Friday, May 16, 2003

i really like this red candy

Note: A review of the Matrix: Reloaded, chock full of spoilers.

With the Matrix: Reloaded barely open, the backlash has already begun from those who want their appreciation of the Superior Original duly noted. I, like Gene, enjoyed the original movie. Unlike him, I enjoyed the sequel every bit as much, if not more.

On the plus side of the ledger:
- Breathtaking action. Literally breathtaking. I was, so to speak, jazzed by the action sequences of the original, but its novelty lay mostly in the fact that it was kung fu wirefighting action that actually had a rationale. Never did I find myself actually gasping and saying the word "wow." This time, I did. The extended freeway scene simply has to be seen to be believed... and I usually hate car cashes in action movies.

- Plotting. The Wachowski Bros. set themselves an enormous challenge in creating a suspenseful tale around a character (Neo) who is hyper-potent where most of the action takes place. They rose to the challenge and then some, and delivered a world and story that feels truly vast.

- Philosophy. Some people were turned off by the pseudo-Gnostic any-means-necessary attitudes of the heroic hackers in the original. I was one of them; the whole ideology just seemed uncomfortably close to religiously-inspired terrorism. Turns out the Wachowskis have been thinking about this, too; they deliver some new surprises and twists about the nature of the Matrix and its relationship to the real world, and include a whopper twist about the "prophecy" that guides Morpheus & Co and their supporters on the Zion Council. It's every bit as audacious and memorable as the scene where we first see the physical infrastructure of the Matrix in the original film.

- Characters. Forget Monica Bellucci's brief, much-ballyhooed appearance; the Merovingian and his ghostly twin enforcers are the real scene-stealers, every bit as enjoyable as baddies like Cypher and Agent Smith were in the original. [Favourite moment of Matrix pseudo-philosophy: the Merovingian's discourse on causality, power and... dessert.] Some of the new Zion characters, especially Link and Niobi, hold up similarly well.

On the minus side:
- Yes, it's kind of lame that Zion's "temple" ceremony is basically a big rave. This is, however, no more annoying than the gothy hacker fetish of the original.

- Now that Morpheus is no longer a Mysterious Sensei, he comes off more as a pompous and self-important ass than anything else. The good news is we don't have to listen to him talk as much; instead, he's at the core of much of the major action, and most excellently so.

- The only recurring character who felt contrived was Agent-no-more Smith. In the first film, Agent Smith exuded a kind of blank, menacing cool that made him the epitome of every tinoil-hatted black helicopter-watching X-phile's definition of evil. It was that sensibility that made his interrogation scene with Morpheus a classic moment in film. Weaving takes him too far over the top in Reloaded. The idea of a self-replicating virus in the Matrix that can affect anyone connected is great; they just didn't need to use Weaving for this. (Nevertheless, Neo's Battle Against the Hundred Smiths is another classic Matrix moment.)

- Some of the visual puns are a bit much. In one scene, the Oracle gives Neo red candy, and eats a licorice that looks suspiciously like the Red Pill. Yes, that was clever. We. Get. It. (OTOH, there's a cameo by a Japanimation-style giant robot that's all too cool.)

On the whole, though, the quibbles are minor and the achievements major. The Matrix: Reloaded surprised me by living up this well to its predecessor.