Blind Ambition

The Matrix ReloadedMy little getaway last weekend denied me the opportunity to go see “The Matrix Reloaded” on opening night, a consumer ritual of which I’ve become very fond. Last night’s crowd for the 10:20p showing of the movie was tamer than I’d have liked, less prone to hoots, hollers and moments of mob ecstasy. I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed the movie significantly more with an opening night crowd, but in some ways it was a better context in which to have viewed it; less peer excitement to augment the absurd hype with which the movie has been promoted.

Fifteen minutes into the film, my first reaction was, “There’s a lot of fuckin’ religious mumbo jumbo in this flick.” By the end, there were several distinct moments when I felt as if I was watching “Cyber-Jesus: The Movie.” The precursor to “Reloaded” was suffused with enough of this kind of stuff, but since that movie’s release and its subsequent success in the popular consciousness, the Wachowski brothers have clearly spent lots of time embellishing on that patchy — some would say rudimentary — theological groundwork.

“My first reaction was, ‘There’s a lot of fuckin’ religious mumbo jumbo in this flick.’”

Of course, when I say ‘mumbo jumbo’ it sounds like I mean it pejoratively, but that’s not necessarily the case. As messy and humorless as these themes are in “Reloaded,” it’s a rich fabric that these brothers have weaved. This is a universe not composed merely of methodically constructed continuities — as can be seen in the now-moribund “Star Wars” franchise — but one brimming with symbols and signifiers. (In many ways, it’s like a crowded nightclub where everyone has arrived dressed up as a reference to a religious or theological touchpoint — and they also happen to look dead sexy.) For better or worse, the Wachowski brothers are clearly possessed with a strident and occasionally desperate urge to have their work mean something.

Neo Stops Bullets
Stopping bullets in mid-air is just one of the benefits of being Cyber-Jesus.

At first, I found myself feeling impressed that they had the ambition to flesh out the intellectual core of their franchise in this way. But then I realized that what’s really on display in this movie is not religion, theology or theory. No, what’s on display is the ambition itself. This is the most ambitious popcorn movie ever.

You can see it in the their attempts to improve upon the kinetic, effects-laden showmanship that they practically invented and which has become shorthand for the post-Matrix sub-genre of filmmaking. The key action sequences — Neo’s fight scene with a jillion Agent Smiths, and the freeway chase, principally — are unique visions, the kind of filmmaking that pushes the art forward, but they’re also so demanding on the limits of the medium that you can practically see the seams bursting.

“What’s on display is the ambition itself. This is the most ambitious popcorn movie ever.”

Simply put, the CG is not up to the challenge, and there are far too many instances when the suspension of disbelief (given over so willingly by legions of fans) is shattered by shoddy 3D modeling and unconvincing motion. In a movie obsessed with the concept of the unreal being indistinguishable from the real, this is a major shortcoming.

Basically, the Wachowskis have made their own ambitions the spectacle here, have infused the movie with so much innovation that it comes at the expense of the integrity of the special effects. One of the curious side effects, I predict, is that the original “Matrix” will age far more gracefully than its sequels, despite their advantage of four years of technological progress.

But jeez, I’d be an enemy of art if I were to nail these brothers for having ambition. I’m happy to spend US$10 on a showcase of nothing but ambition, of nothing but a driven, passionate desire to contribute something spectacular, intellectually satisfying and emotionally stirring to the tradition of movies. In spite of the shortcomings in their execution, this is exactly what “Reloaded” is.



  1. I saw this opening day w/ my sis. Also a tame matinee crowd. I liked it cuz I was expecting just what we got — overblown effects and KR looking way hot in that suit. Sis was disappointed cuz she was really expecting the film to really delve into Zion. We both had issues with The Architect. Talk about mumbo many self-contradictory phrases did he use? Wasn’t his first line something like “Though your first question may be the most pertinent, it certainly isn’t the most relevant.” I’m sorry..but that is some lame-o dialogue. I think the filmmakers are gonna alienate lots of their fans by including all this religion and philosophy but dumbing it down so much.

  2. See, I think that the watered-down theology is exactly what’s going to keep fans coming back again and again to decode all the ‘hidden meanings.’ It’s very clever marketing — heck it worked on me. I happened to like it a lot more the second time around; two scenes that I found overlong and trying the first time — the Architect scene and the Merovingian scene — turned out to be among my favorite moments on second viewing.

  3. “Dumbing it down, would’ve been to keep it exactly as it was with the first installment, A black and white depiction of good and evil battling it out in the fashion of say Star Wars (the O.T.)
    Instead they have mixed up the rules with Reloaded and made it far more interesting.

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