Where Did the Hack Go Wrong?

by Arthur B

Why were the sequels to The Matrix so awful, and was the first film any good in the first place?
I've never actually seen the third Matrix film. I really enjoyed the first one when it first came out, but The Matrix Reloaded was such a massive disappointment I didn't bother going back for more. In fact, so scarred was I by the experience that I haven't watched the original Matrix ever since, for fear that it would turn out to be not that brilliant after all and that I only liked it the first time around because of the novelty of its wire-fu presentation. Now that we in the West have taken the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero to our hearts, do we need The Matrix to justify wire-fu to us? Could it be that the whole philosophy underlying the film was a way to convince Hollywood audiences to accept stunts that wuxia audiences have accepted happily for years?

So, spying a modestly-priced boxed set of the three films, I decided that now was the time to face up to my fears - to rewatch The Matrix to see if it still stands up, to confront The Matrix Reloaded once again and exorcise the tormented demons of my tortured and angst-filled past, and to actually watch The Matrix Revolutions for the first time at the risk of scarring my blackened and shrivelled-up soul yet again.

The Matrix

I'm pleased to report that The Matrix is exactly as awesome as I remember it. The bullet time sequences, which is what we were all excited about at the time, are as visually exciting as they were the first time around, the passing of time letting the viewer see past the novelty to really follow how nicely they're put together. The first action sequence, with Trinity fleeing a grim crew of agents, is as pleasurably mad as it was last time - one of the nice things about it is that everything she does this time around, like running into a phone booth in the path of an out-of-control truck, seems sensible and logical now that I've seen the film once and understand what she's doing, just as it seemed bizarre and insane the first time around. Of course, the best action sequence remains the climactic lobby sequence, which is an incredible orgy of bullets of a sort which a Columbine-rattled Hollywood wouldn't feel up to delivering again for years afterwards.

Keanu Reeves as Neo isn't as bad as people make him out to be - yes, he is bland and perpetually perplexed, but this time around that works - he's perplexed because some seriously weird shit is happening to him, and he's bland because he's lived a shockingly empty existence in a world which wasn't real or valid in the first place. Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus is a cross between Gandalf and Carlos Castaneda's invented sorcerer Don Juan, and does manage come across as the sort of sage who might inspire cultlike loyalty in his underlings - if Fishburne hadn't managed to project as much charisma, everyone else would seem like total idiots for following him. Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity is an elite operative first and love interest second, as is shown in her leadership of the operation to bring Neo and Morpheus together. Hugo Weaving's menacing purr as Agent Smith is in fact still menacing, and hadn't at this point slipped into self-parody, and the interrogation sequence where the extent of the control he and his masters exert over humanity and reality is made explicit remains horrifying. It's also more imaginative than anything that happened in the sequels, as is the part where Neo wakes up in the deliciously Gigeresque real world for the first time.

The visuals in general are, in fact, perfectly judged. The mild, mildewy green tint that's omnipresent inside the Matrix is an obvious idea that's really nicely executed - I especially like the way that the photos on the wall of the offices in Neo's workplace are even more heavily tinted than everything else, imperfect reproductions of an imperfect simulation - and Morpheus's lecture on the backstory in the Nebuchudnezzar's private VR simulation is visually stunning. But at the same time the film doesn't depend on snazzy special effects to be interesting - the bit where Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) reveals his treachery and taunts the protagonist in the real world as they're trapped in the Matrix involves pretty much no special effects aside from Cypher occasionally pulling people's plugs and the people in the Matrix rolling their eyes back and collapsing, but what the deaths lack in funky effects they more than make up for in sheer creepiness.

That isn't to say the film hasn't dated at all - one of the things that jumped out at me as a viewer in 2010 was seeing a pile of CDs in Neo's room, placing the film as a relic from the pre-MP3 era. And there are a few plotholes - the "power from human bodies" thing still makes no fucking sense, and even if you accept that for the sake of the story it's pretty easy to poke holes in the concept - some of which the Wachowskis cooked up explanations for in the sequels. Why isn't the Matrix a candy-coloured wonderland, a utopia that nobody would actually want to leave? Why does everyone have to be in the same instance - why couldn't every single person in the Matrix be in their own separate simulation, tailor-made to be the perfect trap for their particular psyche?

Why not, in fact, have each person held in an individual simulation in which they were the all-powerful god of their own universe? It would, after all, be the perfect way to counter Morpheus's propaganda - he would be seen by the denizens as merely a lunatic denying their self-evident divinity, one more heretic in a world full of heretics. A perfect world for all humanity might, as Agent Smith says, be beyond anyone's ability to invent, but a perfect world for each individual would be a far easier task. Or why not just burn out their brains so they don't need to think at all? And how about the rebels' equipment inside the Matrix - if they can simulate all the guns they like, why can't they simulate a gun with infinite ammo so they never have to reload or swap out their guns? If their knowledge of the Matrix's true nature allows them to perform superhuman feats, why don't they ever change the physical form of their simulated presences - why can't they shapeshift, or turn into smoke and disappear? Why do they even need to go into the Matrix to liberate minds, when if they can insert their avatars and their kit they could presumably spam it with so many illogical incidents that all the denizens would be forced to conclude that it isn't real? For that matter, why are the Agents confined to possessing people when they're AIs - why can't every lamp post, fire hydrant, lightbulb and toilet be a spy for the Matrix?

But at this point, I think it's wrong to see the film as a philosophical treatise or as an attempt at consistent, coherent worldbuilding and try to analyse it like that - even though the sequels blatantly try to do that. We've had over a decade to pick it apart, and the essential premise is so solipsistic as to be more or less entirely useless as the basis of any sort of philosophical enquiry that amounts to more than mental masturbation. ("There is no spoon" is still laughable.) It's an action movie which uses the Matrix idea as a justification and jumping-off point for the sort of insane stunts that the martial arts genre had dealt in for years. Of course, the success of The Matrix opened the way for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to high-kick Western audiences about the face and wake us up to what we'd been missing, but the joy of The Matrix is that it tosses just enough action movie and SF adventure into the formula that even though we are completely aware of the joys of wire fu these days, The Matrix itself still isn't disposable - as silly as its premises are, it brings to the table a unique combination which hasn't quite been matched since. Especially not by its sequels.

The Matrix Reloaded

As much as it's criticised, The Matrix Reloaded gets off to a good start - I'd forgotten how good. You've got Trinity blowing up a bunch of security guards, getting into a gunfight with an Agent as they both fall down from the top of a skyscraper - what's not to love? Then Trinity gets shot, Neo wakes up and it turns out to be a possibly-prophetic dream and the film slows riiiiiiiight down.

Part of this is the extension of The Matrix from a simple movie - or even a film trilogy - into a sprawling multimedia project that only a fan with plenty of money and time to hand could ever grasp in its entirety. If you've only seen the first film, then you have to really concentrate to follow the inter-ship briefing at the start of the film (which occurs in the Matrix itself, which seems to be an insane risk) - because you're supposed to have seen The Animatrix before watching The Matrix Reloaded, because the last segment of The Animatrix gives you the backstory. You can just about follow the start of the film anyway, but only if you've seen The Matrix comparatively recently or have a particularly good memory for small details, because you really need to have a grip on what Zion is, who the Oracle is, what the deal with Morpheus is, who the Agents are, and who Smith is in order to understand what's going on. As an example, after the meeting Neo goes to find the Oracle, but her apartment is empty - but unless you have the first film fresh in your memory I'd bet you would just plain forget that the apartment in question is the Oracle's, so it looks like Neo just flew off to visit an empty apartment for no reason.

The Wachowskis don't even take a second to remind us of anything we really need to know to follow the film, but that might be on purpose, since this take on the concept contradicts the first movie very slightly - perhaps they were working on the basis that if people watched Reloaded with only fuzzy memories of the first movie they'd accept more of the changes without questioning them too much. In the first film Morpheus was this awe-inspiring cult leader, now he's a crank at the very periphery of Zion society, which wasn't even hinted at in the first film and makes him seem much less cool (but then again, at this point nobody is allowed to be cooler than Neo). Considering that Neo has a whole darn cult hanging on his every word and has capabilities within the Matrix well beyond anything anyone else has been able to manifest, you'd think that the powers that be in Zion would have a little more faith in Morpheus, given that everything he's predicted so far seems to have come true. (And yet, even though he's meant to be a disgraced crank, Morpheus is also a hugely popular leader who gives massive speeches to enormous crowds who are fanatically devoted to him, which you'd think the authorities in Zion would be far more worried about than the occasional cranky prophecy.)

This inconsistency isn't merely a matter of nitpicky little details - it changes the whole chemistry of the film. In The Matrix, for all intents and purposes there was nobody above Morpheus - oh, we knew other ships existed, and we knew about Zion, but none of the Zion leadership or the other captains came onstage. It's one thing to have a grouchy underling question Morpheus's teachings, but to have his peers and superiors question him changes the game entirely - and yet the film never quite manages to work out what to do with that.

Similarly, Zion seems to exist to provide a backdrop for a rave so Neo and Trinity can go have a sex scene (by the way, the whole rave sequence from the end of Morpheus's speech to the end of the sex scene takes about five minutes - five dull, pointless minutes), but the problem with bringing it onstage goes much further than that. In the first film, whilst Zion was theoretically there, the human resistance essentially consisted of Morpheus's crew - we didn't see anyone else. This established a atmosphere of claustrophobia and mutual dependency - any one person's fuckup could wreck things for everyone, every crew member depended on every other crew member, and if things went to shit there was nobody they could turn to for help. But putting Zion onscreen and showing us just how many people lived there and just how many ships were operating out of it changes the game again - now the Nebuchadnezzar isn't the sum total of Neo's world, it isn't mankind's only hope against the machine menace, it's a footsoldier in an army - and yet once the action finally gets underway only the Nebuchadnezzar crew really matter anyway, so again the Wachowskis have changed the chemistry of the film without changing the script or story to compensate for that.

Likewise, the Wachowskis fail to adapt to the new powers they themselves have granted Neo, who is now so ridiculously powerful it feels impossible to imagine that he's ever in any danger. To be fair, the presence of Agent Smith, who has mutated to become some sort of horrible computer virus slowly taking over every person and AI in the Matrix, means that Neo has an opponent who can actually present him with a challenge, but that doesn't change the fact that there's no reason for us to care about any fight Neo has with someone who isn't Smith. In that light, it's no surprise that the best fight in the film is the one between Neo and the army of Smiths in the park an hour or so in, though it does outstay its welcome a little - like most sequences in the film, it lasts slightly longer than it really needs to. It also explains why the second best fight scene in the film is the epic freeway battle, in which Trinity and Morpheus get to show that they don't need Neo to tangle with a few Agents - even though Neo does swoop in to save the day Superman-style towards the end. (Incidentally, the freeway fight has some special effects which I remember being great at the time, but these days look really fakey. That isn't something unique to it - in general, The Matrix Reloaded's CGI has dated a lot worse than the CGI work in The Matrix.)

The script isn't devoid of good ideas - the idea of someone like Smith, who can take over everything and everyone around you, who can become the crowd and the environment the crowd exists in, is pretty terrifying (though Philip K. Dick did it better in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch). And the Oracle's speech about how there are programs that govern the birds and the trees and the winds opens the door to a sort of epic cyberpunk fantasy in a world where the gods are the AIs of the Matrix and the wizards are those, like Neo, who have learned to do what the gods do. Unfortunately, the film is bogged down with long speeches in which the rules of the new game are explained in excessive detail - there's too much talking about being the One and not enough going out and being the One. And the dialogue isn't even good - Agent Smith's lines, in particular, play up the "Missster Anderson" thing far too much, to the point where Elrond is talking like a parody of the character from the first film rather than the character himself. They have high artistic goals - you can tell from the long sequence in which we obsessively watch a beautiful woman slowly eating cake as though it were the most aesthetically wonderful thing ever - but deep inside they're action directors at heart, and they just can't pull the smart shit off, though the critical raving about The Matrix's philosophising seems to have made them think they can.

The bit at the conclusion of the "woman eating a cake" sequence in which we are taken inside her green, glowing, electronic crotch to observe the explosion which is her artificially-induced cake orgasm is a microcosm of the film's overall problem - the Wachowskis, after The Matrix, were too big for anyone to say "no" to, and could do whatever they wanted to. Every bad idea they had ended up onscreen; half of those bad ideas are just stupid, half are stupid but are trying desperately to be clever, and a few discover brand new and clever ways to be amazingly stupid and crass, like the cakegasm.

By the way, that infamously overlong monologue from the Architect at the end? It's 7 fucking minutes long. There's brief bits where we cut away to Trinity fighting an Agent, but still - damn.

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions actually starts out better than The Matrix Reloaded. True, the idea that Neo is somehow stuck in a waypoint between the real world and the Matrix despite not being physically plugged in is both laughable and apparently completely disconnected from the precedents set in the earlier films. (It would make sense on some level if the "real world" was in fact simply a higher level of simulation that was meant to delude people into thinking they'd escaped when they haven't, but that doesn't seem to be the case). True, Neo's early encounter with an ordinary, average family of programs utterly demystifies the Matrix AIs; in the first film they were abstractions, which was cool, and in Reloaded they were spirits and gods, which conceptually is cooler but was kind of lame in execution, but this time apparently we're meant to suddenly realise that they're basically ordinary peeps, which isn't cool at all. Granted, it may be clever to ask us to consider the feelings of AIs as we'd consider our own, but it's not at all cool, and when The Matrix isn't being cool it is sucking from the ultimate source of suck.

But I could overlook all that, at least at the start, because at least the slow preliminaries from The Matrix Reloaded are over with and we're getting to the action more or less straight away. Furthermore, the Wachowskis finally work out a way to avoid having "make Neo do it" the solution to every problem. At the start of Revolutions, we find that Neo is not trapped in the Matrix itself, but a file transfer subsystem visualised as a train station operated by the Trainman (Bruce Spence) - consequently, Neo's powers are of no avail because in the station the Trainman is God of his own pocket universe, and it's down to Trinity and Morpheus to get him out by convincing - or forcing - the Merovingian to get the Trainmain to let Neo go. Their assault on the Merovingian's fetish club - apparently thrown in because the Wachowskis realised they had massively underspent on the sequels' latex budget - owes more than a little to the lobby scene in the first film at one point, but hey, the lobby scene was cool then and this rendition of it is also cool. (It's almost enough to make me forgive the whole "ah ha, I think you've almost run out of bullets" thing the Merovingian does - it's established in the first film that Trinity and Morpheus's weapons are bits of software they've designed and injected into the Matrix themselves, why wouldn't they spare themselves the bother of changing clips and give themselves infinite ammo?)

Anyway, Neo is duly rescued and then the film slows right down whilst we wait for Agent Smith to make his play and the crew go to revive one of their downed ships whilst Bane (Ian Bliss) sabotages them due to being possessed by Agent Smith. The Zion bits are probably necessary to show what's at stake but just aren't very interesting, mainly because Reloaded miserably failed to convince us to care about the characters there. Only the Nebuchadnezzar and its crew, the Oracle, and Agent Smith are of any importance to us because we've never seen anything to suggest that anything else is ever going to be as approximately as significant to the story over the first two films, and it's too damn late now to convince us that that isn't the case. The only new character from the last film who even made an impression on me this time around is Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Morpheus's ex who's the kick-ass commander of her very own ship, and that's mainly because she intervenes to cut through the bullshit negotiations and force the characters to accept Morpheus's plan to go to Machine City and do something. What "something" is isn't clear at that point in the film but anything that hastens the end of the big fat talky bit and gets the action started up again has my vote.

Seriously. Fuck that talky bit. The film spends entirely too long making us watch characters tell each other how awesome they are and more or less squandering what momentum the not completely awful beginning managed to establish, along with the goodwill it earned with me.

Actually, the one part of the Zion sequence which does work, really well, is the buildup and preparation shown by the enormous army of mecha pilots forming up to defend Zion, because it makes you look forward to the inevitable robot vs. mecha battle towards the climax. The mecha action does not disappoint - in fact, as far as special effects extravaganzas go, the Battle of Zion is pretty awesome. My only complaint about it is that the Wachowskis pretty much show us the whole thing at once, blowing their entire wad in one big sequence. The problem with this isn't that the battle is overlong and boring - it's precisely the opposite, in fact - but because this creates pacing problems when set against the rest of the film, because we effectively have two entirely separate Ultimate Battles - there's the ultimate battle at Zion, and the ultimate battle of Neo vs. Agent Smith, and after watching one we're kind of ultimate battled out and don't really feel in the mood for a second. If you were inclined to draw parallels with The Return of the King at this point, you'd be absolutely correct to do so, but that said the battle sequence does successfully do one thing - it provides a crisis which can't be solved by "Neo whizzes in and saves the day", and so manages to make the efforts of the Zion characters relevant to the overall course of the movie. Even though, like I said, I didn't care about the Zion characters at the start of the battle, I did care about them by the end.

Still, that doesn't quite change the fact that the second most important characters in the film, after the special effects, are of course Neo and Agent Smith, so it's kind of a shame that Reeves and Weaving's performances this time around are their limpest to date. Reeves has less to do in Revolutions than in any previous Matrix film; at points he is reduced to sitting in his seat with a blindfold on waving his hand about and gurning. Other times he goes off on one about how he's totally enlightened man and it's all so beautiful colours man colours wooooooooooooo.

But then again, nobody ever expected much from Reeves anyway. Hugo Weaving doesn't have that excuse; his performance as Agent Smith is just plain irritating this time around. The way Smith laughs maniacally after absorbing the Oracle (played this time by Mary Alice due to the original actress dying) completes his transition from slightly creepy guy to overused creepy guy to ridiculous supervillain. In principle the idea that he has possessed one of the crew is interesting, but in practice that's an excuse for Ian Bliss to impersonate Hugo Weaving in his hammiest MISSSSSSSSS-terrrrrr and-ER-sonnnn mode. As with much of the rest of the film, there's a direct correlation between how much shit sucks and how much talking there is; Smith's interactions with Neo are lame when they're talking at each other, but when they're actually fighting you can see glimmers of the great action direction and choreography of the first film.

The final battle between Smith and Neo is atrociously overlong. We're talking ten fucking minutes, which is far too long for a punch-up between two characters; even the stupid slapfight between Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live isn't that long. The whole armies of Smiths thing is pretty much irrelevant for most of it because it just involves Neo and a single Agent Smith butting heads over and over again in the rain until the audience wishes it could fly at supersonic speeds so that it can take off out of the theatre en masse and fly to Hollywood in order to slap the Wachowskis silly for subjecting them to this overlong sub-Dragonball Z bullshit. The problem the Smith-Neo fight has is really the problem the Wachowskis have been struggling with for both of the sequels: they can't come up with anything to threaten Neo, and they can't come up with anything to threaten Smith. The resolution of the Reloaded-Revolutions duology boils down to the Wachowskis banging an unstoppable force against an unmovable object over and over again until both have been ground into dust.

The philosophy of the film more or less drops what smarts the first movie and, to a lesser extent, the second film showed, and goes into full-on sub-Scientology bullshit territory. Why can Neo see the Smith-possessed Bane when he's been blinded? There is no fucking explanation other than Neo is some sort of enlightened Operating Thetan, so enlightened that he can has superpowers in reality as well as in the Matrix. But to be honest, dropping the philosophy at this point was absolutely the right call. The Wachowskis must have realised at this point that The Matrix Revolutions is only interesting when there's fighting and action, and that the talky bits needed scaling back. Compared to The Matrix Reloaded, the improvement is measurable. But they sorely underestimated how much they needed to strip out. The Matrix Revolutions is one of the few films out there which would genuinely be improved if it just consisted of two hours of punches and explosions.

The Bottom Line

The Matrix struck a fine balance which the Wachowskis simply proved incapable of replicating twice. The Matrix Reloaded offered them a chance to indulge all of their worst habits, and they grabbed onto that chance with both hands and milked it for all they could. In The Matrix Revolutions they pulled out all the stops to desperately try and redress the balance, but between their own inclination to excessive talky bits and the fact that The Matrix Reloaded actually got released it was too little too late. The second film was so catastrophically awful it pretty much wrecked the franchise, but because it ended on a cliffhanger with so much unresolved the third film was forced to build on the shaky foundations it established, and therefore was pretty much doomed to at least partially suck.

The Matrix is a classic. The Matrix Revolutions could have been great too, but being connected by the hip to The Matrix Reloaded more or less ruined that. I think the Matrix trilogy is pretty much the only example I can think of when it comes to franchises I want to meet the creators for, sit them down, slip them smartly about the face and tell them to take back what they did (well, two out of the three films) and do it all over again. The Matrix Reloaded killed the series dead so hard that there was simply no coming back from it - the only way anyone could even hope to create an acceptable sequel to the first film is to junk Reloaded and retcon it out of existence, and preferably pull all of the DVDs from sale whilst they're at it so nobody accidentally subjects themselves to such appalling bollocks ever again.

If you hadn't guessed, I think The Matrix Reloaded is one of the most ridiculous fucking things ever committed to film. The cake orgasm scene says it all.

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Comments (go to latest)
Andy G at 01:10 on 2010-11-22
Interesting, but my impression at the time was that Reloaded was better than Revolutions - because Reloaded does have a few memorable scenes with characters we care about, and I was still optimistic that the final film was going to be great.

When I saw Revolutions ... people were actually laughing in the cinema, especially at Trinty's death scene (Trinity: "I can't go on." Cut to wide shot of her impaled on spikes. Neo: (flatter than a pancake) "Oh no." And while the battle at Zion was technically impressive, I couldn't give a fuck. As Peter Jackson said, it doesn't matter how good a battle is, every other shot needs to show a character the audience cares about or it will get boring. Plus of course the setting and cod-philosophy became incoherent to the point where it was impossible to know just what was at stake.

I am still rather bitter.
Arthur B at 01:14 on 2010-11-22
Interesting, but my impression at the time was that Reloaded was better than Revolutions - because Reloaded does have a few memorable scenes with characters we care about, and I was still optimistic that the final film was going to be great.

True, and at least Reloaded make sure there's no scenes where the characters we care about aren't around. But I still feel that Reloaded is worse because it also has such utterly boring and/or ridiculous scenes with the characters we care about - like the rave scene everyone hated at the time, like the cakegasm which I can't quite believe people didn't make fun of more at the time - which had the net effect of making me care less about them. :(

Though I do take the point that in that space between Reloaded coming out and the release of Revolutions, it was still possible to convince yourself that the Wachowskis could save it.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 20:51 on 2010-11-22
(Incidentally, the freeway fight has some special effects which I remember being great at the time, but these days look really fakey. That isn't something unique to it - in general, The Matrix Reloaded's CGI has dated a lot worse than the CGI work in The Matrix.)

I'd noticed that too when I rewatched Reloaded a year ago. My guess to what happened was that the Wachowskis had gone from sweetening live-action fight scenes in the first movie to constructing fights that you could not physically shoot in real life, and the technology to build them simply wasn't there yet.

For myself, it seemed like there were three movies running simultaneously in Reloaded, each of which was only tangentially related to the other. You had the showdown between the machines and Zion, the showdown between Neo and Smith, and machinations of the Merovinginian in the machine society. While there are ways the first two could have been put together better (to argue counterfactually for a second, there might have been potential to have a cycles-of-revolution theme going on, with humanity creating then being overthrown by the vaguely-humanist AI civilization, which in turn would be threatened by Smith's hive mind), the Merovingian/AI mafia plot thread is just extra baggage. Shame, really, since I actually liked that oily bastard.

Oh, yeah, I also wanted to mention the alternate ending for The Matrix Revolutions that the Wachowskis came up with for the game Path of Neo. I still can't decide if it's amazingly stupid or a vast improvement on the original story.
Dan H at 21:57 on 2010-11-22
I cannot help but notice that at one point you refer to a scene as owing:

more than a little to the lobby scene in the first game

I'd mock, but I do this all the damned time. I even do this at work "I thought we got this worked out in the last game ... I mean meeting."
Dan H at 22:02 on 2010-11-22
Also, it strikes me that this review/retrospective thingy is probably the only recorded instance of somebody complaining that characters in an action movie *don't* have unlimited ammunition.
Arthur B at 23:11 on 2010-11-22
Seriously, did Neo and pals never play Doom or Quake? The first thing you do when you unlock the cheats is turn on God mode and give yourself unlimited guns and ammo!
Andy G at 23:55 on 2010-11-22
In fairness to the Wachowski brothers, Neo's guns in the first film also run out of ammo, so that at least is consistent. I think it's probably better not to pry too deeply rather than attempting to concoct justifications for why they can defy gravity but not create unlimited ammo.
Arthur B at 23:58 on 2010-11-22
Well, yeah, I said as much in my review of the first film. It's just that in the second and third ones the Wachowskis are clearly trying to engage in this huge multimedia worldbuilding exercise which is supposedly internally consistent, so I thought it fair to point out how badly it fails if you judge it on that criteria. :)
Fin at 00:42 on 2010-11-23
The first Matrix will always be tarnished in my mind by the awfulness of the rest of the franchise. Every time I watch it it only takes a couple of minutes for me to remember "Oh yeah, it really is awesome," but I always have to do some serious convincing before I can bring myself to put it into the DVD player. (The first disc of Final Fantasy VII occupies a similar place in my mind.)

I always thought the Zionites training programs should have consisted of Agents shooting Neo with harmless bullets, with the lesson being that the Matrix can't do anything to harm you once you know it's fake. Sure, Morpheus would be lying, but if Neo et al really did believe they were invincible wouldn't they become invincible?
Arthur B at 01:30 on 2010-11-23
Again, this is the sort of thinking which is poisonous to the spirit of the thing, but which the approach they took with the sequel more or less demands. If the first film had existed on its own you could accept it as a standalone philosophical allegory and so not worry too much about the worldbuilding inconsistencies; I could just about accept, for the first movie, that whilst it's all very well to say "the bullets aren't real, they can't hurt you", it's another thing to actually believe that, and Neo makes that leap whilst many others couldn't. If they'd only made one film and never made anything else, you could imagine Neo's job as the One being to demonstrate to everyone in the Matrix that they have the same capacity for miracles he has, and by doing so help them to make the same leap between learning that bullets can't hurt you to actually believing it that he did. This is, in fact, pretty much the thrust of his speech at the end of the first film.

But then you had the next two films. And the comics. And computer games. And the cartoons. And soon enough you had an enormous sprawling franchise, and when franchises hit a certain size they almost inevitably get bogged down in canon and worldbuilding. One can accept a single story as being an allegory, but when you produce multiple stories with the same setting and characters persisting from one story to the next it becomes difficult to accept that series of stories as being a long series of allegories because they've started to look much more like an exercise in worldbuilding.

There is a reason that Plato never wrote The Republic Reloaded.
Arthur B at 01:33 on 2010-11-23
(It occurs to me, in fact, that the idea of Neo as a wandering miracle-worker who uses his apparently impossible feats to teach his followers important lessons about transcendent metaphysical truths is probably a better Christ allegory than anything the Wachowskis came up in the sequels. But then again your average Jack Chick tract is a better Christ allegory than anything they came up with in the sequels.)

@Alasdair: That clip is hilarious. "By your powers combined, I am... still Agent Smith. But I'm a building now!"
Andy G at 11:53 on 2010-11-23
I still can't decide if it's amazingly stupid or a vast improvement on the original story.

The two aren't mutually exclusive ...
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 19:36 on 2010-11-23
That clip is hilarious. "By your powers combined, I am... still Agent Smith. But I'm a building now!"

If you think that's nuts, you should see the part in the middle of the game where Neo's running around the Merovingian's Escher house, punching ant people in the mandibles.

Yes, really.
Sister Magpie at 23:29 on 2010-11-23
If they'd only made one film and never made anything else, you could imagine
Neo's job as the One being to demonstrate to everyone in the Matrix that they
have the same capacity for miracles he has, and by doing so help them to make
the same leap between learning that bullets can't hurt you to actually believing
it that he did. This is, in fact, pretty much the thrust of his speech at the
end of the first film.

The first film is the only thing I've ever seen of this franchise and up until this moment I thought that was exactly what his job as the One was!
Fin at 00:03 on 2010-11-24
I think his job is to be Goku from Dragon Ball, basically.
I remember being disappointed in The Matrix from the very beginning. It was silly from the hammy acting (only Fishburne managing to be interesting) to the ridiculous love conquers all ending. I saw it in theaters almost at the end of it's run, so by that time every thing on TV had bullet time. So even that aspect was tired.

I did like the concept of a VR prison. It had just enough story to make it work. And it ended well. To prove how serious Neo was about setting the slaves free, he publicly flew into the air like superman in the middle of a busy intersection.

I was all ready to see the aftermath of Neo's big reveal in the sequels. The sequels completely ignore that moment so they could extend whatever idea of the moment they wanted to cram onto film. That was one big reason why 2 and 3 failed.
TheMerryMustelid at 02:26 on 2012-04-25
As much as I appreciated the fun fx of the Matrix, I couldn't get too excited about a franchise where all the other living beings on Earth have been irreversably destroyed & only a wretched humanity remains. I can't help donning my humourless environmentalist hat and thinking that these humans that allowed their technology to screw them over basically deserved everything they got.

For me, being in a world where only humans & machines exist is too much like living in a global L.A. or New York. No thanks. I'd rather take the blue pill.

If you guess I'm not much of a steampunk, cyberpunk, or even Blade Runner fan, you'd be right. I just don't find post-apocalyptic scenarios "cool" and when we encourage our kids to revel in such worlds in video games, films, & other media it's just sad.
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