The Wachowskis hold a unique place in Hollywood history thanks to The Matrix. Unfortunately, the rest of their filmography is another matter. While The Matrix is an undisputed classic (and their crime thriller Bound is highly underrated), they’ve never again approached such heights of storytelling. Instead, the rest of their filmography is a mishmash of overly ambitious failures and style before substance. Still, we can’t deny that even their failures have some downright entertaining moments. As IFC and Rotten Tomatoes team up to celebrate movies that are “too rotten to miss,” we thought we’d look back at five Wachowski movies that are eminently watchable in their lousiness.
5. Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas is probably the Wachowskis’ most ambitious movie to date, and also one of their best. Unfortunately, being one of their best doesn’t mean it’s very good. Based on the acclaimed novel by British author David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas tells the story of various characters’ interweaving roles in a narrative that spans the past, the present and the future. If that sounds vague and confusing, it’s because it is. While the book was a huge success based on digging deep into these characters’ realities, the movie takes a more superficial and often obvious approach. What’s left is a head scratcher full of Tom Hanks playing dress up. As with much of the Wachowksis’ work, there are a lot of interesting ideas buried in this movie, but they tend to collapse under the weight of all the gimmicks and miscues the filmmakers can’t seem to avoid.
4. Speed Racer
The creators of The Matrix take on a beloved cult cartoon? What could go wrong? Well, judging by the $19 million this $120 million fiasco earned in its opening weekend, a lot. Less a movie than an assault on the senses, Speed Racer was supposed to be the Wachowskis’ comeback after their Matrix saga came off the rails. Things likes performance, character and plot are beside the point here. This is all about explosive CGI. Colors whizzing by. Streaks of light having sex with a rainbow on acid. It’s an overwhelming experience, but not necessarily a bad one. You feel swept away to a magical world of Day-Glo racecar drivers fighting for their shot. And then it keeps going. And going. And going. That wonder turns into a headache. That awe into an urge to vomit. It never lets up, or bothers to craft a story and characters interesting enough to make you want to keep the puke down long enough to see how it ends. The Wachowskis seem to have made exactly the movie they were going for here, but their instincts betray them yet again, leaving us with a sugar high hangover.
3. The Matrix Reloaded
Fans showed up in droves for The Matrix Reloaded, ready to pop the red pill and see where it took them. Unfortunately, the answer was no place they wanted to go. Instead, the rabbit hole led to a convoluted sequel that dropped the clear storyline of the first film for a impenetrable mess of self-indulgent world building and empty motivations. A diehard fan under extreme interrogation couldn’t coherently describe what this movie was about. There’s some albino twins and a guy who’s also a key? In the end, this was science fiction navel gazing at its worst. The Wachowskis got lost in the world they created, and forgot to ground the film in story, character and sanity. Plus, that rave scene is pretty ridiculous.
2. The Matrix Revolutions
When the first Matrix film was released in 1999, it was sold with the tagline “What is the Matrix?” By the time the head scratching sequels came and went, no one seemed to know or care anymore. If we’re being honest, do any of us even remember this movie? We went into Reloaded with sky-high expectation and were met with a thundering middle finger. This movie was a denouement of apathy, a $150 million shrug of the shoulders. When filmmakers feel the need to create complex mythology to explain a recast part, you know you’re probably in a bit of trouble. By the time the trilogy limps actors to the finish line, with the wizened Oracle basically admitting she has no idea what just happened, the audience found themselves repeating Keanu Reeves’ iconic catchphrase, “Whoa.” (Or more likely, “Whaaa??”) It’s the rotten nadir of the Matrix franchise, complete with some choice dazed Keanu-isms and endless scenes of characters spouting wisdom that seems to be gleaned from a Magic Eightball.
1. Jupiter Ascending
At a certain point, you can’t blame the Wachowskis alone for their incomprehensibly bad movies. You have to start questioning the men in suits who hand them hundreds of millions of dollars to make them. Whoever read the dense story of a mysterious queen of bees rescued by a buff dog/elf with hover rollerblades, and thought, now this one is going to be a hit, needs to rethink their line of work. This movie is so bad, it’s virtually become shorthand for movies that suck. There are too many issues to mention. Channing Tatum plays a half albino with dog DNA and a leather fetish, and looks ashamed the whole time. Eddie Redmayne puts on an overacting clinic that very nearly cost him his Oscar. Somehow, nearly every scene in this movie introduces a new plot that goes nowhere. It’s as if the Wachowskis threw everything AND the kitchen sink into their script, and then made the kitchen sink a part dog bounty hunter with floating space shoes! This is the type of movie that doesn’t just end careers, it ends studios. It’s also gradually picking up a cult following as a seriously “WTF” movie that is too rotten to miss.