This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bad movie #1 -- The Matrix: Revolutions

Netflix Diary: The Matrix: Revolutions

(The Matrix: Confusions.)

(The Matrix: Programs are People Too.)

When you cast Keanu Reeves as the main character in your action trilogy, you take the good with the bad. The good? You get teenage girls in the audience. The Bad? Unless he’s playing some sort of mentally incoherent action-savant, everything he says and does will seem wooden and unnatural. He just isn’t convincing enough to carry a film or even a scene. So you have to hope that the movie will quietly end before the audience realizes just how bad Keanu is. This is not an acceptable state of affairs if you’re trying to make your main character a Jesus-figure (which the Matrix people are), and the way they handled this problem is pretending Keanu is a real actor, which is understandable given the amount of money they stood to make. However, this decision also made it impossible for the film to be any good. In the future, the term “Faustian Bargain” should be changed to “Keanuian Bargain”, because it’s a deal with the devil. Or the Devil’s Advocate.

The second installment in the Trilogy, Reloaded, felt like a movie that never should have been made, coming so long after the original and having so many unnecessary new characters and plot points that we didn’t care about (ok, so Matrix Freaks cared, but if we cared about everything they cared about we’d all be wearing black and jumping off buildings). Revolutions carries with it all this baggage plus its own, and the question it has to answer is: Will the ending be good enough to justify the existence of these two sequels, or should they have quit while they were still geniuses? I think we both know the answer to that, but let’s have fun pretending to find the answer anyway.

Revolutions picks up the moment Reloaded left off, so a bit of a recap may be in order (or see previous post for my recap). To make a long story short: Neo had to get to this one big white building, a bunch of humans died to get him into the building, and all he did was meet a program called the Architect and get verbally slapped around. He then chose to save his girlfriend and doom humanity. Meanwhile, the humans did a bunch of stuff nobody cares about (like the kid giving Keanu a spoon). Agent Smith from the first movie also became a rogue agent with the ability to turn Matrix people into clones of himself, and the Army of Him and Neo fought twice. In the end, Neo found he could now control sentinels with his mind, and Smith took over a human named Bane, who did a bunch of bad stuff.

Revolutions opens on one of the humans’ ships (all of which look like they have electro-biscuits on their sides, which makes me hungry just thinking about them – has any character ever explained the biscuits? I can’t remember), where people are discussing the next course of action. For a few moments, I was hoping against hope that the movie makers cut Keanu from the film entirely in a last-ditch effort to save the Trilogy, but alas, he’s alive. Carrie Anne Moss is looking mighty tore up these days when she’s not in her black leather Matrix outfit, btw. The humans are looking for Neo, and hopeless but still big Morpheus tells them to look in the Matrix for him even though he’s not jacked in right now. They can’t find him in there, and all hope is lost. Just kidding. We flash to the story of Bane, who’s still not conscious either. It seems Bane tried to kill himself, judging by the slashes on his wrists. Now why would he do that, wonder the rest of the humans. The audience knows. Ok, so that’s kind of cool. In fact, after being sort of lukewarm/hostile to the idea of Bane after the second film, I really liked him here. I’ll even go so far as to call him the best part of this movie that’s not a special effect. Don’t get excited, Bane, that’s not really saying much.

It turns out Neo is in another Matrix, the so-called “Train Station”, which would have been a cool idea were it not built by a homeless program working for the Merovingian. That’s right, we have to see that guy again. The mere mention of his name makes my eyes start rolling. Neo has this touching scene in the Train Station where he talks to a well-groomed Indian program, his cold unfeeling wife program, and his beautiful daughter(!) program. Do programs have sex? Anyway, the Indian program (who was a bit character from the second movie, so he claims – I’m not about to go back and look for him, though) explains to Neo that programs can love just like humans do, because “Love is a connection between two things” or some Maya Angelou crap. He also explains to Neo that programs have Karma, because they all have their Michael W. Smith-style Place in This World. It’s about this point I begin thinking: isn’t this movie starting out a bit heavy on the exposition? Where’s the “matrixing”? Where’s the karate? Where are the near-mute Albino Twins (note: not appearing in this film, which is a pity)? Anyway, the homeless “Train Man” picks up the Indian family and demonstrates that he has all the dirty homeless power there by punching Neo into a wall. Neo’s stuck in the train station until this hostile homeless man lets him out. It’s like every homeless man’s dream – absolute power over a small insignificant portion of the world.

Also, and for no apparent reason, there is a “MOBIL AVE” sign on the wall of the Train Station. It’s these kinds of stylistic touches that make the Matrix what it is today. The homeless man built this place, remember? And the only sign he decided to put up is just a random street sign? The programs may have love, but they severely lack imagination.

Trinity and Morpheus go to see the Oracle (played by a different actress? The dialogue seems to indicate this, though I can’t tell the difference), and I audibly groan. The Oracle was ok in the first film, but the part she plays in these two subsequent films is to grind the movie to a halt and lie to the other characters. I actually hate this character – the patronizing older black lady persona, the smoking, the condescending way she talks, the circular reasoning and self-help-speak she uses in lieu of practical advice – it all bothers me. So when she actually gives Trinity real advice (namely, to go see the Frenchman about getting his “employee” the Train Man to get Neo out of the Train Station), I am shocked. Where’s the typical non-answer of, “You already know where Neo is, you just have to know you know it”? She even gives Trinity and Morpheus her “bodyguard” Seraph as a guide to find the homeless jerk. What is this old lady up to? Oracle, this is highly irregular. The movie just sort of glosses over the fact that the Oracle is now being helpful, as if she were a good guy all along. This was the same old bitty that put Neo on that wild goose chase that ended up at the Architect’s office, so why are the humans listening to her now? They deserve to be matrixed right then and there.

Seraph leads Trinity and Morpheus to the Train Man, looking as homeless as ever on (you guessed it) a train. They chase him, but the surprisingly dexterous homeless man escapes. This means they have to go and see Merovingian, the so-called “Frenchman”, and this time without any Albino Twins to keep things interesting. All the Frenchman does all day is sit in pretend nightclubs and run his pretend racket, apparently. Merovingian has plenty of bodyguards, though, and the first karate-and-guns match of the movie is a boring one where leather-wearing extras run upside down on the ceiling and shoot at the good guys. With the techno music pulsing in the background, it seems like a particularly crazy episode of Alias, and it can’t end soon enough for my taste. The thing is, we know they have to get to the Merovingian to get the Train Man to get Neo, so why not just cut to the chase? In fact, we know that Neo will have to fight Smith in the end, so why not just cut to that chase while you’re at it? You could release it as an internet-only short film and not have to pay that scene-eating Oracle any more money.

Yeah, so they get to Merovingian after he takes away their weapons, and the dirty Frenchman proposes a trade: Neo for the “Eyes of the Oracle”. I’ve never liked a Frenchman this much, ever. As delightful as the thought of Morpheus de-eyeing that crazy old lady is, the movie decides that spending a half hour more getting Neo out of limbo is not something it wants to do. It has chosen wisely, because at this point the only human we care about is Neo. Allow me to now assert that the Matrix is just another Lord of the Rings rip-off in a world filled with them:

We all know that Neo has to be the one to save everyone, even though there’s all this war and stuff going on everywhere. Just like Frodo, the fate of mankind hinges on one man’s insane quest apart from the overall war. For Frodo, it’s going to the heart of Mordor and destroying the One Ring; for Neo, it’s going to the heart of Machine City and making a deal to bring peace and destroy the One Program, Agent Smith. He even gets a Samwise to go with him, in this case Trinity. Please feel free to look for other parallels as this recap unfolds.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit here -- back to the accursed Frenchman. I can’t tell you what else was said in the scene because I was too preoccupied with Monica Belucci’s inflated and bulbous chest. Seriously, it’s bulbous. It was like two giant balloons sitting in the chair to the left of the Frenchman. That dress must have had some scaffolding or hydraulic support in there because those things are just not naturally like that. I snapped back to reality when Trinity said, “I don’t have time for this s___,” which sums up the audience’s feelings perfectly. It was the best line of the entire movie. She gets a gun and pulls it on the Frenchman, who (just like France would) capitulates and sends them on the Homeless Express to MOBIL AVE. Trinity gets out of the train and sees Neo, and they hug and kiss, and we hug and kiss each other in the audience because the people next to us are hot and we know that is the last we will ever see of the accursed Merovingian.

Unfortunately, our elation is short-lived as Neo goes to see the accursed Oracle in an effort to hear as many lies as he can in one day. He succeeds, as she tells him that Agent Smith was made by the Architect as a way to maintain the balance of the Matrix, and that she, the Oracle, is there to unbalance it. Neo believes her because he’s a rube, and Neo makes his triumphant return to the hell hole that is the underground Zion world perplexed by all that has happened. At least Keanu looks perplexed. That could just be his big dumb face, however.

Agent Smith visits the Oracle next in her old-lady apartment complex after cornering Seraph and the little girl from the Train Station in the hallway. We don’t know what happens to them, but we presume it isn’t good. Don’t worry, though – they show up again at the end to confuse us some more. Oracle tells him to do what he came there to do, which is take over her body and make her another Smith-clone. He says, “you would know, mom,” at some point, which means that the Oracle created him! Ooo dang. Again, what is this crazy lady up to? When Smith turns her into him, he says, “I’ll stop the world and melt with you.” Oh, wait – that was Modern English. The other Smiths are taken aback by Oracle/Smith, who seems to be the new head Smith. I wonder if this is how the other Smiths felt when Morrissey left. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Oracle/Smith laughs maniacally, and my brain folds back into itself.

It’s at this point the movie takes a left turn into the world of Zion for the better part of an hour. I really hated this part, the attack of Zion. Besides feeling like a rip-off of several better movies (Mechs? I mean, seriously, is this 1996? Someone’s been watching too much anime), the whole thing just doesn’t matter, and we all know it doesn’t matter. It’s LOTR without the emotional resonance. We just don’t care about these people because they’re contrived and annoying. They exist solely just to pull at our heart strings, and none of them seem human. In fact, the computers seem more human at times. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that’s the message the filmmakers wanted to send.

Morpheus’ girlfriend Niobe shows up and they have this big scene where Neo says he has to take a ship to Mount Doom, er, Machine City, and one of the ship commanders says, “No way, man – you’re not the messiah anymore.” Niobe, however, gives Neo her ship and commandeers the unbeliever’s ship for the sake of narrative simplicity. Neo goes to Machine City for some unknown (even to him) reason with Trinity and the stowed-away and highly murderous Bane, and the rest go down a mine shaft to Zion. Meanwhile, Minas Tirith, er, Zion is making preparations for a meaningless war against the approaching machines. This threefold action drives the rest of the movie. Can you handle it?

Trinity discovers Bane hiding in the fuse room and he brandishes a knife on her. Neo comes down and confronts Bane/Smith about it, and they talk for a while. In a great bit, Bane uses the same overproper speaking cadence Smith uses, but Neo still can’t figure out who he’s dealing with, even as Bane repeatedly calls him, “Mr. Anderson”. He may be the messiah, but he is not the sharpest knife in the knife holding area. Neo and Bane finally fight (in a strobe-lit hallway with no “matrixing” – boring!), and Bane blinds Neo with electricity, which turns out to be a spectacularly bad move on Bane’s part. Neo can’t technically see, but sees Agent Smith in some sort of infared-looking “fire-vision”. In fire-vision, Agent Smith has sunglasses. Heh. Neo disbands Bane/Smith, and this is the last we see of these two lovebirds for like half an hour, because we have to concentrate on sucky Zion now. And by the way, Matrix people, Zion rhymes with “lyin’”, not “Cylon”. Idiots.

Niobe pilots the plane through this shaft which is supposed to be impossible to navigate, but Niobe is so smoove she only crashes once. Sentinels are all over her ship by the time she gets to Zion, and the big question of the Zion war becomes, “Can they get the gate open for Niobe?” Of course they can. But the way they do it is pure moviemaking crap. Let me now give an overlong explanation why it’s crap:

Our story starts in Zion, of course, the dirty metal underground CGI home of the remaining humans. In Zion there are a bunch of characters we hate because they only exist to make us feel sorry for them. The most glaring example of this is the young lad who misguidedly gave Keanu a spoon in Reloaded. He shows up in this movie (although I don’t realize it’s him until about halfway through this whole Zion fight sequence) and we’re supposed to feel for him because he’s so young and full of enthusiasm, and overlook how much he annoys us and the fact that he totally seems more like a caricature than a real person. He’s the Brave Kid who Comes of Age, and we all know it. He’s either there to die and be avenged, or save the day in some unlikely and soul-affirming way. He’s a prop with lines, a device to move the plot along.

Zion’s defense system consists of several different units strategically placed with their guns aimed at the hole the invaders are coming through. By far the most fun of these units are the mechs, which for those of you who haven’t played video games or watched anime the last 20 years are like giant robot suits people put on and use in battle. When the sentinel’s “driller” pokes a hole in Zion’s ceiling (no better way to explain that – sorry) and crashes to the floor below, the commander of these mechs says, “Knuckle up!”, which I found quite funny. Even though the commander character is annoying (for an example of this, note the scene where he basically tells the 16-year-old spoon kid that if he doesn’t do his job right he’ll kill him. Way to lay even more pressure on the stupid scared fleeb, commander), he nearly justifies his existence in the movie with that one line. See? I’m not too hard on these characters, am I? I really want to like this movie, believe it or not. It just goes to such great lengths to drive me crazy, so I must lash out at it.

A bazillion sentinels (remember, the squid-looking many-eyed robots of death) pour in through the hole made by the “driller”, and the mechs shoot them. There’s gunfire all over the place. The humans seem to be losing. I actually think to myself at this point, “If this war is going to be nothing but mechs shooting into the air, I’m outta here.” I think the driller that fell through the ceiling then becomes this like 4-legged death robot. This brings us to the next unit the humans have, the 2-girl Dual-bazooka Team. One girl loads the shells into the dual tubes, and the other girl aims and shoots them at stuff. It’s terribly explosive, especially as we follow G.I. Jane (which beat out my other potential nicknames like Sinead and Boys Don’t Cry) and Link’s Wife (who gets a verbal beat-down by Anna Espinosa pre-battle – since she was on Alias, I have to mention it.) as they try to blow up the big robot, semi-succeed, ultimately fail, and run away like the bunch of girls they are. G.I. Jane eventually gets killed by stabby sentinel arms, by the way, so don’t get too attached to her bald head. But Link’s Wife moves on to bigger and better action, as she overhears that the doors need to be opened so that Niobe’s electric biscuit ship can get through.

Spoon Kid turns out to have the worst job in the army – the “reloader” (backhanded slap toward the second movie maybe? Don’t rule it out. Of course, they’d be slapping themselves) – which basically means he has to run out into the sentinel-infested battlefield when Commander Grumpy calls for ammo and load it into the mech’s robot backside. It’s like the worst system ever. If the sentinels were really smart, they’d just hang out by the reloaders and their two escorts and pick them off one-by-one. Poof, no more ammo. But they don’t, and Commander Grumpy calls for Spoon Kid to reload him, and you just know this isn’t going to be good. A couple minutes of screen time and two dead escorts later, Spoon Kid has reached the now-dying commander and reloaded him, and the commander gives him the news that the door has to be opened. Who can do it? Spoon Kid can! With timely help from Lock’s wife, Spoon Kid gets the door opened just in time for Niobe to come crashing through, three biscuits to the wind. Unfortunately, the Spoon Kid survives, Link is reunited with his wife, and the ship sends out its EMP, which kills all the robots instantly but also kills most of their defenses. The good news? We see very little of Zion from this point on, and what we do see looks like Dante’s inferno. The bad news? Neo still exists, and he’s still being portrayed by Keanu Reeves.

By the way, I told you that the whole door-opening thing was narrative crap. A whole half hour of it, in fact.

Neo and Trinity approach Machine City, which at first seems as unguarded as Amy Grant was in the late 80’s. I’m thinking, they really did rip off Lord of the Rings, eh? All the Sentinels went off to war and left Machine City ripe for a ringing. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the giant arms that are floating around aimlessly turn out to be giant sentinel-shooting guns. Tons of the buggers come at Neo and Trinity, and Neo’s firey eyes can’t kill them all. They decide to go “up”, and go over the clouds of Machine City to the sky above, and it’s like our sky here on earth –beautiful and bright. This was a good scene, so of course they end it after only a few seconds. Having proven that beauty still exists in the real world, they come crashing down to the machine world and Trinity dies. Of course, having the emotional heart of your Trilogy die is going to be a moving scene, right? Somehow Keanu sucks all the life out of it. She tells him he must go on and save Zion, and he disagrees with the fact that she’s dying. He’s wrong again. It’s the kind of thing that would be touching in a better movie. The filmmakers should be asking themselves, “Why doesn’t the audience care about these people?” Right before she dies, she says, “Oh, and by the way, my name’s not Trinity. It’s Eilene.” Or maybe that just happened in the movie inside my mind.

Back in Zion, more sentinels threaten the defenseless humans who are holed up in “the Temple”. Is this the end of my species? By that I mean, the members of my species who aren’t still in the Matrix, assimilated into Agent Smith?

Neo calmly walks up to the King of the Machines (as represented by a bunch of little machines forming a face with a booming voice – cool effect), and they make a deal – Neo “neutralizes”[1] Agent Smith, whom the machines can’t stop, and the machines will make peace with the humans. What does this really mean? We don’t know. But we do know it sets up a Matrix-fight between Neo and Smith, which is what we’re all here for, so get on with it already.

Neo does meet Smith in the Agent Smith-run Matrix, and Smith informs him that the Oracle informed him that he would win this battle. Presumably, that’s why he was maniacally laughing before. As we’ll soon see, that’s not entirely true. Even when being assimilated, the old woman lies. She lies to everyone, not just the good guys. Just like Maya Angelou.

Neo and Smith fight and fight and fight, Matrix-style with strobe lights and rain to cover up any potential bad rendering. It seems Agent Smith has assimilated everyone in the world, since we see nobody out there in the Matrix but other Agent Smiths. The computers couldn’t stop him, the Architect couldn’t stop him, and the only person who can stop him is Neo…or can he? After some kung-fu fighting, Smith is beating our hero, who lies hurt in a muddy Dallas-sized pothole. Keanu gets up and does Bruce Li’s famous “motion toward himself with the tips of his fingers come-here gesture.” It’s like, first he’s trying to be Jesus, and now Bruce Li too? It’s like they don’t even care anymore.

Keanu’s fist finally CGI smooshes Smith’s face, and Smith gets mad and ultimately hurts Keanu some more (in a crash that looks like a CGI nuclear explosion and that was probably much more impressive in the theater), and then asks him why he keeps getting up, and Keanu’s like, come here and find out, and Smith assimilates Neo, and Neo/Smith smiles, then blows the heck up. Then for some reason the rest of the Smiths break up as well. Stupid Morrissey. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist again. It’s just too easy. Anyhoo, Neo in the real world seems to be dead as the machines tenderly take him away into the Grey Havens, er, nowhere in particular. The Matrix undoes all the “improvements” Agent Smith made, and the Little Indian Girl from the train station wakes up and greets a cat. Seriously, that happens. The sentinels leave Zion, which causes as Monty Python would say “much rejoicing”, until the humans realize that they live in a stinking underground burning pit of despair with only each other and no chance to see the sky. It’s enough to make you go back to the Matrix. Yes, the truth is out there waiting to be discovered, but sometimes it’s just easier to go with the flow and be assimilated by a rogue program in a peaceful Matrix. That’s the message of the Trilogy, as far as I can tell.

Speaking of the Matrix, The Oracle apparently survived the Assimilation and Neo-Destruction of Agent Smith, because she’s sitting on a bench in the Matrix. The Architect comes to her and tells her that she’s “playing a dangerous game”. She knows. I told you she was up to something. He asks her if she thinks the peace will really last, and you realize that this old lady orchestrated the whole thing just to get peace between Zion and the machines, which is an odd thing for a program to want. Oh, and she also got “freedom” for a few of her program “friends” who wanted it, so that probably explains her motivation. Just roll with it. She groomed the humans to find Neo, she created Agent Smith (he called her “mom”, remember), she lied and lied throughout the whole Trilogy, and she finally got the deal she wanted. She’s like the Bud Selig of this Matrix-world. Seraph and the Little Girl come up to the Oracle and they have the final conversation in the movie. Little Girl has made a great sunrise or sunset (I don’t remember which) for Neo, who will never see it because he’s probably dead and if not he probably isn’t too anxious to get back to the Matrix.

So this whole story turned out to be just a program-waving contest between Oracle and The Architect. That’s just silly. It would have been better if they would have gone with one of my suggestions like making Zion another Matrix, or replacing Keanu Reeves with rotoscope-animated Keanu Reeves. I guess that’ll never happen though. I mean, nobody would be audacious enough to rotoscope over his bad acting, right? Right? ;).

Because it kind of makes you think, 2 overpriced popcorns out of 5. It didn’t totally suck, I guess. But whither the Albino Twins? They shoehorned Monica Booblucci into the film, why couldn’t they stuff them in there as well?

[1] I apologize for the footnote, but this topic is too big and unwieldy to put in parentheses. There is great debate and discussion on the internet among the Matrix Freaks as to how Neo actually “neutralizes” Smith, and what happens at the end of the movie. It’s kind of interesting, actually, (for a nerd like me) to see all the theories. It boils down to this, though – somehow Neo realizes that if Smith assimilates him, he can destroy Smith and reload/restore the non-Smith matrix. In this footnote, you’ve learned nothing. Isn’t that great?


Post a Comment

<< Home