Changing the game
The Matrix destroyed action movies for me. It was like nothing I’d ever seen in live action American cinema. It positioned itself as something new AND it delivered without being obnoxious about how new it was. The Matrix blended practical effects with CGI and found an eye pleasing balance. It kicked open the door Dark City left ajar one year before.
It made us pay attention to the narrative by giving bits and pieces of a larger story without feeling the need to give us the entire history. The action sequences were new, the camera work was new, the premise was new. It gave us a complex story when action movies in the 90’s neglected storytelling. It avoided assaulting us with bright colors and gave us well defined but stark visuals for most of the movie. It hit all the right notes for keeping fans engaged. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Hollywood instantly took the most unique parts of The Matrix and made them ubiquitous.
Here’s the Problem with that….
The Matrix had it’s fair share of flaws. There were sizable plot holes. The subplot about Cypher’s betrayal didn’t make sense. The characters weren’t really fleshed out and the dialogue between those characters is stilted. I really wasn’t feeling the explanation for Neo’s rebirth. The ‘Power of Love’ Power Up feels like something out of The Care Bears Movie.
The Matrix wasn’t a perfect film but we overlooked the flaws because of how damn awesome it was. Apparently…the Wachowski’s did too when they were writing The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions.
The Matrix Reloaded
Instead of improving on the flaws present in the first movie and expanding the universe gradually, Reloaded took every aspect of the first movie, shot them full of HGH and dropped us dead-center into the previous film’s universe. Big Special Effects? Make them bigger.
Over the top fight scenes? Make them more spectacular.
Difficult to follow dialogue? Make it Kafkaesque….Melt their goddamn minds.
Reloaded attempted to give the franchise the Wrath of Khan treatment while dropping us headlong into the Universe hinted at in the first film. It was a jolting experience. We were blitzed with a ceaseless line of characters who had integral parts in the story, but somehow weren’t important enough to flesh out for the audience. We never got a chance to form a connection to Zion or its residents. Because of this, the looming threat to Zion was not interesting enough to invest in.
Morpheus had a fair amount of screen time and Neo and Trinity’s love story was presented to us one awkward/disinterested/frigid love scene at a time. It was the kind of passion shown by two people who are scarcely tolerating each others existence but have to go through the motions for the cameras. It was the kind of forced love demonstrated by your Aunt and Uncle when they committed to a lifetime of mutual acrimony and live only to make each other miserable. Every time Neo and Trinity kiss, a kitten bursts into flames. It is painful to watch. Why anyone would devote an entire subplot to such an agonizing relationship escapes me.
The Matrix Reloaded was not a bad movie, it was just a strange one. It tried to give us more of everything from the first movie and ended up being too ambitious. It gave us one of the best car chase scenes in movie history and allowed us to spend some quality time with Morpheus, Trinity and other characters who weren’t Neo.
Speaking of Neo
Before I start talking about Revolutions, I want to discuss Neo. Save for the first movie, Neo was a terrible POV character. Once he graduated up to stopping bullets and flying and the threat of his demise was gone, the audience lost any incentive to invest in him. Nothing was at stake for Neo, all of the risk belonged to his friends. The problem with this is, Neo is was still the main character. We never spent enough time with any of the other characters to establish a similar connection. Neo was literally invulnerable for nearly two entire movies. Why should the audience even care what happens to him? Neo isn’t witty or engaging. His personality is the perfect opposite of interesting. It is a black hole that drains the personality out of every character that shares screen time with him. Every person that is on the screen with Neo begins talking in this clipped and cryptic tone that I can only describe as dully enigmatic. I’m not exactly sure what happened to Neo’s personality between the first and second movie. Maybe it decided that one movie was enough and went off the grid like Rick Moranis.
The Matrix Revolutions
The oddest movie of the trilogy. This movie was almost a self-parody except it was totally humorless. It took the creative action sequences from the first two movies and made them ridiculous.
Mexican Standoff in a Fetish Bar?
It was the final movie of the trilogy and The Wachowskis were determined to give us the single most demented viewing experience they could muster. They gave us dialogue so confusing that it might as well have been written in Latin, action sequences straight out Dragonball Z and more Jesus metaphors than the Passion of the Christ. Now toss in one oddly placed Rave scene and an even odder Cyberpunk meets Hamburger Hill battlefield scene and there’s Matrix Revolutions.
To this day, Revolutions is trolling fans of the franchise who are still trying to decipher the bedeviling array of cryptic doubletalk that passed for explanation of events in that film. People STILL don’t really know what the hell happened in that movie. The movie literally stopped trying to explain itself 30 minutes before the last scene. The moment Neo entered the machine city, the narrative came to a screeching halt. Fans of Revolutions will often claim that the movie made sense in a way that was simply too deep for most people to understand. These people are not to be trusted. If they can unflinchingly lie to themselves on such a magnificent scale, there is no telling what falsehoods they will tell to or about you without the slightest bit of hesitation.
Not All Bad
I generally like Reloaded and Revolutions. They have some interesting plot points and premises for characters. The action scenes were engaging and the fighting sequences were well choreographed. The Black characters are not presented as tropes and each has a unique personality. Unfortunately, the Asian characters were not given similar treatment.
The Hero we Deserve…
One of the big upsides to the sequels is was the way the ‘Savior’ role was handled. The Savior made the sacrifices and tough decisions. He was dedicated to his vision, but allowed his reality to dictate his actions. I think you all know that these next few moments will be dedicated to….
Commander Lock the real hero of the sequels.
Lock wasn’t lured in the mystical magical bullshit surrounding Neo. He didn’t leave the safety of Zion to the fates and wish for a last second miracle. He didn’t get swept up in how cool Neo was in an imaginary world, he prepared Zion for the eventuality of War. He wasn’t scared to be the only realistic guy in the room. If it wasn’t for him not buying into “The Prophecy of the One” Zion would have been wiped out of existence before Neo and Smith DBZ’ed it up in the Matrix. Lock did the damn JOB. While Morpheus was giving inspirational speeches at oddly placed subterranean “We’re all Gonna DIE” Rave Orgies, Lock was making power moves to ensure to survival of the species..No Shucking, No Jiving. What was Lock’s reward?
Yeah. He got to watch Bae get snatched up by the Enigmatic Musty Dreamer and the most gullible person in Zion, Morpheus. Lock did a thankless job and he was Friendzoned for his efforts. Lock is the real hero of the story.
I think the thing that hurt Revolutions
Was how unfocused it felt. It was like they couldn’t decide on a theme for the conclusion so they just went with all of them. These films came out within six months of each other and addition to the Animatrix and the Enter the Matrix video game. The Animated Movie and Video Game had intertwined but independent storylines and I think creating so much content took away from the films. The ending was just a collision of parallel but unrelated ideas. None of the main plot lines felt concluded.
Look. I enjoyed the Matrix sequels. I know it’s fashionable to throw shade at the Matrix movies now. Let me reiterate… The First Matrix broke the conventional formula for action movies. It changed what audiences expected from action movies and created it’s own branch of related action movie related tropes. It’s impossible to overstate the impact the Matrix had on action movies. That said, while Revolutions was the weakest of the series, it is still heads and shoulders above many movies that attempted to deploy Matrix tropes. If Reloaded and Revolutions stopped trying to outdo the original movie in terms of spectacle and had been more focused movies, I think they would have been better received.
See for yourself….