The Matrix was one of the best movies of the last decade, but its director/producer team, the Wachowskis, headed downhill with the sequels, and bombed with Speed Racer. Here's what they need to do next.
After I saw Watchmen, which was a bumpy but intriguing ride, I realized what the movie was missing that might have saved it. It needed the visual pyrotechnics of the Wachowskis, whose movies always make you feel like your eyeballs just got an upgrade. Watchmen may have been gorgeous, but it wasn't visually arresting the way The Matrix was. Remember when you first saw bullet time? Or any of the fight scenes in any of the Matrix flicks (even the sequels)? They were insane in the best possible way.
If only Zack Snyder could have brought in the Wachowskis to do the visual effects and fight staging for Watchmen, the movie might genuinely have changed the way we see comic book movies - the same way the Matrix Trilogy changed scifi. Arguably, Snyder's 300 could never have existed without Matrix - all those slo-mo, hyperstylized fights were straight out of Wachowskitown.
The problem with the Wachowskis is that they seem to have a hard time hitting on stories that make audiences flock to the theater. Certainly the first Matrix flick was popular, but that may have been a lucky accident. The second two films were talky and slow, driving away fans. And for various reasons that I must confess I don't entirely understand, Speed Racer was critically panned and sent audiences away in droves. I actually loved Speed Racer, and thought the Matrix sequels had a lot of interesting stuff in them, but they were not hits (though the Matrix sequels made decent box office).
Still, I think that audiences respond to the Wachowskis visual stylings, even if they don't like the movies the duo hang them on. And that's why I think the Wachowskis' next move should be to open a visual effects studio like George Lucas' LucasArts and ILM, or like Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop. We need to get the amazing visual creativity of the Wachowskis harnessed to a Hollywood story that will pull in audiences. I know they want to get more into writing - they worked on the V for Vendetta screenplay - but I think visual effects are their true calling.
Imagine, for example, that the Wachowskis had been hired to do the visual effects on, say, World War Z. This is a post-apocalyptic war flick currently in production, which will require droves of CGI zombies as well as lots of concept design on the cities ravaged by the war between disease-ridden "zombies" and the uninfected humans. Based on a bestselling novel, this movie cries out for a team that can totally reimagine the way CGI might be used to show hordes of rampaging zombies. Imagine the scene where Trinity and Neo gun their way into that building in the Matrix, but with zombies. Or how about a zombie whose body moves with the same cyberorganic grace as the Machines? Or a Battle of Yonkers whose pyrotechnic madness is an echo of the light chaos in Speed Racer? Freaky, awesome, and surprising.
And if the Wachowskis had done the concept design and visual effects for the upcoming Terminator 4 movie? Well, I would have total faith in its awesomeness. Not that I think McG's flick won't rock - but I'm also not expecting to see anything new. A Wachowski-created Terminator, however, would probably blow the eyes right out of my sockets.
I'm not saying I don't want to see another Wachowski movie, because I do. But I also don't want to see the Wachowskis' considerable talents squandered. I want to see their visual audaciousness working its way into many more movies, transforming the way we look at Hollywood flicks from the inside out.