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Matrix Reloaded Review

Hyper-frenetic Kung-Fu Porn

I saw the new Matrix movie today, on a big screen with good sound and comfortable stadium seating. The few people around me stopped talking once the trailers gave way to the feature presentation, so the conditions were darned near ideal.

It was a first rate production, and I recognized the ingenuity and creativity that went into its production. And I didn’t much care for it.

Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the film and are avoiding spoilers. Also stop reading now if you loved the film and see yourself replying to this review to tell me why I’m an idiot for not loving it too. Save yourself the aggravation

First, the things I liked about the film:

I liked Zion, the underground resistance strong-hold. It bore the imprint of comic book legend, Geoffrey Darrow, who contributed production design to the film. I liked the massive council gathering in the cave that turned into a titanic dance party. I liked the fleshy sensuality of that gathering as it provided a much needed break from all the black leather, dark sunglasses, and weaponry that dominate the film’s sexiness quotient. I liked the sex scene between Neo and Trinity. Again, I took it as a welcome respite from the unrelenting stylistic cool that robs the main characters of all vulnerability when they’re in the Martrix.

I enjoyed Merovingian’s self-satisfied soliloquy, and his machinations with the cake.

I liked Neo’s priestly frock.

Best of all, I enjoyed seeing Laurence Fishburne, dressed like one of Clive Barker’s cenobites, playing a role he obviously enjoys a great deal. Before playing Morpheus in the first Matrix film in 1999, Fishburne took a role in the disastrous 1997 sci fi film, Event Horizon. To take another science fiction role hot on the heels of that sci fi bomb bespeaks of something powerful. Perhaps he really wanted to do a good sci fi film, or maybe he just had a favorable intuition about The Matrix. (Come to think of it, Keanu Reaves had played the lead in Johnny Mnemonic, which could charitably be described as a weak-ass film adaptation of the William Gibson short story, not long before taking on his role in the Matrix. From a strictly careerist perspective, playing Neo in the original Matrix seems like an odd move.)

I genuinely enjoyed Neo’s fight with the multiplicitous Agent Smith. It seemed like I was watching someone showing off their new X-Box 3 which had made its way to today from the year 2008. I found it, and I say this without irony or reservation, neat.

But once it was done, I wanted some story. I wanted some meaty dialog. I wanted more archetypal pop culture punch than the film could deliver simply by slapping monikers borrowed from myth onto various bit players and pieces of hardware. When Persephone lead Neo and crew into the set with the twin curving stair cases, I groaned to myself, because I recognized it from the trailer as the location of a center piece fight sequence. Normally, I’m a slut for that kind of super-human, computer-assisted martial arts action (Don’t call it “violence.” Call it “action.” Kids love action.), but as with nipple stimulation, when I’ve had enough, I’ve really had enough and I want you to stop. By the time Morpheous and Trinity got onto the freeway for yet another center-piece action sequence, I had reached my limit. I had had enough nipple licking or watching a kid play Xtreme Asskick on his X-Box 3. Pick your metaphor.

My metaphor is pornography. Even at the peak of my sexual interest, I didn’t care to watch a feature length porn film in one sitting. Porn works best in small doses. Fifteen, twenty minutes, then it’s time to take a break and visit other modes. The typical porn film features four or five extended sex scenes connected by short segments of dialog which establish the scenario for the next extended sex scene. Even if every scene hits its mark, it doesn’t work to watch them all back to back. As with sex, so too with computer-aided hyper-kinetic violence. I just don’t have the appetite for two solid hours of that monochromatic action.

From the freeway sequence on, I waged a constant rear-guard action against a mounting tension in my neck as I grew increasingly aggravated. One part of my brain recognized the ingenuity and intelligence behind Neo’s meeting with the Architect, and I think I would have really enjoyed that scene had it come 40 minutes earlier, but by the time the brothers Wachowski offered up that shot of story development and densely stylistic dialog, I had lost all patience with the film. I imagine that I might enjoy it on DVD where I can watch the handful of plot point scenes and skip over the video game sequences or take the action sequences in small doeses.

When the film ended abruptly with “To be concluded” I snorted. There wasn’t enough story there to fill a one-hour episode of Star Trek, much less two feature-length films. Without the ridiculously protracted fight and chase sequences, there just wasn’t much to it. I expect the story the film-makers will tell over the course of four hours of cinema would fit neatly into 47-minute slot of prime time television. Of course, I understand the financial motivation to sprinkle the scant story over an acre of martial arts action. I also understand that at a different time in my life or in other company, I might have given this film a warmer reception, but I certainly went to the theater with the intention and expectation of enjoying this film. Instead, I endured it.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 17th, 2003 09:34 am (UTC)
"Geoffrey Darrow" -- i thought those mechas looked familiar!
May. 17th, 2003 10:08 am (UTC)
Saw it last night, pretty much agree.
Although I was sorry that Tank was gone (rumor has it that the actor had a falling out with the Wachowski brothers), I really liked Link. I must admit, though, when it came down to one-liners rather than actual dialogue, he started reminding me of Chris Rock.

Indeed, I liked the fact that we had a future that had black people in it. That's what struck me about Zion: it may have shown a distopian future, but it showed a future where people got unplugged based on statistical chance, not on what a generic test audience may have found comfortable.

The fight-scenes had a sort of SNL quality to them in going on for longer than was really necessary. I mean, sure, it's interesting to know after the fact that the actress playing Trinity did her own motorcycle stunt of driving against traffic on the freeway without a helment, but that knowledge came in retrospect. A fight sequence would star and I'd perk up at the idea around it most of the time ... then it would just keep going.
"And then it just repeats?"

-- Tom Hucle as Mozart, Amadeus
Apparently, they filmed Reloaded and Revolutions back to back, just like with the Back to the Future and the most recent two Star Wars films. And like Star Wars, it began to look like a longer ad for the video game that they were advertising in the trailer. Indeed, the multiple-Smith fight sequence in the park was completely simulated, so now I'm even more suspicious.

I have to disagree with you on one point, though: I really, really wanted someone to just shoot Merovingian so I wouldn't have to sit through his snotty French accent anymore.

While some parts of almost every fight scene was cool, I think the whole movie starting going downhill when they left Zion.
May. 17th, 2003 12:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Saw it last night, pretty much agree.
I'm with you. I hated the Merovingian character, and just kept hoping that Morpheus or Neo would reach across the table and slap him and say, "Shut up already, we don't need your whole life story." His monologue seemed like it would never end!

BTW, the sad part about that French accent... the actor who played the Merovingian, Lambert Wilson, really is French, and that's his real accent. It seemed compleetly contrived while I was watching the film, and I figured the actor was "doing" the accent... but the guy really is a French actor who has appeared in many French-language films!
May. 17th, 2003 12:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Saw it last night, pretty much agree.
hee. I actually couldn't tell a real French accent from a fake one unless it was painfully bad, but real or not, it did seem snotty, so I figured I was safe.

I have to admit: his string of explicatives and comment of "it's like wiping your ass on silk," almost made him worthwhile.

May. 17th, 2003 01:54 pm (UTC)
Black People in the Future
That's what struck me about Zion: it may have shown a distopian future, but it showed a future where people got unplugged based on statistical chance, not on what a generic test audience may have found comfortable.

The two might not be so far apart in this case. White audiences have long enjoyed watching black entertainers even when they rather not encounter black people in daily life.

It struck me that all the romantic couplings consisted of same-race pairs. In a population that small I doubt folks would have the luxury of keeping the races "pure." In general, the inhabitants of Zion struck me as looking pretty mixed-race, which is more what I would expect in a population under those circumstances. Also, if we're talking about Zion's population reflecting a racial mix roughly comparable to the global population, I would have expected to see a lot more Chinese down there.
May. 17th, 2003 11:26 am (UTC)
Yay, kung-fu porn!

(This follow-up is 99.44% content-free.)
May. 17th, 2003 11:59 am (UTC)
I'm pretty much in agreement overall about the movie as a whole, though it seems you and I liked and disliked almost the exact opposite bits! I won't bother repeating all the details here, but I just wrote an entry about it myself.
May. 17th, 2003 01:39 pm (UTC)
liking different bits
I recognized the quality and inventiveness of the freeway scene. It's just that by the time it came around I was totally burnt out on over-the-top action. I expect I would enjoy it as a fifteen minute mini feature, just not in the context of the whole film on that particular day.

Like you and Renee, I agree that the French dude was annoying, but I liked that about him. It's a special power of the French.
(Deleted comment)
May. 17th, 2003 08:11 pm (UTC)
low expectations
I recently saw Ice Age on video and enjoyed it quite a bit. Actually, I saw it multiple times in a short period because Logan insisted that we keep it playing pretty much non-stop while we stayed at the William Bay Cottages on a cattle farm in Denmark, Western Australia (pictures of which I will post soon). I dig animation and I see most high profile animated flicks in the theater, but I passed on Ice Age because it just looked flat to me. When I actually saw it though, I realized it wasn't flat so much as Chuck Jones spare. Not only did I enjoy it on my first viewing, but it grew on me rather than growing tiresome with repeated exposures.
May. 17th, 2003 04:50 pm (UTC)
Kinda funny you should mention it. I reluctantly went, expecting to feel about it more or less how you feel now.
But I was blown away. Now I see the series have scope and they have coherence.
Guess it's not for everyone though.
May. 17th, 2003 07:26 pm (UTC)
Kinda funny you should mention it
I went expecting to love it.

As you and Genesaysitdown have expressed, low expectations yeild good results.

I'm not boycotting the third film or anything silly like that, but I'll make no special effort to see it in the theater.
May. 17th, 2003 07:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Kinda funny you should mention it
Yeah, I think that is an interesting point.

Another thing is that I smoked some sticky California hydro right before I walked into the theater. Turned out to be a great choice that I'll definitely do for the next, one and I highly recommend to you as well.

If you like, you can check out my own pseudo-review here.
May. 17th, 2003 08:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Kinda funny you should mention it
I snuck a little bottle (an hour before the start of the film that bottle contained vanilla extract--that's how small I'm talking) of ab-synth which I used to flavor my large Diet Coke. Halfway thru the film my bevy exhuasted, the little lift I got from it started to disapate and that's when I wanted less "action" and more movie. Things spiraled down from there.

I think the cake (see SGNP's comments) would have gone down better with the seasoning you recommend, but that slot in my spice rack has remained bare for months.
May. 17th, 2003 07:52 pm (UTC)
Here's how I described my reaction to the film while talking to my friend Josef:

Me: It's like, the first movie was a really really good, really big piece of cake, right?

Josef: Uh-huh.

Me: And I'm all like, wow! That cake was good! I want some more! So, the next thing you know, the second movie is out and I'm expected to eat an ENTIRE cake by myself.

Josef: So. . .Does that mean you didn't like it?

Me: Well, I really like cake.

May. 17th, 2003 08:02 pm (UTC)
I like cake too
and the first several bites went down smooth and tasty, but then my mouth got all dry and they didn't give me but shotglass of milk, and I still had the better part of a bigass cake sitting in front of me. If I could have left the table, let the first serving digest a bit, get a bevy, and come back for the rest later, I think I would have really dug that whole cake. But Homey don't play 'dat. Bring an apetite.
May. 17th, 2003 08:10 pm (UTC)
Re: I like cake too
Yeah, I'm totally down with that. There were times during the fight sequences when there was so much happening that I couldn't focus on anything.

(I totally understand the feelings you describe earlier. It's the same reaction I had to the Phantom Menace, which I was convinced would create a city-wide traffic jam, so great would be it's majesty.)
May. 17th, 2003 08:56 pm (UTC)
i thought it was the most gloriously awful movie i've seen in a long while. mystery science theatre 3000 worthy for certain.

having said that, it was great fun. i especially enjoyed the potential (which they probably won't realize,) for phillip k. dick-ery in the third film...
May. 18th, 2003 02:05 am (UTC)
>i especially enjoyed the potential (which they probably won't realize,) for phillip k. dick-ery in the third film...

I wouldn't put it past 'em. I suspect the Wachowski brothers have things planned out a lot more than anyone suspect.
May. 19th, 2003 04:21 am (UTC)
No one talked during yours??? :(((((( You suck.
May. 19th, 2003 06:26 pm (UTC)
You suck
Not as often as I'd like.

Good to hear from you, Cocomama.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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