"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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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"…
should make us care.
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,
since had another four hours in the Matrix and feel that for
300 million dollars, I should have shed one bloody tear.
that too much to ask? It's certainly too much bloody