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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Matrix Reloaded - For Those Who Loved Battlefield Earth


Ah, I had forgotten just how much I hated the Matrix sequels...

From epinions.com (Originally written 10 November 2003)


I have a confession to make. For all the massive acclaim the Matrix received from critics and casual moviegoers alike, I have never been all that impressed with the movie myself. Sure it had some breathtaking action scenes but the characterization was weak at best, the plot though decent enough was hardly as original as everyone made it out to be- the filmmakers themselves admitted as much- and the pseudo-philosophy that ran throughout the film simply reeks of pretension.

Now, however, after the seeing the truly abysmal sequel, Matrix Reloaded, I have gained a whole new appreciation for the original. Yes, the first movie was pretentious, unoriginal, bereft of almost any real human emotion and contained acting that was dubious at best but it was still a fairly well thought out, genuinely exciting thrill ride. Most importantly, though, it was a complete, fully formed movie that needed a sequel about as much as the world needs another Pauly Shore movie, which is to say not at all. Amazingly enough, however low my expectation were for the sequel, I was not prepared for the miserable piece of filmmaking that was The Matrix Reloaded.

Before I spend the vast majority of this review tearing this movie to pieces I might as well get the good parts- or more to the point, part- out of the way. However bad the movie may be from a storytelling point of view, it is still a technical triumph. The special effects are (unsurprisingly) spectacular and no matter how obvious the CGI may be in some scenes, you can’t help but be captivated by movie’s dynamic visual style.

At the same time, the sound effects reinforce the impressive visuals perfectly, though I am admittedly unimpressed by the uninspired musical soundtrack. You may also be impressed by the twist in the story that appears in the last twenty minutes of the film, though I find it to be a sad, outright desperate attempt at salvaging a genuine story from the plot-less drivel that took up the previous two hours. As superficial as these strengths may be, they make the movie a captivating visual and sonic experience, so much so that they allow me to grant Matrix Reloaded a two-star rating despite the sad state of the actual storytelling.

Without even getting onto the story, characters, pacing and other essential characteristics that a movie should be judged by, Matrix Reloaded still manages to fail on a far more sup
erficial –but for an action movie, essential- level: the action scenes. Granted the action looks incredible (I admitted as much in the paragraph above) but they are completely ineffective in creating anything that even resembles tension and suspense.

Take, for example, the confrontation between Neo and the hundred Agent Smiths, a scene that with the impossible odds stacked against our protagonist, should have been edge-of-your-seat stuff, instead comes across as limp and completely devoid of anything even resembling a sense of danger. Sadly, the other scenes fare little better and between overly long chase scenes and pointless fight scenes, the movie fails even as a simple action flick.

Of course if you believe the hype, Matrix Reloaded is not just a simple action movie but a “deep” and “serious” story about such minor subjects as reality vs. illusion and the nature of free will. Surprisingly enough, this description is not so much an exaggeration as it is an outright lie.

The movie should rather have been billed as “a hollow, heartless and pretentious excuse of a “film” that may or may not deal with free will, destiny and the nature of reality but fails so completely to engage the viewer that it’s doubtful that anyone would actually give enough of a damn to notice this”. But I suppose that latter wouldn’t have sold all that many tickets (not to mention millions of shameless cash-ins-oh sorry, I mean “continuations of the story”) so in typical Hollywood fashion decided to stretch the truth to breaking point instead. Simply put, the movie fails so completely on the fundamental aspects of storytelling that the before-mentioned painfully hollow action scenes seem like raging successes in comparison.

As you may have noticed, I have not given a plot synopsis despite the fact it is common practice- for good reason I might add- when reviewing a movie. The reason for this is actually fairly simple and ties into one of the many fatal flaws that plague the film: the movie may be well over two hours long but an actual, honest-to-goodness plot is nowhere to be found. All right that’s not exactly true, something resembling a plot does make an appearance in a typically longwinded, overly complicated speech that one of the characters delivers towards the end of the movie.

Unfortunately the two hours before that is padded out with a laughable, “erotic” dance sequence, plenty of those silly action scenes and enough ridiculous pseudo-philosophy to fill out many a fortune cookie. And no, I am not going to spoil the only remotely interesting plot development in the whole movie by revealing the contents of this speech in order to fill up an otherwise non-existent plot synopsis, reviewing conventions be damned. Besides as I explained above, this particular twist in the “story” is in my eyes so pathetically desperate, I hardly feel like dwelling on it.

Still, however bad it may be for a movie to be lacking a genuine narrative it is not necessarily the inescapable, horribly fatal flaw that you may believe it to be. In fact many great movies are great quite in spite of their plots: Personal favorites like Almost Famous, When Harry Met Sally or even O Brother Where Art Thou have simple, straightforward, even banal storylines but through exceptional characterization alone they have become highpoints in their respective genres.

Agent Smith aside, neither of the first two Matrix movies can boast particularly strong characterization. Matrix Reloaded in particular, is almost completely devoid of real, complex, relatable, or even just plain likable HUMAN characters. It’s a sad state indeed when soulless, artificial programs like Agent Smith and The Oracle are far, far more human than their lifeless “human” counterparts especially when you consider that the movie is supposed to be about the fight of these so-called humans for their freedom from these machines.

The returning heroes from the first Matrix are even more one-dimensional than they were before: Trinity is nothing more than a plot device while Morpheus may as well be a robot for all the emotion he displays. As for Neo, lets just say that I would be more than slightly worried if the supposed savior of mankind turns out to be such a bland, genuinely uninteresting dunce.

The new “characters” introduced in the film are possibly even less engaging than the above-mentioned trio, though to be fair that French guy- no, I really don’t care what his name is- manages to be quite noteworthy. It’s just a pity that the only reason he is noteworthy at all is because he somehow manages to be even more annoying than either Morpheus or that other bloated windbag, the Architect.

The awful characterization and lack of anything resembling a plot may be the low points of the film but they are hardly the only fundamental problems that the movie suffers from. Take the acting: granted, the script and the characterization may not have given the actors much to work with but they could at least have tried to do something with this substandard material. Instead they simply stand around delivering their lines with about as much emotion as your average manufactured boy-band song.


Still, despite the stiffness and general inadequacies of the main cast, at least Hugo Weaving and the late Gloria Foster manage to display at least some genuine charm and charisma in their respective roles as Agent Smith and the Oracle. The Wachowski brothers direction may have plenty of visual flair but they seem woefully inadequate when it comes to actually directing the actors. Their storytelling ability manages to fare even worse, with a script that further confuses a presumably already muddled script and pacing that does nothing but worsen the already erratic “plot”.

The dialogue could be called pretentious, flat, silly, laughable or just plain awful but none of these adjectives adequately describe just how excruciatingly bad this dialogue actually is. You’ll just have to “experience it for yourself”. I could go into all these flaws in even greater detail but I think I’ve gotten my point across.

Incidentally, before I finished typing this review I managed to see the sequel, Matrix Revolutions and aside for being a truly awful conclusion to the trilogy, it also managed to make Reloaded an even more worthless film than it already is. Revolutions failed to deliver on the intriguing final few minutes of Reloaded that I mentioned above are one of Reloaded few saving graces and instead goes off on in an unwelcome, non-sensical direction that should leave even the greatest Matrix fanatics infuriated.

Prior to viewing Revolutions, I used to believe that people who REALLY love the Matrix might find at least some worth in the middle part but now, after seeing the rest of the story, I have come to the realization that, pretty SFX aside, there is no reason on earth for anyone, least of all fans of the original, to see these atrocities.

Seriously NOT recommended!

Unless of course you’re a masochist but then you have bigger problems to worry about anyway.



3 comments:

  1. My God. Wow Ilan! You really have it out for the Matrix. I'm not even going to begin debunking each and every accusation that you have hurtled towards the film, and I'm certainly not going to attempt dissecting what you have written, but one thing is clear: while your writing style is genuinely awesome (and that goes for all your reviews, irrespective of the content), I cannot help but to chuckle REALLY hard at your complete lack of understanding of the Matrix trilogy, the Matrix story and the Matrix culture.

    I believe that your first problem is the premise that the first Matrix is disconnected from the other two. This assumption is dangerous and while the ideas in the first movie could definitely suffice on their own, the purpose of the second and third matrix were NOT to continue the development of those ideas in the traditional sense. Let me give you an example: Assume you have a film and two sequels in which to share an idea. How would you choose to do that? Well, the most obvious way is to spread the ideas across the three films and use the first film as a platform to build the other two. Now, while that would certainly work for educational course material, it most certainly does NOT work for movies! You of ALL people should know that. Had they used three films to develop the ideas of the first film, I am more than sure that (a) there would not have been a second sequel - let alone a first - and (b) I think the development of the true purpose - the movie culture - would be lost.

    So what does Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions do? It uses audience imagination to showcase what is possible in such a sci-fi world. To be terribly honest with you, I agree with the stupidity and ‘boringness’ of a lot of the characters positioning. Morpheus is depressive, Neo is a prod and the characters lack lustre at the best of times (except Bane whose psychopathic glare makes him a killer character (pun intended!)) But, that’s NOT THE POINT of either of the sequels! The audience has been opened to this world in the first Matrix and now wants to see the, almost infinite, possibilities played out. I cannot think of one moment in either of the sequels where I wasn’t mesmerised by the beauty of the sequences, by the CGI, by this world that they inhabit and by the plot which does NOT follow conventional methods - hence making this trilogy so unique and thrilling.

    You failed to mention the Animatrix which uses a variety of film disciplines to develop these philosophies. For all the reasons you thought it was a shoddy film, are all the reasons that the Matrix is not. It is NOT a conventional movie from A to Z. It is not a movie that relies or even needs character development per se. Neo, Trinity and Morpheus are more instruments used to explore the boundaries of this sci-fi thriller. And of course, all of this is proved by the box-office stats and the cult following of the Matrix to this day.

    So, here’s a suggestion for you. How about you get on the phone with some directors in Hollywood and start working on a come-back film for the Matrix. Do it your way. Include all the themes, plots, character developments, narrative, memorable quotes and visual look and feel to your film. In fact, I am so keen to see the utter garbage that you inevitably will conjure up, I am prepared to help you with the title: The Matrix Resurrections.

    (My star rating * * * * * * * * * *)

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  2. Oh, where to begin...

    OK, point one. I wouldn't make a sequel to The Matrix. Or a comeback film. My point is that the first Matrix simply didn't need any expansion. At all.

    Although, that said, I should say that I actually rather enjoyed the Animatrix. I don't know if I saw it back when I wrote the original review but, yeah, it was stylish and kinda fun. Unlike The Matrix sequels.

    "I believe that your first problem is the premise that the first Matrix is disconnected from the other two."

    This isn't my assumption. It's the fact of the way the three were made. The Matrix was a standalone film. When it did well, the Wachowski's made two sequels.

    As to the purpose of the sequels, that's a bit more complicated. Putting aside the usual cynicism that surrounds any sequel to a smash hit movie - and I think we should put it aside - I simply don't think they achieved very much.

    You mentioned that you thought that "the most obvious way is to spread the ideas across the three films and use the first film as a platform to build the other two". You see this as a bad idea. Well, here's the thing... The main ideas of the Matrix WERE NOT spread across the 3 films. They were all used up in the first one. Which is why the philosophical ideas in the sequels were either just repeats of the first film or were basically inane and hackneyed.

    As for the idea that using "the first film as a platform to build the other two"..."does NOT work for movies" is basically untrue. The best sequels actually do do this. The Empire Strikes Back used Star Wars as a platform for its own story, Godfather II did the same with The Godfather, Toy Story 2 did the same with Toy Story and Toy Story 3 did the same with Toy Story 2. Sequels, by their very nature, are expansions of an original idea.

    Finally (for now) and this is the big one:

    "So what does Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions do? It uses audience imagination to showcase what is possible in such a sci-fi world. To be terribly honest with you, I agree with the stupidity and ‘boringness’ of a lot of the characters positioning. Morpheus is depressive, Neo is a prod and the characters lack lustre at the best of times (except Bane whose psychopathic glare makes him a killer character (pun intended!)) But, that’s NOT THE POINT of either of the sequels! The audience has been opened to this world in the first Matrix and now wants to see the, almost infinite, possibilities played out. I cannot think of one moment in either of the sequels where I wasn’t mesmerised by the beauty of the sequences, by the CGI, by this world that they inhabit and by the plot which does NOT follow conventional methods - hence making this trilogy so unique and thrilling."

    Aside for the fact that I agree that the films are visually impressive (those flying scenes! Just wow!), I fundamentally disagree with everything else.

    You're right, it doesn't follow a conventional plot and the main point of the films is to show just how much Neo can do in the Matrix once he does realize that he is basically Neo H Christ. I just don't see this as a good thing.

    The basic narrative of the two films is simply making explicit what was implied by the end of the first. Once Neo has found out that he is "The One", he goes out and frees mankind from The Matrix. And that, pretty much is what happens. There's nothing in that plot that we could not have inferred from the last few minutes of the first film.

    Where does that leave the sequels then? Well, it leaves them with this: as you say " The audience has been opened to this world in the first Matrix and now wants to see the, almost infinite, possibilities played out." The problem is that this is not in and of itself enough for a story.

    (Continued in next post)

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  3. (CONTINUED - Man can I not shut up or what!)

    What you are describing are a bunch of set pieces - a flying scene here, a slo-mo fight scene there - but not a story. If it is true that a world of possibilities were opened up by the first Matrix - and that's a big if - those ideas were explored as uninterestingly as possible.

    The Animatrix was actual an example of the way to go with expanding The Matrix Universe. Basically, what the Animatrix did was say "OK, we have this interesting world to play with, lets see what stories we can pull out of it". That's great. No problems there.

    Here's the problem though: the sequels didn't do that. The sequels were effectively the ending of The Matrix allowed to run free on its own inertia. By the end of The Matrix, we all sort of knew where the story was going and the sequels just delivered that. Sure, it had some nice effects work, some enjoyable set pieces and loads of cod-philosophy but as a piece of storytelling it was utterly redundant.

    And that right there is my biggest problem. The sequels have bad points, they have good points but there's no getting past this: they don't actually add anything to the mythology of the first film and son't really need to exist.

    ReplyDelete