The Matrix Reloaded
USA, 2003. Rated R. 138 minutes.
Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Lawrence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Harold
Perrineau, Monica Bellucci, Lambert Wilson, Anthony Zerbe, Jada Pinkett-Smith,
Randall Duk Kim, Gloria Foster, Nona M. Gaye
USA, 2003. Not rated. 102 minutes.
Clayton Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Keanu Reeves, Victor Williams, Phil
LaMarr, Kevin Michael Richardson, Pamela Adlon, Tara Strong, James Arnold
Taylor, Hedy Burress, Mindy Clarke
|Review and analysis by Frances Nicole Rogers|
he first Matrix film did not have a perfect or original story. The journey of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a.k.a. Neo, from discontented computer programmer to gifted messiah figure was just a rehash of different heroic tales familiar to our culture. Familiarity, however, did not make The Matrix any less riveting. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't ideal, but it was a story that had progression and conflict. No action sequence felt out of place or gratuitous. Like a musical's numbers, The Matrix's action sequences were essential to developing the plot and the characters, Neo in particular. He progressed from a man who chickened out of an elaborate escape in one scene, to a man who planned an elaborate rescue mission in another, and from a man who didn't know how to deal with Agents to a man who managed to delete the same Agent who defeated him a few scenes prior.
The Matrix was a rarity in a genre that spends less time building character and plot and more time blowing things up. It was praised as an intelligent action film because of its philosophical and religious themes, inspiring several to write analytical essays (some of which can be found on the film's official site) and books. But it seems that during the birth of the Matrix franchise, something very important was lost: a good story.
Few of the Matrix-related spin-offs and sequels develop or add to the central story of the original Matrixnot the online comic strips (on the official site), the nine Animatrix shorts (an experiment between the Wachowskis and various Japanese animation directors), or even The Matrix: Reloaded itself.
The Animatrix is not much more than an interesting experiment. None of its shorts has a plot, nor do the shorts form a solid narrative. Several digress into irrelevant scenes, like the striptease swordfight in "The Final Flight of the Osiris" (a Wachowski-scripted "prequel" to The Matrix: Reloaded made by the filmmakers behind Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). Others, like Peter Chung's "Matriculated," are too abstract to successfully tell what could've been a good story.
Images from The Animatrix.
With the exception of "Kid's Story" and "A Detective's Story," all the shorts are failures. "The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2," directed by Mahiro Maeda, show the growing tensions between man and machine that lead to the war described in the first movie and the creation of the Matrix, but have the disturbing effect of making the viewer side with the machines. Aren't we supposed to be rooting for the humans? "Osiris" is an unfocused blunder, mostly an attempt to show off what was already seen in Final Fantasy and to promote Reloaded.
"Cowboy Bebop" creator Shinichro Watanabe's shorts ("Kid's Story" and "A Detective's Story," both of which feature characters from the movies) would have benefited from a longer-running length. As it is, "Detective's Story" is the best short in the series, bound to be a favorite among film noir buffs. Second to this is "Beyond" (directed by Kouji Mormoto), a cute short about a young woman who, while searching for her cat, comes across a haunted house that is actually a glitch in the Matrix. The most straight-forward short, "Program" (by Yoshiaki Kawajiri), occurs in an impractical training simulation where two shipmates spar over whether to return to the Matrix, is a redundant echo of Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) from the first film.
The absence of narrative in The Animatrix is more forgivable than in The Matrix: Reloaded, a disappointing sequel to a magnificent film that nearly regresses to the status of "just another action flick" via its tendency to slip into action sequences that do little to advance the plot. Its role in the series seems to be as an advertisement for everything else in the franchise (as satirized in an online parody where the Architect's answers for Neo's questions can all be found in The Animatrix, Enter the Matrix, The Matrix: Revolutions, and a bottle of Powerade). Yet the film is redeemed by three thrilling and beautifully filmed action sequences, and by the stimulating bombshells it drops about the true nature of the Matrix and the role of the One (discussed later in this commentary).
Reloaded takes place six months after The Matrix ends. The war is escalating, and the tension is high for the soldiers due to the discovery of some half-million machines digging their way towards Zion, the last human city, which we hear about but never visit in the first film. Amid this tension is the division between people who do not believe in the prophesy of the One and those who do, like Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). Regardless, the folks down at the Nebuchadnezzar do what they do to help save the world from the evil of the Matrix. The time is soon coming when Neo will have to end his path as the One by ending the war.
After making a pit stop at Zion, where he, Trinity, and other Zionites get sweaty to the beat of a song that makes up for a throwaway scene, Neo and company wander about the Matrix fighting various rogue programs (including but not limited to the minions of the Merovingian, played by Lambert Wilson, and the clones of returning character Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving) in the search for the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) and the way to the Source.
Reloaded offers little insight to who or what the One is outside of his role in the makeup of the Matrix. What makes Neo more special than other rebels other that he can fly, stop bullets, and fight agents (a rather moot point, since Morpheus kinda-sorta holds his own against on atop a truck)? What is his relationship to the increase of "freed minds" in the six month span between The Matrix and Reloaded? And how has being the One changed him? It would have been nice to see some sort of development in his character other than more self-confidence. It also appears that, by all the new advertisements for Revolutions, the final film will explore more deeply just what makes the One special.
The Neo of Reloaded is less appealing than the goofy, unconfident Thomas Anderson of The Matrix. The latter was a sympathetic character; the former, a reserved, distant character who we can't understand outside of his passionate love for Trinity. This makes rooting for him difficult, especially in the presence of charismatic villains like the Merovingian and Agent Smith. The same is true for the other good guys: They are all stripped of what character they had, replaced by cold, monotonous philosophers who seem self-conscious of their icon status. The warm performance of the late Gloria Foster (the Oracle) and the psychotic antics of Weaving are wanted respites from the predominant deadpan of the cast.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) attempts a choke hold on Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) in The Matrix: Reloaded
To the credit of the Wackowskis, the tiresome opening of Reloaded is redeemed by two consecutive action sequences. The firsta swordfight between Neo and some vampires (yes, there are vampires in the series now; they are manifestations of rogue programs) in the Merovingian's houseis only an appetizer for the following, the much lauded freeway chase, which remains, out of many, the best chase sequence of this past summer. Regardless that it seems much ado about nothing (for Trinity and Morpheus' objective is not clear), it is closest to the progressive sequences in the original. The intensity of the chase is raised so high that a character's exclamation of relief at the end is funny because it is what the audience feels. (The character Link, played by Harold Perrineau, a replacement for the mysteriously absent Tank, often is a humorous commentator, notably during the action sequences.) The movie also opens with a spectacular fight and free fall shoot-out between Trinity, an Agent, and a handful of unsuspecting security guards. This is the only scene in Reloaded that uses bullet-time.
The special effects, contrary to advertising claims, are disappointing. While they succeeded in cloning Hugo Weaving, they did not succeed in creating CGI that could compete with the likes of The Lord of the Rings. CGI replacements for characters look fakeso fake that they distract the viewer. It's a pity that only once does Reloaded use the special effect that defined The Matrix.
NOTE: THE REST OF THIS ANALYSIS CONTAINS SPOILERS! DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN "RELOADED."
Even if Reloaded has no story, it is a puzzle quite fun to dissect. Here I am going to address some of the theories I've seen. Note that while there are only two subjects listed, I will cover several related ideas within these sections.
The Double Matrix
The popular Double Matrix theory suggests that the "real world" (Zion) is a fake, another simulation of the Matrix. The ease with which this conclusion can be reached makes me inclined to believe it isn't true; it's just a quick way to explain Neo's sudden ability to sense/control the Sentinels at the end of the film. He could even be a computer programthey all could be computer programs, which would explain all the references to Neo's "code." If the real world is not real, then what is? Is the "man vs. machine" conflict a lie? Is this a case of man controlling machine, machine controlling machine, aliens controlling man and machine, or some geeks playing a video game? The possibilities are endless, which makes the theory ultimately unconvincingany legitimate theory would be definite, not indefinite.
The first "hint" to the Double Matrix theory is Agent Smith's ability to take over Bane, a member of the resistance, both in the Matrix and in the real world. That Smith, a computer program, can possess a human like a ghost or a demon seems too far-fetched to be believable; yet no one has questioned any previous example of events in the Matrix affecting the real world. Did anyone think there was a double Matrix when Mouse and Neo died in the first film? Did anyone question how information could be "uploaded" into the brain? We have seen that things in the Matrix can and do affect real life, and we have seen this without any "hints" that the real world is a fake. It is entirely possible that, if things can be "uploaded" into someone's brain, then something can be "downloaded" as wellthe brain, in this universe, is a computer.
The second "hint" is the spoon Neo receives just before he leaves to meet the Oracle. This is a reference to the first movie. It doesn't mean anything. In fact, if my eyes weren't being deceptive, Neo looked amused, and nowhere near, "Dude, this might Mean Something." Also, Kid's convenient interruption prevents Smith-possessed Bane from stabbing Neo with the knife he had in his hand. There are several such conveniences throughout the movie. The spoon is probably more a case of bad screenwriting than it is a Big Hint.
The third "hint" is the Architect's speech, discussed below, and the scene directly afterwardsNeo's revival of Trinity, mirroring her own revival of Neo in the first film. This ties in with Smith's ability to possess Bane and doesn't suggest a Double Matrix.
Keanu Reeves confronts The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded.
The biggest "hint" is Neo's power over the Sentinels. There's no clear explanation for this. In the video game, Enter the Matrix, the Oracle (played now by Mary Alice) explains to Logos crewmates Ghost and Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) what happened to Neo:
"He touched the Source and separated his mind from his body. Now he lies trapped in a place between your world and ours."
This is the same explanation she gives Trinity in Revolutions (as seen in the advertisements). Taking, then, the evidence from the Enter the Matrix and the ads for Revolutions, it can be concluded that the ending is a sign of what powers makes this One special. Another explanation could be that his "connection" with Smith has enabled him to control the Sentinels.
The Architect and the Mother of the Matrix
Neo's "quest" throughout Reloaded brings him to the Source, "where the path of the One ends," when the war will end. There he meets the Architect, creator of the Matrix, who tells him the history and nature of the Matrix. We learn that Neo is not the only One and that the machines have a much stronger control over humans than what was originally thought. Zion, he reveals, is not another simulation, but a place where the machines can control humans who reject the Matrix program.
Who or what the Architect is remains unclear. He could be a machine projecting itself as a man in the Matrix, or he could be another program. Neo chooses to trust him, which would seem a mistake since the Architect could be lying to confuse or coerce Neo into making a specific choice. However, nothing the Architect says contradicts anything that has been said or done in the two films. There was a previous version of the MatrixSmith alluded to it while interrogating Morpheus. There have been other Ones because of the Oracle's prophecy of the return of the One (referred to by Morpheus in the first film), the Merovingian's references to Neo's "predecessors," as well as several characters, including Smith, "expecting" Neo as if events were "happening exactly as before" (something Smith says to a clone early in Reloaded). Zion has been destroyed before, as implicated in a scene in Enter the Matrix, in which Niobe encounters an old man who says that Zion lasted only 72 hours "last time." And what the Architect said about Trinity is trueshe did die, and Neo did nothing to stop it. He only brought her back to life after she had died.
So, if the Architect is not lying, Neo is the sixth "One" and the Matrix has existed for more than one hundred years. The first Matrix, described as "a perfect human world…where none suffered, where everyone would be happy" by Agent Smith, was a failure that lead to the redesign reflecting "the varying grotesqueries of [human] nature." This also failed, thus creating the necessity to find a solution, which was eventually found by "an intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche," otherwise known as the "mother" of the Matrix. This program "stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly ninety-nine percent of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level."
The "choice" is free will. Humans would not accept the first version of the Matrix because they did not have free willthey were forced to be happy, forced to live perfect lives. The redesign similarly had no free will, because the Architect had not yet discovered that free will was the solution to his problem. Being "bound by the parameters of perfection," the Architect did not allow humans to have free will because he knew that total control was perfect and choice was imperfect. However, giving humans choice was the only way they would accept the program.
The problem with this solution is the one percent who refuse the program. If this one percent remained unchecked or uncontrolled, there would be "an escalating probably of disaster"the problem created by the Resistance. Zion and the anomaly are the means to control the one percent. Zion is where the one percent and all those who they free from the Matrix are controlled. They will all be killed with the emergence of the anomaly, an unavoidable error/irrationality in the Matrix code. The anomaly is used to restart the Matrix, and, if he makes the right choice, to rebuild Zion for the one percent. But, again, this system is flawed. While the anomaly can be pushed in a certain direction, the choice to restart the Matrix is entirely up to the anomaly and not to the machines. Thus, the anomaly may choose not to restart the Matrix. In such an event, he will cause "cataclysmic system crash, killing everyone connected to the Matrix, which, coupled with the extermination of Zion, will ultimately result in the extinction of the entire human race."
Obviously, the previous Ones chose to restart the Matrix. The previous Ones were "designed" to have a "profound attachment" to the human race, thus the choice that would lead to its extinction was, of course, not a decision they would want to make. The sixth One, however, presents a problem, as his experience is "specific" to one person. Neo has been shown from the start to be antisocial. He is an introvert who can't deal with people as well as he can computers. But twice Neo has been successfully lured out of solitude amidst a crowd by one personTrinity. He may be loyal to other people (Morpheus), but he loves Trinity the most. She has become his "humanity," and thus, when presented with the choice to save her or save mankind, he chooses her. (This presents a contradiction to the theory of the Merovingian and Persephone being earlier versions of Neo and Trinity, because the previous Ones did not have a similar experience to Neo; otherwise they would have made the same choice.) So the "fundamental flaw" is revealedfree will, letting humans live and act the way they desire instead of living and acting the way the Architect desires.
Somemost of whom support the Double Matrix theorybelieve that the previous Ones are still running around somewhere in the Matrix or in Zion. Everyone from the Merovingian to members of the Zion council to Agent Smith himself have been labeled as "Ones." Most of these theories are ridiculous, in particular the theory that Agent Smith is a One. Smith is neither a One for humans or machines; he is a rogue program bent on controlling the Matrix himself. Moreover, the One has to be human (assuming Neo is human and the Double Matrix theory is false.) The Zion Councilors as previous Ones is a great theory if one forgets the prophecy Morpheus tells Neo. The previous "One" is dead.
Having established the truth of the Matrix and the identities of the "One" and the Architect, who, then, is the "mother" who created the solution? She is not the Oracle for many reasons, the most obvious reason being that the Architect denied that she was. A popular theory regarding the Architect's "denial" is that he reacted to the name "The Oracle," not to the idea that she was the "mother"somewhat of a forgivable mistake, since the Architect returned to his train of thought after saying, "Please." But though the Oracle may be a mother figure to the Resistance, the Oracle does not fit the description of the "mother." She is not an investigative program, nor is she very much concerned with the human psyche. The program that does fit the description is Persephone (Monica Bellucci). Described by Time magazine as a "vampire of human emotion," Persephone is very keen on the emotions of the human characters she meets. Her husband is a "trafficker of information," which might mean the two worked together to investigate what made humans human. The only other possibility is that the "mother" is a character we have not met yet.
and analysis © October 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.
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