The Matrix Reloaded
Or perhaps more accurately The Matrix Rehashed
Oh, Andy. Oh Larry. What have you done? Expectations for The Phantom Menace were deservedly low because everybody was aware of the cynical commercialism behind it's genesis. Nobody expected Lucas to match the grandeur of it's prequels, and he didn't fail to disappoint. That The Matrix showed so much promise from relative newcomers the Wachowski brothers has been the last hope for millions of sci-fi action cinema fans that someone can do a great idea justice over the course of three films. How can they go wrong? Christ knows, but unfortunately they have.
The Matrix Reloaded should have been a simple swing towards a home run. The first movie set up such an easy under-arm pitch, this installment only had to make solid contact and then The Matrix Revolutions would have seen the trilogy head right out of the park. Only now something drastic has happened and everyone is going to have to re-assess their evaluation of just what to expect.
Initially everything seems like it's in place. All of the ingredients that made the first movie such a success are present and correct, only this time Reloaded and Revolutions have the added benefit of a $300 million budget between them to up the eye candy quotient. On paper it seems nothing could or should have gone wrong, but very much like the world of the matrix itself, the movie has several fatal flaws.
The movie picks up not long after the events of the first installment (although not immediately thereafter as we had been lead to believe), with the remaining crew of the Nebuchadnezzer heading home to Zion, underground home of the human resistance. Anyone who witnessed the debacle that was Dreamcatcher will doubtless have seen the preceding Animatrix short film The Final Flight Of The Osiris, which set up the events with which we kick off here. In that companion piece, the crew of said ship discovered the machines drilling down towards Zion and rushed to get the message to the resistance before it was too late. Now that the plot is common knowledge, the humans decide the best thing to do is to take part in some mass tribal dancing to some techno music before sending Neo back into the matrix to do what he does best; kick ass. So far so good, except for the sweaty dancing.
It isn't long however before suspicions are raised that something isn't quite right. After a minor fracas with a couple of agents where it's explained they've had 'upgrades', Neo goes to meet the Oracle (The now sadly deceased Gloria Foster reprising her role) in his quest for the ultimate truth. Or something. She bombards him and we the audience with some cod philosophical rantings about choices and how they are always already made, it's just that we have to understand them. This goes on for a wee bit too long, and presumably the Wachowskis are aware of it, for they immediately throw us into the first of the hyped setpiece fights.
Good old Agent Smith is back in town, only this time he has somehow found a way to copy himself, and now Neo finds himself surrounded by no less than 100 clones of the program he fought so hard to destroy in the first film. Don't you just hate it when that happens? There ensues a mighty rumble of the proportions normally reserved for historical epics, only this one fails to raise any kind of excitement. How so?
Unfortunately the Wachowski duo have made a bad choice in their decision to move bullet time from a photographic technique to a completely CG rendition of events. Now during the complex parts of fight scenes such as this one, the set and actors are replaced by computer graphics, and this is the main problem. Yes, the virtual actor stuff is way better than any other movie you'll have seen, but it is still obvious that you are not watching real people and as a result it's very difficult to get excited about anything you're witnessing. With no real sense of danger or athletic prowess on display we are reduced to watching an impressive but ultimately boring tech demo for whatever 3D software the effects guys are currently masturbating over. In one scene this would be forgivable (there wouldn't really be any other way to achieve this particular fight otherwise), but it is so pervasive throughout the whole movie that ultimately this is what the film becomes about, hence it is doomed to failure from the start.
Besides the lack of stimulation provided by the CG fight mechanics, the more traditional wire fighting work somehow feels more tepid than the previous installment too; almost as if each scene has been inserted because the audience expects it (see Neo's entirely unnecessary fight with Seraph before meeting the Oracle). It may also just be me, but the editing of these fights as well as the choreography seems a lot less kinetic and therefore a lot less exciting. There is also a much greater degree of philosophical meandering here, and this time it's even more hammy than before. Do the Wachowski's want to be action film makers or think-tanks? It's unclear because here they are failing utterly to pull off either with aplomb.
Another thorn in Reloaded's side is surely X2. Bryan Singer's latest may not have excited this reviewer as much as others, but one thing it did do was show that an action franchise can actually carry a story arc where characters are satisfyingly developed and fleshed out. Larry and Andy take note, for here scant regard is paid to any notion that we should somehow leave the cinema after part 2 with a deeper understanding and/or sympathy for the protagonists. Yes, Neo and Trinity are deeply in love. No we don't care. Yes Morpheus has his back story added to a little with regards to Niobe. No, it's not interesting enough to bother us any.
Likewise we learn bugger all new about the matrix itself, other than through a rather boring and mildly pretentious meeting with it's creator, The Architect. Unsurprisingly this involves lots of mumbo-jumbo about understanding yourself and making choices that are effectively already made and blah blah blah blah blah. That I came out of the cinema not caring less about any of what was happening is something of a crime. That people coughed up five pounds a time to be so utterly disappointed and subjected to this nonsense is just daylight robbery.
One thing that has impressed me about this year's Matrix experience (as opposed to the film itself) is the fusion of various media into a single story thread. For those not in the know, the film has been accompanied by, amongst other things, the video game Enter The Matrix and the short film collection The Animatrix, both of which will imbue those who experience them with a better understanding of the film. Each contains material which relates to and in some cases directly influences the proceedings in the film, such as where the game runs in parallel with the movie during the freeway chase to rescue the Keymaker. The only downside to the experience is that more people will see the film than these other facets, and it is unfortunately the weakest link in the chain. At least in the video game you can control the CG characters on screen...
I could rant on a lot longer about the plot, the disappointing fight scenes and how the new characters are all largely superfluous, but I wont. I am hoping, you see, that The Matrix Revolutions is going to be so good that I'll look back on this installment and see some reason behind the rhyme, simultaneously lamenting what a fool I've been to slate what will latterly be revealed as a masterpiece. In the meantime however, mark this shambles I must, and I'm afraid I can't really recommend it very much at all. It's certainly no worse than most other action yarns out there now (Mr. Silver's action dangleberries are never less than utterly slick), but bearing in mind that $150 million is three or four times more than most other films out there it's really inexcusable. If The Matrix was a near seamless installation of the main program, Reloaded is a fatal exception error on launching the application. Poor show, and blue screens of death all round.
From his crib in South Central, Craig Disko fires 3 of a possible 5 caps in da air. Word is bond, yo.