Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Love the Matrix Sequels

There. I said it.

It wasn't always that way, mind you. When The Matrix Reloaded hit theaters in May of '03 on the back of an anticipation so suffocating that I doubt any movie could have measured up, I attended the midnight show opening night -- and when I wasn't baffled by the philosophical mumbo-jumbo (and don't get me started on that rave/orgy thing...), I slept through the rest. Based on the immediate negative reaction, this clearly wasn't the sequel that I (or most people) had expected. I skipped the third film, Revolutions, entirely when it hit theaters a few months later, and the conventional wisdom quickly hardened that the Matrix sequels, like the Star Wars prequels, were an idea better left unrealized.

Then, on a lark, I got the massive 10-DVD box set (now available in an insanely affordable blu-ray iteration) that was released during Christmas of '04, packed to the gills with supplements, add-ons, and most importantly, a running commentary track by noted Wise Men Cornel West and Ken Wilber, whose conversational explication of the series' ins-and-outs was like a flint finding a spark. Without the weight of
expectation bearing down on my shoulders, I was able to take in the trilogy in its totality, and just like that I got it. And I loved it. Like Keanu Reeves' Neo, I could see the "code" and recognize the series for what it was trying to do. I couldn't imagine The Matrix as just that first movie -- it needed the sequels, prequels, and all the rest to make sense.

I can't say for certain, but anecdotally at least, it seems like the passage of time (thirteen years since the original, nine years since the sequels) has benefitted how the The Matrix cycle is perceived. Again, without the baggage that came with the hype, it's easier to judge them for what they are rather than what people hoped they'd be. And what it is is a deeply thoughtful meditation on a far-ranging panoply of topics (gnosticism, identity, war) woven together under the guise of a big budget chopsocky flick. The Wachowskis, who essentially came out of nowhere with that first film, used its success to lull audience and studio alike into expecting one dish when their intention was always to serve something else entirely.

Given my personal "Eureka!" moment with the trilogy (which I subjected my very-understanding wife to shortly thereafter), a detailed post wherein I lay out my reasons for admiring The Matrix in toto, warts-and-all, has been in my "one of these days" mind-piles going all the way back to this blog's earliest days in '04, and it would likely have remained there if not for writer Alan Cerny (a.k.a. Nordling), a regular columnist  at Ain't It Cool who clearly shares my admiration for the films, typing up a lengthy and involved treatise that so perfectly sums up everything I feel about them that I figured I could just link to him, tack on a "word" and a vigorous nod from me, and scratch that article off my bucket list. Here's just one brief piece from his essay:
The Matrix Trilogy is an anti-war trilogy. 
It might not have started that way, but something important happened between the first movie and Reloaded. September 11th, and the ramping up to the war in Iraq. The portrayal of Muslims as "the other." The rampant xenophobia and the isolationism that set in. We can rattle off political outlooks all day and never get any closer to understanding each other or our viewpoints, and do it with a complete lack of empathy or willingness to at least step in each other's shoes for a minute, and I think the Wachowskis knew exactly what they were doing when they started shooting these movies back to back. Even in The Animatrix, with "The Second Renaissance," these new ideas about the world of the Matrix are introduced, and that this is more than simple man versus machine, that there are metaphors being used here that make this world a bit more complicated than even the first film showed us. Perhaps the Wachowskis didn't stick the landing in the way fans would have wanted, but I have no doubts that the message they conveyed was absolutely what they intended. 
And I think it still rankles people. I think that many people wanted Neo to defeat the machines, to free everyone, and all of humanity would rise from their underground realm into a world of sunshine and rainbows. To quote Samuel Jackson, "I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth." In the world that The Matrix Reloaded opened in, we were wounded, hurting, and wanting to strike out at those who hurt us, never making the leap in trying to understand why these horrible things happened to us. Just simply, why? Not to place blame, or to find fuel for our revenge, but just to understand. Too many people mistake the need to understand as some sort of an olive branch to the enemy. And so comes The Matrix Reloaded, which sets the stakes - the machine world is a bit deeper and more complex than we were led to believe. Even the Oracle, a being who humanity trusted implicitly, turned out to be another program - in fact, one of the very programs that helped build the Matrix itself. It is a kind of betrayal, and the idea that there were forces in the Machine World that wanted to see humanity freed as much as humanity did suggested that perhaps things aren't so black and white as they seemed in the first movie.
Most of the points explicated above represent the interpretation of the series I've held for awhile now. It's a reading that not only makes the most sense, in my opinion, it also makes re-watching the films (as well as the cut scenes from the Enter the Matrix videogames and fascinating Animatrix shorts) rife with new ideas and new revelations -- everything a cinematic spectacle should be, in my opinion. While the Wachowskis haven't ever matched the impact crater they created with The Matrix, the fact that its time as a pop culture force has largely faded just makes the richness of the complete saga's message more valuable. There's much more from Nordling at the link. Read it all, and see if it doesn't feel like you've just taken the red pill. Me, I think I'll pop 'em in again. It's been too long.


The Mad Swede said...

Unlike many others, I actually enjoyed the sequels the first time around.

I have to say though that the first one holds up well on its own, whereas the sequels are flawed: a lot of unnecessary material (yes big band dance scenes, I am looking at you amongst others) and some asinine inconsistencies in the machine-human relationship.

What has always bugged me the most, however, is that the first one is the stylistically best achievement. Not only because it so very much blew us all away when it first hit cinemas, but rather because its mighty visual aims was matched perfectly by its ability to achieve those aims. The sequels aimed higher, but fell short off that mark. Too many scenes are filled with too obvious CGI Neos and whatnot. And yes, I have heard all the asinine cover explanations about everything of course being a computer generated mass dream in the first place and yadda yadda; but quite frankly, those explanations sound forced and stupid. The first film was set in the same computer generated nightmare but never irritated my eyes in such a manner.

And therefore number one will always be the superior fare for me.

Anyway, that's my penny.

J. Duncan Cook said...

Thanks for the revelation here! I honestly had no idea that my perspective was shifting towards a similar bent. I snatched up that box set as soon as I could and have spent many hours geeking out on it. What really won me over was the inclusion of hostile critics to the commentary options. Who does that? Brilliant! Thanks for the article, perfect timing.

Zaki said...

You bet! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!