Friday, August 5, 2011

Why Reloading The Matrix Wasn't The Best Or Worst Idea: The Matrix Reloaded!

The Good: Special effects, Moments of philosophy, Moments of acting
The Bad: Repetitive fight scenes, Boring analysis, Lack of emphasis on freedom fight
The Basics: When Neo, Trinity and Morpheus re-enter the Matrix, a fight ensues that defies reason or philosophy or the viewer's ability to appreciate.

Some things are best left as they are. That is to say, some films do not need sequels, some musical artists ought to be content with their one #1 hit, and some people who successfully publish books should be happy with the one they get out on the shelves. The Wachowski brothers had successful movies like Bound before they did The Matrix (reviewed here!). Once they had the smash with The Matrix, they should have been content to let that universe they created be. That is to say that the end to The Matrix was a nice end to the plot of that story. Indeed, when I heard they were doing a sequel to the movie, I said, "Unless they're doing a prequel, that's going to be boring; after all, who wants to see a movie about a god reorganizing the world?"

It is rare that I am so right and so wrong. That is to say that I was wrong in that the sequel to The Matrix was neither a prequel, nor a film about a newly formed god freeing the enslaved people of the Matrix. I was right in that outside the visual elements, most of The Matrix Reloaded is boring.

Beginning some undefined time after The Matrix ended, The Matrix Reloaded finds the war between the machines and the humans at a potential turning point. The machine army has discovered the last human city, Zion, and they are mounting an attack. As they drill toward the subterranean city, Morpheus convinces Neo and the Council of Zion that the battle must actually be fought inside the Matrix and, as a matter of faith, he believes Neo will win the war for them.

This brings Neo, Morpheus and Trinity into the Matrix to search for the Oracle and then the Keymaker in a series of pointless fights and witless chases that climax in a cliffhanger designed to get the viewer to watch the last installment of the trilogy.

What works in The Matrix Reloaded is that it looks good. While The Matrix was groundbreaking with its special effects, it also told a wonderful story about a band of humans trying to fight off slavery in a very physical, real form (i.e. being chained to computers for power) and in an intellectual level ("Free your mind"). The Matrix Reloaded spends about a tenth of the time on the philosophy and too much of it is raw exposition in the form of two exceptionally boring white men (Merovingian and The Architect). Basically, these two characters spend a lot of time talking about cause and effect and programming. Almost completely gone is the whole philosophy of what it means to be free and the importance of self-determination. Much of The Matrix Reloaded is about predestination.

The problem with this is that The Matrix ended with Neo having the big epiphany. Neo understood that anything that happened in the Matrix was not real, it could not harm him and he could undo it. In The Matrix Reloaded the closest the viewer sees of that is Neo's ability to see the actual programming around him. It's a cheap out used to cover the fact that it's almost impossible to do a movie about an omnipotent character. In short, if The Matrix ended with Neo understanding how to change the world, by completely defying it, the hold the machines had over the enslaved humans should have been broken and humanity should have been entirely freed.

Instead, The Matrix Reloaded spends a great deal of time with fighting. Neo fights Agents, Neo fights Smiths (who have returned with new powers), Neo fights Seraph, Neo fights thugs, Neo lets his friends fight the two badass programs that can make themselves immaterial. The short point: it's boring. We've seen Neo fight. We saw Neo fight in the first one. He fought, it was cool. He (and the audience) moved beyond it. By the second fight sequence in The Matrix Reloaded, anyone who truly enjoyed the depth of the themes of The Matrix is bored and basically saying "Get on with it!"

That said, The Matrix Reloaded was not the worst film I saw in 2003. It was not even as bad as The Matrix Revolutions, which completed the saga. The truth is, I liked The Matrix Reloaded more when I saw it the second time. I was still bored by the fights and I still thought the primal dance scene was somewhat ridiculous, but there was a lot to enjoy.

The first thing I enjoyed about it was Lawrence Fishburn's portrayal of Morpheus. Fishburn plays him like a quiet zealot and it's an intriguing role. Fishburn does amazing physical work with his stunts and makes us believe in Morpheus and the strength of his belief in Neo. At the end of the day, without Morpheus, the viewer would care a lot less about Neo. Fishburn adds presence to a great number of lines that could have easily sounded cliche from any other actor.

The second thing I enjoyed was the performance by Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity. She is flat out cool in The Matrix Reloaded. She moves like a cat, talks like a sweetheart lover poet and drives like a maniac. She is the most fun to watch in The Matrix Reloaded.

The other thing I liked about the movie was the scope. Entering Zion, a lot of effort is made to compare the surroundings with humans, so the viewer sees how very big everything is. There is a wonderful sense of architecture and physical majesty to the buildings in The Matrix Reloaded.

Unfortunately, that detail was not carried into the smaller details. One of the most sensible aspects of The Matrix was the detail in the costuming. The freed humans wore spun-looking, ratty clothes. They looked like fugitives and rebels. In Zion in The Matrix Reloaded, humans are wearing finely made garments that would take extensive machining to make. And in this world, we're at war with those machines.

In the final analysis, The Matrix Reloaded was a movie that should never have been made, but now that is has, it disappoints the sensibilities of those who wanted to see a thoughtful continuation of The Matrix. While some of the elements are exciting (the freeway chase, for example), most of the movie is visually fast, thematically devoid and repetitive in the most uninspired ways. Not for anyone who hasn't seen The Matrix and for those who loved it, save yourself the disappointment and let the series stay with the high note. Not for anyone who isn't a fan of science fiction either.

For other epics that push the envelope of special effects, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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