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The Matrix Reloaded & Matrix Revolutions
A dual film review by Camus
 
"When people asked the Wachowskis 'What is THE MATRIX?',
they answered 'THE MATRIX is about 2 hours and 16 minutes'."
Joel Silver quoted in Cinefantastique June/July 2003

 

Funny thing, time. Imagine a world in which a 'matrix' was simply a matrix - "an environment or material in which something develops." That world existed early in 1999 as bizarre as that may seem today. That was a mere five years ago. Back then I was happy, mildly intoxicated and having no clue as to the title of the film I was about to see. I sat in the tenth row of a cavernous first run Dutch cinema for a sneak preview. Those were the days when the faithful were driven to anorakorian overload by a mere trailer. The Phantom Menace was coming. God, I liked that world, the world when that plastic mish-mash was merely anticipated. But something was about to steal Lucas's thunder and ram the lightning bolts squarely up his Death Star's exhaust port.

The Matrix seemed to have come out of nowhere. There's that sheen off Trinity's cat suit from behind, the look on her face as the cuffs are about to go on. The ballet of physics-defying action that followed essentially deflowered the action movie. Now we were in a post-Matrix world and every one and his dog had to be able to jump, stay in the air and pirouette with the appropriate whooshing sound effect. I'm sure that to western audiences, these attributes were bold and exciting. To other eyes? I'm not too sure. What The Matrix had succeeded in doing so well was making its own sequels redundant. Not that we knew that then. We know it now.

But not making sequels to certifiable hits is not how Hollywood works. I smite my head when a favoured film goes financially stratospheric and suddenly mysterious scribblings appear, notes that outline the fact that (as in Lucas's case) "I was planning nine films, three trilogies, honest!" This would, presumably, give the sequels some artistic justifiability – or, the creator was being dishonest due to the sudden onset of greed. The fact that we will end up with only six Star Wars films (two would have suited me, ixnay on the Ewoks) points to one of those conclusions. And it seems to have precious little to do with artistic justifiability. Sequels also muddy the originals and that is almost a criminal offence. But despite their almost total invisibility to the world media, the Wachowski brothers' claim that they had worked out a Matrix trilogy held some water. After all, the machines were not defeated at the end of The Matrix. I could waylay my cynicism, wish them well and hope to care about Neo and Trinity once (nay, twice!) more.

In The Matrix, Neo is unplugged from his battery-prison and placed at the front line in the war against the machines. He becomes a virtual god in this virtual world and amor vincit omnia even in this meta-mechanised environment. So where do we go from here? Well, apart from the downside of action films in the meantime having taken The Matrix as The Template for action (from Charlie's Angels to Shrek and beyond), you make two official Matrix movies back to back and pray to Neo that we're not bored by them by the time they're finished.

Intellectual ambition usually doesn't sit well on any Hollywood shoulder but there's a great deal to ruminate on the nature of being and reality in these films. But that's not why they gross so much. I'd say Yuen Wo Ping's wire work had a lot to do with it. And therein lies an unsolvable problem. Sequels give you more of the same but we've already had tons more of the same. Way too much more. When Neo and Seraph face off, a fight to 'shake hands', it's so close to the much vaunted Neo vs. Smiths scrap that the whole thing takes on a Playstation pattern and hard though it is for me to see my beloved medium trashed like this but perhaps that's the point. Perhaps we are just moving through levels of technical difficulty that the directors have joysticked against.

So it's worse than I thought. It's watching someone else playing a computer game.

Technically Reloaded has much to commend it. It only lets itself down in this area once, which, it could be argued, makes the artifice 'more real' as in more in the spirit of the Matrix within The Matrix. As the afore mentioned scrap between the hundred Smiths and the single Neo reaches a climax, Keanu bows out replaced by a rather too obvious digital double. Film-makers relied heavily on CG in the first Harry Potter, but after a Shrek-like Quidditch game, they learned that people look much more human than any synthespian. Quidditch in Chamber of Secrets was technically far superior. In the original Matrix I wasn't aware of any significant digital doubles. Keanu looked like he was there doing his thing. At the climax of the big fight in Reloaded, it was horribly like a computer game, Neo as a simulacra, a doppleganger, a fake - but then isn't that what the Matrix is?

Structurally, Reloaded is odd, perhaps for being No. 2 in a trilogy. 25 minutes in and there follows an extraordinary sequence for all the wrong reasons. The lovers Neo and Trinity unite and naked, they make love, their jack-in sockets clearly visible (calm down). This is inter-cut with what I can only describe as the most inane and pointless rave scene in history. I can't think of a 2nd rave scene but there we go. Perhaps to offset the extraordinary über-action, the Wachowskis had to let us know what real boredom is. They got it in one. This scene feels much longer in the cinema (and it's not just the 4% slower it is from 24 frames per second to 25 on the DVD). It is a staggering 5 minutes and 13 seconds long. That is a big chunk of screen time and a chunk that dull does not sit well in a Matrix sequel or any film come to that.

So after many musings on life, the universe and everything (including answering the question "Is black the new black?" It is, apparently) our hero ends up in the presence of 'The Architect' who then continues in the 'rave scene' tradition to give a boredom 'yin' to the previous motorway sequence's mighty 'yang'. The Joel Silver quote paints the Wachowskis as guarded creatives not wanting to 'explain things. Fine, so why write a character like The Architect? More importantly why are we looking at a talking head for 7 minutes and 15 seconds? Okay, we had two Trinity 'losing her fight' action interruptions but they were brief. I guess Larry and Andy wanted to explain stuff. The film finishes on a cliffhanger that was sort of expected. I promised myself I'd see the third to see if Revolutions could paper over some of the cracks in Reloaded.

Reviolutions is far more fun delivering a dénouement that seems dramatically right and relatively surprising. Zion is under attack. Politicians 'ooh' and 'aah' while Morpheus puts his trust in some prophecy that originated from the Matrix itself? Always a little hazy on the detail but we all have faith in Morpheus (it's a Hollywood movie, of course we know Neo will save the day. It's how he saves it that makes the film fun or not). Again bravura set pieces shore up the essential three act piece. One, get the heroes back to Zion; two, defend Zion against the indefensible and three, get Neo to strut his digital stuff and save the day.

I still didn't care too much but the eye candy was enough. When the final wave of sentinels and their larger cousins (straight from Thunderbirds' pod 3) the giant moles dropped in, every shot was a jaw dropper. I caught myself thinking thoughts that I should not think during these sequences - things like "My god, that would have taken an age to render…" which is not the sort of thought you have when you're watching Casablanca or even Blade Runner . But that's more a criticism of how I see movies. Actually, no.

It's not.

These movies make a point of telling you how things are done - it's a DVD staple. One day those 'here's how we did it' vignettes are going to muddy movies for all of us unless one thing can be managed. It should not be a hard task given the money thrown at these projects. It should be no. 1 on the list of 'things to do' right above "remove lint from Keanu's overcoat"…

They should make us care.

Despite the deaths of the two heroes at the close of play, I wasn't moved an inch. Yet in the original film, I fell for the love conquers all bit, mainly because my gob was so smacked from what had poured into my eyes for 2 hours and 16 minutes. I cared in 1999. In 2003 I watched and thought "Funny thing, time."

I've since had another four hours in the Matrix and feel that for 300 million dollars, I should have shed one bloody tear.

Is that too much to ask? It's certainly too much bloody money…

The Matrix Reloaded
US 20035
138 mins
directors
Andy Wachowski
Larry Wachowski
producer
Joel Silver
screenplay
Andy Wachowski
Larry Wachowski
cinematography

Bill Pope

editor
Zach Staenberg
music
Don Davis
production design
Owen Paterson

starring

Keanu Reeves
Laurence Fishburne
Hugo Weaving
Carrie-Anne Moss

The Matrix Revolutions
US 20035
129 mins
directors
Andy Wachowski
Larry Wachowski
producers5
Joel Silver
Grant Hill
screenplay
Andy Wachowski
Larry Wachowski
cinematography

Bill Pope

editor
Zach Staenberg
music
Don Davis
production design
Owen Paterson
starring
Keanu Reeves
Laurence Fishburne
Hugo Weaving
Carrie-Anne Moss
Helmut Bakaitis
Hugo Weaving
review posted
25 November 2003