Monthly Archives: May 2003

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Imagine my disappointment as I viewed the highly anticipated sequel to 1999’s sci-fi smash The Matrix and learned that the writing and directing team of the Wachowski brothers had taken a page from good ole’ George Lucas on how to make sequels: the “bigger is better and more is more” approach. Like the first two Star Wars prequels, the second Matrix movie is overstuffed and unfocused. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, it’’s also extremely talky when it comes to psycho-babble that would only impress the bong-carrying peanut gallery.

Reloaded picks up sometime after the first. Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), Neo (Keanu Reeves), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are late for a pow-wow with other leaders including Morpheus’ former flame, Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). In this meeting, which is within the Matrix, we learn that the humans have discovered that the machines are drilling at an incredible speed and will reach Zion, the last human city far beneath the Earth, in a matter of days. Add this to the bad dreams Neo keeps having where Trinity falls out of a building and gets shot by an Agent, and things are not looking good for our heroes from the first film.

At Zion, Morpheus stokes up the crowd who already believe that Neo is The One in the prophecy of the Oracle (Gloria Foster). They believe he is the one who will lead them to topple the machines. Morpheus informs the many citizens of Zion (okay, the last battalion of the human race lives in caves under the surface and people are STILL wearing sunglasses all the time? Watch your heads.) that the machines are digging to a town near you, and they have 250,000 Sentinels to wipe out what remains of humanity.

So what do people do next; what would your standard response be? Apparently, in Zion, it involves a massive spontaneous, sex-charged rave. The multitudes of Zion start grinding and sweatily dancing to electronic beats. And curiously, as you’ll notice with the slow camera movement in the scene, NO ONE in the future wears a bra. Perhaps the machines got those too. So after a tremendously long span of raving with nipples, intercut with Neo and Trinity knockin’ boots (though could you imagine zero-gravity sex in the Matrix?), the heroes set off to find the Oracle once more. Zion is preparing to mount a counterstrike against the burrowing machines and is hopeful that it will buy them some time. They plan on sending the entire fleet out, save Morpheus’ ship and one or two to aid him in his quest.

Neo finally regroups with the Oracle along a park bench inside the Matrix. She puts forth more psychological babble about choice and how choices are already made before you make them. You may start zoning out and wondering when people are gonna’ start punching people again, because it takes a good 45-50 minutes to get into this movie. The Oracle does have an interesting tidbit of information however. She reveals that the Matrix if just chock full of rogue programs living out their days in the confines of this virtual reality. Included in this group are werewolves, vampires, ghosts, angels which are all programming errors that walk among the Matrix. So, wouldn’’t it be kind of neat to see Neo fight the monsters from Universal Studios (“Hey Frankenstein monster … I know kung-fu” “Fire baaaaaaaaaad!”)?

The supreme drawback of Reloaded is that it introduces us to a plethora of new characters, all with minimal screen time and even more minimal plot impact, and then fails to advance the story. Niobe is pointless except for the old action picture adage of being at the right place at the right time to rescue our seemingly doomed heroes. A rogue program that calls himself The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), who decides on being a European playboy with an accent that renders all speech useless, snoots and huffs his way around. Monica Bellucci plays his wife. This Italian actress can be enthralling, and not just on the eyes, but she also serves minimal purpose other than some heaving chest shots. Then there’s the Keymaker, who will somehow lead Neo to his destiny or whatever. There’s about fifteen or so new characters and hardly any of them matter. The coolest additions are the twins, a pair of pasty dreadlocked fighters who can go through walls and parry any enemy assault. More time is needed for these two before they turn into another wasted villain, like Star Wars‘ Darth Maul.

All of this criticism is moot, of course, because the center of The Matrix is on inventive and pulse-pounding action, right? Well I’’d say that is so with the 1999 film but its sequel suffers when its action sequences drone on and become repetitious and dull. Neo fighting twenty or so replicates of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is interesting and fun, but when ninety more show up and it’s painfully and slightly embarrassing when the people fighting are CGI, then the fun level drops with the film. Neo ends the big brawl by flying away. My friend next to me whispered in my ear once this scene concluded, “If he could fly, why didn’’t he fly away at the beginning?” My response: “That would be using your brain.” Seriously, this action sequence is nifty and all but it serves no purpose, just like much of the first half of the film.

The freeway chase scene seems to already be famous and with due cause. Trinity and Morpheus zooming through traffic, fighting Agents and the twins, is a fantastic set piece that is reminiscent of the inventive action the first Matrix gave us. When Trinity zooms through oncoming traffic on her motorcycle the film comes alive and my attention was certainly front and center. The scene does fizzle a bit as it segues into Morpheus fighting an Agent atop a speeding semi. Again, the CGI rotoscoping of the landscape and the people is painfully obvious and detracts from the enjoyment.

What ultimately kills The Matrix sequel is that no one had the heart to question if maybe more wasn’’t better. Sure the Wachowski brothers had all the riches unto Caesar to make this movie, but what perplexes me is that once we do get much more it only feels like more of the same, and disappointment sets in. Agent Smith is shoved to the side of the film and pops up here and there to glare. He’s more or less just repackaged with nothing new and no personality, like much of the film. The purposely perplexing psycho-babble does not help. I’m sure hundreds of websites will dissect the exact philosophical links the movie presents, but man, all this talking about stuff that’s shutting down my brain is getting in the way of ass-kicking. I felt bloodlust the more I heard people, usually some old fruitcake, endlessly blab about causality and choice. When it comes to action-packed sequels from 2003, I’ll take X2 any day over Reloaded.

This is not to say that Reloaded is a bad film because it does have some nice special effects, cinematography, and some cool action sequences. These points of interest do not, however, justify its bloated running time. Some things were better left to the imagination, like the city of Zion, which looks about as dreary and dull as you might expect the last bastion of human civilization to look like in a ruined world, but this is science-fiction. Where’s the fun in dreary and dull? Again, whereas the first Matrix took place mainly in the false virtual reality where we could watch fantastic feats defying the laws of physics, Reloaded spends half its time running around the dank real world.

Some moments did have me giggling, like the Merovingian’’s joyous creation — an orgasm cake. A woman has a piece of cake and her temperature rises. Finally the camera zooms into her vagina (it’s in computer-code so it’s all columns of sexy green numbers) and we see an explosion of light. Very interesting indeed. Essentially, this is a key metaphor for the film itself: an attempt to have its cake and eat it too.

The Matrix: Reloaded is an occasionally entertaining and often mind-numbingly talky summer entry. You’ll get some thrills, maybe the philosophy will connect more for some (even though to me, at the heart, they say very little very eloquently), but because The Matrix is a colossal franchise that will make a gazillion dollars and then some, the power of editing has been kicked to the curb. If that power had been present perhaps someone could have trimmed a few of the many peripheral characters, kicked the pace up a few notches, reworked the fight scenes to advance the plot and stopped events from being so repetitive, and while they were at it maybe they could have done away with all the philosophy and stilted love dialogue. As it stands, The Matrix sequel has lost a lot of edge and this is because of the initial success of the first film. Sure, you might have an intermittently good time, but you should have had a great time. The Wachowski brothers had every tool at their fingertips but they became so enamored with fame and fortune that their work of creativity and genius has morphed into a self-indulgent, adolescent (with its hormone driven sexual events and its stoner philosophy), cash cow.

Nate’s Grade: C+

The Man on the Train (2003)

A dark stranger gets off a train in France. He has piercing blue eyes and a weathered face with a machine-like expression. This man is Milan (Johnny Hallyday) and he’’s stopping by this small French town for a new job. Oh, Milan’’s business is robbing banks. In this small village he befriends a garrulous retired poetry teacher, Monsieur Manesquie (Jean Rochefort). The two men spend their time wishing they had the life of the other. Milan openly seeks a comfortable life surrounded by books. Manesquie is a huge fan of Clint Eastwood movies and longs for some action in his life. He secretly dreams of one day robbing a bank just for the fun of it.

So, an interesting start for a film, right? Sure. But this IS the movie. ‘The Man on the Train’ is a middling character experiment. The two men rub off each other, with Milan teaching a young boy the wonders of poetry, and Monsieur Manesquie learning how to properly fire a gun. The scenes are nice and both actors are splendid (especially French rocker Hallyday) but the film is one long muddled and meandering trip until our inevitable climax. The ending feels needlessly open-ended and a tad clumsy. There’’s also a subplot featuring a young mistress for Monsieur Manesquie that sticks out like a sore thumb.

The Man on the Train’ is well shot and well acted but it only feels like the first half of a movie. I’’m sure plenty of people out there will appreciate the character nuances and small moments, but this is a film completely driven by small moments that never adds up to anything larger. Maybe ‘The Man on the Train’ just isn’’t for me. Or maybe I need to just wait for the second half, if it ever gets made.

Nate’s Grade: C+

X2: X-Men United (2003)

Rollicking entertainment until they reach the dam and things get really bogged down. However, still the action film to beat this year. I heart Bryan Cox. X-Men 2 shows the promise of the X-Men world after the somewhat dull first film. Thank God we got the jumping point out of the way because now we can have fun with these characters and their world. And X-Men 2 is great fun. This is how sequels should be.

Nate’s Grade: B+

%d bloggers like this: