They should have been brilliant.
They should have been a lock.
They should have been good goddamn movies.
I’ll preface this by saying that I actually really enjoy Reloaded and Revolutions. I think that with the proper background and with the right mindset, the Matrix sequels can be really fun movies. I do not, however, think that they are GOOD movies, strictly speaking. Making successful sequels to what was arguably the premiere sci-fi movie of the 90s should have been well within the abilities of the Wachowski bros. They had a vastly expanded budget, a green light to film both sequels back-to-back, a huge fanbase just salivating for a new trip into the Matrix universe, a talented cast (excepting Keanu Reeves, but we’ll get to that), it should have bloody worked.
So why didn’t it? There are four main reasons, near as I can tell.
1) The Animatrix
The Animatrix was a collection of nine short animated films set in the Matrix universe, one of which was shown theatrically before the Stephen King flick ‘Dreamcatcher’, four of which were released online on the Matrix official site prior to Reloaded hitting theatres, and the last four only being released on the DVD. Truth be told, The Animatrix is a pretty fantastic collection, ranging from the historical (The Second Renaissance parts 1 and 2) to the surreal (Beyond). Problem is, some parts of The Animatrix tie directly in with the events in Reloaded, to the point where some parts of Reloaded seem random and arbitrary to those who didn’t see The Animatrix. Example the first: remember “the kid?” This is the young fella who runs up to Neo just after the Nebuchadnezzar arrives in Zion, offering to carry his bags and give him a nice massage and compose beautiful odes to him (or something like that), and then who goes on in Revolutions to make a nice career for himself running ammo out to the APU mechwarrior things. Didn’t his appearance seem kind of random? Kinda takes you out of the movie, eh? Yeah, he was introduced in The Animatrix. Ditto for the grand revelation that <<dun dun dunnn>> the machines are digging. Came off a little hackneyed, unless you’d seen The Final Flight of the Osiris, the big-budget segment of The Animatrix.
2) Enter the Matrix
Enter the Matrix was a videogame released in 2003, following the characters Niobe and Ghost (Jada Pinkett-Smith and that other fella) through the same rough timeline of Reloaded/Revolutions. The problem here is the same one we ran into with The Animatrix – if you didn’t play the game, you missed out on most of Niobe’s character development (aside from the fact that she reeeeally wants to dance with Morpheus), you missed out on some back-story regarding Persephone and The Merovingian, you missed out on the explanation of why The Oracle looks different in the Revolutions (yes, I know, the actress died, but Matrix-universe-wise), the list goes on.
I think what pisses me off the most about the two above issues are that the Wachowskis actually DID take the time to flesh out the stories, they actually DID put requisite thought into the Matrix universe, and then they seemed to actively try to make sure that most of the movie-going public didn’t get to see it. Sure, nerds and Matrix-philes like yours truly were able to see it all, but even for us it was a pain in the ass – Enter the Matrix wasn’t a very good game, story aside… In any case, on to the last two issues…
3) Special Effects
It might seem odd that I’m complaining about the special effects in what is ostensibly a special-effects-based movie series. My issue is more the kinds of special effects that were used. In the late 90s, filmmakers generally knew better than to try to pass off a computer-generated person as real for any more than the briefest of film segments. As a result, most of the special effects in the original Matrix involving people were at least partially practical effects – wires, squibs, and real people, even if the background was CG. Then we get the two huge special-effect sequences in Reloaded and Revolutions – the Burly Brawl (Neo beats the arse off of a few dozen Smiths) and the Super Burly Brawl (Smith beats the arse off of Neo while a few dozen thousand other Smiths watch approvingly). In concept, both of these segments are pretty damn cool. On the big screen though (and especially now, on blu-ray) it is painfully obvious when CG actors are being used, and they were used extensively… The Burly Brawl in Reloaded was the worst offender, becoming more like a videogame trailer than a movie. The Super Burly Brawl in Revolutions fared a bit better, aside from the slow-motion face-punch and maybe a bit too much reliance on Dragon-Ball-esque flying around. In fairness, the blast-wave-in-the-rain effects were awesome.
4) Keanu Reeves
I’m one of the few that defended Keanu in the original Matrix movie. I felt his general vapidity fit well with the character of Neo, someone who had been plucked out of one reality and planted unpreparedly into another. Woah indeed. Issue is, that same characterization doesn’t really fit in the sequels. As Reloaded opens, we learn that 6 months have passed since the events of the first movie. 6 months of Neo having God-like powers within the Matrix, flying around like Superman and kicking the shit out of Agents left and right. This is a guy who can ‘read’ the essential nature of the Matrix’s “reality,” and for some reason he seems every bit as confused as he did when he was first freed. Well, aside from when he’s kicking agents in the face – and don’t even get me started on the whole “I’m just short of omnipotent but I still feel that the best way to resolve issues is through elaborate hand-to-hand combat” thing… Yes, I know, that isn’t Keanu’s fault, but still…
Honourable Mention *spoiler*
Trinity’s death scene is the most bloated drawn-out hunk of ass ever put to the silver screen. And this is coming from someone who likes the movie.
So there we have it. I still say that these can be fun movies, provided that you go into them knowing what to expect. I actually even like the ending of Revolutions. Seriously, I don’t understand the hate. We’ve had 7 or 8 hours of messiah prophecy, religious references galore, and a pretty clear cut “Neo = Jesus” metaphor. Why is the whole cross thing so offensive?