Geek Mythology

Well, like a good geek, we went and saw The Matrix Reloaded last night (I said a good geek. A true geek would have been there on opening day, wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses.) Now, I should say right off the bat that I’m not a Matrix fanboy. I liked the first movie okay, but it didn’t change my life. In my opinion, the best thing it did was give people something new to obsess over, finally making it safe to say aloud that you thought Highlander was a load of cack.

I liked the original Matrix but didn’t think it was quite as deep as many people seem to believe. Was it a good action flick with some impressive special effects? It was indeed. A philosophical treatise? Not quite. Granted, its tepid, Westernized Buddhist leanings (waking up from the illusory world to become empowered in reality) appealed to my own tepid, Westernized Buddhist leanings, but I didn’t see it as a religious parable (despite throwing around words like Zion, Trinity, and such) so much as a Geek Empowerment fable. Sure, it might seem like you’re just a husky nobody schlub with an encyclopedic knowledge of Babylon 5 and White Wolf games, but all the people who see you as such don’t know that they are all prisoners in a false world, and in the real world your computer skills and anime experience will make you a superhero fighting to save all their ungrateful, undeserving asses, plus you’ll be super cool and be the master of any weapon.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to The Matrix Reloaded. I suppose I should say that there will probably be spoilers here, but this is a movie that it’s not overly easy to spoil, for reasons that might be considered spoilers. If you don’t want to know too much, here’s a summary: I felt it was way too long, alternated between action sequences that didn’t know when to end and yack yack yack talking sequences that seemed interminable. The movie would be 20 minutes shorter if we didn’t have to freeze-frame so often. The script is fairly straightforward until one point, where it totally dives into opacity, which will certainly fuel the fanboys’ ideas of how deep this series is. Keanu did a much better job than I thought he would, and I still think Carrie-Anne Moss has the dramatic presence of a serving of milk in a shiny leather glass.

Read more if you want to know details.

Okay, here’s what I meant about spoilers above. Can you truly spoil a movie that has no ending or resolution? What could I possibly say that would give anything away? Neo goes from Resurrection of himself to raising others from the dead? The Oracle is a program? Agent Smith can clone himself? The Architect tells Neo that something something something what time is it? Most of that information is obvious, pointless, already known, or confusing anyway.

Let’s go to basics. The action sequences, the raison d’etre for this series, were impressive, to a point, but just went on too long. Nearly all of them dragged themselves out to the point where they became parodies of themselves. The highly touted ‘burly brawl’ sequence where Neo fights a hundred Agent Smiths ceased to be interesting once (a) there were so many Agent Smiths that it became absurd and (b) you realized that there is no possible resolution to this sequence other than Neo flying away, so why didn’t he just do that from the get-go? For my money, I like for there to be a point to such a scene, and there was none for that other than “look at what we can do with CGI.” If I’d paid for an effects test reel, that would be another thing. Similarly, with the freeway chase, I figured at any moment people would start picking up moving cars and throwing them at each other, and that vehicles would just start flipping and exploding when looked at crosseyed. So the effects would have gotten an 8 or 9 out of ten, if they’d had something of a point and had known when to exit the stage. The worst thing you can do when it comes to action, is make people tired of looking at it.

For the acting, well, you knew what you were going to get, and you got it. Laurence Fishburne does his “I am talking slow and using no contractions so you know what I am saying is important and original even if it is just a string of cliches” bit. Keanu Reeves is surprisingly competent as a reluctant hero, but not so competent at a just plain hero. As for Carrie-Anne Moss, I am clearly missing some kind of geek chromosome, because she does absolutely nothing for me. I don’t think she’s attractive, I don’t think she’s interesting, and I don’t think she’s a particularly good actress. This is a problem because a large chunk of the movie revolves around the love between Trinity and Neo, and the two have absolutely zero chemistry. In the first movie, the romance sub-plot seemed silly and tacked-on, but could be overlooked. Here it’s a major portion of the plot, and I just didn’t buy it.

This is the root of a problem with both Matrix movies for me – I don’t give even half a damn about any of these people. The only one I would like to be in a room with (assuming I wasn’t being attacked by robotic ninjas) would be Link. He was the only one bringing any kind of human element to the party. All the others seem to be even more programmed and machine-like than the machines they’re fighting, which might be part of the point or an eventual plot revelation. I don’t care about this epic battle between man and machine because they all look like machines to me. Gamers often talk about doing a role-playing game set in the Matrix world and I just don’t see it. I’ve never been convinced that anything is going on more than fifteen feet from wherever the camera is pointing at the moment. None of it seems overly compelling to me.

What was most disappointing, though, was the endless parade of cliches. There were so many points when I knew exactly what was going to happen (such as the pointless fight with Seraph) simply because we were just pulling out a pre-written bit from the geek pantheon. Oh, what do you know, the Architect is an old white guy in a white suit with a beard! The Merovingian is a suave French aristocrat! Weird looking people are evil!

So what did I like? The action sequences, up to a point. I liked that when we first see the Keymaker, he’s sitting down, making keys. For some reason, I appreciated that, and I thought the character was neat (though I could have done without him being another coal in the geek obsession with All Things Japanese boiler.) I liked a lot of the machinery look — the giant gears of Zion appealed to my steampunk fetish. It was nice to finally get a good view of the ‘ships’ the good guys travel in. Some of the new ideas were fairly interesting (though it was odd to me when I realized how much of it was ripped from Tron, of all things!) but the core idea of the Matrix itself still seems half-baked. I liked Keanu’s outfit, only because it’ll be fun to watch the geeks at Comicon strutting around in kaftans.

If I were a star-giving man, I’d give it two out of five. If the action sequences had been shorter it might’ve gotten three. It’s hard for me to highly praise a movie with no real beginning or end, though. It’s got the tough task of being the middle of a trilogy, and that’s never an easy job. But on the other hand, if you’re going to see it, you probably already saw it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the movie is review-proof. Either you liked it, didn’t get it, or are being nitpicky about a mindless action movie. Your results, of course, may vary.

UPDATE:
Anarkey has a different take here.
Scott Kurtz, creator if the online comic PVP, has a Matrix rant here.
Dave T. has his opinion of it here.

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