We've been lucky lately. Attack of the Clones. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Two Towers. X2. And now this.
All sequels. All superior to their precursors.
Am I certain? It isn't up for debate. There is shit in this movie you have NEVER seen. Because it's never been done before. Not in the first film. Not even close.
You may expect me, like many of the people I saw the movie with, to bitch and moan about all the scenes in the film that don't feature fighting. I honestly don't need to. I'm not a fan of the Matrix
because its ideas are original. They aren't.
I love it because it uses digital effects to reinvent the possibilities for action scenes in a film. I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen it -- ten? fifteen? I do know that when I put in the DVD, I generally skip to the dojo scene, then to the lobby. Even in a kung fu
classic like Once Upon a Time in China
or Drunken Master 2
, it is guaranteed that much of the time will be spent talking, not fighting. It is a staple of the genre. It is nothing to be disappointed by. And this film offers all the action of the first time around -- squared.
NOW ENTERING SPOILERVILLE.
I urge you with all my urging powers to NOT read this until you have seen the film.
I'm warning you. Seriously. Okay, I'm done.
The film opens with the familiar dripping green screensaver code. Again we plunge into the symbols, and they form shapes based on groupings and luminescence, but we're swirling around too fast to clearly discern them. We back out, emerging not from a phone line, but from a clock. It's one minute to midnight.
Shift change for a security guard station at the entrance to a parking lot. Before you can even wonder when the action will start, a motorcycle roars off a roof across the street. The cyclist vaults off backward as the bike crashes into the guard station, causing a massive explosion. The cyclist removes her helmet. It's Trinity. She dispatches the remaining guards with some serious kung fu and she's inside.
Then suddenly she's dozens of stories above the city, crashing backward out a window as an agent leaps after her. You wanted bullet-time? Here we are, two minutes in and it's an orgy of bullet-time. Thousands of tiny shards of glass follow them down like silver snowflakes. She's got twin submachine guns. He's got a Desert Eagle. And we follow one of his bullets as it punctures her heart. We crash back into real time as the impact of Trinity's body crushes a car.
Cut to Neo waking up, with his arm around her. (And I'm thinking, that's odd, the whole midair-battle = dream-sequence opening was ripped off The Two Towers, only it couldn't have been, since both films were scripted years ago.) He won't tell her about the dream. But it's not the first time he's had it.
We're back on the Nebuchadnezzar. The crew is Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and, in place of Tank with no explanation (but it's okay, because lemme tell ya, that actor really sucked) is a new operator named Link. They reach a broadcast point for a meeting of ship's captains being held inside the Matrix, and they go in.
Here we meet Niobe, captain of a ship called the Logos and ex-lover of Morpheus. They discuss the rumors that 250,000 Sentinels, one for each human in the city of Zion, are burrowing through the earth to destroy it. Is that even possible? They can't seem to agree. It becomes clear that not everyone believes, as Morpheus does, that Neo is The One.
Outside the building, a car pulls up and the driver exits. Though his face is blocked by the glare of the headlights, we can tell from the stride and the music that it's Agent Smith. OH YES. He gives the guard at the door an envelope, then, strangely, walks away. Neo comes to see who was knocking. He opens the envelope to find Smith's earphone. Does this mean Smith's no longer working for/part of the Matrix? Before we get any answers, three agents kick down the door and Neo takes them all on no sweat. (Can't he just dive into them and shatter them, like he did with Smith in the first film? Probably, but as we'll see, he'd be sorry if he did.) He leads them away from the meeting, then takes to the air. The ground ripples under him as he takes off, "reality" deforming in his wake.
Around the corner, Smith smugly talks to himself -- that is, to another himself. There's two of him. The meeting ends. Morpheus: "Where's Neo?" Link: "He's doin' his Superman thang." Cut to Neo swooping above the night's clouds under a full moon. I'm a little more reminded of Batman, actually. Anyway, who can blame him? Wouldn't you?
The Neb enters the gates of Zion. Home at last. In the all-white "control tower" room which grants ships access, the broadcasters use touch-screen computers disturbingly like Tom Cruise's in Minority Report. Again, this was likely shot (and certainly designed) before that film was released.
We spend a long time here in Zion. The design of the city is epic, with several distinct sections. In the landing bay, men toil inside huge armed mechs (think of the yellow loader Sigourney Weaver piloted in Aliens, only three times as large) which I suspect will be put to the task in the third film. It is established that six months have passed since Neo's liberation, and in that time, they've been able to free far more minds than they could before. One of them pesters Neo with hero worship. Dozens of others ply him with gifts...wishing their loved ones freed as well. This is the downside to being a Messiah.
You can tell Neo and Trinity are deep in true love because as soon as they have a second alone in an elevator, they make out. I know it sounds like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not. I've been there, and I appreciate the honesty of that detail. Much of the humor of the film comes from things like this that aren't technically jokes.
Meanwhile, back in the Matrix, there's still one shipful of rebels. The last one is about to exit through a phone when Smith smashes through a skylight and, shoving his fist into our man's chest, transforms him into another Smith. The second Smith then picks up the receiver, downloading himself somehow into the real world.
That night, Morpheus addresses the assembled people of Zion in a temple, carved from out of a giant cavern. He informs them of the impending threat of the Sentinels, and tells them that he knows it will be defeated, for after all, haven't they lasted this long? The crowd seems to buy it, and Morpheus declares, in celebration, they DANCE. I really wanted him to holler "CAN YOU DIG IT???"
What follows is a sweaty steel-drum rave, intercut with Neo and Trinity in their quarters, having extremely naked sex. Since the Matrix is tinted green and the real world's ships and tunnels have a bluish cast, it doesn't take an art degree to deduce that the palette for Zion, near the earth's core, would belong to the third primary color of light, red. I thought the point was well-made, and with a realistic view of human nature not typically seen in post-apocalyptic movies: if you're about to die any day, you're gonna fuck and rock all you can.
("BORING!", as someone in the front row put it. Fine. Onward.)
A communique from the Oracle (Gloria Foster, who died just recently -- good thing they finished shooting her scenes) reaches Neo, and he goes back into the Matrix alone to meet her, (unbeknownst to him) narrowly avoiding a stabbing from the goateed dude who is secretly Smith. He emerges in a Japanese restaurant and meets a mysterious man named Seraph. (I think this is the role Jet Li wanted too much money for.) I say "man", but Neo's x-ray vision reveals that he glows yellow, not green -- he's a sentient program who doesn't work for the Matrix, just like (as we soon discover) the Oracle.
The two of them fight, hopping across tables. Every time I use the word "fight", please just pretend that your jaw is on the floor, because there's really no point in me going into detail. Seraph abruptly halts, saying that he merely had to test Neo. He leads him through a hallway of "back doors", a password analogy, and they walk onto an urban playground halfway across the world where the Oracle sits waiting on a bench.
Then: exposition/philosophy. She knows about his dreams of Trinity's death, and she knows what he'll do in that moment when the time comes. It's not what, she says, but why, that he came to her to understand. She tells him to seek out the Keymaker, another sentient program with the power to get him into the Matrix's mainframe, who's being held captive. Seraph leads her away, and a familiar figure strides toward him, causing a murder of crows to scatter. "Mr. Anderson!"
Smith reveals that he has, through some incomprehensible intersection of code, been altered and freed. This scene, like the podrace in The Phantom Menace, is more and better action in the middle of the movie than most flicks can give you all the way through. Neo battles eight Smiths. Then twenty. Then, ripping a metal pole from the ground and using it as both bo staff and pole vault, something like a hundred. The digital control of camera speed in this scene is masterful - going molasses-slow, then lightning-fast for one second, then micro-slow, then merely ballet-slow, all in one whirling shot. Of course, eventually Neo just flies away, but not until you're breathless and clapping.
So, after a little bit of real world strategizing, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus head back in to meet (the?) Merovingian, the Keymaker's captor, who turns out to be a stereotypically haughty Frenchman who again elaborately informs Neo that he (Neo) is not making decisions based on free will. He feels the rebels offer him nothing, therefore he dismisses them.
On the way out of the building, however, his wife Persephone offers them the Keymaker in exchange for one thing: a passionate kiss from Neo, so she can remember what it was once like to be loved. Trinity's reaction to this is fiercely funny, but she has no better ideas, and Neo gets it right on the second try. Persephone leads them through a backdoor to the interior of her ornate mansion. In the basement, they liberate the Keymaker, a small, old Korean man played by Randall Duk Kim, and prepare to exit.
But they are blocked by Merovingian and his heavily armed henchmen. Persephone gets in a few choice words to her husband and triumphantly stalks out. The Keymaker runs and Morpheus and Trinity follow, and Merovingian's white-suited, white dreadlocked twin bodyguards are ordered to follow them. Neo is left to dispatch five baddies, which he does in eminent style, using the arsenal displayed in the hall, including swords, sais, and some kind of massive stick with pointy bits on the end.
Merovingian uses backdoor technology to keep Neo from chasing him. Then, so do the twins. Link informs him the mountain chalet he's standing on the balcony of is 500 miles away from the city Trinity and Morpheus are in. Wasting no time, he leaps into the air to find them.
Meanwhile, in the mansion's garage, Trinity and the Keymaker jump in a sedan while Morpheus turns to face the twins with a katana. He quickly learns their programming allows them to phase out of physical reality, floating like ghosts. He uses his submachine gun to buy a little time and hops in the car, and as the twins pursue them in an SUV, they take the exit onto the freeway.
Let's pull out and stop for a moment: If there's a lazy linguistic trend that annoys me above all others, it's reaching for the ultimate superlative without taking into account the lessons history has taught us. So while I'm sure I should come up with something more eloquent and creative than "BEST CAR CHASE EVER!!!" ...I won't. Because it is.
Trinity, at the wheel, has to dodge attacks from the twins and from a cop car full of agents. One of the twins warps into the backseat and attempts to murder the Keymaker with a straight razor, and Morpheus has to expel him from the vehicle. When our heroes get a bit of a lead, they abandon the bullet-riddled sedan. Trinity and the Keymaker leap off an overpass onto a car carrier, choose a motorcycle, and zoom away.
Morpheus stands in the road as the SUV bears down on him. At the last second he rolls to the side and slashes the fuel tank with his katana, then blasts away as the truck flips in glorious slow motion. In the explosion, the twins are ejected to who-knows-where -- the middle of the next film, probably.
Trinity's roaring forward in the breakdown lane, but one of the agents takes control of a black tractor trailer and tries to crush her with it. So she turns around, heading through the oncoming traffic. It's easy to say everything's done with computers, but this sequence carries the genuine thrill of palpable danger. She heads between two more huge trucks, and Morpheus braces himself between their trailers to snatch the Keymaker up out of harm's way.
Then Morpheus must battle an agent while standing on the roof of the trailer, as the camera hovers and spirals impossibly. He gets knocked off the back, onto the hood of a car...driven by Niobe. She pulls around to the front so he can leap up at the agent from behind. But soon he loses that advantage too. The agents coordinate their efforts, and the black truck comes smashing the wrong way down the freeway. As the two behemoths collide head-on, we revolve around them in 360 degrees, and see Neo fly in and snatch Morpheus and the Keymaster out of the ensuing explosion just in time.
But, as with the helicopter impacting into the skyscraper in the first film, this is not the end. There is more.
The plan now is for Neo to use the Keymaker's key to open a "door of light" into the mainframe, in a specific building. To do this, they must take out the electrical grid powering several city blocks. Niobe's team infiltrates the power plant and explodes it spectacularly, but the power goes back on before Neo can get to the door. There's a backup power plant. This was supposed to be dealt with by a third team, but Sentinels got to them and took out their craft. Trinity, who had promised Neo she would stay out of the Matrix, sees no choice but to go back in and help him.
Remember back in the beginning of the first film, before Neo ever left the Matrix, when he was taken into custody by Agent Smith, and we saw multiple screens full of security-camera views of him? Ever wonder what room we were watching Neo from? After going through the door of light, he enters it. Nothing but television screens floor to ceiling, and in the center, in a comfortable office chair, is a white-suited, white-bearded man. Neo has met, for all practical purposes, God.
He calls himself "the Architect". It was he who built the Matrix.
Each of the screens depicts Neo's face, with another group of screens behind it. Altering the images to display scenes from Neo's life (including much of the first film), he reveals to Neo that Neo's powers are a systemic anomaly resulting from the program's design. Five times previously, he claims, the One has arisen, and been defeated by him, just as Zion has been five times destroyed. (I got the impression, looking at Zion, that it predated the Matrix. Could the Architect be lying?)
Then the screens are switched again to show what's happening to Trinity, right at that moment, and the images are from Neo's dreams. He can proceed and end the war, or he can go back, dooming mankind, and save her. Love is the weakness of all humans. And so, a third time, Neo is told that his actions are already written. (Question: If you're the Architect, why give Neo the option to destroy you, even hypothetically? Is this like the part in the Bond movie where the villain sets up an overly elaborate death, then just assumes everything goes to plan?)
Trinity falls from the window, as we saw once before. Neo soars across the city, his jet trail tearing burning holes in buildings. The bullet impacts her heart. But he catches her just before she reaches the ground.
He sets her down on a rooftop, and (this is shown in x-ray code-view) extracts the bullet from her heart with his fingers. But the damage has been done, and she flatlines. Mirroring the climax of the first film, he refuses to accept her death. He reaches his hand back into her and massages the green symbols representing her heart. She pops back to life. "I guess we're even," she says.
Again: not the end. I was honestly expecting Trinity's pseudo-death to be the cliffhanger that ended the movie. Hmmm.
After everyone has jacked out of the Matrix, the Nebuchadnezzar is attacked by Sentinels, and there is no time to retaliate or flee. The crew of four abandons the vessel on foot, stumbling across the eerie tunnel wastes, and watches the ship burn. Sentinels come rocketing toward them and though they know they can't run, they have to try. Neo stops. "Something's different. I can feel them." He reaches out his hand, and a blue bolt of electricity zaps all the killer robots lifeless.
Cut to the sick bay of Niobe's ship, where Neo is collapsed in a coma. Across from him, ostensibly recuperating, is the recovered body of the goateed dude we know to be possessed by Smith. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN. "To Be Concluded."
A trailer for the third film is after the credits, so if that sounds like something you'd want to see, make sure to stay. In closing, I guess all I have to say is that I paid my ten bucks to see some kickass superhero action, and nothing deep -- just like I did the first time -- and Holy Christ was I beyond satisfied. So to any who weren't, I'm sorry, but I don't know what to tell you. No one achieves happiness expecting apples to be oranges.
It is now early Saturday morning, and I have just returned from a second screening of the film with an audience, who, not being obsessively determined to see it as soon as possible, felt much freer to laugh in response to its tightly buttoned-up, super-serious tone. This is what I wanted to do the first time, mostly remaining silent out of respect for those around me, but I believe this is the reaction the Wachowskis desired.
Having heard so many negative responses to the film's dialogue scenes, I challenged them to grate on me. They refused to; in fact, they went down much smoother. I am convinced I will enjoy this film just as much on the tenth viewing. I think it's designed that way, with more emphasis on repeated screenings (on DVD) than on the primary theatrical experience -- the how, not the what. (Nor, as the Oracle suggests, the why. There is no why here. We'll get to that in a bit.)
I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to my peers. No personal affront is meant to anyone; this is all in the spirit of healthy, friendly debate, and so I apologize up front if anywhere I sound like an ass. =)
Excalibre: If long action sequences were not what you wanted to see, I don't know why you would buy a ticket to a kung fu film. You seem so in the grip of the story being told that you are unable to study its mechanics. You might as well be saying, "That whole Darth Vader being Luke's father thing came outta nowhere! What's the point?"
This film is the middle section of a much larger story. According to classical dramatic formula, once the hero has accepted his task at the end of the first act (film), by the end of the second, it must be complicated to such a degree that it seems completely impossible. Hence you appear to gullibly swallow the Architect's supposition (which he at no time offers a shred of proof for) that Neo is a tool of the Man. I feel it is entirely predictable that in the third film, once the stakes have been sufficiently raised, we will discover that Neo will succeed where the Five before him failed. And yet, this does not disappoint me. It is simply playing by the rules of the game.
Lucy-S: I do not believe, as you do, that Neo stopping the Sentinels indicates the world of Zion is also virtual reality, and there is some third upper level. David Cronenberg's virtual reality film eXistenZ, which was in theatres concurrently with the Matrix, and which they therefore surely paid attention to even if most of the world didn't, ended with this exact twist. In addition, the Wachowskis' two worlds are far more intricately designed than Cronenberg's interchangable ones, and to presume the existence of a third, which somehow was not shown to us in The Matrix Revolutions' trailer, seems incredibly unlikely. It would make the story a giant mess. I can't imagine this happening without the audience yelling "BOO!", and I can't imagine a way that scenario could be resolved in just one more film, given that it would negate all the progress our heroes have made.
Neo's control of the machines can in fact be explained based on the rules we've been given. They run on orders from the Matrix. Neo controls the code of the Matrix. He doesn't do it with his "digital self", he does it with his will, which is located wherever his consciousness is. See how easy that was?
WolfDaddy: Right on. One of the few juxtapositions in the film that goes unmentioned by the characters.
Alla you mofos: Both films contain many more disturbingly contradictory themes which no one has addressed. Why do the characters use Eastern fighting techniques with no acknowledgement or understanding of the Buddhist principles of meditation and pacifism which complement their teaching? Why does a story which claims to be about egalitarian revolution and "a world without borders or boundaries" rest on salvation by an arbitrarily chosen single person? As Alan Moore pointed out almost twenty years ago in Watchmen, the superhero myth is inherently fascist. Why can't everyone have Neo's powers? A debate about free will vs. determinism carries no weight whatsoever in a fictionally contrived and scripted film in which every event is unavoidably determined by the author, and hence should be completely disregarded by the intellect.
I am not denying the value of gnosticism and self-actualization, or the presence of these themes in the first film. If that film happened to be your primary encounter with these ideas, well, I guess that's better than none at all. They've gotta fill up the space between fights with something, right? Why not that? I'm all for it. If you feel it helped you, great. But you shouldn't ever go to a Hollywood film expecting your mind to be blown. It's like panning for gold in a diamond mine. You'll come home empty handed, and you won't be able to appreciate what you had in front of you. Film thrives on emotional reality and kinetic energy. It seizes the heart, not the brain. If it's ideas you want, you're gonna have to crack a book.
And now that I've become as preachy as Morpheus, I thank you for your time, once more hoping I have made no enemies, and I bid you peace.