In the Wachowski Brothers’ 1996 directing debut, Bound, they guided Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly through one hell of an original dark comedy. It was funny and made your blood rush to all the right places, but gave nobody a clue about what they’d do next. That, of course, was The Matrix (1999), a masterful cocktail of action effects and mind-bending sci-fi, laced with a swig of cultural criticism, a snifter of Buddhism and a twist of some of the coolest set designs and background music to come along in a while. Immediately inducted into the sci-fi master-canon, it made a ton of loot and guaranteed that two projected sequels would materialize. But the second installment, The Matrix Reloaded, proves that a seminal masterpiece is a tough act to follow.
Geezer: The original cast is back — Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, Keanu Reeves as Neo and fabulously smirking Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith — plus a bunch of cool additions: Monica Bellucci, professional boxer Roy Jones Jr., Jada Pinkett Smith, Lambert Wilson and a cameo by academic critic Cornel West.
Weezer: This movie starts off poorly. The first plot lines are weak and the dialogue at the beginning sucks — like when they get to Zion, the refuge of the humans.
Geezer: What about the look of the place, the way the citizens act and the dancing?
Weezer: I hated the dancing — it was the stupidest thing in the movie and was sooo long. And then the love scene between Trinity and Neo is horrifying. Carrie-Ann Moss is kind of attractive, I guess, but she and Keanu looked so goofy with all those black input nodes all over their bodies. A good love scene can be really powerful, but if it’s done just OK, then it’s going to look bad. Here, they could have implied the sexual encounter without explicitly showing it.
Geezer: In the rave scene, the people are dancing to a jungle version of techno and the Wachowskis went out of their way to make this population totally multicultural, with the proportions of black and Asian to white much higher than in the current American mix. It’s a vision of society developed in that direction.
Weezer: If I was a set designer who got to work on The Matrix Reloaded, I’d be really geeked, especially if I got to build the Zion set. But they hardly need a set designer for this sequel. It’s “blue-screened” most of the time, which means the backgrounds are computer-generated. It’s effectively an oil-painting backdrop, which just looks cheesy. You can see that the actors are not interacting with their environment.
Overall, Reloaded’s special effects were well done. But in the scene where Moss jumps out of a skyscraper, the famous “bullet time” (bullets rippling through the air in slow motion) is super-excessive.
Geezer: They’ve changed quite a bit in this film. There’s a different feel to it. The Matrix projected a clandestine situation, and a revelation about programming and behind-the-scenes power. But Reloaded’s pop-sci-fi story looks even more like a comic book.
Weezer: Yeah, Neo charges himself up and flies around …
Geezer: I love the scene where he fights a hundred versions of Agent Smith — it’s beautifully done.
Weezer: They’re bragging that in Reloaded they’ve made exact computer doubles of actors — templates of Neo, Morpheus, etc. — but when Neo’s fighting all those agents, you can see he’s computer-animated. Though it was a cool scene, a satire on corporate America with all those guys in ties and suits.
Geezer: On the thematic level, the story — about this mind-control system keeping all of humanity in a permanent state of delusion — has now shifted to a contrast between corporate culture and what you might call “hippie” consciousness. That’s the purpose of that dance ceremony scene you didn’t like. All those Rastas, hipsters and punks are fighting the corporate structure. For me, the whole thing was kind of compelling and the philosophical discussions, though sometimes confusing, were pretty interesting.
Weezer: In the scene where Neo is talking to the Architect, the guy who constructed the Matrix, there’s a misty area where we’re not supposed to understand everything they’re saying. We’re only human, you know.
Geezer: When they’re talking about the law of cause and effect, there’s even a suggestion of the Buddhist notion of karma.
Weezer: I was really bummed for the first half-hour, but after a poor start, Reloaded starts doing some cool things visually and story-wise. There are a few good plot twists and explanations, which I bought. But the problem is how do you follow The Matrix? What’s there left to do? After watching the first movie, you leave thinking that Neo is the god of this computer system. He has cracked the code and can do anything he wants. But in this sequel, he’s still limited. Neo shouldn’t be flying at incredible speeds — speed should be completely irrelevant to him, because it’s a waste of time. Technically, he should be able to transfer his physical body, his “information,” to any point in the system at will — not flying, but teleporting instantaneously. He should have no strength limit …
Geezer: Then what kind of movie would you have?
Weezer: Exactly … how do you follow up a movie in which you’ve just given your main character the powers of God?
George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a high school senior. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.