In Chicago, young émigrée cleaning woman Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) discovers that her genes by chance grant her a place in one of the greater universe’s leading dynastic families, setting her at odds with the three lying, scheming relatives whom she has just acquired. Soon this struggle will take her into space, in a race to save herself, her natural family and the general populace of Earth. Helped by a half-canine bounty hunter (Channing Tatum) with a genetic dislike of nobility, Jupiter is shown the inner machinations of class, power and privilege, and realises she prefers her old life: a queen bee in the guise of a drone.
“A dream is the only way any of this makes sense,” declares Jupiter (Mila Kunis) in the Wachowski siblings’ latest sci-fi – and Jupiter Ascending is indeed perhaps best absorbed as an oneiric exercise in cinematic surrealism. Its first half is packed with so much rich visual world-building and inventively out-there detail – gravity-surfing bounty hunters, loyalist bees that “aren’t like humans, they don’t question or doubt”, fountains of youth, planetary harvesting – that it feels like the kind of lysergic science fiction that Alejandro Jodorowsky might have made of Dune, or that Karyn Kusama did make with Æon Flux (2005), although, like the latter, by its second half Jupiter Ascending abandons big, crazy ideas for a default mode of repetitive action sequences, losing along the way both its distinctive weirdness and the viewer’s attention. What is more, Jupiter does not have much agency to match her royalty, and is little more here than a damsel in constant distress, rescued time and time again by Tatum’s Ca(n)ine Wise. Still, she does get to deliver the line, “My bowels are anything but royal”, and to ask Wise, “Does any part of you want to bite me?”