Reviewed by Howard Schumann and Shari Last
THE MATRIX RELOADED
Reviewed by Howard Schumann and Martyn Bamber
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Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. USA. 1999.
"It's not the spoon that bends. It's only yourself. There is no spoon" - Spoon Boy
It is the year 2199. The world has been destroyed in a war. Intelligent machines have created the Matrix, a massive computer system representing the world as it was at the end of the twentieth century and the remaining humans are virtual slaves whose only purpose is to power the machinery. The Matrix, the 1999 film by Andy and Larry Wachowski succeeds as both a vastly entertaining science fiction thriller and an inquiry into the subjective nature of reality. The Matrix poses the question, how do we know what is real and what is a dream? The film asks, "Have you ever had a dream that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a corporate employee by day and a computer hacker named Neo at night. He has spent years trying to track down a mysterious figure named Morpheus, the leader of the freedom fighters (Laurence Fishburne) and one night he receives a message on his computer asking him to "follow the white rabbit".
Neo follows the white rabbit and is led to an all-night rave where he meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), a colleague of Morpheus. Morpheus believes that Neo is "The One", a person with special powers who can free mankind from the control of the Matrix. Neo though skeptical, is interested in what the Matrix has to offer and agrees to meet Morpheus. When finally face to face, Morpheus offers Neo a choice, a Blue pill to remain as he is or a Red pill to see the true nature of reality. Though still unconvinced, he chooses the Red pill and agrees to be trained aboard a vessel in the hidden city of Zion. As the training continues, their crew is being stalked by law enforcers under the leadership of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and by traitors from within their ranks. Gradually Neo comes to understand his role and begins to believe in himself and his destiny. He discovers that he must win the battle inside the Matrix where the agents are supposedly invincible and natural laws are malleable and that he is capable of more than he ever thought possible.
The Matrix dazzles our mind with amazing special effects: slow motion bullets, glass that explodes like a wave, characters that take incredible jumps, run up the sides of walls, stop bullets in mid flight, and pull off hair-raising stunts. Beyond the style and the trench coats, vinyl dresses, and night-time sunglasses, however, there is a message. The Matrix, we are told, is the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth. The film suggests that we sleepwalk through our lives, ignore troublesome realities, and base our actions on what we think is reasonable and not on what is possible if we free our minds. In the famous martial arts sequence, reminiscent of Luke’s training with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, Morpheus tells Neo, "Don't think you are, know you are" and "Don't try to free your mind. Let it go.” It is only when Neo realizes what he is capable of that he can begin to take action.
It is gratifying to see filmmakers tackling the subject of what makes us human. However, I feel that ultimately they played it safe, preferring to offer their enlightenment in a package of comic-book stylization and excessive violence to give it the widest commercial appeal. The Matrix is an intelligent film and the directors have correctly let us know that we live in a world where anything is possible, but their failure to show us a way to resolve our conflicts without violence dilutes the power of their message. In addition, by limiting special attributes to one person, The Matrix only tells us part of the truth. What it fails to say is that in our ability to transcend the limitations imposed by our minds and in our power to transform our lives at any moment, we are all "The One". The computer message at the beginning of the film, "Wake up, Neo" could just as well read "Wake up, everyone".
The Wachowskis knew exactly how to make a movie. Pioneer fantabulous special effects that would change the world of cinema, come up with a quasi-metaphysical/philosophical script, cast some great looking stars like Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss and dress them all in leather. And voila! The Matrix was born, well, er.. spawned.
Keanu Reeves is Mr Anderson by day and Neo by night. Anderson is a boring suit, answering to his boss like a but-whipped banana. Neo is a computer hacker, involved in a night-club, leather wearing underworld and haunted by strange dreams and murmurings of The Matrix. Until Morpheus tracks Neo down and usefully offers to explain what The Matrix is.
As Neo plummets into a world he has never imagined, and never would have wanted to, he realises the truths about life, or more specifically, about reality. Neo must face up to his destiny (apparently there IS such a thing) and bring balance to the force - no sorry, world.
many symbolic references to philosophy, myth and
religion to infuse meaning
into the sci-fi bullet-fest. References to
mirrors, and the use of a mirror
to enter the 'real' world is very telling.
As Neo becomes a revolutionary, things get stranger and stranger, but no less cool. Bullet time rocked the world and spawned dozens of knock-offs. As The Matrix becomes revealed as little more than a video game, Neo becomes aware of the cheats and like any adolescent boy he embarks on a mission to discover them. Neo goes slightly further than the average fourteen year old however: he jumps off buildings, learns kung-fu, tackles helicopters and even consults an oracle. Several action sequences are even digitised to resemble the wooden movements of video games.
As the film alternates between the greenish, dull and fake colourings of the Matrix world, and the silver pipes and gutters of the 'real' world, the viewer alternates between mind-numbing twists, high-flying concepts, Phd level metaphysics and visual sumptuousness. The Matrix is undoubtedly cyberpunk and cool, dealing with the modern fear of technology through highly advanced and innovative technological triumphs. Plug me in baby.
THE MATRIX RELOADED
Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. USA. 2003.
It is six months later. Neo and the rebel leaders have 72 hours until 250,000 machine probes discover Zion and attempt to destroy it. The Matrix Reloaded, the long-awaited sequel to the 1999 blockbuster hit The Matrix, follows the lives and destinies of the freedom fighters from Zion and continues its inquiry into our reason for being. The original had us look at the nature of the reality we live in and the sequel invites us to look at how we respond once we understand that reality. Most of the same characters are back: Neo (Keanu Reeves) as the prophesied One, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) as the enlightened rebel leader, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) as Neo's lover, and the late Gloria Foster as the Oracle, a very wise lady who tells it like it is.
As the film opens, the Zionists (sic) prepare to fend off the attack of the sentinels. Morpheus is convinced Neo can save Zion, but to do so he must fend off all enemies to find the source of the Matrix. While Neo is having nightmares about Trinity's ultimate fate, Morpheus defends his decision to remove the Nebuchadnezzar from the first line of defense and shows renewed interest in his ex-lover, Captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). In the meantime, we get our first glimpse of Zion where the main floor with its rusted iron walkways and power generators looks like the remodeled boiler room of the Titanic. After listening to an inspiring speech by Morpheus, the entire floor erupts into a sensuous dance sequence to techno music, interspersed with scenes of Neo and Trinity making love. Neo learns that he must find the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) who alone can provide him with entry to the mysterious source that controls the Matrix. Neo tracks him down but first has to get past a seductive Monica Belluci and a witty Frenchman named Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) who seduces his women with chocolate cake.
As would be expected for a film with a budget that rivals the US Treasury, the special effects are outstanding and several action sequences stand out. The first uses digital effects and the choreography of Hong Kong director Yuen Wo Ping to recreate 100 clones of Agent Smith in a fight sequence with Neo. The longest and most bizarre sequence is a 15-minute freeway chase involving hundreds of cars, a Ducati motorcycle, trailer trucks, and agents all over the place. The scene, that included a specially built stretch of highway costing $1 million, took three months to film and is estimated to have cost $38 million. Don Davis choreographs the car chases with a techno score that becomes irritating after about the second explosion.
The Wachowski's have been accused of "heavy handed moralizing", "a for Dummies primer on philosophy", and "empty-headed techno-babble" but I think very few critics are listening to what they are actually saying. The film is about intimacy, choice, purpose, and our place in the universe. It suggests that "everything starts with choice" and "the only truth is causality". Put another way, we are the "chooser", the author and the cause of our own experiences. When we choose, we are really choosing what has already been chosen. “You are not here to make a choice,” the Oracle tells Neo “You have already made it. You’re here to find out why”. What this means to me is that we are all here for a purpose of our own choosing and our job is to discover the appropriate means to realize that purpose. Believe me, you do not learn this in Philosophy 101.
Like the original, many elements of The Matrix Reloaded are fun and appeal to a younger audience but I found the sequel to be somewhat disappointing. The original left major aspects of the puzzle to our imagination and did not overload us with special effects. The sequel is more complex but lacks the sense of wonder of the first film. We know enough not to take the car chases and fight sequences too seriously, but without the element of danger, the highly choreographed set pieces become pointless and irritating. At the end of the first film, Neo told his adversaries on the phone, "I'm going to hang up this phone, and then show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules or controls, borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.” I'm still waiting for that world that no longer requires guns, weapons, punches, or kicks and where everyone gets that they are "The One". Now that is a rogue program that would be worth downloading.
Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. USA. 2003.
The third and final episode of the Matrix Trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions opened last week (5 November, 2003) on 18,000 screens throughout the world, a fitting tribute to the cultural phenomenon the Wachowski Brothers films have become. Combining romance, awesome visuals, intergalactic adventure, and philosophy into a highly entertaining spectacle, Revolutions makes clear the enormous achievement of the entire project and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. Far from being a soulless video game, we identify with the characters, and a large part of the popularity of the series may have to do with people's need to find something in their lives that has meaning and purpose. We identify with Neo for his commitment and purpose, with Morpheus for his strength and integrity, with Trinity for her sacrifice and love. There is even a hero-worshiping kid (Clayton Watson), and of course the bad guy Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) who reminds of all the corporate clones we have to face in our daily lives.
As the film opens, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is in a coma though he is actually trapped in all-white train station controlled by a scruffy-looking trainman (Bruce Spence), actually a worker in the ranks for the smooth-talking Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). The station scene is one of the most effective creations of the series, a cold and forbidding limbo between the machine world and the human. Here, Neo meets a lovely Indian girl named Sati (Tanveer Atwal), who introduces him to her parents and tells him she is going to live with the Oracle as her companion. As Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) seek advice from the Oracle (Mary Alice replacing the late Gloria Foster) on freeing Neo, Zion is about to be attacked by an army of robotic sentinels. To free Neo, with the help of Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) they pay a visit to the Merovingian at his S&M Club Hell.
The action heats up in two different directions, one in the battle to save Zion with great assist from Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), the other an attempt by Neo and Trinity to enter the machine world to bargain with the artificial intelligence that has enslaved mankind for more than two centuries. The negotiation entails confronting and destroying Neo's mirror image, the multiplying Agent Smith, now a threat to all in return for peace. The battle sequences are state-of-the-art set pieces that include the all out war for Zion with squids flying in formation with octopus-like tentacles waving behind them, a shootout in the check room at Club Hell, the Star Wars like penetration of Neo's ship into the machine world, and the final battle with Agent Smith.
Though these sequences go on much too long, the human element is not lost and Neo's mission calls upon every last ounce of his personal courage and determination. Though the ending does not tie up all loose ends, ultimately, The Matrix Revolutions is about what it means to be human, to penetrate boundaries in life that had previously been off limits and to exercise our creative power in the area of choice. The film tells us that "everything that has a beginning has an end" but hints that the end is merely a new beginning. As the ship accelerates high above the Robot City to encounter a transcendental light, we see that another world is possible - and train service is available.
THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS
Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. USA. 2003.
Overrated, underrated, pretentious, exhilarating, confusing, mind-blowing. What hasn’t been said about the Matrix trilogy and what more can possibly be said? Well, I’ll start by admitting that I wasn’t bowled over by the first film when it released in 1999. Strangely, part of the myth surrounding the first film is that it came out of nowhere, and surprised the industry with how popular it was. Well, I was there in 1999 and I can tell you that it didn't appear out of thin air! It was advertised like crazy: the tagline ‘What is the Matrix?’ was plastered on every poster and billboard, the trailer was on cinema screens constantly (showcasing highlights from the now-famous ‘bullet time’ sequences, and in doing so, ruining the element of surprise, like so many other trailers), and an Internet campaign that neatly chimed with the plot of a film centred on a world ruled by computers. The general consensus was that Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) would be the popular hit of that year, and despite George Lucas’ film collecting significant amounts of cash all over the world, it was The Matrix (1999) that went on to dominate popular film culture and grow in popularity over the years.
When the eagerly anticipated follow up appeared in summer 2003, reactions were mixed. However, The Matrix Reloaded did contain many intriguing developments, fascinating new characters and, of course, state of the art action sequences and special effects. Reloaded ended on a cliffhanger and The Matrix Revolutions picks up right where we left off. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is in a coma and trapped in limbo between the real world and the Matrix. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) enter the Matrix and, with the help of Seraph (Collin Chou) attempt to rescue Neo from the clutches of the Trainman (Bruce Spence). Meanwhile, outside the Matrix, the last remaining inhabitants in the underground city of Zion prepare to defend themselves against an assault by thousands of machines that are determined to wipe out the human resistance once and from all. As the clock ticks towards humanity’s destruction, the rogue agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is close to overrunning the Matrix with his army of clones, and there’s only one man who can stop him…
Although I enjoy and admire a lot in the Matrix films, I still think that they’re clumsily executed in many places. This might sound harsh, but although the sequels have significantly expanded the Matrix universe, exploring its meanings, limitations and possibilities, I still have problems with the films. Like its predecessors, The Matrix Revolutions has reams of clunky dialogue (something of a tradition in these so-called ‘event’ films, but still…); simple narrative questions that remain unanswered (How do Morpheus and co. know who Seraph is? Neo was the only one who we saw interact with him in Reloaded. A simple line of dialogue telling us that Neo spoke to them about Seraph would have solved this); missed opportunities (the terrific Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and Persephone (Monica Bellucci) characters are almost non-existent here - Bellucci gets just one line!); sequences that seem poorly staged (compare the lack of urgency in the chase after the elusive Trainman with Trinity’s desperate escape from the Agents in the first film) and other sequences that are frustratingly anti-climactic or underdeveloped (the way Trinity and co. rescue Neo from the Merovingian).
Many of the principle characters have little to do this time round. This may fit in with the story arc that the Wachowski’s had planned for the Matrix saga, but it may disappoint viewers who want to discover more about their heroes. Although fascinating ideas are being discussed in these movies, they’re being discussed by archetypes, not characters. I’ve always found Smith to be the most interesting individual in the films and again, it’s left to Hugo Weaving to steal the film. Although a computer generated being, Smith is the most compelling person on screen as he struggles with the nature of his existence, and his scenes crackle with tension and excitement. The moment when he explodes with anger at Neo over the pointlessness of ‘Mister Anderson’ struggling against the inevitable is both funny and thrilling. Special mention must go to Ian Bliss who plays Bane, a human whose mind has been taken over by Smith in the real world. His confrontation with Neo is one of the highlights of the film, and he succeeds in simultaneously evoking Weaving whilst stamping his own identity onto the character. The Oracle also plays a crucial role in the final chapter, but as fine as Mary Alice is in the role, she can’t erase the memory of the late Gloria Foster, who so memorably played the part in the previous films.
Those who complained that the action scenes in Reloaded were pointless and inconsequential should be more satisfied with the fights here, where every punch and gunshot counts (especially in the confrontation between Neo and Bane, a brutal fight staged without the aid of bullet time camera moves or elaborate wire work). The battle scenes and fight sequences have an urgency and sense of danger to them this time and when Neo finally faces off against Smith (shades of the aerial fisticuffs in Superman II (1981) here), we truly get the sense that This Is It! Special mention must go to the special effects artists here, whose work here (particularly in the battle sequences in Zion) is breathtaking. It’ll be interesting to see if the Wachowski’s will ultimately be able to escape from the Matrix, and I’m fascinated to see what they’ll cook up next. As for the merits and meanings of the Matrix films, the debate will no doubt continue for a while yet. Whether you love or hate the Matrix films, they’ve still been an interesting alternative to most of the tired remakes and unnecessary blockbuster sequels that are usually churned out. It may be quite a while before we see a mainstream Hollywood saga that, despite its flaws, dares to be as ambitious in scope and ideas.
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