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.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.