With part 1 of this review, I kept it as spoiler free as I could. However, I think the movie warrants a bit deeper look, both from the perspective of what they did right and also from all the stuff they got very, very wrong.
Starting off… the plot was about as easy to follow as a bucket of marbles thrown into the air. The basic premise was easy enough: Jupiter is the heir to vast wealth to include the Earth and all its inhabitants. The people who want that wealth want to either kill her or control her. Simple, right? But Jupiter isn’t just the heir, she is the person who wrote up that will. According to the (twisted) logic that genetics make someone royal, since she has the same genetics as the royal who wrote the will, she is that person. Which bogs down in any number of ways, to include the basic premise that they seeded Earth to produce genetic variance (IE, to prevent the same genetics from coming up and causing the problems they had with clones). On top of that, several characters comment how her actions, behaviors, even word choices, are so similar to the person that they knew some endless centuries ago. It seems like they wanted some pseudoscience way to say reincarnate or reborn without, well, you know, actually saying something like that. Saying that someone’s behavior, attitude, word choice (conveniently these super-advanced humans all speak english and have had no lingual drift over millennium), and all the rest are all entirely dependent upon genetics is not only doing a disservice to the concept of free will, but is patiently false.
Going on from there, the original heirs, Jupiter’s children, but not this Jupiter, it’s the other one who died long ago, all have their own plots going. We see early on with Balem (best villain in the movie, probably some of the best acting in general), wants to kill his mother (again!), to prevent her from ascending and claiming Earth. Titus pretends to want to stop the trade in the anti-aging drugs, but actually wants to marry Jupiter (his mother, ew), and then kill her to take her claim to Earth. Kalique the lone daughter, has some rather more bizarre plot wherein she subverts Balem’s bounty hunters, imprisons Jupiter, tells her how she wants to be friends, and then promptly disappears from the story. You’re left not knowing if Caine (Jupiter’s protector/love interest) really blindsided her and caused her to bow out or if she really wanted to help her. Basically no resolution there.
In the process we have Jupiter who starts out with a miserable life of scrubbing toilets and dreaming of something better, who finds out she can have something better. This kind of cinderella story can definitely work, so long as the protagonist seizes this opportunity and moves on from there. As characters go, however, Jupiter seems to spend a lot of time being confused and then standing around waiting to be rescued. The one point in the movie where she actually stands up for herself and takes action should have been a triumph… but instead it was just a brief pause in her falling from high places.
And as far as that goes… good lord. I know they have a neat technology/doohickey, but seriously, this felt like a situation where the only tool they had was a hammer so they had the main character fighting a lot of nails. The fall sequences were all gorgeous, (the whole movie was, for that matter), but once or twice is more than enough to showcase that Caine could swoop along on his gravity boots and save her. I’ve seen analysis of the movie where someone clocked in a total of 25 minutes of footage of her falling. That is almost a quarter of the movie spent with her in free-fall.
Characterization was done sort of well with some of the characters. We had this nice little bit about Caine (Channing Tatum) being a lone-wolf outcast, a genetically engineered soldier, who has every reason to hate the royals but still protects Jupiter. We also had a nice little subplot where it mentions he ripped ones throat out and so was court-martialed. A wide opening they had here and that I think they were going to use was with the villain Balem, who all movie talked hoarsely and had his throat covered by his costumes. Whatever the reason they didn’t use it, it was there and would have made for a nice connection or at least some initial link to why Caine would oppose him.
Balem and Titus both seemed to have their weird love (sick, sick love) and hate relationships with their mother, personified by her reincarnation as Jupiter. Titus wanted to marry and then kill her, and then Balem admitted to having killed her before. The general attitude here being he didn’t really want to and has been tormented by the fact that he did, because his mother apparently abhorred her life and begged him to end it. Balem, who seems to be the main antagonist, at one point says he would harvest the entire planet of Earth before he lets her take it from him, yet we have no sign as to why he feels so strongly… and then at the end of the movie, he’s apparently let her ascend and has yet to make his move, instead trying to manipulate her into signing Earth over in return for her family (and not even bothering to suggest that he’ll let any of them live, only that he’ll kill her family in front of her if she doesn’t sign right now).
This brings us to what was presumably supposed to be one of the main themes with the movie: the harvests. We are given to believe that human life is of such little value that entire worlds are seeded with populations who then, thousands of years later, are harvested and rendered down into rejuvenating drugs. Okay, sure, I’ll bite. This allows the elite in this universe to live essentially forever and they justify this survival basically in that the people on these harvested planets didn’t live very nice lives anyway. Excuse me, but what? We get introductions to a number of law enforcing people in the movie both in the form or the Aegis and at a step removed in the Legion through Stinger and Caine. These people seem to uphold morality codes that suggest that they value individual lives, they go out of their way to protect one another, and they live for duty and to uphold the law. If their rulers survive from the consumption of billions of people on hundreds of planets, that basically turns them into some of the worst villains in the universe. If they’re upholding a system that murders countless people for the survival of a few then they can be chalked up in the ranks of genocidal types like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.
This precious commodity that is required to extend/improve lives has been done so much better in such a less heavy-handed fashion. Just off hand I can mention Frank Herbert’s Spice, which requires an entire planet’s resources to harvest and costs the lives of many of those who harvest it, is incredibly addictive, and has severe long term effects. On the other hand, Frank Herbert’s Spice allows for travel throughout the galaxy, extends the lives of those who consume it, and in large enough quantities provides for telepathy and such. That’s complex, it allows for some conflicts of morality about it’s benefits and costs.
In requiring that this elixir of the Abraxis family murder a hundred people and render them down for one liter is a little absurd. Basically it’s a plot point that this process needs to be horrible enough that Jupiter will reject it off hand and that even the most cynical movie-goer will have no choice but to agree. More than that, it becomes a side note in the rest of the movie. It doesn’t matter what Balem wants with the Earth if he is willing to brutally murder people to get it, that in itself is a sign that he’s the bad guy. Making him a genocidal nut with a god complex doesn’t make him any more impactful as a character… it actually makes him painfully one dimensional as all he cares about is his own wealth and profit. It robs us of the why of how he could so hate his mother and the Earth is so important to him and turns it into a sort of “because mine.” That level of petulance reduces him from terrifying to a mere childish bully with too much power.
On top of that was the conspiracy fodder that was thrown around. It ranged from the midly irritating such as when Caine says that the powers that be would wipe everyone’s memories, “They won’t get everyone, but no one believes the few they miss.” To the downright immersion-breaking, such as when the ship takes off from the corn-field and leaves crop circles. Seriously? Was it meant as a gag or what? The former implies that people will forget not just the missing day but the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people killed, all with a quick memory wipe. Let’s not even go into the dinosaur extinction and the rest that they spend precious minutes explaining to no real purpose.
These flaws are all to the worse for the few moments of genuine enjoyment. I could gush about the visuals and about how the sets and costumes felt interesting… but that would be pointless. You can watch a trailer and see how good it all looked. The characters that stuck well were often the side characters, the Aegis (police) who went out of their way to protect Jupiter. The entire scene with the bureaucracy with Jupiter trying to do her whole ascension thing was not only hilarious but utterly fitting in an empire several million years old. Jupiter’s manipulative family members provided some of the best comedy “Your cousin is not a chicken, you do not sell her eggs!” Some of the one-liners thrown out by Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, and others were excellent. The red herring of having Sean Bean not die was excellent although slightly immersion breaking as the audience kept waiting for it to happen anyway. There were some brilliant scenes throughout the movie… which just didn’t connect to make anything. Was it worth watching? Absolutely. But it was incredibly frustrating as we would get moments of brief humor and originality which were then buried by rehashed themes from previous movies, painfully heavy-handed exposition, and a mix of heavy editing and a bad script that meant the whole couldn’t fit together into anything remotely coherent. I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but at the end of the day, it came across as a popcorn flick rather than anything deeper.