Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Matrix Retrospectived: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Matrix Reloaded
Director: Andy & Lana Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie Anne-Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Harold Perrineau, Monica Bellucci
Rated: R

I can't help it, Morpheus, I can't help thinking, what if you're wrong?  What if all this, the prophecy, everything is bullshit?

After a 4 year wait, The Matrix was back and ready to end within a period of 6 months.  The Wachowskis went out and shot the sequels back to back.  This was done in order to maintain focus and integrity between the two.  The hype was massive.  The Matrix Reloaded was probably the most anticipated film in the summer of 2003.  Audiences packed theaters that weekend only to come out with a very mixed feeling and mostly leading to negative reaction to the film.  A film, that I think went way way over the heads of general audiences (including yours truly).
The film is an action packed thrill ride that fully ups the ante set in the first film, building off what was working and outdoing it in scale and execution.  There are many breathtaking sequences, including the ultimate highlight of the highway chase.  Some of the effects don't hold up as well as the first movie, but damn it, these action scenes are still awesome.  Yes, some of it is very obviously done with computers.  But I ask, "aren't they in a computer simulation to begin with?"  The action just isn't there for action sake either.  Everything in this film is carefully and perfectly choreographed and shot.  Its some of the most artful action you'll ever see.  Its also got a really good, complimentary techno score to beef up your enjoyment watching it.  I've never really heard people say this, but The Matrix Reloaded actually stands as a astoundingly good transcending Kung Fu movie.  It really is.  So much of the action here is straight Kung Fu.  A lot of the dialogue in the film is reminiscent of 70s Hong Kong movies.  
One of the off-putting things for this movie for a lot of people may be this film's dialogue.  It can come across as overly pretentious.  But this same type of dialogue was stuff people loved about the first film and genuinely liked to quote.  The only thing is, this time there's a lot more of it.  Instead of only having Morpheus and the 1 scene Oracle doing the prophetic talk, EVERYONE in The Matrix Reloaded speaks very delicately, carefully and almost as if the conversations are composed of people speaking riddles at each other.  In the previous film we at least get some "common Joes" for humor and the like and Neo is learning all this stuff.  In this film, the only person as the gateway to the audience or "Normal speak" is Link who doesn't hog up much screen time in the film.  Because there's so much of it, there's actually a TON of good material getting lost to people turned off by it.  There's some terrific speeches and character moments that I don't think people are recognizing when watching this movie.  If you watched the movie maybe in chunks...or better yet, read the dialogue on paper, you'll see how genuinely strong it actually is.  It looks very pretentious on the surface, but when you look deeper its quite good.
The Matrix Reloaded also brings us some enticing new characters.  The film will also retroactively come up very short on new characters as well, but we'll get to that in another piece.  Right now let's shed light on the positive.  The new characters inside the Matrix are highly memorable and a whole lot of fun.  Topped out by the Merovingian.  This guy basically has 1 big scene but steals every second of film.  His arrogant French accent and his devious demeanor are rich and wildly villainous.  His henchman, the Twins are also some pretty awesome goons.  Not only do they look creepy and awesome at the same time, they have a sweet little power that allows them to be pretty much invincible.  These characters are all liken to what we later find out Neo is.  The Oracle now has a bodyguard called Seraph, and while he's in the film very briefly, he's got a good look and some sweet moves to match.  Of the newer Zion characters, I'd say only 2 stick out and that is Niobe (maybe because of the actress) and Commander Lock (because he's so anti-Morpheus and anti Neo).  And ladies and gentleman...for the last character I'm going to need a nice pause...
Oh Monica Bellucci as Persephone is breathtaking.  She's not in this film much either, but man does she just own the screen and sell her part.  This was her big American debut and its a shame she never really took off.  Aside from being one of the most gorgeous women on the planet, the woman has plenty of talent.  Seriously check out her body of work from overseas.
One surprising thing that happens in this movie is the discovery that not all the people on Zion share Morpheus prophetic preachings.  While there is a large populace believing in it, there are many of those who are uncertain and some that feel they are following him because it seems the only hopeful thing to do.  There's a whole Faith VS Science debate going on between Commander Lock and Morpheus.  The tension between the two is only escalated by the fact that Niobe, Morpheus old squeeze is now with Commander Lock.  This whole "triangle" thing is pretty weak and serves nothing to further the story and just adds a forced layer to things that seems rather irrelevant except for a brief moment.  Niobe could have just been an estranged old flame of Morpheus and it still would have worked well.  When you watch the film you get no sense that Niobe really gives a rip about Commander Lock aside from the script telling her so.  I dunno if its the script, the actors or the direction but this was a big whiff.
Can we talk about tribal techno dance sexy time?  Next to the ending, this is probably the most criticized scene in the entire film.  People act like its pointless and without merit.  While I agree its weird, its not that crazy.  Sexual things tends to make popcorn munching summer blockbuster-going audiences err on the side of feeling uncomfortable and awkward.  Take what we learn in the end of this film and now go back to it.  Its very important.  When we left Neo and Trinity the match was just being struck to light the candle.  We have picked up 6 months later.  The typical "One"'s great weakness was his compassion for the human race.  With Neo, his is for Trinity.  He accepts his purpose, knows and lives his role but his real heart and soul belong to Trinity.  When he arrives in Zion he is paraded with people and those asking for his help and worshiping him and all he cares or wants is Trinity.  Case in point, there is a HUGE ordeal going on in Zion with Morpheus giving a rally speech and a huge celebration.  What does Neo do?  He chooses to blow off the whole thing so he can go and plug into Trinity's Matrix.  While every has laughed and blown off this scene, its the one that defines why Neo is different and why he makes his choice in the end.
And how about that ending?  Here. We. Go.  This is the scene that pretty much had every forgetting all the good will built upon in the first 9/10 of the film.  The conversation with The Architect is what turned people on this movie.  It confused the hell out of a ton of people  They couldn't get it straight.  It wasn't spoon-fed to them.  Another factor is this action packed kung fu film kept building to this ultimate endgame going down.  This huge ordeal that it would all end "tonight".  While the film is action driven and not suspense driven, on the first viewing there's an ultimate hidden layer of suspense as you can't wait to see what ultimate secret this movie is holding.  When we get to it, the big time action movie ends with...a "wordy" conversation between two dudes in a white room?  It was unexpected and immediately took the intelligence level of the film to where people looking to just escape with mindless action or bright lights on the screen couldn't follow along.  The first thing people do when something is different or they don't get it right away?  They hate it.  They turn on it.
Unfortunately, they turned on a MASSIVE, Empire Strikes Back-level plot twist.  Go ahead and hate on me, but this was huge.  Granted I didn't get it all the way the first time, but the more you watch, the more you study, the more resonant it is.  Dear America, go back and look over this again.  It's the best and most important kind of twist.  One that's not shocking for the audience, its absolutely shocking and devastating to the main characters and their core beliefs.  Everything they knew had been more than just turned upside down.  It had been rocked, destroyed.  While they left The Matrix, they were still under the control of the machines in a false sense of freedom.  This prophecy they followed, that consumed Morpheus life, was but to bring the end of Zion, not a new beginning for human kind.  Because it was so big to the characters, it in turn is a shock for the audience.  But the problem was, the audience didn't quite get it because it was hard for a lot of them to follow along.  Everything is spoken so proper and at a higher IQ level it went over their heads and general audiences just didn't understand.  But, I'm telling you to give this more thought and another look.  If it helps, Google it and read the conversation between Neo and the Architect.  Its absolutely stunning and fantastic.  THIS is a GREAT twist, folks.  It's horrifying.  I'm sorry, it can't be denied.  It also makes the title quite relevant without having to blatantly say it.
With this twist it also manages to succeed with doing the middle chapter of a trilogy right by putting our characters in the most dour state.  How in the hell do they combat this?  Is it all for nothing?  We end with Neo in the real world somehow mentally in tune with the machines and stopping them before going unconscious.  Earlier in the film, an Agent Smith (Jesus, I haven't even talked about this guy in this whole piece.  We'll cover him more next time since he's more than a distraction in the next film), manages to escape the Matrix into the body of a Zion crew member.  And the film ends (poorly scored, always bugged me) "To Be Concluded" with both Smith-Bane and Neo on slabs next to each other.
The Matrix Reloaded is a fantastic action-sci fi-kung fu adventure that I think needs far more credit than it gets.  Its actually a pretty stellar sequel with a few faults its more than makes up for in other areas.  Its a long film that movies like its 100 minutes as opposed to over 2 hrs.  In between the action there's some great philosophical conversation that I have enjoyed far more in my old age than I did as a 21 year old college kid.  The film has a stunning cliffhanger and really works to succeed without feeling forced in middle chapter trappings.  I really like the evolution of Neo, as Morpheus doesn't have to step aside and is still the leader while Neo is the heavy.  The film produces some very smart, innovative stuff that, like the first film was very revolutionary at the time.  Like a lot of sequels, it beefed up everything people enjoyed in the first movie.  And in many regards it does it better.  Yes, they did have a lot more money.  Also, pick up this thing on Blu-ray.  It's reference quality.  Just perfection.  I used to say I pretend The Matrix didn't have any sequels.  But as I say frequently, my younger self was "dumb" sometimes.  So yeah, this film has absolutely grown on me over the years.  It gets stronger with each watch.  This current time I enjoyed thoroughly.

Before I go...a question for those of you readers.  In the first Matrix, the scene where Neo as Thomas Anderson is being interrogated by Smith and the Agents (you know, where his mouth vanishes), are we given a brief foreshadowing of The Architect?  Was it intentional?  The scene begins with a monitor watching him that very much resembles the ones in The Architect's room.  I'd like to think it did.

Next Time:  I'm gonna somewhat try to recollect and discuss Enter The Matrix.  

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