Speed Racer is 2008’s biggest box office bomb so far, and as a result, many people have been quick to label it the worst film of the year. Some are even calling it the worst film of all time. Similarly, we all know that the two Matrix sequels did nothing but disappoint fans. Whatever the Wachowskis may be, geniuses or masterminds they are not. But instead of slogging along with these mass opinion merely because it’s easier than defending their movies lets take a step back and consider them one at a time.
Those who have not seen Bound are usually the quickest to label the Wachowskis as nothing more than big-budget action directors who use visual fireworks in the place of an actual story. But if you have seen Bound, you know how silly this is. Bound was everything a movie should be – unpredictable, riveting, sexy, and original, a sort of ironic post-noir gangster film that took dozens of genre elements and blended them into a whole that was hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, and pretty bad-ass. Even if you have no interest in the Wachowskis as directors, you should go out and rent Bound right now.
The precious jewel in the Wachowski crown. The Matrix’s perfect blend of kickass action sequences, pop philosophy, and kung fu/science fiction homage still has geeks the world over salivating. It’s similar to Bound in that the Wachowskis are playing with genre in a self-aware way. Their revolutionary special effects shouldn’t be overlooked either – bullet-time is still used in films today. I don’t need to convince any of you that The Matrix is hella awesome, I don’t think, because for most people, this is not even a question. Reloaded, on the other hand…
The Matrix Reloaded
So why does everyone hate this movie so much? Well, first of all, it’s probably that easily and oft-repeated phrase “it wasn’t as good as the first,” which is what mindless movie watchers say every time they see a sequel, and that’s usually all they say. Since Reloaded came out, little else in the way of accusations have appeared, because the line of reasoning is so shallow. Other moviegoers claim that the story is too full, the pop philosophy too dense, the action too prevalent and pointless (Neo vs. 100 Smiths for no reason? Give me break!). So let me get this straight: The Wachowskis gave you a simple grilled cheese sandwich (The Matrix) as an appetizer, and when the main course (Reloaded) comes, with dozens of rich dishes, drinks, and desserts from which to choose, you say, “Naw, sorry, too complex for me. I really love the plainness of the grilled cheese.” How boring is that? The Wachowskis did everything they wanted to in The Matrix, so when they moved on to a sequel, they realized that a straightforward sequel wouldn’t be good enough for them – they needed a bombastically entertaining ride that took everything people loved about the first and overturned it, making it better, more complex, rich, and fascinating. We learn more about Zion, the machines, the programs, Morpheus’s faith in the One, and Neo himself. And to those who accuse the philosophy and action of being too dense and pointless? Well, why don’t you guys go out and get the other half of your brain you left at home? So because you have to watch Reloaded two or three times to really get what the Architect is saying or really see through the Oracle’s thick statements, it’s not a good movie? Reloaded has the unfortunate privilege of being an action movie with brains, something that the general American audience doesn’t appreciate too much. We like to keep our award winners and action movies separate – no use complicating things, right? If the Wachowskis were here they’d flip you the bird and add one more action scene just to spite you. Most of the action scenes, too, have significance beyond merely “bang, pop, zap, wow” – the fight in the castle symbolizes a struggle of power using ancient weapons and statues. The Neo vs. 100 Smiths symbolizes how Neo must make a choice between purpose and non-purpose.
The Matrix Revolutions
And then, there’s the third movie, one that fell so far below expectations that it even disappointed me when it first came out. But watching it lately, I’ve come to like it more – because once again, the Wachowskis took the expectations of the second one and turned them on their heads to give us another fully different movie that was still part of the same trilogy. Neo is finally figuring out who he is, the broken Morpheus must struggle with the great blow dealt to his beliefs, Kid has to put into action his belief in Neo, and Trinity must say goodbye. The massive Sentinel battle that occurs inside Zion’s dock still dazzles more than five years later. It’s also clear that a full understanding of the trilogy requires you to have seen all three (people who have seen only one or two of the movies are the one’s you’ll probably find hating the trilogy the most – because they just don’t get it) – the themes complement one another, and it ends up tying together perfectly (I should know, I’ve seen them 23 times each) with zero plotholes. Think about that, too, a near seven hour epic and not a single plot hole shows? Seems to me the Wachowskis have put a little bit more thought into this trilogy than most people give them credit for, and the same goes for our next movie too.
Yes, I’m even going to defend this clunky two hour and fifteen minute kid’s movie. It’s exactly the movie the Wachowskis wanted to make. Having been fans of the old Japanese TV show since they were kids, they had a very specific vision in mind and transposed in onto the big screen with the usual visual fanfare – once more, without even trying, the Wachowskis have broke new ground in visual animation – and not just in the usual, “oh, that car looks more realistic” – because the tracks and cars in Speed Racer don’t look “realistic” per se – they’re not supposed to – this is a kid’s dream, a life-size Hot Wheels track with cars careening around and smashing into each other at blazingly-fast speed. It’s all rendered in a gorgeous, splashy, super sonic style, and those viewers who complained about motion sickness need to take a spill and shut up. Don’t get on the roller coaster if you’re going to barf like a wuss. The cheese works, too – Speed Racer’s cheesy dialog is wonderfully written – sure, it’s over-the-top, sometimes painfully bad, but it’s all on purpose – the Wachowskis have clearly shown they can write good dialog – why would they go so horribly wrong with Speed Racer? Do you think they’re sitting at home thinking, “Man, we had no idea that script was cheesy! We had no idea that we made the cars go too fast!” It’s really funny to me how most of the accusations leveled against the Wachowski brothers are about aspects of their films that they meant to make like that. When you point out Speed Racer’s uber-cheesy dialog, Larry or Andy would probably look at you really weirdly and say, “Um….isn’t that the point?” Seems to me the Wachowskis are a few steps ahead of the viewers, and not the other way around.
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