A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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January 9, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Your reviews are spot on. Some part of me loves Reloaded simply for what they were trying to do, but it feels like the movie split in two at some point — half a parade of pop philosophers wandering on screen to relate their take on life, and half explosions and chases. The split personality of the movie needs reintegration, and not just via scene cuts. I think there’s actually an interesting example of the two sides coming together in Revolutions, but I want to see what you guys have to say first.

    Comment by Jeff | January 10, 2011 | Reply

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I hope you don’t think I was too cruel with my Revolutions review.

      Comment by tanatoes | January 10, 2011 | Reply

      • Not at all. I’ve rewatched the sequels multiple times, every time trying to find a perspective that would allow me to like them, but all I’ve achieved is numbness toward the flaws.

        Comment by Jeff | January 12, 2011


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