A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 315 – The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded – January 9th, 2011

Ah, it’s sequel time. I have to admit, I’ve only seen the Matrix sequels a few times. I’ve seen the first movie countless times, but the sequels, while pretty, lack something. It’s a pity, what with the promise the first movie had, but then that’s how it goes. I don’t dislike the sequels, but they disappointed me, so while I do enjoy watching them, and I certainly had moments tonight when I found myself grinning, the spark that made the first movie so uniquely fantastic is missing.

I think part of it for me is that this movie seems to embody the concept of trying too hard. With the first movie to live up to where do you go? More fight scenes, more bad guys, more chases and machines and tech and Neo doing impossible things and oh yes, lots more symbolism. And it’s all crammed in there so tightly none of it really has the space to breathe. There are these wonderfully tantalizing bits and pieces but before we can really get a sense of them there’s another fight scene, and it makes me wonder if the tantalizing bits are cut off because there are too many or because none of them were ever truly thought through.

We rejoin Neo and Trinity and Morpheus well enough after the events of the last movie that they’ve already been back to Zion enough times for Neo to gain a somewhat unwelcome following. People gather at the door to his quarters, waiting for him to come home. They give him offerings in hope that he will somehow be able to protect their family and loved ones. The messiah plot is very clearly carried on here, with Neo knowing he is this figure they’re looking to but not knowing what to do about it. He has horrible prophetic dreams of Trinity falling out of a building and dying (which is the opening scene, so twice now the movies have opened on Trinity kicking ass) and it’s made clear he has no idea what it all means. And I’ve got to give it to Keanu Reeves. For all the disparaging comments made about him and his lack of emotion, there is one moment in this movie where he somehow manages to convey the helplessness and sense of being overwhelmed through a single facial expression. The man can act!

So the ship returns to Zion and there’s a big orgy before the whole place prepares for war, since it’s been discovered that the machines are digging in to reach Zion and destroy it. Morpheus is waiting for word from the Oracle, defying orders of the military commander, Lock. There are meetings of the various ship captains and meetings in Zion with the council and Morpheus has a vaguely Cassandra type role here, being the true believer but being disbelieved himself. There’s a lot of arguing about whether or not they need to talk to the Oracle and whether they can afford to go back into the Matrix when the machines are so close and they need ships but of course they do go back in and the Oracle sends Neo on a quest to find the Keymaker and that leads them to an obsolete program named the Merovingian and his cadre of dangerous goons and meanwhile Agent Smith is replicating himself out of control and that’s not even touching on the new upgraded Agents who are also after them. So basically there are three different groups after Neo and his friends in the Matrix, a crapload of machines tunneling into Zion in the real world, and lots of little conversations about the nature of the Matrix and the programs within it.

It’s so very messy. And I haven’t even gotten to the Architect. I find it frustrating because there are all of these very interesting little moments. Neo’s conversation with the Oracle about how programs do what they’re intended to do and you never notice them. The Merovingian and his group of werewolves and vampires and ghosts and the implications of his cause and effect mentality. His wife, Persephone and all symbolism going on there. The Keymaker and Seraph, programs with very specific purposes. And as soon as they’re touched on there’s a fight scene. The Oracle spouts a lot of stuff about purpose and then buggers off just in time for a mob of Smiths to show up. The Merovingian rambles about causality and then kicks them out. Persephone shows up to give some more little clues and then we get the staircase fight scene with the goons, none of whom are ever really given much in the way of purpose or character. And then there’s the chase scene. And all the while there’s stuff going on in the real world that I’m sure is very important but it’s all chopped up. Oh! And there’s a traitor! Because we’ve got to have a traitor. And his name is Bane. Of course. Because Cypher wasn’t obvious enough.

And that’s my other problem here. The symbolism isn’t symbolism anymore. It’s flat out telling you what to think about the people who get introduced. Bane? That’s not a metaphor, that’s a label. But I could deal with that. It’s not like Neo and Morpheus were terribly subtle in the first place and there are things I like, such as the names of the various ships (Mjolnir, Osirus, Logos, Caduceus, Brahma, etc.). Some things are done well. I really like Zion, which is a giant bunker of a city. I just think there’s too much packed in, so by the time you reach the Architect and he starts in with the SAT vocab test of an explanation of what the Matrix is and Neo’s place in it, it’s just more noise. And essentially he tells Neo what Agent Smith told Morpheus in the first movie: Humanity is flawed and needs suffering. There needs to be a rebellion and a release valve. He just takes ten minutes to say it.

Seriously, I don’t dislike this movie. I just went into it hoping for more answers than I got. It felt like this movie was a lot more style-over-substance than the first one was, which made me sad. Oh, I still enjoyed the gorgeous visuals and the fact that both Trinity and Niobe (one of the captains, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith) get to kick a hell of a lot of ass. I do love the highway chase scene with the evil twins. I love the possibilities and I love the concept. I enjoy the little clever bits like references to Bible verses and classical literature. I just wish there had been some editing done. Maybe instead of three factions trying to get Neo and his pals it could have been two. Maybe a fight scene could have been taken out (the one with Seraph comes to mind – what’s the point there, again?). Maybe the scenes with the real world could have had less back and forth and political wrangling. I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun and has some great stuff in it, it just feels overloaded. Like the Wachowskis came up with so many cool ideas they couldn’t bear not to include them all. It ends with a fantastic revelation about Neo and his power in and out of the Matrix and it’s fantastically fun overall. But it clocks in at over two hours and I refuse to believe that at least fifteen minutes couldn’t have been cut to make it a tighter, sharper, cleaner and overall better movie.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Matrix Reloaded

January 9, 2011

Matrix Reloaded

I think everybody knew, going in to this movie, that there was no way that this could live up to the first movie. The Matrix was a once in a lifetime event. A combination of style and substance that defied expectations. I can’t begin to imagine the pressure that the Wachowskis must have been under to come up with a worthy sequel. It had taken them years, perhaps decades, to polish the script for The Matrix and bring it to the screen. Now they had to come up with a worthy sequel. Something mind-bending and beautiful. They strove mightily, and the result is impressive, but the task was too great for them, and ultimately the sequels are flawed. Tainted by their ambition.

I’ll give the Wachowskis this – they didn’t hold back any. This movie and the third one were filmed together as a single mighty piece, and were part of a colossal multimedia event. Before Reloaded arrived in theaters there was the release of the Matrix video game which featured some characters from the movie and acted as a bridge of sorts to connect the first movie to the second. It followed the adventures of Jada Pinckett Smith’s character Niobe as she rushes back towards the last human city of Zion with the news that a massive machine army has been dispatched to destroy it. There were supposedly hints buried in the cinematics of the game (directed by the Wachowskis themselves) which would assist in understanding the movies. Likewise there is one character in Reloaded who comes from the direct-to-video series of anime inspired cartoons The Animatrix which arrived in stores at the same time. So supposedly in order to fully appreciate the edifice which is Matrix Reloaded it was necessary to beat the game and watch the anime as well. I did both, and although it might have added a little bit of depth to the world of the Matrix ultimately it didn’t answer any questions. Partly because the biggest flaw in this entire multimedia hodgepodge is that although there are a great many interesting questions raised in these movies they are rather short on answers. But that’s for tomorrow’s review I suppose.

It’s all the more frustrating because the movie starts out so well. There’s some enigmatic action involving Trinity fleeing from an Agent and falling. As she does Neo wakes up and realizes that it’s a dream – a prophetic dream of course. This movie has two basic interrelated themes that run though the plot – themes related to the nature of free will in a world that has an all knowing Oracle and to the nature of purpose. This makes sense since the machines and programs that the humans are fighting against are built things. Built by other machines and programs in this case, but built nonetheless. It’s only natural that self aware programs should be aware of the fact that they were created with a purpose, and that if they are intelligent this fact would prey on them.

Agent Smith, whom Neo had defeated at the end of the first movie, returns as well, but he has become corrupted. He is no longer an Agent of the system, he is a rogue program that replicates itself by over-writing people and programs he encounters in the Matrix. He’s a sentient virus. (Which is kind of cool in that he accused Morpheus of being a virus in the first movie.)

Neo is tortured because he has this power when he’s inside the Matrix and has a cult following, including Morpheus himself, but he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do to help. Clearly his ability to see the code of the Matrix from within and to manipulate it to some degree is somehow the only hope for humanity, but he’s completely lost.

So far this all is great stuff. It works within the world of the first movie and it provides a lot of great questions to answer. If the Wachowskis could have left it at that – Neo trying to discover his purpose and destiny – it would have been a great movie. But they had to throw a wrench in the works. They had to try to do something more clever than that. They had to introduce more questions.

Things start to get muddy when the Oracle sends Neo to collect the Keymaker from a rogue program called the Merovingian. There are all these different programs hiding inside the Matrix, it turns out, that have different agendas. The Oracle herself of course we already know about. But there’s her protector Seraph, and the Merovingian and his wife Persephone (does that mean he’s supposed to be Hades?) and their cadre of non-compliant rebels. These programs have been around for a while. They know something about the nature of the Matrix. We already know from Agent Smith in the first movie that the Matrix has been built before, but that it was rejected by the humans plugged in to it because it was an Eden and therefore unbelievable to them. Well part of the thrust of this movie is that there have been several attempted Matrices since then, of which the programs are well aware, and there have been other Ones as well.

All of this is okay. It’s perfectly valid world building. Maybe it’s a little muddy, introducing all these new characters and not really giving them anything to do besides try to stop Neo and his companions, but at least it makes sense in the context of the world the Wachowskis are creating here. Then there’s the big reveal near the end of the movie – when Neo confronts the Architect who built the Matrix – and from there on out nothing makes sense any more.

The Architect explains, in a convoluted way, that the One is not in fact the savior of Humanity but is instead a tool used by the Matrix to re-set things when too many humans have awoken. There’s some technobabble about how he contains some snippet of code that can start the process over again when he enters the Core. Apparently Neo is being used by the Architect, and has been from the very beginning.

I don’t so much mind the “pull the rug out from under you” premise that our hero has been a tool of the bad guys from the very beginning. Heck, it’s practically a required trope of the many fantasy RPGs I’ve played through over the years. But it’s so sloppily done. And it doesn’t feel like it fits in the scheme of the rest of the movie. For one thing the machinations of the Oracle cease to make any sense at all. For another it seems ludicrous that this convoluted scheme of the Architect’s ever worked in the first place. We’re asked to believe that five Neos before the one we’ve been following chose to let all of Zion die in order to save the rest of humanity, which doesn’t seem likely at all. Most of all, however, it doesn’t make any sense that Neo should be necessary in the first place. The machines that made the Matrix shouldn’t be dependant on the whims of a human to push their own reset button. It’s just stupid. Which makes me sad.

I won’t deny, however, that it is still a very pretty movie to look at. It has a couple fantastic fight scenes, a giant car chase on the freeway, and some cool new bad-guys. The battle of Neo against a whole crowd of Agent Smiths is a treat for the eyes. The chase on the freeway is full of explosions, crashes and even a fight on the roof of a moving truck. In the employ of the Merovingian are a pair of albinos with dreadlocks who can phase through matter and make for some awesome moments. So, yeah, there’s a whole lot of pretty stuff to look at.

I love all the new additions to the cast as well. Particularly Harold Perrineau as Link, who acts as the voice of the audience and encourages us to cheer at the right moments when Neo accomplishes the impossible.

When Amanda and I left the theater after watching this for the first time we actually had a lot of fun debating just what it all meant. So many questions are raised over the course of the movie, and I kind of looked forward to seeing how they would be answered in the third installment. Questions like: who was the individual Neo saw being led away from the table as he first approached the Merovingian? Just what did the Merovingian want? How did Neo stop the Sentinels at the end of the movie? Is Trinity a One now that she’s been dead and resurrected? We even went back and watched it a second time to try and glean more clues. This movie had a lot of flaws to it – huge gaping plot holes at the end, but there was still some hope that the third movie could answer all these unanswered questions. Right up until Matrix Revolutions finally came out six months later.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 3 Comments