Skip to main content

There is so much in this world that I do not understand.

The Matrix Reloaded
(2003)

(SPOILERS) On release, I found myself feeling curiously out of synch with underwhelmed audiences’ prevailing response to The Matrix Reloaded; I loved it, for the most part. Indeed, there was but one scene I felt failed spectacularly, and yet it mystifyingly seemed to come in for the most praise: the Burley Brawl, assisted by some of the ropiest CGI in a major motion picture up to that point. So it wasn’t the ponderous exposition – the Architect’s discourse, memorably mocked by Will Ferrell in an MTV awards sketch – or especially the sweaty sexy Zion rave that got my goat, it was that the Wachowskis failed to meet the high standards of seamless world building evidenced in the first instalment.

Of course, one can argue that duff effects are excusable if the plot is there, but I don’t think that’s really true if you’re building your movie around action set pieces. It’s like rating a Bond movie highly despite the stunts being crap: feasible, but unlikely. Perhaps the sisters allowed their reach to extend beyond their grasp, or perhaps release deadlines intervened. Either way, the virtual Neos and Smiths of the Burley Brawl look like a bad video game. We’re treated to similar intermittently elsewhere – a flying, virtual Neo, the bonnet-busting virtual Agents in the freeway chase, particularly disappointing there, since so much of that sequence is impressive in assembling an extended fight on the move – such that it’s the less cutting-edge sequences that are the real showcases. Instead, Neo’s stairway fight with the Merovingian’s lieutenants is the true standout, moving on from the first movie visually in exactly the kind of incremental way you’d hoped for.

It takes a while to get there, mind. The first forty minutes (which include the Burley Brawl as a sop to those wanting cool action) are a real slog, an exercise in Zion banality, introducing characters who’ll have no bearing until the final part (Clayton Watson’s Kid), and even then, you wish they didn’t. Hardly any of these new faces come with a remotely engaging aspect. Anthony Zerbe only stands out because he normally plays rotters. Harry Lennix is foisted the most ridiculously antagonistic character (to Morpheus), acting like a seething twat purely for the sake of it (and if it’s secretly because Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe once had a thing with Morpheus, well, there’s absolutely no hint of a reason she’d want to be with Lock anyway). Harold Perrineau only makes an impression as Link because we expect him to shout “Walt!” at any moment (so he made zero impression at the time), while Nona Gaye only makes an impression as his missus Zee because she’s so pulchritudinous. It’s as if, after The Matrix regurgitated A New Hope, the Wachowskis were taking their character cues from The Phantom Menace rather than The Empire Strikes Back.

And then there’s Bane (Ian Bliss), another setup in search of anything interesting plot-wise. He’s introduced then abandoned until the final five minutes (because his sole function is to blind Neo in Revolutions), further evidence of brazenly slipshod structuring on the Wachowskis’ part. And of the returning Agent Smith, much as I enjoy Hugo Weaving’s performance, I rather wish he’d been cast aside after the first one, and they’d come up with something new. Reloaded brandishes “magic” explanations for his longevity (“I wouldn’t go”) as it does for Bane’s real-world takeover (I had hoped it was a sign of a Matrix within a Matrix, in concordance with Neo having the power to drop a squid, which would have been an appealingly recursive head scramble, but alas it was not to be; not since Back to the Future Part III has a trilogy capper so failed to deliver on the potential of its second instalment). Smith’s black goo method of assimilation is visually arresting (of course, The X-Files went their first with Tunguska, except that one is AI and the other alien), but Smith in Reloaded is no longer a figure of fear, even when there are hundreds or thousands of him populating the Matrix. He’s now familiar, and somewhat toothless.

On the other hand, I rather like the corruption of the straightforward Chosen One outline of the original, with Neo discovering his destiny isn’t as black and white as it first seemed (and is possibly even a blind alley, if you follow the Architect’s account – the prophecy was a lie, it was all another system of control), the discussions of determinism, and if Reloaded is essentially an extended chase/quest (in pursuit of Randall Duk Kim’s Keymaker), that needn’t be seen as a demerit point; many of the best movies boil down to chases. And there are nice incidental touches too, like the accounts of earlier versions of the Matrix giving rise to vampires and werewolves (and explaining the Twins).

Indeed, the highlight of Reloaded is anything involving Lambert Wilson as the Merovingian (even if Monica Bellucci is underused as his consort Persephone, albeit not as underused as she was in Spectre). It’s a shame he’s a supporting villain, as he has a delicious old time with the material, bestowing an erotic dessert on a dinner guest (“Causality. There’s no escaping from it”) and showing Neo and his pals a winning irreverence and complete lack of respect.

Many of the criticisms aren’t off base, however – it does feel bloated and ungainly, despite being only two minutes longer than the original, and structurally, it’s all over the place – and with hindsight the spine of the picture – Neo’s quest to save Trinity, introduced in the first scene – is rendered inert by the bum move of bringing her back to life only then to kill her again an hour later. But patchy as the picture can be, it’s to be commended for having no interest in simply repeating the first picture’s hero arc. No, the real problem is what followed The Matrix Reloaded.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.