May 11, 2004
I watched the Matrix Reloaded for the first time since I saw it in the theaters. It has been, what, a year? In that time, I have seen many movies, including the very well done Lord of the Rings trilogy (several times). I did not watch the Matrix Revolutions, because I kept hearing bad reviews, just as I did with Reloaded. Well, I’m tired of letting the reviews of others influence my opinion for the bad. Was reloaded as good as the original? Of course not. How could it be? The expectations were too high. The huge cult following was not about to be satisfied by anything. Of course, the audiences weren’t the only ones who made mistakes. I think the writer/director brothers felt compelled to have bigger and better special effects, without a bigger and better story. But that’s actually OK. While it is not a great movie, it is a good movie to watch.
So why did I watch Reloaded again? My brother-in-law, Christian, recently got home from his mission. He missed the Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, the Matrix sequels, Pirates of the Carribean, and many other quality movies while in Korea. Most of these have been watched already (or at least, the big ones have been). On Saturday, the 8th, I asked him, “So when are we watching the Matrix?” He said “Why not right now?” So, we did.
He came to the movie with fewer expectations than those who were in the United States during 2003, so it went over well. I had enjoyed a long period of time where I could digest the deeper discussions and expositions, which helped me pick up more the second time. The movie can be broken into what is basically an exposition, then action cycle. Even later in the movie, when there should be more action in this type of movie, there are exposition scenes that help better focus the audience, if they can stand the change of pace. The one scene that still does not seem to fit well is the rave/love scene. I timed it as over five minutes of Neo and Trinity doing their thing, while barely dressed, racially mixed dancers grooved on the floor of the caves of Zion. Actually, I didn’t even time it. I skipped it and noted the time difference on the DVD player. Five minutes that contain neither exposition nor action to further the story. What is accomplished? The only thing I can see is that the directors were trying to establish the earthy, human aspect as being very different from the sterile, the less “perfect” that previous version of the matrix. Well, bully for them. Cut it to a minute or two, max, and that might have worked better.
Criticisms I heard after Reloaded came back are numerous. Neo isn’t a god in the matrix any more, like he was at the end of the first one. Well, I can understand that complaint, but if he had no weakness, there would be no danger, no tension. Plus, do you really think the machines wouldn’t do something to rally their defenses, try to take out the subversive humans? So, when Neo meets the agents, he rightly recognizes they are “upgrades.” He still kicks in their teeth.
The “burly brawl” where Neo fights hundreds of Agent Smiths. Why did he fight for so long before running away? Well, in the past, not since he realized he is the One has he had a problem fighting agents, even “upgrades.” Why would this be any different. Then, as more and more came and fought, and wouldn’t be put down, Neo realized he is out of his depth here. How do you stop an army that can grow continuously? You can’t. He made the only rational decision he could, after exhausting other options. He didn’t want Agent Smith to continue growing.
The highway chase scene complaint. They go several miles in one direction, then turn around and go the other direction. I followed the scene closely and saw them pass the wreckage as they went the other direction. I didn’t see a problem.
As for the simplistic plot, well not much we can do about that. It was passed off as too much like a video game plot. I’m not sure that was accidental. Remember, they released the game Enter the Matrix the same year (same month) as Reloaded. Remember that the setting is not the real world, but a computer-generated world with a user interface that looks and act like the real world, but isn’t. Manipulating the operating system requires an interface that has real-world analogies, like doors and keys. Perhaps the Matrix drew its inspiration from human games from before they took over. After all, the machines are not imaginative by nature. They have to learn from humans for that. And in the end, you have to consider the following: the main theme of this 2nd movie is over the question of choice, free will. There are several heavy discussions on the matter, from Councillor Harmann and Neo, to Neo and the Oracle, to the Merovingian and Morpheus, to the Architect and Neo. These weighted conversations would probably drag down a more complex plot. Many who criticized the first movie felt it was overly convoluted, hard to understand with all the philosophy. This movie, as a result, was in some ways less convoluted, more direct in its storyline. The meaning behind what happens remains as complex as ever (if not more).
Many people complained that Morpheus’ role has been diminished by the second movie. I think of it as similar to the original Star Wars trilogy. Darth Vader is the biggest, baddest villain we had seen on the screen in a long time. He was imposing, menacing and dang cool. By the Empire Strikes Back, he was relegated to being the henchman of some Emperor, no longer the worst one out there. In reality, for the story to grow, that had to happen. Same with Morpheus. He is still the strongest believer in the Oracle and the One. He is still the wise one that many go to for inspiration. Unfortunately, reality and movies both dictate that there be opposition in things. Morpheus has his detractors, and as is typical with humans, there is much debate and disagreements about his beliefs. Morpheus proves he is still worth having around in protecting the key maker and piloting the Nebuchanezar.
Upon the second viewing, the philosophical scenes did not leave me blankly staring at the screen, a thin trail of drool running down my chin. I caught what was going on and helped explain it to my brother-in-law. He caught most of it already, but needed clarification (he’s a pretty bright guy, though). You could say that the theme of this movie is choice, where the previous movie’s theme was about what is reality. It was a little heavy handed, but worth it, in my mind.
So, enough defending what others may have hated in the movie. Things I specifically liked include the fight scene on the stairwell with Merovingian’s henchmen. What an amazing choreography of slow motion jumps, kicks and so forth. It was also nice (and surprising) to see Neo actually bleed, but then, the assumption is that these people he fights are the werewolves and other aberrations about which the Oracle was talking. Then there is the absolutely amazing highway chase scene. Freed from the constraints of reality, they could do anything they wanted, yet kept it internally consistent. Plus, they kept it exciting, all the way through. Niobe is a great character that is not used nearly enough in this movie (although, I’m told the game adds quite a bit about her, so maybe I’ll check it out.
Things I liked less in this movie include most of Zion, including the rave scene. Some interesting discussion, some interesting background, but overdrawn. Very little seems to actually happen there. Yay. Let’s fight for our freedom so we can live pathetic lives in reality instead of pathetic lives in the Matrix. Eh. I think they could have done better there. Merovingian and Persephone’s parts were brief and hard to understand, although I’m hoping that’s just because we have to see the second part of this movie, Revolutions, to understand it all. While I think I understand why, it seems too easy dealing with Neo by stranding him hundreds of miles away, rather than fight him. Link’s subplot and the way he ties into Dozer from the first movie doesn’t do much to engage me, although Link himself is a likeable character.
That’s it? Actually, yeah. There wasn’t much about this movie I didn’t like. It really wasn’t nearly as bad as people say. My brother-in-law, on his first viewing, after missing all the hype, liked the movie a lot. My wife watched part of it with us again, and said she really liked it (how cool is that?). Is it as strong a movie as The Matrix? Well, the truth is, The Matrix is also a flawed movie. They probably let us know too early that the world they live in isn’t real. While it seems to work, the big question they kept hyping was “What is the Matrix?” The bigger question becomes, is Neo the One? What does being the One mean? Why is it so important? Many people complain about the acting, or that the first one is derivative of so many kung fu movies. I’ve decided that people are going to complain, no matter what you do, so do what you love. The
Tonight, we are going to watch Revolutions. How will that go? I don’t really know. That’s ok. I’m looking forward to the answers, even if it is a little disappointing. But then, it may not let down at all. We shall see.