Any science fiction fan worth their salt has likely see The Matrix. Back when it released back in 1999, it single-handedly changed the game as we know it, spawning a generation of imitators. Anytime you see a slow-motion fight sequence complete with rapid gunfire and a steadycam, you can bet the fingerprints of the Wachowskis’s iconic film are all over it. Even today, two decades after the fact, we’re still seeing its influence both visually and thematically all throughout the sci-fi and action genres and beyond.
But then something strange happened. The ensuing years saw the Wachowskis never quite strike gold in the same way again. Two sequels followed, each worst than the one preceding. V for Vendetta marked a slight uptick in terms of overall quality, only to see things plummet right back down again with their much-maligned Speed Racer adaptation. Since then, the directing/writing combo have surfaced periodically, each time leading audiences to hope that this would be the time they recapture their Matrix magic.
Alas though, they haven’t. Jupiter Ascending was an ode to all their strengths and weaknesses as filmmakers, with the latter outweighing the former by a frighteningly healthy margin. Richard Roeper certainly pulled no punches in his review, one of many negative ones that populated Rotten Tomatoes’ 25% rating for the film.
There’s no defending “Jupiter Ascending.” There’s no explaining “Jupiter Ascending.” There’s no way “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t making an appearance on my list of the Worst Films of 2015. This is a $175 million intergalactic train wreck sure to be invoked whenever and wherever Channing Tatum is the subject of a comedic roast.
Other critical feedback was similarly caustic, while the bloated budget for the film made it so the studio just barely made its money back at the box office.
It leads one to wonder just where the talent of two formerly talented filmmakers went. Was The Matrix their one-hit wonder? Based on the last decade plus of their offerings, it’s looking more and more like that may be true. The Joseph Campbell-esque hero’s journey of Neo was plenty sufficient to carry their visual style through the first installment of their trilogy. But in the wake of that, their ability as storytellers has proven to be lacking. Their movies now are filled to the brim with unnecessary complication, messy spiderwebs of pointless characters, and snooze-worthy dialogue.
Nowadays, the Wachowskis can be found on Netflix streaming, having just debuted their new TV series, Sense8. For now, most critics agree that the show is more of the same from the duo: Stunningly realized visuals paired with a confusing and sometimes impossible-to-understand plotline. On the back of Netflix’s substantially well-funded original programming though, they can spread their wings in a way that makes it much harder to quantify whether or not they’ve produced another flop. Without box office numbers to anchor down their work, they’ve found a place to create something divorced from the fear of wasting a studio’s money in one fell swoop.
All this aside, the fall from the Wachowskis from the days of The Matrix has been swift and steep. There’s no doubting the way they forever changed the way sci-fi and and action movies are shot. But the extent of their influence doesn’t reach any further than that one film, and that’s the real tragedy here. The talent that made The Matrix possible may be left in the minds of the duo somewhere, but we haven’t seen much of it in the years since.
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