1 item from 2003
Thursday, May 15
"The Matrix" rewrote the textbook for movie science fiction. The surprise 1999 sleeper hit -- Warner Bros. Pictures' biggest until "Harry Potter" came along -- did what science fiction and fantasy often do: It questioned the nature of reality and drew inspiration from philosophy and Eastern and Western spiritual thought. But for its borrowings from Lewis Carroll, William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, among others, the movie stood as a unique creation. Its authors, the highly talented Andy and Larry Wachowski, pulled the movie's many themes and ideas together into one of the great entertainments in recent pop culture.
Like "Blade Runner", "2001" and "Metropolis", the movie made us rethink the nature of our world. The "Matrix" phenomenon also inspired several books analyzing its references and cultural impact. "The Matrix Reloaded", the first of two sequels being released this year, points to the discouraging prospect that the Wachowskis may have read those books and started to believe in their own semimythological status, for the brothers seem to be taking themselves way too seriously.
The first movie was pitched to a broad spectrum of moviegoers, combining the best elements of storytelling, action and computer and visual effects. While upping the ante considerably in the action and effects department, storytelling stumbles frequently this outing as the movie stops cold for philosophical digressions about fate and destiny and reality. These remind one ever so much of tortuous university lectures in symbolic logic on a warm spring day. Instead of Zen-influenced truths punctuating the action and characters' decisions as in the first installment, these now impede the narration.
The film, of course, is a sure thing at the boxoffice. In fact, each sequel, "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions" (coming Nov. 7) -- reportedly costing more than $300 million to make -- will easily pass the $460 million worldwide gross of the original film. Opening weekend for "Reloaded" should come close to $100 million, with a potential for a $300 million domestic boxoffice.
"Reloaded" wants to burrow much deeper into the complexity of both the Matrix, that computer-fabricated world that lulls its human slaves into the delusion of a normal life, and the "real" world, where liberated humans can battle artificially intelligent Machines. Perhaps the gamble here is that "The Matrix"'s many fans will willingly sit through lengthy character introductions and further amplification of the philosophical realm in which the final battle must be won in order to lay the groundwork for "Revolutions".
Like his character, a computer hacker who goes by the handle of Neo, Keanu Reeves has clearly grown in conviction and physical agility to wear comfortably the dark clothes of the series' hero. Playing to the actor's strengths, the Wachowskis have made Neo in the mode of Western heroes played by Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd -- strong, silent men who do what they have to do.
Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus, Neo's spiritual guru and guide in the first episode, handles well the transition to someone who is not quite a sidekick yet must recede into a role that requires him to be the conduit of the Wachowskis' philosophical ruminations.
Carrie-Anne Moss returns as Trinity, the female warrior whose love for Neo and faith in Morpheus provide the rock from which both men can confidently battle. Her fights and stunts, especially a wild motorcycle ride during a freeway chase, continue to be the highlight of the series. She is the movies' best female action star since Linda Hamilton in the "Terminator" series.
"Reloaded" sends Neo on a personal quest to understand the nature of the task he accepted when he embraced his identity as the long-sought "One". To do so, Neo re-enters the Matrix. In his search for truth, he visits the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), protected by the fighter Seraph (Collin Chou); rescues the Keymaker Randall Duk Kim), who knows the system's weakness; encounters new foes in Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a Matrix political heavyweight, his duplicitous trophy wife, Persephone (Monica Bellucci), and the Twins (English black-belt brothers Neil and Adrian Rayment), a silver-clad albino duo in dreadlocks; and finally encounters the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), the godlike creator of the Matrix.
Meanwhile, a Machine army bores down on Zion, humanity's last enclave deep within the Earth. At times, its vast machines and torch-lit cavernous rooms remind one of a crowded cathedral where hope still rules. Another time, when everyone parties down, it looks like a rave. Zion's three heroes are aided by new characters including Niobe Jada Pinkett Smith), an ex-flame of Morpheus'; the wise Councillor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe); Link (Harold Perrineau), a crewman on Morpheus' hovercraft; and Link's anxious wife, Zee (Nona Gaye).
The evil Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), so explosively "deleted" from the system in the original film, makes a startling comeback not only as a free agent loose within the Matrix but who has the ability to replicate himself 100-fold -- which leads to the movie's first great fight sequence and the first glimpse of one of the film's problems.
Determined to one-up themselves in the area of effects, the Wachowskis move beyond "bullet time" -- those moments of slow motion seen by a camera moving at regular speed -- to put on film an epic rumble created through motion-capture data and virtual reality. This pits Neo against 100 Agent Smith clones in a city courtyard. Making and breaking the rules of 3-D animation, the sequence is technologically astonishing -- but repetitive and dull. Over and over, Neo slams aside these Agent Smiths, and over and over they spring back to attack. It's an amazing demonstration of movie magic, but it has virtually no impact on story or character. In fact, when Neo tires of the whole thing and simply flies up from the courtyard and away -- doing his "Superman thing", as Link puts it -- more than a few viewers may wonder: Why the hell he didn't do that in the first place?
Unlike "The Matrix", all fights and stunts -- including a 14-minute freeway chase -- have a disturbing tendency to repeat intricately choreographed action. Thus, computer technology and overkill supplant the ingenuity of the original film's action.
How this strategy of raising the bar in special effects and annotating most nonaction scenes with philosophical and mythological references will pay off in the final chapter may ultimately validate the Wachowski brothers' choices in this film. As the Matrix deteriorates in "Revolutions", much of "Reloaded" may resonate in ways we can now only imagine.
THE MATRIX RELOADED
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures presents in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment a Silver Pictures production
Screenwriters-directors: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Producer: Joel Silver
Director of photography: Bill Pope
Production designer: Owen Paterson
Music: Don Davis
Visual effects supervisor: John Gaeta
Costume designer: Kym Barrett
Editor: Zach Staenberg
Neo: Keanu Reeves
Morpheus: Laurence Fishburne
Trinity: Carrie-Anne Moss
Agent Smith: Hugo Weaving
Niobe: Jada Pinkett Smith
Oracle: Gloria Foster
Persephone: Monica Bellucci
Seraph: Collin Chou
Zee: Nona Gaye
Keymaker: Randall Duk Kim
Commander Lock: Harry Lennix
Link: Harold Perrineau
The Twins: Neil Rayment, Adrian Rayment
Merovingian: Lambert Wilson
Running time -- 139 minutes (including scenes from "The Matrix Revolutions")
MPAA rating: R »
1 item from 2003
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