1. Why did The Matrix work? For all its pseudo-philosophy and whiz-bang effects, for all its blue-pill-red-pill This is all an illusion sci-fi wonkery, may I humbly suggest that it was Keanu Reeves all along? Without him, you have a fun, expansive vision that may have never escaped its creators' heads; it's Reeves that makes it connect, that takes Andy and Lana Wachowski's lunatic universe and yanks it into ours. Even then, thanks to Bill & Ted and Point Break and his various whoa's, he was a firm, eternal part of our popular culture, and he brought that to every role. (He's still bringing it, most notably in last year's damned terrific John Wick.) The singular vision of The Matrix was made relatable—made fun—by his very presence. It let us know that as sincere as the movie was—and if nothing else, as writers and directors, the Wachowskis are admirably, tragically sincere—it was still sort of in on the joke. Reeves streamlined the whole thing; he let us in.
2. Suffice it to say, the Wachowskis are no longer in on the joke. They've had notorious trouble repeating the success of The Matrix since 1999—not just with the sequels, but with 2008's Speed Racer and 2012's Cloud Atlas, movies drunk on their own indulgence and lost in their own often-indecipherable worlds—but we keep giving them chances, because damn, The Matrix. I bet, after the sci-fi fiasco Jupiter Ascending, those chances end. It's a baffling, bloated nightmare of a movie, an incoherent mess that's impossible to follow and shockingly, interminably long. But the real reason it's terrible is that it's not fun—the film is so caught up in its own brain that it never gives us anything to grab onto, no poppy moments that give you that head-rush of recognition that only popular culture can give us. Even the most imaginative new universes must have some connection to ours, even if it's just Keanu putting on sunglasses and deadpanning, "I know kung fu." There is none of that here. This place exists entirely between the ears of the Wachowskis, and that's a place I'm no longer willing to visit.
3. I'm sure I'm not the first person to say this, but Jupiter Ascending is basically a latter-day George Lucas movie, except you don't even have the preexisting familiarity with the characters to carry you through some of the leaden dialogue and empty CGI. Half this freaking movie is about taxation rates and committee meetings, and I have no earthly idea why. At one point, for no reason whatsoever, we get a five-minute-long montage of our heroes waiting in various lines. I'm not kidding about that, by the way: For whatever reason, in the middle of a sci-fi fantasy film, the Wachowskis decided to make some sort of point about intergalactic bureaucracy and governmental red tape. It's honestly one of the most bewildering things I've ever seen in a movie. As the scene kept going on and on—"No, you need this stamp for citizenship, you must visit that office" as Channing Tatum rolls his eyes for the eighth time—I started to legitimately worry I'd blacked out. As a filmmaker, this is the sort of thing you do when no one is telling you no.
4. This movie is full of things that happen when there's no one around to tell you no. Someone needed to tell the Wachowskis that having Mila Kunis—the one person in the film who seems to be trying, the poor girl—play a dowdy, put-upon maid who doesn't realize she's an intergalactic princess (and, in a bizarre subplot, is selling her eggs for her cousin, or something?) was a stretch. (Her job seems to consist solely of cleaning toilets.) Someone needed to tell them that you need to give Channing Tatum—who is actually a lot funnier than anyone in this movie allows him to be—something to do other than wear prosthetic ears and no shirt. Someone needed to tell them that Eddie Redmayne, who might just be about to win an Oscar, was so underplaying his villain role—weird, lisp-y whisper and all—that you honestly can't hear what he's saying half the time, an amazing thing considering how loud the rest of this movie is. Someone needed to tell them that the whole thing didn't make a lick of sense.
5. But that's the thing: The Wachowskis are treated like prequels-era George Lucas, with similar results. (At least those had a lightsaber from time to time. This just has Tatum with laser shoes.) We've all been waiting around for them to give us another Matrix, but as the last 15 years—15 years!—have ground on, it has becoming increasingly clear that they learned the wrong lesson from that movie's success. They thought people were reacting to the labyrinthine mythology, or the story's twists and turns, or the occasional cruises through their own bewildering headspace. And we might have gotten into those things, sure, but only because we had the invite from Keanu to come on in. We needed something to hook us. The Wachowskis have forgotten how to hook us, so we just float around, untethered and bewildered, wondering how we got here and how much longer it'll be until we get to leave. Jupiter Ascending isn't even unhinged enough to be fascinating. It's just a sad, lonely trip to nowhere. Give me the blue pill. I absolutely do not need to know how deep this rabbit hole goes.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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