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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Matrix Reloaded

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of a DVD, Blu-Ray, and occasionally, an ol' VHS I own, only for me to sit here and rant about why I like it.  Right now, I'm working my way through The Matrix franchise, and we get to the second in the trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded.  This shows up in my notes at April 27, 2014.

Of course, following the mind-bender that was The Matrix, Hollywood starting talking sequel.  Everybody wanted a sequel.  The very final scene, where Neo takes flight, and we now know he can go anywhere and do anything...the doors were wide open!  How could they take things to the next level?  And then, when we heard that they were going to go all Lord of the Rings and film TWO sequels back to back and have them come out within months of each other...OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.  A return to the Matrix was going to be SO AWESOME!  I remember going to see Star Wars Episode II, and in front of it, they showed the very first teaser for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, with the release date of 2013.  And my friend whispered to me, "Why can't that be now?" 

Actually, The Matrix Reloaded does represent a watershed moment in my life.  It represents the biggest fight my best friend and I ever had.  After the movie came out, I thought it was merely OK.

My best friend felt The Matrix Reloaded is THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE.

He could not handle that I thought it was just OK.  I think he actually did say the words, "I don't think we can be friends anymore."  Actually, I think the crux of the fight was he saw it a few weeks before me, and I started drawing spoilers out of him, and my response to each major plot twist was a cynical, "Really?" 

Over the years, he has softened his opinion on the film somewhat.  About five years after the film, I asked him he still thought that way, and his response was, "YES.  YES.  ABSOLUTELY.  I still watch it once a month to take in all its greatness."  Now that it's 10 years later, I'll ask him if he still thinks that way, and he goes, "Well...there's still lots of good stuff in it.  I don't watch it once a month anymore.  But I still hold it in high regard." 

On top of that, The Matrix Reloaded is officially the last movie I saw in Japan.  When my contract was up, rather than head straight home to Canada, I took a couple of weeks to go backpacking around the country.  I stopped in Nagano for a few days, because I love the Olympics and wanted to see the former Olympic venues.  The Matrix Reloaded had already been out for a few weeks, and around the corner from the ryokan where I was staying was good old fashioned one-screen movie theatre.  And it was showing the Matrix Reloaded.  So I went and saw it.

And I again, I still think it's just OK.  I don't hold it in as high regard as my best friend, but I don't approach it with as much disdain as the fans.

One of things that the critics hate but my friend loves is the constant speechifying upon philosophical subjects that the characters do.  Critics hated that because they felt it dragged down the plot, and that the Watchowskis got their heads a little too far up their own butts, going, "Look at all the subtext we're adding!"  And my best friend, he's genuinely amazed at all the subtext they added.  "You have to pay attention to every word of dialogue," my friend says, "because everything has meaning!" 

Another thing my friend always applauded was when Neo meets the Architect, and we get the grand revelation that "The One" is simply a glitch in the Matrix that pops up from time to time.  Neo is actually the sixth "One," and whenever "The One" appears, the machines wipe out Zion (the human city), and "The One" gets to pick a dozen survivors to rebuild.  "The One" and the Prophecy is just another form of control the machines have in the Matrix.  My friend thought that "The Prophecy is a lie" was one of the most mind-blowing plot twists in the history of plot twists.  My reaction?  Well, ever since junior high, I've been mapping out this epic fantasy novel in the margins of my notes and "The Prophecy is a lie" was always intended to be the big plot twist in that.  So, sorry Wachowskis and my best friend, but I thought of it first.  Wachowskis were the first to actually put it on screen, so I'll give them that. 

But enough of what my best friend thinks.  What do I think?  I still think it's merely OK.  When the speeches about philosophy begins, I kind of tune out.  But I do like a lot of the action in it.  The car chase is still fantastic.  A lot of the fights are still good.  Some aren't.  The infamous "Burly Brawl" where Neo fights several dozen copies of Agent Smith.  I would say the CGI doesn't hold up well, but it looked pretty cheezy back in the day. 

I love a lot of the new stuff they added.  I love that we see Zion.  I love the giant robots that defend it.  I love that we learn more about Morpheus as a character.  That, despite his adherence to the prophecy in the first film, we learn that not all other ship captains in the fleet feel that way, and that some even consider him a religious zealot. 

But I agree with the main criticism, that they did not follow through on the potential of the first film.  With Neo as "The One," he can now rewrite the Matrix to his liking, with a thought.  We see him freeze bullets in midair!  We see him fly!  We see him defeat the unbeatable Agents!  And what does he do in the sequel?  We see him freeze bullets in midair.  We see him fly.  We see him defeat the unbeatable Agent...that he defeated in the first film.  Neo can bend reality to his will...but we just see him do the same shit we've already seen him do.  Can't he be freeing minds with a blink of his eye now?  Can't he defeat Agents with a snap of his fingers?  Nope.  He just continues kung fu fighting them. 

Even in its earliest moments, the film can't meet its own potential.  When the Oracle starts talking about renegade programs and glitches in the Matrix resulting in the legends of vampires and werewolves, we start thinking that we're going to start seeing some really awesome, weird stuff.  But all we get are those ghost twins. 

There's good stuff in there, but man o man, we were expecting so much more.

So with my friend's passion for The Matrix Reloaded, you're probably wondering what he though of the first one.  Funny thing...the first one barely registered on his radar.  I begged him to see it because I thought it was so awesome.  Even though The Matrix came out in the Spring of 1999, he saw it in a discount theatre in the Fall.  And his response was, "Yeah, it's good."  And his opinion on the third film, The Matrix Revolutions?  He has the same complaints that most everyone had about The Matrix Reloaded...it just wasted a fantastic set-up and so much potential. 

And what did I think of The Matrix Revolutions?  Well, we'll tackle that next time. 

Additional notes:  February 16, 2015.

As I was copying and pasting this from my notes, I decided to e-mail my best friend to once again clarify his thoughts, both original and current, on The Matrix Reloaded.  And here's what he has to say:

I really liked the first one, but I loved what Reloaded introduced, expanded the world, and how it turned the first one on its head. Now keep in mind that I loved Reloaded intensely in the time between first seeing it until Matrix 3 came out a year later (which was a huge disappointment. Basically NONE of the threads from the first movie were picked up in the third. So either we completely misinterpreted Matrix 2, or else they pulled a LOST and had just seeded the sequel with hints and mysteries with no intention of following up).

What I loved: 

- There were more programs that were sentient and alive inside the Matrix, not just Smith and the Oracle; 

- I loved the idea that The One (an idea I never liked) was created to keep the Matrix experiment from crashing, that periodically they wipe out Zion and start over

- I loved how what started this whole divergent path in this latest iteration was Oracle telling Trinity "you will fall in love with The One."  So this became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Neo loved her back, which brought him to choose the other door. This left the future wide open, to be resolved in the next movie. 

- I loved Neo stopping the machines in the real world (but in the end that was never built upon or explained at all.) This seemed to hint that there would be more real-world vs machines scenes with Neo in the final movie. And now Smith was in a human body! I always wanted to see these untrained human bodies try to do kung fu in real life, where their muscles have never been trained or maintained. I thought we'd see an epic smackdown / bar brawl between Neo and Smith in the real world, but no, we got none of that.

- There was this weird fate stuff. A closeup reveals a bolt giving out on a walkway in one Zion ship, so a walkway breaks, so the pilot dies, so the EMP goes off early or something. If I remember right, this causes Trinity to have to go into the Matrix, which puts her in danger, which makes Neo choose to save her instead of talking the usual door. So if the Oracle was behind poking this iteration to being different, then she must have caused that bolt to break, which means she can affect the real world. So this caused a TON of fan theories during that year. It was exciting in how it could have went in all kinds of interesting directions. But in Matrix 3, we got none of that.

I'd have to watch it again to see what else. But Matrix 3 basically killed it.

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