First, a confession: I haven't been to a movie in years. It's not that I don't like movies; I love them. It's just that I don't particularly care for the moviegoing experience. I'd rather wait until the DVD comes out and watch somthing in the comfort of my own home, where I can smoke cigarettes and have a drink, maybe pause it to take a leak or get a snack. Sitting in a freezing theatre without a cigarette for over two hours is too much like going to church, except religious institutions don't gouge you on the $3.75 medium Pepsi.
So this was a big deal for me, heading out to an actual cinema for Matrix Reloaded. Went with a friend and caught a mid-afternoon matinee. There were maybe twenty or thirty people present in a theatre that seats 250, though the movie was showing on three screens, staggered 40 minutes apart. I was really looking forward to this movie; the trailers looked pretty good. Hell, I would have gone even if they didn't. It's the Matrix, after all.
Part of the suckitude of this afternoon was attributable to the actual moviegoing experience: five minutes of Pepsi and Jordan Furniture commercials really gets me into the mood for a suckass movie. Note, I'm not bitching about the coming attractions (more on them in a bit), but about the same fucking commercials I see on television, except fifty feet wide and with surround sound. Misery.
Previews had been one of my favorite things about going out to see a movie, until the studios' marketing departments decided to turn them into mini-films for the attention-span impaired. Instead of a little action, a little skin, a throwaway line ("I'll be back."), now there are plot points! And they get resolved! In the fucking trailer! Please shoot me now.
Anyway, Terminator 3 looks like it's worth seeing, but Legally Blonde 2 made me want to dig my eyes out with a grapefruit spoon, and that was just a 120 second trailer. 2 Fast 2 Furious looks like someone made Grand Theft Auto into a flick (and I have no doubt that someone, somewhere in Hollywood, is pitching a GTA movie to some drug-addled producer). But the best preview of all was Tom Cruise as The Last Samurai. Did you just chuckle when you read the phrase "Tom Cruise as The Last Samurai"? The audience broke out into hysterical laughter at that. If there was some way of selling a movie short like a stock, that's the one that would make me my first million.
Finally, Matrix Reloaded. I will attempt to describe how suckrageous this movie was without revealing any spoilers or major plot points, though this might be difficult. If you don't trust me, take the blue pill.
I knew I was in for a long suckward slide when all of Zion broke out in song and dance. For a moment I was back in 1983, watching Ewoks dancing and celebrating on the forest moon of Endor. In fact, that's my biggest gripe about this movie: the Wachowski Brothers have turned into George Lucas. It wasn't just that scene, either: the elders of Zion (couldn't resist) look like they could have been the Jedi council or the Rebel leadership (modulo some CGI or animatronic aliens). Choice and free will have been elevated to the level of The Force. The protagonist learns a disturbing secret about himself.
Furthermore, the Wachowskis commit Lucas's most egregious sin: the sin of excess. Neo is too powerful. There's too much Agent Smith. Too much bullet time. Zion is too big: it's like Coruscant Spaceport, only it's an innie instead of an outie.
A lot of this excess is due to the fact that the original Matrix was a box-office hit and its sequels' budgets balooned into Summer Blockbuster proportions. Part of the charm of the original was its grit, its minimalism, even the cheesy green filters on the lens during each scene inside the Matrix. Some of the sets were found instead of built. An Australian city was used instead of a digital matte painting of a generic New York; this made it look familiar in an unfamiliar way.
The fights have suffered likewise, becoming Chinese ballet instead of a knock-down fight to the death. There are some good scenes, but only one or two actually decide something crucial to the progress of the plot. The rest are all "Look at what a badass I am on my wire rig" or "Stop! Bullet time! Can't touch this...". None of these scenes, well shot though they were, had the visceral impact of Neo vs. Agent Smith on the subway platform. There was nothing that came close to the balletic chaos of the lobby scene in the first movie, either. The fights in Matrix Reloaded were complete set pieces; you knew when they were coming and you know how they'll end. Suckadelic.
If only the entire movie was made up of fight scenes. Then I might not be so inclined to use the word "suck" in all its myriad variations. Alas, until someone comes out with a Phantom Edit of Matrix Reloaded, a significant portion of this 138 minute sucktasia consists of various characters spouting platitudes about "free will" and "choice", the Brothers Wachowski hitting the viewer over the head with the Baseball Bat of Obviousness. This *KONK* is what *KONK* it means *KONK* to be the One *KONK* Neo. Okay. We get it. Less yakkin' and more whackin'.
I can accept some warmed-over Nietzsche and Buddha if it's well written. This isn't. Not even Jehovah's Witnesses take their faith this seriously, speak about it so ponderously. I've heard all these lines before, when they were delivered to a character named "Anakin". Screw dialog, let's shoot a car chase. First, we'll build our own highway...
The chase scene was the highlight of the movie for me, partially because of the Merovingian's albino bodyguards, Siegfried and Roy, but mostly because I love to watch property damage on the big screen. But even this scene suffered from budgetary excess: cars flipping over barely visible ramps, tractor-trailers vs. Cadillac Escalades (nice product placement, by the way: you'll never buy your way into hipness, General Motors. Give it up.). What, no helicopters? I felt cheated. If I'm paying $7 for an afternoon matinee, there damn well better be some intermodal transportation property damage.
No review would be complete without a mention of the Merovingian, everyone's favorite sleazy Frenchman, who slips some Spanish Fly into the Lady in Red's food. Rock on, monseiur. Of course, it was necessary to deal with him in order to get to the Keymaker. Hmmm...Keymaker. Maybe the Ghostbusters should have been called upon to save Zion. Who ya gonna call? Actually, a giant marshmallow man would have really made this movie. Instead, we get another fight scene, this time with the Merovingian's non-albino bodyguards, one that becomes a medieval swordfight. Welcome to Camelot, Misterrrr Anderson...
The plot was as thin as the dialog. This might be a spoiler: the dramatic climax of the movie consists of Neo having a conversation with Colonel Sanders, in which the Secret of the Eleven Herbs and Spices is finally revealed. Then Jason Alexander appears with a bucket of Spicy Nuggets. No, wait...Neo has to make a choice. Two doors. Behind one, a lady. Behind the other, a tiger. No, wait...
Nope, that's it. A sixty-year-old cliche. Why couldn't we see Neo and Trinity at the air field, one last embrace, a last kiss, "We'll always have Zion", and she gets on that plane with Victor Laszlo while Neo walks off into the fog with Agent Smith, friends at last?
The most disturbing development was the introduction of a teenaged male character, a kid who is beholden to Neo for saving his life. This boy didn't really do or say much in the Matrix Reloaded, but he's got some major Wesley Crusher potential for the third movie. I can only hope that his role is instrumental in showing us what happens when a Sentinel meets flesh and blood. Surely those laser tentacles are good for something.
Last bit of suckocity: the soundtrack, complete with the Violins of Suspense and the Cellos of Impending Doom. And Ewok disco time, courtesy of the Blue Man Stomp. The first movie's soundtrack was so much more effective, so much less intrusive. It was so much more appropriate, a subtle, forboding techno undercurrent instead of a clumsy attempt at a classical Hollywood score that veered all over the stylistic map, from Bernard Hermann to Phillip Glass. What amazed me was that both movies were scored by Don Davis. He's gone Hollywood. That's just sucktastic.
Was there anything good about Matrix Reloaded? There's the aforementioned car chase, a few good fights, and Neo and Trinity bumping uglies. In retrospect, I should have waited a few months and rented the DVD instead of sucking down the hype like a happy consumer. Even though I bought my ticket expecting nothing more than an afternoon's entertainment, I was still disappointed. When Matrix Revolutions is released in November, I'm staying home. I can live without seeing Neo reveal the True Meaning of Christmas to all the good little girls and boys of Zion.