Friday, August 23, 2013

The Matrix Reloaded

  As you all well know, I'm a huge fan of the original. Yet I've found it hard to talk about in reviews, I have, but still, you can only say "amazing" so many times. I think I have much more to talk about when it comes to this sequel. The Matrix is back, everyone and everything you loved from the first one is back. Sadly, this movie alienated a lot of fans, and I totally understand why. There's a lot to crack into with Reloaded, from the action scenes to the 'philosophies' in the movie, and most importantly where the story has gone from the first movie. The Matrix Reloaded is so densely packed that it doesn't suffice to simply review it. You must dissect it.

  In this movie, we see the return of Agent Smith, who we all know was good and well deleted in the last movie. Pretty much... However, he returns as a rogue agent actually. Not working for the machines, instead fighting for his own purposes. I get this. In a way. Smith has essentially become a virus. He was a program that wouldn't delete right, and combined with some unique circumstances he became a self replicating virus. Which is the best I can explain it. Why isn't he working for the machines? Well, you're the user, your computer is the machines, and computer viruses effectively screw you both. So there. Weak? Maybe. Does the movie provide a better answer? Nope. The return of Smith alone, and then his newfound ability to copy himself (which is just like overwriting a program with another program) left many a viewer in complete confusion. My own conclusion proved satisfactory for me, so moving on!

  Neo has prophetic dreams in this movie, which while the first movie hinted at messianic overtones, likening Neo to a Jesus figure, this movie kinda bashes you over the head with it. Long, ungainly, and trailer-esque speeches are made about "beliefs", "providence" and the "end of the war". These are kind of bloated and a truly ineffective means of exposition. It heightens this sci-fi actioner to religious allegory, and it doesn't gel too well. Lest we forget, Neo can fly, remember? A perfect cliffhanger in it's predecessor which actually pays off here. It's really friggin cool, and if anything helps us to buy into this savior deal. He can fly, stop bullets, fight agents, I mean... why not? Clearly he can bend the rules better than any other freed mind, to a previously unseen extent. The savior thing is cool so far. Even if it is just a bit pretentious. I couldn't help but expect it anyways. It starts to get on my nerves when the narrative is lost in the double speak and biblical overtones.

  For example, the Oracle tells Neo he needs the Keymaker. The Keymaker is held by a power hungry program called the Merovingian. Before long, we forget why we need the Keymaker, if it was ever adequately explained to begin with, we're unsure if rewinding will help. Suppose you have a tenuous grip on the story thus far, a barrage of high concept ideas are thrown at us at an alarming rate. Exiled programs, earlier versions of the matrix itself, Neo has "predecessors", and apparently a program can want to feel love. These can be cool ideas if explored properly, unfortunately, between the incredibly dense and confusing doublespeak, that always seems to lead nowhere, and the movie's incredibly packed visual language... it's so painfully easy to find yourself lost by the wayside.

  One moment you're listening to a five minute speech on "causality", the next, you're finally back to the Keymaker and an insane highway chase that if I remember right is so long, it takes up three scene selection markers and clocks in at around 13 minutes total. Damn. This is actually a big highlight of the movie, but we'll get to that later. The characters in the movie shuffle around from one crazy character to the next, and we seem to get a longer speech each time. Sometimes, I'm fairly certain (not unlike Smith himself) some of the characters are just talking, unsure of what's happening anyways. If the Wachowski's had something to say, there was no reason to hide it in doublespeak. The cool factor of the movie is damaged for all the overly inflated scenes it has like this. In it's best moments, it reminds us why we loved the first one, but in it's worst it floods us with so much head-spinning dialog that we cease to give a shit.

  Some people may level the accusation that it's just "too intellectual for you people". Well, sorry, but look at the first movie. It had a clear cut plot, a complex yet uncomplicated narrative, and a concise story. Not only does it seem like Reloaded doesn't know where it's going, besides to a cliffhanger, it also doesn't know how to cover it up. As a result the movie is populated by confusing speeches which are loaded with symbolism, high concept ideas that allude to a much bigger picture, and it's inhabited by characters which are just as crazy and confusing. If there is a rhyme and reason to this stuff, it's buried deep in the movie. If there is some deep meaning, it's shrouded in bullshit. Which is not something I say lightly. This movie may or may not have something philosophical driving it, but we can never really access the narrative to uncover it.

  All that aside, The Matrix Reloaded also does some things very very right.  For one, the Wachowski's really stepped up the pure spectacle of it. If The Matrix stunned you away with bullettime scenes and such, Reloaded aims to blow you away. Each action scene eclipses the last in both size and sheer intensity. The crazy story facilitates some even crazier fight scenes. I cannot in good conscience say that Reloaded was anything short of amazing when it comes to sheer spectacle. The crazy characters (like the ghost duo) and the action scenes that wrap around them, are amazing. The fantastic highway chase still thrills like no other, and this is no small feat in an age of movies like Fast Five and it's sequels. Morpheus gets to face off with an agent, atop a speeding semi truck. All the while, the scene escalates and escalates, we see the genius of the choreography and chaos. Both Morpheus and Trinity really have their time to shine in this whole scene. If their reputations as badasses were ever in jeopardy from all the speeches and lovemaking (respectively), they're most definitely solid now. It's a great centerpiece to a movie full of great set pieces. What more can one ask for when it comes to action?

  We're also treated to finally seeing Zion, which I heard some people were disappointed with... I don't see why though. I thought it was pretty damn impressive. Especially the machine level. An amazing and thoughtful scene takes place there between Neo and Councillor Hamann. He makes a big analogy about not knowing how the water filtration machine works, only that it needs to work. Referring to Neo and his abilities, (paraphrasing a bit) "I don't know how you do the things you do... but I understand the need for them." Despite all the insane action scenes in this movie, this scene might be my favorite. It's easily one of the more honest and emotional scenes. I like the additions to the cast and (Harold Perrineau) Link just might be my favorite character in Reloaded. He brings humanity to the movie and a much needed heart to the proceedings. He's funny without being comic relief, and completely relatable. After seeing Neo do something quite amazing, spectacular and profound, he drops into his chair, stunned, and simply remarks... "...I can't take this."
It's a line which never ceases to bring a smile to my face, because honestly, everyone else seems to have become accustomed to Neo doing god-like deeds.

  In the end, I'm left wanting. The movie doesn't end on a rousing climatic battle like it's predecessor, it ends on a strange, depressing, and flat out weird cliffhanger. It gets the job done in getting you curious for the next one, but still I can't help but always feel a little let down in the end. I think this movie is a testament to the fact that massive blockbuster action scenes can't save a movie if it's already dead on arrival. I firmly believe that The Matrix could've still succeeded as a movie (if not financially, critically) even if the action scenes were drastically cut back. The Matrix Reloaded would not. This sequel seems to exist only to try and one-up it's predecessor's spectacular action scenes, which it does, but the movie is no better for it. If anything, it's harder to relate to the characters, something which isn't so bad in the first act, but becomes outright awful by the ending. Reloaded, for all it's strangeness and confusing direction, still qualifies as a once-in-a-blue-moon guilty pleasure for me. Which is nice, but no doubt a major drop-off from the first movie, which ranks as one of my top 3 all time favorite movies. It's a mixed bag, and an exciting one (at times) but nowhere near as good as #1. (as if I haven't hammered that point in enough.)

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