I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
After the Wachowskis’ debut in 1996 with the neoclassic crime thriller Bound, their films have reached box office pinnacles (The Matrix Trilogy) to middling art house hits (Cloud Atlas) to complete garbage (Speed Racer) to WTF (Jupiter Ascending).
Whether you like or hate their films, for over 20 years, the Wachowskis have demonstrated a style all their own. With garish colors and reams of exposition, you know right away whether a Wachowski movie is working for you or not.
While the fourth Matrix movie only has Lana Wachowski directing by herself, their previous films had the siblings working together. Here is a ranked list of the Wachowskis movies.
This is a primer for the newest Matrix movie that no one really wanted except for the year 1999.
Be sure to vote for your favorite Wachowski film.
1) Bound (1996)
The Wachowskis debuted with the crime thriller Bound and gave stars Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly their best onscreen roles to date. Violet (Tilly) and Corky (Gershon) have been elevated to LGBTQ icon status as lovers trying to steal $2 million dollars from Violet’s boyfriend Caesar (Wachowski regular Joe Pantoliano AKA Joey Pants).
If you haven’t seen it, just know that there will be very few things you predict. You’ve seen crime thrillers like this before, but the Wachowskis throw twists and turns you should have seen coming but don’t. Violet and Corky’s love story is convincing and nowhere near exploitative. It features two of the best closing lines ever (“You know what the difference is between you and me?”). It's one of the best movies of the 90s.
2) The Matrix (1999)
For better and worse, The Matrix was a box-office phenomenon that put Keanu Reeves into the stratosphere, put Laurence Fishburne on the “What If I Told You” meme, and launched the now-quaint bullet time. At least the wonky and talky pseudo philosophy is offset by engaging action sequences. Keanu Reeves has never been used better.
From a present day standpoint, the use of phone booths (look them up, kids) as ways of transportation elicits a hearty laugh. But if you were there in the late 90s, then you enjoyed the ride. Too bad the global success of the original made way for the sequels. What if I told you that seeing this in theaters back in 1999 was an exhilarating experience? You didn’t mind that they wore sunglasses and raincoats together.
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3) Cloud Atlas (2012)
It’s three hours with a sprawling cast (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon) and seemingly endless storylines. Based on the best selling novel (and co-directed by Tom Tykwer), there are parts in the film that don’t mesh as successfully as some, but taken as a whole, it’s a mesmerizing experience.
It actually flows better the second time around since you know in general strokes where the story is trying to take you. You’re not always engaged as you’d like to be, but you are never bored. Not a bad way to spend three hours with your head in this cloud.
4) The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The third Matrix movie is not as numbingly mediocre as the second Matrix movie. That is the highest praise it deserves. After slogging through Reloaded, there was the promise that Revolutions would finally bring the Matrix story to a close. Or so you thought. The action sequences are well-rendered if perfunctory.
The dialogue is still overwrought, but not as egregious as in Reloaded. The archetypal characters were so thinly written that Trinity’s “death” (in parentheses now because Carrie Anne-Moss is featured in the new movie) elicits nothing more than a "meh." Even Neo’s death gets nothing more than a shrug. But at least this is better than Reloaded. That gets us through this trilogy (now quadrilogy).
5) The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The long awaited sequel features spectacular if empty set pieces (the freeway sequence is the best of the sequels) bogged down by so much droning exposition. Almost anytime one of the navel gazing characters stops the movie to talk and talk and talk, you realize you could have left the theater or the seat in your home, used the restroom, come back, and the character would still be droning on about something you might be tested on later.
Rarely has a movie been so stop-and-start with jarring shifts in tone. You just wish some of the characters shut up and deliver us to another action scene. Do the mediocre Matrix sequels ruin the original’s standing? Somewhat, but you can always pretend the sequels don’t exist and choose not to see Matrix 4. But you’re not, are you?
6) Jupiter Ascending (2015)
The movie which the Wachowskis Brothers became the Wachowskis due to Lana and Lilly’s gender reassignment. Also the movie where Channing Tatum plays a dog. Mila Kunis plays a toilet cleaning Queen of the Universe…or something. Eddie Redmayne yells and yells into YouTube-search worthy immortality in a performance that needs to be seen in order to be believed.
Even after you see Redmayne’s undercooked overacting, you still can’t believe your eyes as they’re still burning from laughing and crying. With a plot that you give up on after 20 minutes, there’s a reason this is called Stupider Ascending in some circles. Works best if you think of this as a comedy.
7) Speed Racer (2008)
How a movie with the word Speed in the title is two and a quarter hours yet feels twice as long is beyond human understanding. As dumb as Jupiter Ascending is, at least there’s some entertainment value in its ridiculousness. Speed Racer is just boring. Its visual conceit gets repetitive after the first 15 times you see it. Matthew Fox looks as uninterested as the audience feels. Emile Hirsch’s charisma is bottled in as he’s rendered as inexpressive while the background explodes in lifeless color.
A movie about being independent and running by your own instincts is bankrolled by the Warner Bros conglomerate and features many corporate sponsors. If you saw this in 2008 and you’re reading this, this is probably the first time you’ve thought about Speed Racer since. No, Speed Racer, no.
Though The Matrix Resurrections has Lana Wachowski as its sole director, the Wachowskis have left their mark on movies (and on the cancelled Netflix show Sense8), for (mostly) better or worse. Rewatch some of your favorites. Answer a call from a phonebooth and get transported to your favorite Wachowski film.
© 2021 Noel Penaflor