Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, The Wachowski’s are world-famous for being the creators and visionaries behind The Matrix Trilogy. Released in the spring of 1999, it became a sleeper blockbuster that blew audiences expectations through the roof. I was in my third year of college eagerly yet foolishly awaiting the release of The Phantom Menace when my roommate urged me to see The Matrix. Starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, I had little knowledge of this sci-fi action extravaganza nor did I really care. I thought it was more like Reeves earlier flop Johnny Mnemonic. So I was wrong. It was probably one of the best action flicks to be released in the 90s. It was revolutionary. It was well-written and had great production value. It was fun and awesome to watch. Still is.
It had a perfect ending. Neo became one with the Matrix thus becoming God-like and declared that he would free the humans from the enslavement of the machines. But Hollywood reared its ugly greedy head and wanted sequels for this blockbuster. It yearned to become a franchise. Problem was (to me) it seemed forced and convoluted and the sequels demised the original’s vision and story. Never mind the weak acting and weird characters in the sequels and the long drawn-out boring war between the machine squids and the humans in walking tanks. Neo was a god and was still fighting kung-fu and never destroying anyone with his deity-like powers. You can read more of my distaste of the Matrix sequels here. The Wachowski’s attempted to further the adventures of Neo, Trinity and Morpheus and pretty much failed. I think I speak for almost every fan of the original Matrix when I say the sequels did not exceed our expectations.
The Wachowski’s made just one movie before The Matrix called Bound starring Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. I only heard about it because its famous for its graphic lesbian sex scene. After the Matrix trilogy was over, they made a live-action adaptation for Speed Racer which bombed at the box office. It cost more than $120 million and only made $94 million. I don’t know anyone who’s even seen it. With its brilliant light displays and super fast racing scenes, just the trailer alone gave me a headache.
Their next film was a sci-fi, philosophical visionary spectacle Cloud Atlas starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. As of this writing I have not seen it nor read reviews (and I will probably take my time to actually seeing it). To me it looks as pretentious as Crash and lame cheap sci-fi like Dune. But that’s just first impressions. Hate that I think that way but because of their background and their obnoxious personal tastes, I have very little desire to see it. It was a box office bomb making just $27 million domestically (but overall $130 million) and cost $102 million. I don’t think I’m alone in waiting to see this, especially at a running time of 177 minutes.
Opening this week is another sci-fi space opera called Jupiter Ascending starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. It looks like a cross between [fill in any sci-fi/fantasy movies here] and again, I have zero desire to see it. Just the trailer looks terrible, lame and boring. And whomever I see the trailer with is just as bored and disinterested as I am so I know I’m not alone. It looks like they are trying their hands at another “trilogy” with this new concept and myth they are trying to create but I’m sorry, I’m not buying it after so much of their metaphysical and philosophical bullshit and with all the CGI-heavy sci-fi flops (Ender’s Game, John Carter, After Earth) lately, I have neither the patience or time for them.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 36%, based on 34 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Pleasing to the eye but narratively befuddled, Jupiter Ascending delivers another visually thrilling misfire from the Wachowskis.” It also had a “secret screening” by invitation only at the Sundance Film Festival and the theatre was reportedly half empty and a handful of viewers walked out mid-way through commenting that it was ridiculous.
So in the almost 20 years that they’ve been making films, they basically have 1, maybe 2 really good films if we’re being generous here. Every movie since The Matrix has been visually thrilling but lacking any good story or substance to back up their artistic endeavors. Add to that their odd and eccentric behavior of avoiding press, gender-changing procedures and having a predilection for sadomasochism and wanting the media to call them collectively as “the Wachowski Starship” they are not winning back too many of those Matrix fans to see their sci-fi schlock. I think their good graces are running out and if Jupiter Ascending bombs they should be regulated to making lousy sci-fi TV shows. They are sharing the same fate as Kevin Smith and M. Night Shyamalan when it comes to being a filmmaking pariah and having one (or two) decent films in the beginning of ones’ career and making garbage ever since.
I call the prosecution’s first witness to the stand, critic for the thedailybeast, Nick Schager:
The shame of Jupiter Ascending is that it again proves that the Wachowskis know how to cleanly shoot action, and how to stage larger-than-life, effects-heavy set pieces. And like the rest of their post-Matrix work, it suggests that the writing/directing siblings are barely competent storytellers. No matter how much CG glitz and glamor they deliver, their films are so consumed by stock hero-villain and save-the-princess (and the world) scenarios that they feel shopworn, not to mention weighed down by de rigueur monsters and dialogue equally defined by ridiculously fanciful terms and leaden exposition.
Incapable of self-penning a compelling vehicle for their grand aesthetic ambitions, the Wachowskis have become poster-children for a 21st century blockbuster cinema value system that prizes action pageantry above plotting. Which is another way of saying—someone hire them an outside screenwriter.
And I now call to the stand, Tim Grierson of screendaily.com:
Lana and Andy Wachowski made their name with the Matrix trilogy, merging a classic hero’s-journey narrative with revolutionary effects and a progressive message about the importance of the individual. Since then, they have remained ambitious (Speed Racer, co-directing Cloud Atlas with Tom Tykwer) without capturing the zeitgeist in quite the same way.
And finally Peter Debruge of Variety:
While the Wachowskis have always put their greatest emphasis on aesthetics, they allow the visual impulse to get the best of them here, investing so much attention in creating unique fashions, technology, architecture and design that they’ve blinded themselves to the huge logical gaps in their own story. Instead of serving as a lauchpad for big ideas, as their past pics have, “Jupiter Ascending” asks audiences to check their brains at the door and settle for candy-colored riffs on overplayed damsel-in-distress gimmicks…It all comes down to a problem of world-building, a skill at which the Wachowskis excelled on “The Matrix.” But their weaknesses were revealed soon after in the “Matrix” sequels, where the sheer scale of the project overwhelmed their ability to focus in on the core narrative…After this debacle, it will be a long time before the kind of recurrence where anyone trusts the duo with a budget anywhere near this scale again.
In Defense of The Wachowski’s, they have been visually stunning and elaborate with their production design since 1999’s The Matrix. Wherein, storytelling and plot or character development may fail them, their artistic and aesthetic qualities have garnered some praise. Are they the worst filmmakers out there—not by a long shot. Would I rather watch a Wachowski flick over a Michael Bay flick—hell yes; because at the very least, they attempt to make thought-provoking as well as visually-pleasing and action-packed romps. At their core they are true visionaries that utilize the very state-of-the-art special effects as well as costume and make-up design to create eye-pleasing spectacles.
I call to the stand, Devin Faraci of badassdigest:
It’s important that you understand how much I love the work of The Wachowskis. I have the same issues you do with The Matrix Revolutions (I still love Reloaded), but I’m also one of the people who strongly supports Speed Racer and who thinks Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece.
And now a brief word from: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of avclub.com:
…the Wachowskis excel at managing and integrating effects, and partly because the screwy fantasy they’ve created is so fun to navigate.
And another brief word from Harry Knowles of aintitcool.com:
This latest film is playing with some exciting fun spectacle that doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen before. In my book, the Wachowskis only faltered a bit on that second Matrix movie, otherwise…they continue to kick ass!
And finally Josh Bell of Las Vegas Weekly:
…the Wachowskis remain impressive stylists, and Jupiter Ascending is quite an achievement in world-building, with dazzlingly ornate costumes, sets and special effects.
The Defense rests!
Despite the fact that the Wachowski Starship (groan) have given us dazzling special effects time and time again paired with eye-popping visuals, it is still not enough to call them truly impressive filmmakers. We have yet to be amazed with anything they’ve done since the early 2000s and their storytelling is sub-par at best. Pretentious and lacking any humor at all, their movies are mostly self-indulgent and pompous to the point of alienating their audiences. It’s this courts civil duty to find the Wachowski Siblings: