Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Director Report Card: The Wachowskis (2003) Part 1

3. The Matrix Reloaded

“The Matrix Reloaded” disappointed a lot of people. How couldn’t it? The first film was hugely successful and had an immediate impact on action and sci-fi cinema. By the time "The Matrix Reloaded" came around in 2003, a lot of the tricks that made the first film so influential had all ready become old hat. With a rocket sled of hype leading up to the release of the second film, failure was, in many ways, the only option.

Not to say I’m dismissing “Reloaded” of its many flaws. There is a primary issue here that prevents the film from succeeding: Filler. It’s a problem familiar to two-part sequels. The Wachowski brothers only seem to have written enough material for a movie and a half. Obviously this wasn’t acceptable so a whole bunch of stuff had to be thought up to fill out two separate run times.What could have been one good film instead had to be awkwardly split in half and padded out to two.

The first act is the biggest culprit. Over half of the Zion section could go. The political bits, Neo conversation with the head councilmen, Link’s family life, and especially that stupid, stupid rave scene. Even after all that, there’s more: Neo and Seraph’s fight scene exists for absolutely no reason other then it's been a while since we've had an action beat. (The script even admits this.) The Oracle’s exposition is even more heavy handed then before and further drags down the pacing. The introduction of the Merovingian and his retarded orgasm dessert could have been trimmed or cut all together.

Finally, over an hour into the movie, the plot starts to move. The Keymaster brings some purpose to the story and the second half of the film mostly revolves around some pretty impressive action. That is until progress bumps into Colonel Sanders and gets bogged down in even more confusing, unhelpful exposition. The worst kind of exposition: The type that doesn't actually explain anything. This was the first clue that, when it comes to the philosophical subtext of these films, the Wachowskis are kind of full of shit. After that huge roadbump, Keanu plays Superman for a while and then the movie ends. And then keeps going for a few more minutes. Then the movie really ends on a cliff hanger that seems so obscure that the urgency barely registers at all.

Sadly, the problems don’t end with the padding. From a writing perspective, the ending of the first film presents a huge challenge to a sequel. Neo had essentially become invincible. Where the hell do you go from there? Sure, it provides plenty of opportunity for awesome ass-kicking, but from an audience perspective, it's makes any of that action tricky to care about. The movie tries to get around this in three ways. First, by making Neo uncertain about his destiny. Watching the guy who can fight, stop time, and kick massive amounts of ass sit around and angst about what this all means is, coincidentally, the exact opposite of what anyone wants to see. Keanu Reeves did all right as a wonder struck newcomer in the first movie but as a high-kicking reluctant messiah, his limited range becomes all too obvious.

The second strategy to give the film some sort of emotional center is by focusing on the romance between Neo and Trinity. That was one of the weaker elements of the first film and even the writers/directors seem to know that. So, they have this huge spectre of Trinity's prophesied death hanging over the entire film, literally from the very beginning. And, you know, we like Trinity well enough, as a bad ass action figure. But implying that she can die at any minute makes her seem weak. Keanu’s under-emoting further exacerbates the problem. Most frustratingly of all, the issue of her death is resolved in an incredibly unsatisfying manner. For all these factors and more, a major subplot of the film is nothing but limp.

The third strategy to make all of this cohesive is by adding several time limits to the story's action. Sentinels are tunneling towards Zion in several days. Oh shit! It's a shame we're never given a reason to care about Zion. Making it the last bastion of human civilization turns out isn't enough. Making it a big, sweaty rave party really doesn't work. Filling it full of characters we don't really care about certainly doesn't help. A number of time limits are imposed in other places, what with doors closing at specifics times. This works a lot better. Still, there's way too much screwing around in the story to keep things from feeling really urgent.

And, before I move on, can I mention that Lambert Wilson is really annoying? I think his ridiculous French accent and constant sex life references were meant to be funny. They're not. And did I mention that Neo's flying never looks wholly convincing?

Still, I can’t totally trashed “Reloaded.” There are moments that keep the movie interesting. First, those action sequences. The Neo vs. multiple Smiths confrontation is damn neat. It features the kind of creativity and willingness to go anime over the top that made the action scenes in the first film so impressive. It also gives us a heaping helping of Hugo Weaving, an leveling force of pure entertainment the movie really needed a lot more of.

The chateau fight is more simplistic but similarly exciting. It features less special effects. Instead, it feels like a good old fashion Hong Kong action movie brawl. The freeway chase that it leads into is the center piece of the film. It gets a little long but it's hard to resist leaping motorcycles and giant semi-trucks crashing into each other. And when Morpheus kills a mini-van with a katana and a machine gun, causing it to explode in a massive fireball? That shit is cool, son.

I don't totally hate some of the new characters either. Niobe, as played by Jada Pinkett-Smith, sort of comes off like a version of Trinity with a lot more attitude. Attitude makes a lot of difference and, if the character is never given much reason to emote, she at least makes an impression. Similarly, her partner, Ghost's unrequited crush on Trinity is an element that could have been explored more. The Keymaker isn't much more then a walking, talking plot point, but Randall Duk Kim at least provides enough weight to make him memorable. I wish Monica Bellucci was given more to do. If her purpose was to do nothing but look fantastic in that dress, mission accomplished on that one.

Yes, the fight and action moments almost make it worth while but, perhaps, a sequel to “The Matrix” was just a doomed proposal. Maybe the conclusion to the series will fair better? [Grade: C]

1 comment:

Sean Catlett said...

No kidding it's a buncha bollucks, zing. Vampires and ghosts eh? References to an anime and a videogame I also have to buy in order to get the full effect of the film? A climax we don't get to experience but instead get to see in a montage? YOU FUCKERS.

Sometimes I fantasize about fixing films, and with this one the only two things I would keep would be the freeway chase idea (but give the characters some sort of goal) and the Architect scene (but perhaps give it a stronger consequence). But it's a fool's errand and I only do it because I'm still burnt by it.