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 Matrix Reloaded

The plot in a nutshell
Neo and his buds are back, this time fighting an invasion of the machines against their only city, Zion .  This movie is the middle section of a three part story, and as such doesnít have a final conclusion.  Rather, it examines the philosophy of why we are, and what does free will really mean.  It explains some things, and leaves a few others very open, preparing for the final battle in Matrix Revolutions later this year.

Some people have complained that the movie is long Ė if you thought the movie was long, wait til you see my review!

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
We learn pretty quickly that Neo isnít sleeping well, but then, the fate of all humanity is on his shoulders.  The machines are boring down toward Zion , perhaps intent on destroying them entirely, although thereís some dispute as to that.

It seems that while many believe Neo is the One, others arenít quite so sure.  Even here, there are atheists in the mix, and certainly a fair share of humanists and pragmatists.  Neo might be all fine and dandy, but thereís a city to protect, and to do that you need ships and guns.

The film sets up some political and social friction by introducing Captain Lock, an old friend of Morpheus that is now his ideological opposite.  Caught in the middle is Niobi, played by Jada Pinkett Smith.  She was once in Morpheus camp, but now belongs to Lock.  While this is a minor subplot, it adds a level of realism to the film that I appreciated.  Had everyone simply believed in the power of Neo, unconditionally, that would have been more than your basic ability for the suspension of disbelief would have allowed.  They worked in this undercurrent of disbelief very well, without overburdening the rest of the film.

Even with this dichotomy of beliefs, Morpheus still has some serious clout with the people.  He provides a tremendously rousing speech, which was very well written and perfectly delivered.  He unites the people in their need to fight the machines, ignoring whatever differences they might have.  And then itís time to party.

Now, hereís one area that I had a problem with Ė the party scene.  I understand the purpose, donít get me wrong.  They are reacting as youíd expect on the eve of possible destruction.  They are expressing the thing that separates them from the machines they hateÖtheir humanity.  But this whole scene played poorly, and was several minutes too long.  Some decent editing was needed here, and it causes the film pace to drag in this section.

Most of the rest of the film can be divided into two categories Ė big action sequences, and short dialog sequences.  There are really two critical dialog sequences in which the majority of the story, philosophy, and critical plot are jammed.  One is with the Oracle, one is with a new character called The Architect.  These scenes arenít long, and they are just as intense as any of the action sequences, and in some cases even more.  Thereís a ton being said in these few minutes, and you have to be paying attention.  This is one of many reasons I think the film does better after more than one viewing, since that will give the viewer time to fully take in whatís being said, and what it might mean to the big picture.

There are several action scenes in this movie that are simply outstanding.  The entire car chase/battle was great, but the section with Trinity on the bike was simply fantastic.  The battle on the semi, the battle at the mansion, even the first half of the battle with the 99 Smiths, all had some great visual effects.  Had one or two of these scenes been in any other movie, people would have been raving about them.

But I think sensory overload takes over when they are all together.  Ever ride the Superman ride at one of the Six Flags parks?  My first time on the ride, I had no idea what to really expect from a sensory perspective.  I hate free fall rides Ė hate them.  The Superman shoots you out a tube at high speed, straight up a track into the air, and then free falls you back down.  Now, I love roller coasters, and wanted to experience the speed, but I figured I was going to hate the free fall back down.  Guess what Ė I never even noticed it.  My mind was so overloaded by the sheer exhilaration of shooting to 100 miles an hour in about four seconds, that it had no time to even try to process the free fall back.  Hell, that was a coffee break.  And thatís what is happening in this film.  Thereís so much hitting you, right from the start, that by the tenth or fifteenth really cool effect, really cool fight, or really cool slo-mo, youíve become far too accustomed.  Itís not the fault of the film, but the effect it has.  This is a movie that needs a second or third viewing to really appreciate.

Iíve seen some reviewers complain about poor dialog, but for the most part I thought it was excellent.  There were a few exceptions, but they were rare.  The writing handled all the relationships well, although it faltered most around the romance sequences.  I still donít think Keanu can act to save his life Ė when Fishburne is playing Morpheus as a monotone, straight forward, direct man, heís acting, but when Reeves is doing the same with Neo, it seems more like itís just Reeves generally boring slow style that is his natural state.  Reeves does poorest in the romantic moments with Trinity, although he pulled them off better than you might expect given his past track record.

The CGI was sometimes distracting as well.  As I mentioned, there are some truly ground breaking action sequences in this film, but there are also times when the CGI looks like a video game.  A really expensive video game, but a video game nonetheless.  For me, there were two areas this really stood out.  Both are part of the trailer.  During the big chase scene on the expressway, an agent leaps onto the hood of a moving vehicle.  This slows to almost stop action (a sure sign weíre fully in CGI land) and the work on the agent himself is just too obvious.  The texture of the face and clothes, the way they move, none of it quite works, and it pulled me out of an otherwise great sequence.  The second one I expected, but it took longer to happen than I had initially thought it would.  In the trailers, I hated the look of the battle with 99 Smiths.  But in the film, this battle is much longer than youíd expect, and for at least 2/3ís it looks great.  There is a point though where things shift from mostly real with partial CGI to mostly CGI to just a tiny bit real, and at that point the scene fell apart for me.

Overall though the effects are amazing.  Weíve reached a point where *almost* anything can be done on screen and look realistic and convincing.  When we finally break past the Ďalmostí, what will it mean for movies?

Iím not sure why this film is generating as much negativity as it is.  Itís certainly not a bad movie, but perhaps the hype was just too much weight for it to bear.  I do think that over time this movie will gain a wider and wider audience, just as the first did.  And once we get the third part, the open questions weíre left with will hopefully be resolved.

If youíve seen the flick and are looking for more discussion on particular plot points and what I took away from the movie, check out the Spoilers section. Hereís an interesting trivia note Ė this entire theme of free will has been the major thread for the television show Angel this year as well.  A being called Jasmine enters our dimension and brings complete peace and tranquility, for the small price of feeding on humans.  We give up our free will, but everyone is at peace and the world is perfect.  Angel and his pack destroy her of course, based on our belief that living without free will isnít living at all.  The piece of trivia?  The woman that played Jasmine on Angel, Gina Torres, appears in Matrix Reloaded as Linkís wifeís friend, when Link comes home.  Watch for her!

Rating - Hit the Theater
Go see this on the big screen.  Unless youíre one of the folks with a front projection set up and a 100Ē screen at home, you really need to see this type of movie on the big screen.  Go with an open mind, and be prepared for a long ride.  Clocking in at 2 hours and 18 minutes, itís only two minutes longer than the original and far shorter than films like Harry Potter or LOTR.  Still, thereís so much action and so much to take in, that it seems even longer, and youíll leave with your senses worn out.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
Here's a film with plenty to spoil, so here's plenty of space...

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Let's discuss the 'philosophy' of the Matrix, and you tell me where we differ in our interpretations.  This film is examining that common question - what's the meaning of life?  This is the same question philosophers have been asking since the dawn of civilized man.  While the first film set up the environment, this film begins to ask the questions.

At its heart, this film is saying we have no real free will, no real choice, only an illusion.  What choice we make isn't important, but rather the reasons for making that choice.  Understanding the why is our purpose, not making the right choices.  Our choices are predestined, cause and affect, nothing more.

At times, it seems that the film is contradicting this.  At several points, they use emotion to show people making their choices.  When Zion is preparing for war, they do what makes them different from humans - they celebrate their emotions, their physicality, and their instincts.  They don't wallow in logic, they wallow in feeling.  This makes complete sense, as they are acting out in the one way that makes them different than their enemies.  Unfortunately, the party scene is easily the dopiest in the entire film, but the intent was smart.

Later, Merovingianís wife makes a choice to turn over the Key Maker, and again, this choice is driven by emotion, jealousy.  It isn't logical, it isn't for a purpose, it's emotional.  Trinity's decision to enter the Matrix at the end, and Neo's final decision to turn his back on the logical choice - saving humanity at the expense of the current Zion - was also based on emotion.

But that is the point.  Our emotions are our programming.  We do what we are programmed to do, just like the programs created in the Matrix.  Our decisions, our choices are driven by our emotions, not common sense, and not logic.  This certainly isn't an uncommon belief in our current world.  There are plenty of classes on 'personality types', telling you whether you're an Intuitive Sensing person with a desire for approval.  They won't tell you that when you know your type you'll be able to 'fix it'.  No, quite the opposite - they'll tell you exactly the same thing this movie is saying.  They'll tell you that how you react, how you act under pressure, and what choices you make will be largely driven by your type, and that what's important is the knowing, the understanding of this.

Other examples?  Sure, that's easy.  Companies are using handwriting analysis to determine your appropriateness as an employee, millions are spent on self help books and guru's explaining why good people make bad choices, how to accept who you are and why that means you still do stupid things. We believe if your spouse cheated on you once, they'll do it again, criminals can't really be rehabilitated, and human behavior is predictable.  Much of our current western society believes this philosophy, although it's certainly not new.

But we also know that while we often do what weíre programmed to do, we donít ALWAYS do it.  Occasionally we break free of the confines of heredity, biology, and emotion, and we step beyond simply being human.  We are all capable of it, and in that way we are all like Neo.

Who is Neo?  Well, that's much simpler.  The computer geeks in the audience will have no trouble understanding all this, and you'll hear them snicker when we meet 'The Architect'.  We learn in this film that the creation and eventual destruction of Zion is a cyclical situation.  When the first Matrix (and second) was built, they had a few problems.  The first version was perfect, idyllic, like Eden I'm sure.  But humans couldn't be controlled this way, and although we don't get a lot of explanation, you can assume that the programming simple didn't take for most humans.  The second version added free will to the picture, but uncontrolled it resulted in chaos.  The Oracle, the helpful program (or so it seems) stumbled on the answer Ė controlled free will.  If people believe they have choices, even when they don't, they took to the program, and accepted the Matrix as their reality, but the Matrix had to control that process.

If you give people free will, there is an anomaly - they don't ALWAYS do what you expect.  One percent of the human population donít quite work within the Matrix, and will figure it out.  They are the anomaly, the rounding error, the pennies that ended up in Richard Pryorís bank account in Superman III.  It's not quite a perfect system, and there is a level of chaos introduced.  But even chaos can be controlled.  And so the One was created.  A human with special programming, someone that was an anomaly themselves, someone that wasn't just human, but could become a part of the Matrix.  They knew a certain number of humans would rebel, and not accept the programming.  They provided them a leader, a profit, a God - Neo.  Mostly human, but with a little code thrown in.  They picked one of the 1% who has the right properties, a propensity to love humanity and for self sacrifice, and someone they can actually add a little code to.  They've done this dance five times before, and the One always ends up at the Source.  The Oracle helps them get there, although there are obstacles - in the Matrix, the programs themselves have become sentient, some rebelling, some hacking others, some just doing their own thing.  When the One eventually makes it to the Source, they are given the ultimate choice.  Return to the Source themselves, but first select 23 (was it 23?) humans to save from Zion .  The rest would be destroyed, but those 23 would start the process again.  This of course ties in with the belief that religion is the opiate of the masses, used by the controlling forces to give long term hope, allowing for short term control.  The other choice was to turn away from the Source, but that would mean the complete destruction of the human race, not just Zion .  And five times before, the One chose to allow the destruction of Zion alone.

But this time Neo is in love not just with humanity, but with Trinity.  And his emotions drive him to save her, and to believe that although he's been told it's certain disaster for all humanity, to hope that they can find an answer in time.  He makes an unpredicted choice, or at least it appears that way at this point, and he manages to change one outcome - the death of Trinity.

While we were given plenty of info in the discussions with the Oracle and the Architect, donít forget that neither are to be trusted any more than Agent Smith.  While the Architect might claim that total destruction will be the result of Neoís choice, that might not be quite true.  The machines might just have a few more tricks up their sleeve, since their survival is interwoven with humanityís.

There's plenty of visual clues to interpret - notice how reaching the source requires Neo to 'enter the light', just like a near death experience.  I liked how vampires, ghosts, aliens, werewolves, the whole gambit of weirdness and folklore in our world was explained as rogue programs, those not quite doing what they were programmed to do.  Seeing the previews, I didnít realize the Twins were actually ghosts in our world Ė I just assumed their fading in and out was their programmatic ability.  And now that our very own Agent Smith is an independent program, he's mucking things up for his own purposes. 

Smith is key for the next film.  Heís the true anti-Neo now, mostly program but with a tiny bit of humanity imprinted on him from his last meeting with Neo in the first Matrix film.  If Neo is the Messiah figure, then Smith is the Holy Ghost, now able to enter the real world in human form.  His motivations arenít quite clear, beyond the desire for power, and he becomes the unpredictable factor.  One of our open questions is what was Smith up to when he was going to stab/cut Neo?  I donít think it was murder on his mind, but rather mixing their blood in the real world.  He cut his hand with the knife for a reason, although that reason isnít quite clear.  Perhaps he believes there is some way to take all of Neoís power as his own, and in doing so take control of the Matrix for himself.  How his presence in the real world is going to effect things, and whether that has anything to do with Neoís new found abilities with the machines outside the Matrix, is left for the final film to decide.  Why could Neo stop the squiddies?  What is Smithís goal?  Is Zion real, or just another illusion?  It all adds up to the possibility for a very interesting third film, and I think that when all is said and done, people will enjoy this film far more than they do right now.

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