March marks sixteen years since Andy and Lana Wachowski made a sizeable dent in sci-fi with The Matrix. Since then a series of hits and misses prove that they are still grappling with its success, and even with a promising premise like that of Jupiter Ascending, they have yet to recreate its impact. This is not through lack of trying however; Jupiter Ascending presents truly astounding visual effects and pristine fight sequences, but is so keen to prove itself that it doesn’t recognise the potential to have some fun.

An estranged subplot aside, that sees Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones as a modern Cinderella seeking love and shoes, this is a fraught, chaotic action film that lacks the originality of The Matrix and misuses a cast that has the potential to deliver greatness, particularly where Channing Tatum is concerned. As with the majority of his roles, be it Foxcatcher or Magic Milke, Tatum’s physicality works in his favour, here displaying brawny masculinity as wolf-man hybrid Caine Wise. The only muscles that he doesn’t get to flex are his comedic ones, which, given his impressive turn in the hugely successful Jump Street films, feels somewhat wasteful.

Kunis uses her rom-com subplot as a platform for her sass, injecting much needed frivolity into the film, but Tatum is streamlined into a grunting warrior and the result is disappointingly dull. The Wachowskis breathe the most life into Jupiter, with Kunis ensuring that her character is entirely likeable, if not entirely bold. Subjected to exploitation and multiple near-death tumbles, from which she has to be saved every time, there is little room for Jupiter to build gumption, and when it finally manifests it cuts out all too quickly.

Eddie Redmayne – who plays the antagonist of the piece, Balem, feels equally as contained. A seething, straining performance, the Oscar nominee is easily the highlight of the film on account of his sheer intensity, at times tearing up under the weight of his role. It’s Balem’s intentions that let him down, as unnecessarily complicated politics and a bizarre need to surpass profit margins stop the potential to unleash a gloriously unhinged character.

This is the key drawback for Jupiter Ascending. Aside from Tatum’s predictably smitten urge to protect, the motives driving its characters are shaky. Jupiter is determined to save a family that consist of a cold, distant mother and a shady cousin that tries to con her out of selling her eggs. The value of time and vanity also serve as rationale but fleetingly, and with characters jumping sides with abandon such motives become muddled. 

The determination of the Wachowskis to create bold new worlds for their characters to charge through is undeniable, and a checklist for a big-budget action film would find most of its boxes ticked. If the shadow of their previous success would only fall away – a looser, more enjoyable film may have taken the place of this lengthy, laboured result.