The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix ReloadedSynopsis: Sentinels swarm. Smith clones. Neo flies… but perhaps not even a Chosen One gifted with astonishing new powers can stop the advance of the Machines.

Neo. Morpheus. Trinity. They’re back for the powerful second chapter of The Matrix trilogy, and exciting new allies join them in the struggle against foes who are cloned, upgraded and closing in on humanity’s last enclave. Back, too, are the Wachowski Brothers and producer Joel Silver, expanding their vision with a spectacle that rocks the senses, probes the heart and shapes filmmaking’s tomorrows. What is the Matrix? The answers lead to more worlds of bold possibility – and to a destiny that passes from revelations to Revolutions.

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The Matrix Reloaded 6.75

eyelights: the stylishness of the picture. its pulse-pounding electro soundtrack.
eyesores: the unrealistic CGI characters. the overabundance of CGI. the non-stop, over-the-top action sequences. the characters’ non-dialogues. Jada Pinkett. the cheesy dance-a-thon/love-making scene.

There is no spoon-er.

The Matrix‘ was one of the biggest commercial and critical successes of 1999. It netted well over 400 million dollars at the box office, and was the first movie to sell more than 1 million copies on DVD – eventually selling more than 30 million copies. It also garnered a large number of awards internationally. It has made a permanent imprint on our culture.

Question: How can filmmakers follow-up such a massive success story?

Answer: Make another one, but bigger. And LOUDER. Give fans more of the same. But more so.

And so we have ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, which was unleashed on the masses in 2003. It became the biggest earner of the series, bringing in 300 million more smackeroos than the original. However, it was also received with some disappointment by both critics and the cinema-going public – part of which may have been due to heightened expectations.

For me, the problem is excess: excessive action, excessive use of CGI, excessive esoteric pseudo-philosophical musings. Unlike the Hollywood dream factory, I simply don’t believe that more is necessarily better. Sometimes more is overkill. And this is what happens with ‘The Matrix Reloaded’: its only ambition is to awe, not to be the natural extension of its predecessor.

There’s a reason why ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is frequently cited as a superb sequel: it doesn’t just amp up what worked in ‘Star Wars’ – it takes it to a logical next step. It doesn’t follow the same patterns while giving them a new spin and catering to audience expectations. If it had, it would have been ‘Return of the Jedi’ (Oops. Did I write that out loud?).

Another example of a sequel that failed because it tried to outdo its predecessor is ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘. The smart thing to do would have been to pull back and do another chapter like ‘Batman Begins’, showing off Batman’s cleverness, working the shadows – not do a balls-out extravaganza. And then come back for a fourth one that maybe ratches it up a bit.

‘The Matrix Reloaded’ is just plain nuts. It begins with a sequence involving Trinity flying through the air on a motorcycle, which she procedes to drop onto a guard station (which naturally explodes, as it was likely filled with explosives), and then gunfights her way through a haze of bullets that never seem to hit her – even at close range. I actually laughed at the absurdity of it all.

It gets even nutser from there. We’re talking a seemingly endless highway chase with gunfights and crashes that is like the one in ‘Terminator 2’, but on super-steroids. Or an extended hand-to-hand combat sequence that pits Neo against 80 copies of Smith in a closed off courtyard. Everything else, including the lengthy exposition sequences, is wrapped up in the promise of showy action.

There’s just no subtlety in this picture.

Look, don’t get me wrong: these action sequences are impressive to look at. But they’re so hyperbolic that the viewer is removed from the action – we aren’t invested because it’s clearly a spectacle and, thus, it is of little consequence. Further to that, in focusing on the visceral side of the picture so much, the Wachowskis forgot to pay attention to details, continuity, logic. It’s merely dumb fun.

And when they attempt to introduce some intellectual fodder in their otherwise mind-numbing thrill ride, they toss concepts that aren’t fully fleshed out at the audience; despite the interminable length of their exchanges the characters never really get to the point or make it clear enough that the average person will be able to follow. It all just zips by breezily without looking back.

For example:

“Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the matrix.”

What? WHAT?!!!

A lot of it is just pretentious BS that the Wachowskis put in their film thinking that they were being all clever, but are only half-baked ideas. If you’re going to blow the audience’s mind, you need to do it right: either be cryptic and let the clever ones figure it out, or lay it all out and show the simpler ones the way. You can’t do neither and just throw nonsense at people like that.

To make matters worse, in all their pseudo-philosophical exchanges, no one EVER answers a direct question directly. Ever. They always answer with non-answers such as “Because”, or “You know”… that sort of crap. Frankly, it’s a really lazy way for the writers to wrap up those exchanges, by not providing explanations instead of wracking their brains to make all the pieces fit.

For instance, when Neo asks The Keymaker how he knows what his purpose is, this is what he gets: “I know because I must know. It is my purpose. It is the reason I am here. The same reason we are all here”. Or, as The Oracle tells him, “We are all here to do what we are all here to do…”. Bloody thanks for nothing! They’re either poor gurus or good politicians. Not sure which.

Ironically, Neo is consistently being told to figure out WHY, not WHAT: “Because you didn’t come here to make the choice: you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.” But when he asks for guidance, he’s constantly given the run around. I suspect that they know as little as he does. They’re utterly useless.

Again, the problem is that these screenwriters love to wax philosophical, injecting references to all sorts of philosophical and religious concepts that will no doubt escape most of their audience. They are being “clever”. But I don’t think that they have enough of a handle on any of it to explain it. So they just make their characters evasive in an effort to make them look cryptic. But there’s a difference.

They also try to make their characters seem important, over-dramatizing their delivery. For instance, Morpheus has two modes: “I’m talking” and “I’m saying something important: pay attention now.”. For the former, Laurence Fishburne talks normally. For the latter, he takes on a totally artificial tone of voice and articulates differently; he’s screaming for attention, wants to be cool.

This was blatantly apparent in the scene when he addresses the revelers at the Zion rave (probably the biggest slow-motion dance orgy ever filmed!). Beforehand, he was just some dude stuck in a love triangle. Next thing you know he’s busting out stuff like: “Tonight, let us make them remember, THIS IS ZION AND WE ARE NOT AFRAID!”. Naturally, everyone cheers. Why? Because.

The problem with Morpheus this time around is that the mystique surrounding him in the first picture is basically tossed to the side watching him just be some dude. So he’s actually no longer cool. He’s just a guy trying to be cool. You know, in the same way that all these hosers walk around the matrix in leather coats and sunglasses at all times, no matter the situations they’re in.

The thing is that, with Morpheus and Trinity stripped of their mystique from the first picture, there’s nothing to compensate for that stupid @$$ Neo, who is dumbed down by virtue of being incarnated by Canoe Reeves. To make matters worse, most of the cast is pretty awful, incapable of delivering a line naturally in this one. They used to, so I want to blame the Wachowskis.

Is it the Wachowski’s fault that Jada Pinkett shows no acting ability at any point, that all she does is scowl from start to finish? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s certainly their fault if the actors had to act out cultural stereotypes, transforming their characters into caricatures: the Frenchman is a sleezy philanderer, the Asian guy is a stoic martial artist, the Indian guy is the kind, gentle one, …etc.

And they all have accents – sometimes even outrageous ones!

Frankly, I found this insulting. In a world that is completely fabricated by machines, where many of the characters are programs, these beings would actually adopt clichés? Really? Similarly, even the programs live by human ideals: they seek slick sports cars, surround themselves with sexy women, lie, cheat, steal, kill, like humans do. Really? This is the best expression of machine intelligence?

Um… sure.

No, this is the limited expression of human filmmakers. They couldn’t invent beings and worlds that would reflect the way that machines think because they aren’t machines, so they created that world in human terms. Limited human terms: unfortunately, they chose the most the most narrow path to do this here, perhaps even more so than Christopher Nolan did in ‘Inception‘.

The Architect has no clothes.

Having said this, I enjoyed ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ a bit more this time than I did the first time around. but it might be a question of adjusted expectations. Or it might also be a question of contrast. You see, I screwed up: I watched this after watching ‘The Matrix Revolutions’. I wasn’t paying attention when the titles came on and we just plowed ahead, only realizing the mistake halfway through.

(In my defense, I had only seen them once before, ten years prior; I couldn’t tell them apart at first glance.)

In any case, this was a good thing: ‘The Matrix Revolutions’ is so completely saturated with non-stop battle scenes (remember the rule of sequels: they have to outdo the previous one!), that ‘Reloaded’ almost seemed modest in comparison. It doesn’t really work as a follow-up to ‘The Matrix’, because it then seems so excessive that it’s jarring. But, in this order, it’s the picture of moderation.

Almost.

But it still doesn’t make it a great movie. ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ is relatively entertaining, but it’s so damned bloated and vacuous that it’s not really satisfying in the end. And, unfortunately, you have to watch its follow-up: ‘Reloaded’ ends with a cliffhanger. So you really have to be committed to the series when you start watching this one. Once you reload it, there’s no turning back.

Dates of viewings: November 24+29, 2014

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