Today is the fifteenth anniversary of The Matrix, and it’s been more than a decade since the massive hit was followed up with two… less respected feature films. In the interest of science, and because Joel beat me to the fascinating facts about the franchise, I watched the latter two, to see how, a decade on, they’ve held up.
There are two problems that present themselves with these sequels. And they’re actually fairly closely related.
The Whole “Neo As Cyber-Jesus” Thing Gets Old Fast
Part of the problem with these movies is that for most of them, Neo is functionally a god. To paraphrase Stephen King, great stories are often about seemingly powerless people finding power inside of themselves; boring ones are often about powerful people using that power. And you don’t get more powerful than somebody who can turn the rules of reality inside out, which raises a whole bunch of questions. Like, namely, why these “ghosts” can even fight him when the guy can grease in-universe Terminators with ease.
This distorts the whole story that it rapidly becomes ridiculous. One thing that bothered me on first viewing at the end of The Matrix Reloaded is… how the hell can Neo sense the machines, let alone blast them out of the sky? “Because he’s Cyber-Jesus” isn’t an explanation, it’s a dodge. Why is Smith a problem for the machines? They can’t defrag their hard drives?
The Philosophy Is A Mess And It Makes The Script A Mess
The other problem is, well, they’re pretentious to the point of utter incoherence. It’s a fairly consistent problem in that the Wachowskis can’t really juggle the philosophy and the action movies and have either make sense. Simply put, the plot isn’t internally consistent, and the philosophy isn’t either, so the movies rapidly become, for lack of a better word, stupid.
The sad thing is that the plot twist at the end of Reloaded is actually really cool. Neo’s not a hero, he’s just a tool of oppression, and his magical fun powers are nothing more than a lie used to keep the humans down. If they hadn’t made an incoherent mess of it, that would have been a “Luke, I am your father” grade gut-kick. Instead, well… it’s awful.
That said, while these movies are undeniably terrible, they are at least terrible in a fun way; bullets fly, asses are kicked in loving slow-motion, and action sequences are plentiful. The freeway scene from Reloaded is mostly practical effects and awesome in how ridiculous and over-the-top it is. The fight choreography is still top notch, if a little heavy on the wire-work for my tastes, and the cinematography is still gorgeous.
Really, it’s like wrapping a turd in hundred-dollar bills. They may be covered in gross stains, but they still spend pretty well if you can stomach it.
In short, yeah, they’re bad. But at least they have the decency to be entertainingly bad. The same can not be said for some other visits to this particular well, so that’s one for the Wachowskis, at least.