Review: The Matrix Reloaded

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After discussing my thoughts on The Matrix Reloaded at length with friends/coworkers of mine yesterday, I figured I should probably post them up here so folks could see what the goings-on were all about.

For those living in a cave or sans pop culture influence, The Matrix Reloaded is the highly anticipated sequel to the ever popular 1999 film, The Matrix. To understand what The Matrix Reloaded is about, you really need to have seen The Matrix. But I understand that not everyone has, so let me give you the quick and dirty on The Matrix:

Keanu Reeves plays a computer geek, Neo, who starts waxing philosophic and questioning the concept of reality. Suddenly weird things start to happen - he gets odd messages mysteriously appearing on his monitor, he gets arrested by the police… and eventually you see that he gets taken in by some apparent superbeings who are somehow notorious in the computer hacker world named Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne).

As it turns out, Neo’s questioning was correct - the world we live in is actually a computer simulation called “The Matrix;” the real world is a place where machines have taken over and use humans as a power source (the heat, right?). Morpheus and Trinity want to free all the humans from The Matrix and take the world back from the machines. There’s a city of people (Zion) who have already been freed and are working on this effort as well.

Not only that, but Neo is “The Chosen One” and has the ability to manipulate the physical laws of The Matrix to suit his own needs. The other freed individuals can do some tremendous stuff this way (which is why they appear superhuman), but Neo’s a whole other story.

Okay, so while these characters are trying to free other humans, The Matrix itself has got these “defense mechanisms” - sort of like anti-virus software - called “agents” (picture the men in black that you see on X-Files or some such) that hunt down and kill freed humans running around in The Matrix. Hugo Weaving (“Agent Smith”) has a final showdown with Neo and Neo gains control of his newfound power at the last moment, defeating Agent Smith and realizing that he is the one who’s going to have to free all the humans.

There’s a lot more in the way of plot details and whatnot, but that’s the long and the short of it. I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t.

Now, that’s the plot of the original Matrix, but what made it so spectacular?

First, the cinematography was brilliance. The whole thing was filmed like a comic book - very dramatic lighting, color filtering, and camera angles. You could hold storyboards up next to the finished product and every scene matches up perfectly. Put the storyboards in a book and you’ve got yourself a graphic novel.

Second, the philosophy. The whole thing was a discussion about the concept of reality - which is a whole other book (actually, a bunch of books). What makes something real? Is it something you hear, see, or feel? But that’s just electrical brain impulses - is that what real is? It also touched on a bit of religion with the Neo thing - they imply that there was “another man” who could shape The Matrix the way he saw fit. Jesus maybe? They never say. Regardless, they discussed the whole thing without getting too “preachy” or annoying with it. Good stuff.

So, now that we’ve talked about the first Matrix, how was Reloaded?

I wish I could say it was as good as the first one, but it really wasn’t. The story continues in this one with Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity returning to Zion (which is good, since we haven’t really seen that aspect of things yet) to find out that the machines are tunneling toward the underground city and will be there to destroy the human resistance very soon. It’s Neo’s job to figure out how to stop it. Basically.

I won’t go too much into the whole plot because frankly, I didn’t see much of one there. It was a light, fluffy, sci-fi/action film with two utterly superfluous love stories attached to it. Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity have to figure out how to stop the machines from destroying the humans. Obstacles get in the way. Panic ensues. Stuff happens. Roll credits.

Oh, and of course, this is a cliffhanger because the next Matrix film is coming in November.

So what did they do right, and where did they go wrong?

First, what they did right:

Continuing in the vein of philosophy, this movie was a discussion about free will versus destiny. Do we actually make our own choices, or does it only seem that way? If there’s a such thing as destiny, then it doesn’t matter what “choices” we make because in the end, everything’s already preordained to happen. But if it’s all destiny, then what about our own free will? That was the aim of this one, and I think they did a good job of getting that together again without being too preachy about it.

They also throw in a bit of feeling on the human “tribal mind.” People all getting together for a common purpose, feeling raw emotion together and harnessing that power. That was good.

But that’s about it. The rest was all wrong:

They didn’t maintain the same cinematography. The first Matrix was comic-book-on-film, and that was good. This one was a standard action movie. The innovation of the dramatic camera angles and whatnot just didn’t exist in this one.

The love stories were ridiculous. One (Neo and Trinity, established in the first film) was necessary but seemed a little more… animal… than it needed to be. The other, which I won’t go into, didn’t even really have a place in the story. If you had left it out, it wouldn’t have made a difference to the plot.

That’s actually how a lot of the characters were - if you left them out, it wouldn’t make a difference to the plot. Sort of like they were “placeholders” or something. There were some very interesting characters, but they just didn’t play any role. For example, the Monica Bellucci character - beautiful lady, but really didn’t serve any purpose. There was a German guy, Monica Bellucci’s husband, who was so extraneous that not only do I not remember his name, but the only thing I can classify him as is “an obstacle.” That’s all he was - something like a wall, just standing in the way. In the way of Neo… and in the way of the plot.

Finally, the fight choreography. All the fights in the first movie seemed fast and furious, yet still controlled. In this one… all the fights felt like they were in slow motion. There was no challenge for any character in any fight because everyone seemed to anticipate everyone else’s moves, making it less like a fight and more like a dance. Now, I thought about the fact that the moral of this movie was free will versus destiny and that the fights, with everyone anticipating the - dare I say it - destined move of their opponents, was just a way to further that idea… but then, I may be giving them too much credit, and the fights may just have been kind of bad.

All in all, I didn’t think it was as bad as people have told me it was. I’d heard enough bad reviews that my hopes had been lowered sufficiently to enjoy it for what it was. I do hope they pick it up for the third movie in the fall. What I am disappointed about is something that my friend Tim at work brought up when I was talking with him about this - that this is now a great idea that’s been done, and it was wasted on a poor execution. Very unfortunate.

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