Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Matrix Rebloated

OK. The Matrix Reloaded. Close, but no cigar. This is to be expected. Aside from violating the second law of thermodynamics, the original Matrix was a near perfect SF movie. Smart, Phildickian ideas. Kickass pacing. Inspired visuals.

The first movie ended with revolution's promise. Neo stands at an outdoor payphone. He phones the Agents and informa them he was going to start waking people up and show them what was possible. And spread the DNA of his revolution. We pan up from the payphone. Neo flies up into the sky like Superman to the tune of Rage Against the Machine. Cool.

What's even cooler -- the ending of the first Matrix implies that Neo will start a revolution in the next sequel: a system-wide awakening of humans throughout the Matrix. I would've liked to have seen that movie.

This is not that movie.

Hey, I'm not saying it's a bad movie. Just not the near-perfect, groundbreaking triumph the first one was.

Instead of an awakening an uprising, we get an Antagonist with a capital A. Agent Smith. He's back, baby. Smith, after being ripped to snotgreen cybershreds, is resurrected as a "free" Agent. (Hey, that's a good one.) No earjack. He's Agent Smith, unplugged. (OK, that's fucking enough.) But Smith turns to the dark side and -- by imposing his code on other beings within the Matrix -- starts spreading himself like a virus.

OK, so the big story structure is Agent Smith vs. Neo. Let's get ready to rumble! Aside from that, there's lots of complicated kudzu. Hey, it's interesting kudzu. It's exciting kudzu. There's more kickass fighting that's fun to watch but moves the story like a fucking millimeter forward.

Remember Neo's fight with Morpheus in the virtual dojo in the first movie? That had a point. He was learning the cartoon warrior possibilities of freeing your mind. In this installment, there's a long, drawn-out battle on top of semi trucks. It had something to do with the fucking Keymaster. This tiny oriental guy who grinds keys that open doors. A, uh, literal Keymaster. Evidently, the Doormaster was busy.

Kudzu, red herrings, more kudzu. Where the plot of #1 is as clean as the flight of a Zen arrow, this is as convoluted as a bad lie. There's Merovingians, scary, twin, albino ghosts with whiteboy dreadlocks, a love story and a clip of George Bush on the Architect's TV. (Evidently, the AI IT guy.) Oh, yeah. And one really bad, long, boring speech that Morpheus gives at a rave in Zion. Morpheus is the god of sleep, of course. He lives up to his fucking name.

In the end, the big reveal is that Agent Neo is a Jesus/Judas Goat who gets generated every few years or so to lead a bunch of merry meatbags to Zion so the machines can kill all the other humans plugged into the system -- then reboot it to 1999. The machines then plug all the merry souls back into the new Matrix. They form the basis of the rebooted society until it's time to hit the reset button again.

It's an interesting idea. It's an idea that throws the original Matrix on its head. "The One" isn't really the savior -- he's part of the machine's control system. Didn't see that coming. I kinda like it. I was never comfy with the notion of Neo as Jesus with sunglasses.

At the same time, it's too much of a switcheroo. Sequels seem to have two big pitfalls. Either slavishly repeating the original and turning it into a formula. Or subverting what was good about the original by changing the recipe too much. I think the brothers Wachowski did the latter. They turned a gnostic parable of liberation into an overblown, CG-heavy, cyberpunk action flick stuffed with sophomoric philosophy. Not to mention Cornell West. And the fucking Keymaster.

But there's still a way to save it in the third sequel. Let's say this is all misdirection. Zion is another level of the Matrix. A different system where the machines let the human malcontents escape to. All this horseshit where they're trying to wipe the humans out is just a game the machines like to play. Neo, Morpheus and friends still haven't awakened yet. They real revolution hasn't even started.

And now you've got the basis of a Matrix 3 that would truly kick ass.

While we're at it, we could explain that the humans really aren't batteries. That's a joke the machines are playing on us. They're really using the humans as a networked system to run their software -- because the connections in our organic brains exceed the possibilities of silicon. The Matrix, in other words, is running in us. Humanity isn't the power source. We're the hardware.

But I'm probably not going to see that movie either.

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