*Changed to Minor Rock Fist Down from Minor Rock Fist Up on 11/04/03 upon review of “The Matrix Revolutions,” the third installment in the “Matrix” trilogy.
By now, you’ve all seen it, right? Well, here’s my take after one viewing (in Belgium, no less).
Wow. I never expected the second movie in the hip, fresh, and hugely anticipated “Matrix” trilogy to mirror that other new, hugely anticipated (yet somehow stuffy) sci-fi trilogy! But somehow, with the release of “The Matrix Reloaded,” I’m faced with way too many “Star Wars” prequel similarities. Some of them are good, but most of them are inexplicably bad.
|Agent Smith stagedives at Flopapalooza 2003|
First off, we must remember that 1999 was supposed to be THE year of “Episode I”. Unfortunately, “The Phantom Menace” kinda sucked. It broke box office records for sure, but for all its amazing special effects, the story was weak and un-involving and the dialogue, my young padewan, bordered on ridiculous.
“The Matrix,” on the other hand, had a way lower budget, Keanu Reeves as the hero (how’s that for ridiculous?), and absolutely no hype. But it had imagination to spare, and virtually re-invented the modern action scene. Its slo-mo bullet-time sequences are now part of the standard vocabulary of every big budget ass-kickin’ picture. And when the Oscars were given out in March of 2000, “The Matrix” trumped “Episode I” in every single category.
So how did this happen? In their attempt to create their own alternate sci-fi universe, writer/directors the Wachowski brothers have fallen into many of the same traps that Lucas has recently also, trying to set his ‘Star Wars” back history straight. First, the good:
1. Like the amazing all-digital characters and deeply rich backgrounds created by Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, the Wachowski’s special effects are extremely innovative and inspired. “Reloaded“‘s effects one-up the original’s by following the motion of bodies and bullets to the extreme.
The 14-minute freeway chase is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen on film, and almost worth the price of admission alone. And now, rather than fighting one Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), Neo (Reeves) must fight a hundred of them. Granted, sometimes you can tell this is a special effect. But, for me, the brilliant choreographing in these scenes and the I’ve-Never-Seen-This-Before quotient were more than enough to keep me riveted.
2. “Reloaded” is steeped in a whole bunch of the same religious/epic fantasy literature that Lucas has also drawn from, but with a smaller amount of success, I think. Having Anakin be an immaculate conception (remember the midichlorians, anyone?), for example, is a bit over the top. But the Christ-like way Neo (the One) is portrayed in “Reloaded” didn’t bug me (*It sure did in the next one, though). Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his beloved prophecy and the skepticism and faith surrounding it serve to create the kind of mystery that these new “Star Wars” prequels can’t quite muster.
And now, the bad:
1. When trying to create a new universe, apparently there is no way to relate to the audience all the important details without big, blustery, and boring, boring, boring speeches! Like the Senate in “Star Wars,” we get to hear Morpheus address the people of Zion from on high. Full of pomp and circumstance (and inflated like a Japanese puffer fish), Morpheus begins the first in a series of pretentiously show-stopping sermons.
But, wait, there’s more! Every time a character has to advance the “Matrix” mythos, they do it with further philosophical diatribes that annoyed me more than articles about how punk Avril Lavigne is. Although I truly appreciate the scope and maturity the Wachowski’s are trying to bring to their world, I just wish it could be done in a more entertaining way.
2. “The Matrix” was such a great movie that not even Keanu could ruin it. “Reloaded,” however, gives us conversation served up with a heaping helping of Lucas-style dreariness. Just as ‘Star Wars” wastes the talents of normally reliable actors like Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman, “Reloaded” gives us a pompous and grandiloquent Fishburne and well, a return-to-form blank Reeves. Hugo Weaving is still having a bit of fun, though, unlike anyone in either “Star Wars” prequel.
3. The pacing is so damned predictable, in a Lucas way. Advance the plot, fight scene, a bit of clever double talk to advance the plot, fight scene, more prattle, fight scene. There’s not really a lot of suspense here. Like ILM, I think the makers of “Reloaded” are content knowing that the action scenes are visually dynamic.
There’s no need to bother us with feeling like something of consequence is happening to the characters. For that, see the first two “Lord of the Rings” movies. Peter Jackson combines epic breadth while not forgetting the plight of each character. I give “Reloaded” some credit for trying, at least, to build a convincing love story for Neo and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss). It was at least slightly better than the limp Anakin-Padme fraud.
I’m a total movie geek, and this could go on forever. But in the interest of brevity (too late) and respect for the reader (who does this Melin guy think he is, anyway?), I’ll end this bit of low-brow highfalutin’ commentary here. This movie is certainly a mixed bag, and much of it will be a bore on repeated viewings. But the berserker parts were pretty hot. So this is where I puss out.
The action was breathtaking and funny. The concept was high, yet intriguing, and I’m holding out a lot of promise for the next one.