(2003) dir. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
viewed: 05/28/03 at The Coronet Theater, SF, CA
I’ve been really falling behind on this diary of late, and sadly, haven’t even been really seeing all that many films. This is yet another entry that I would have been much better off having written a more closely to the time I had seen it.
That said, the only thing that I think I would have articulated with more energy was my overall disappointment with this film. Perhaps what this sequel proves more than anything is that The Matrix (1999) by the Wachowski brothers was more pure design, style, and technology rather than storytelling and anything overly fascinating. This time around, the design and visual style are familiar (rather than flashily innovative), not only from the previous installment but from all the hundreds of films and commercials that have co-opted the original’s more powerful visuals. The technology, as is so often the case with digital special effects, has become pedestrian rather than eye-popping, and perhaps even more criminal, the visuals look more and more like an expensive video game than a movie (though it could be noted that part of the media glut that accompanies the release of this film is a rather large spate of just that: video games).
Perhaps the greatest innovation of the first Matrix film was the real integration of Hong Kong-style fight sequences, employing famed kung fu choreographer Yuen Wo Ping’s artistry. In some ways, perhaps this is part of the ultimate legacy of the heyday of Hong Kong film, that style and character of its action sequences was finally truly co-opted by American film-making, not so surprisingly in a somewhat cutting-edge fantasy blockbuster.
The newer film, which lacks the original verve of its predecessor, winds up being an amped-up version of the first film, but with a lot more silly narrative and pseudo-religious fervor (or is it pseudo? Is this film just pure Christian iconography?). Some of the backstory of The Matrix Reloaded truly verges on the level of badness found usually in the lesser Star Trek films. The most painful scene is the one in which Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus character preaches to the people of Zion about the Christ-like Neo and then tells them to dance! Which they do, in an interestingly filmed but largely campy orgyistic rave sequence. The Wachowskis seem to want to portray the earthy humanism of the downtrodden Zionist freedom fighters as they writhe to Trance-like disco. A fantasy about an idealized working class of the young and the hip?
The other nadir that the film hit was the long explanatory speech that laid out the story in doublespeek mumbo jumbo while cross-cutting the bigger action sequences. Perhaps we should credit the Wachowskis with figuring out how to use Keanu Reeves fairly well…it seems that most of their direction for him would have been: “Just look cool.”
Reeves: “What’s my motivation?”
Wachowskis: “You ARE cool.”
Reeves: “Cool, then.”