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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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I saw The Matrix Reloaded last night. This, for those of you just coming out of a coma, is the second part of the story of Neo (Keanu Reeves, luckily speaking only marginally more than in the first one) qua The One. All of the regulars from the first one reprise their roles for the sequel (and presumably will for the third part as well since they were filmed more or less concurrently). I didn’t find it terribly difficult to follow, but that could stem from just having seen the previous one two weekends ago. It’s hard to express my opinion of the movie because most of what I said in my earlier review still applies. When I think of The Matrix Reloaded two things immediately spring to mind, one a sound and the other a word: “Enh” and “tedious”.

“Enh” is my catchall expression of indifference. It’s usually accompanied by a shrugging of shoulders and cocking of head. I didn’t find myself worried for Neo or Trinity or any of the other characters in the movie as they faced virtual peril. First, I know there’s a sequel coming and that completely blocks any thought of Neo’s imminent death. Second, all of these characters have morphed into superheros in a world ungoverned by any laws of physics. Trinity falling off a skyscraper and Neo’s 500 miles away in the mountains? Oh, well, he’ll just fly faster than the speed of light to catch her. Neo getting zapped by Agent Smith and about to be turned into one of his clones? Oh, well, he can push Smith’s magic hand out of his body, unlike any other virtual person in The Matrix. These deus ex machina moments force the incongruities of the movie into your awareness. Rather than flowing seemless in a comprehensible world, the events are jerky and require some thought to understand what even transpired. Plus, they make you feel like the writer couldn’t come up with a believable or valid transition and copped out. Finally, these characters aren’t growing at all. They’re the same people as in the first one. Their world is in imminent danger and they’re facing an overwhelming force. What’s their reaction? Calmness, ease, nothing. The closest we get is Neo’s trouble sleeping. Oh yeah, Councillor, he’s definitely human.

“Tedious” stems from the movie’s interminable pacing. “Interminable” doesn’t quite express my boredom last night. The tedium took form in two ways: action and dialogue. The action was way too lengthy and often unnecessary. I know that action brings in the dolts, but they could easily have shortened the scenes quite a bit. I remember actually yawning during the so-called Burly Brawl between Neo and the multiplicity of Smiths and the freeway scene, though well-crafted, should have ended before the blond Milli Vanillis came (by the way, who the hell were those ghost guys, why hadn’t they confronted Neo before, and why do they have special powers that no one else does? Oh wait, they’re special programs. I can just picture FreakyBlondDreadlockTwins.exe or The Architect coding in their TurnIntoGhosts() methods. Uh huh, deus ex machina.) The wire fighting is getting very old, the pinnacle was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and it’s all been downhill from there. If you’ve seen the first movie, you’ve seen the fight scenes in this movie—only the locales and weapons have changed.

The dialogue suffers from the same problems as in the original. It’s ponderous, stilted, and pretentious. It sounds deep at first blush, but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I’d give examples but I can’t remember any of the lengthy speeches offhand. I do recall thinking that Morpheus’ speech at the Zion rave—where were the glow sticks?—was mercifully short though not terribly inspiring.

There were also countless issues that I found myself pondering while watching the movie, but I won’t go into those details because they come from plot hole and we’re supposed to suspend disbelief. Okay, one gaping one: if these damn machines are smart enough to craft sentient sentinels, burrowing machines that can reach the center of the earth, and the most complex virtual reality ever imagined (including, tellingly, power plants to supply the city with electricity and that need to be taken out of commission in order to get to the source), why the hell can’t they create their own electrical generating plants that would surely create more electricity than billions of humans and the virtual reality “needed” to keep them alive? One commentator on the Web suggested that they (the machines) should have used cows instead of humans since grassland is a much easier virtual reality to construct. Too true!

[UPDATE: There have been some good reviews out there on the Web: check out Jason Kottke’s brief review and the tons of comments it generated to see a broad selection. From there, I particularly liked this review and this one.]

[UPDATE 2: One other gripe: what is with the clothes/rags and environs in Zion? These people burrow beneath the earth and construct space ships, defense systems, and life support machines but they can’t make decent clothes or design some cleaning machines? Strains belief.]

[UPDATE 3: I’m still not sure if I think Carrie-Anne Moss aka Trinity is pretty or not. She looks really good in her leather bodysuits, but the close-ups emphasize that her hair is that weird length between short-cute and short-weird. I definitely think she looked prettier in Chocolat and Memento.]