|Submitted by Philip Davetas |
(Aug 01, 2003)
The Matrix Reloaded (3 out of Four)
R, 2003, 138 min., Warner Bros.
Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Music by Don Davis, Produced by Joel Silver and Written & Directed by The Wachowski Brothers.
Not only are The Matrix Reloaded / Revolutions the biggest hyped pair of flicks of the year, but they’re also the most generous with its merchandising with and media-friendly giveaways. Free Reloaded passes to the new Culver City multi-plex. The double Enhanced CD soundtrack [bonus feature-laden] which features both the soundtrack with the likes of Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Rage Against the Machine and your assorted one-shit wonder bands and the score itself by Don Davis with Juno Reactor giving it an Oakenfoldish touch. The web sites allow the downloading of the numerous TV spots and trailers and four of the Animatrix shorts. The two most important ones are The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2—the rise of the machines and the fall of the human race. And of course there are the endless überflux of mags with varying “collectable” covers—hence the 4 Premiere Magazine covers. With all this does that mean that the flick is any good?
Going into The Matrix Reloaded is simply checking your brain at the door and strapping in. The Wachowskis spent all their time and energy trying to create a big-time inter-media event with interlocking plot lines with games and cartoons that the movie fails to have any substance. The heart and soul of the story is lost. The movie itself feels like a burger in a Burger King combo meal. No longer do we care about Neo, Morpheus, Trinity or the people of Zion, because they spend so much time orbiting the action, music and special effects. Whereas in the original film the characters were the kinetic force of the story and made things happen. Here, things happen to them and they react. John Gaeta [the special effects dude behind Bullet Time] said many times that The Matrix was a movie that had special effects that supported the story. A special effect movie with an anti-special effect mentality. Although there are great FX, but without any warrant to the motivation to Reloaded’s narrative or character.
And what exactly is the story? They’re given a message by the Oracle to find the Keymaster who has a pass code to a back door program that sends Neo on his way to gaining some unspecified piece of knowledge to save humankind. They go because they must, but they don’t know why they’re going. All it leads to is the awesome chases and shoot-outs. Like a musical where they break out in song and dance, Neo and Company break out in fight and chase. The chases are amazingly well done. The Mona Lisa Overdrive [the Wachowskis reference to Gibson’s novel] is one of the best highway chases since The Road Warrior, Raiders of the Lost Ark, To Live and Die In L.A., The French Connection, Bullit and so on. The special effects are great [but not groundbreaking] and look really cool doing it. The fights are more fluid than the original film, but extremely unnecessary. The fights have lost their sense of urgency. The Burly Brawl [the 100 Agent Smiths against Neo] is pointless and doesn’t do anything but make one laugh at the insanity of the isolated moment.
The movie runs two hours and eighteen minutes and in all that time, you get three bits of information that is necessary to understand the plot. 1. The nature and truth about the Oracle. 2. How Agent Smith finagles himself into Revolutions. 3. Neo’s near incoherent purpose to the existence of the Matrix. The rest of the film references other Matrix-related media types. The Final Flight of the Osiris is mentioned. But if you played by the rules, the only way you could’ve learned about the Osiris is to have watched that really bad Stephen King flick The Dreamcatcher. And the documents that were collected in the beginning of Reloaded could only be understood through the game tie-in Enter the Matrix. Oh, and the game code to get you infinite ammo is: 1DDF2556.
When the flick finally ends, it hasn’t. It ends on a “cliffhanger” style note, but not very cliffhangery because after the end credits there is a teaser for Revolutions that contradicts the Reloaded ending. And it ends on such a cheesy note that you feel like you’re watching a bad episode of the 6 Million Dollar Man—this is the 70’s pop equivalent of a bad episode of Dark Angel.
What’s Missing in the Sequel:
When The Matrix opened in April 1999 there was a lot of sociological interest. The metaphors were subtle enough to suggest that we’re all slaves to a larger entity. That entity being the political structure that dangles our freedom in front of us like a carrot to donkey to pull the cart. Think about that bullshit job you work and the taxes you pay. You’re easily expendable and can be replaced without a flutter of the eye. But if everyone rebelled then the machine would crumble. But fortunately for the machine there’s more who are “hopelessly dependent on the Matrix that they are not ready to be unplugged.” Reloaded attempts to tackle some of the same sociological themes like a “cause and effect” speech where a chick has to suddenly go to the bathroom. Or the cheating death banter with Agent Smith and Neo just before they start pounding on each other. It feels more force fed and pretentious. It doesn’t have the natural flow as in the original flick.
What breaks down to a large disappointment is the lack of character. Neo is now Superman and can basically do anything which takes the suspense factor out of the fights. The only time Neo goes into any character twists is near the end when he realizes his place in the Matrix. Morpheus is more rebellious, dumber and kind of an asshole this time around. He doesn’t really seem to care about anything at all except for his ego. The only character that seems to open up is Trinity. She feels more generous and friendly and even gets a little jealous. The Oracle is broken down into a less enigmatic character as we discover why she knows so much. And this is a great set-up for a nice little Gumpian chat on a park bench… sandwiched between two fist fights. Link is the Nebuchadnezzar’s new operator who slithers under a subplot concerning the lack of Dozer and Tank and their sister. Another new character is Niobe who doesn’t have much of a part but is spun off from a plot line from the game Enter the Matrix. All Niobe seems to do is have herself locked into a triangle between Morpheus and or new man, Morpheus’ commander. The Albino Twins don’t really do anything but give the special effects crews something to do. The Agents are bigger, meaner and more relentless than before. And rogue agent Smith isn’t around as much as he should be but it’s all setting up his part in Revolutions.
June 3rd The Animatrix DVD comes out. It’s everything The Matrix was and what Reloaded isn’t. It’s intellectually and sociologically viable. Nine stories and they all explore the more complex avenues of the Matrix itself like the World Record episode—where only exceptional athletes are aware of the Matrix. The haunted house dilemma in Beyond. Or The Second Renaissance where you learn more about the humble origins of the machines and their inevitable conquering of the international market to finance the machine nation Zero One. It seems like all the really great stories are on The Animatrix DVD. You would think that all the great stories that the Wachowskis wrote would find their way into Reloaded. The shorts are directed by the folks that brought you Aeon Flux, Cowboy Bebop, Vampire Hunter D and so on. Whether or not you dig The Matrix franchise you’d have to admire the generosity of the producers for giving you more bang for your buck. However, you’re still just fueling the machine.
In short, this movie is fun. Not necessarily mathematically intricate or emotionally viable as the original, but fun. The Matrix raised the bar so high that it’s solely competing with itself. But don’t’ forget to hang around after the end titles. There’s more Matrix to come.
Raging Against the Machines:
The Animatrix, Tron, Metropolis, Tetuso the Iron Man, Akira, Hardware, Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Cowboy Bebop, Robotech, RoboCop, RoboCop 2, RoboCop 3, Saturn 3, Johnny Mnemonic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Virtuosity, Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Machine, The Lawnmower Man (The Director’s Cut), The Lawnmower Man 2, The Running Man, Star Trek: First Contact, Predator, A. I.: Artificial Intelligence, D.A.R.Y.L.,R.O.T.O.R., Robot Wars, Robot Jox, Bicentennial Man, Runaway, Tank Girl, Deadly Friend…