’s gender-reversed to cater to girls, and that in itself makes you perk up in curiosity.
Thank you, Channing Tatum, for being objectified to even out cinema representation (it’s cruel, but I kind of hope it made some boys uncomfortable. How do you think your female fellows felt about Megan Fox draping herself denim-assed over a motorbike for no apparent reason? Heck, if I’m being really optimistic, I could dream of Jupiter Ascending sparking discussion between guys and girls about this whole mess, and making some guys, lulled into a sense that this is simply the accepted norm by the influx of Transformers-esque movies, realise that there’s a bit of a problem here).
Not to say that you have to enjoy Jupiter Ascending if you’re a woman or a girl, because not everyone fits into the gender binary or enjoys space ships or gets a kick out of seeing the universe revolve around a continually well-dressed teenaged girl. You may have found the whole thing to be a convoluted, high budget trash heap designed to make people geek out, and that’s a completely valid opinion because that’s… kind of what it is. But again, it’s trash that acknowledges that teenaged girls want to geek out too. Whatever may lack from her writing and performance, Jupiter is clearly a heroine, not a prop—she might get manipulated and freak out, but really, who wouldn’t? Girls can see themselves in that, and in relating to Jupiter, be genuinely satisfied when (however hammy it is) she comes into her own at the end.
It’s a story we’ve seen a million times before, but again, something about it being all about girls makes it a novelty. Maybe hover-boots-and-pretty-dresses-space-trash will be a new subgenre, not just for fourteen-year-old girls’ first novels. If anything, trashy as it is, the movie’s existence is enough to give hope to those aspiring authors that yes, the world does enjoy those kinds of stories, and whether you want to be the space queen or the one writing about her professionally, there is hope and a place for you here. I think seeing this movie at that age would have been a really validating experience for me.
I probably would have also ditched my superhero story to start a brand new one with twice as many hover-boot chase scenes, but that’s another business entirely. Never underestimate the power of good-bad movies and the way they can break or shape young people—and never underestimate the power of the teenaged girl, who is so often belittled on and off the big screen.
And never underestimate how compelling and funny a scene all about space taxes can be. I mean, wow.