Tom Knapp is the publisher of Rational Review.
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Entertainment budget? Hah. Right now, we just don't have one -- as certain as I am that Rational Review is someday going to buy me a Lexus and a big garage to park it in, money's tight. Used books (and lots of them; reading is something that takes priority over eating in our home) is about the extent of discretionary spending in my household.
I was not, however, going to let this, or anything else, stop me from checking out Matrix: Reloaded. Fortunately, my significant other was keen on seeing the film as well, and so the hook that I found to hang the expenditure on -- "but honey, I need to review it for the site!" -- went unquestioned. We caught one of the "rush hour" shows that only cost twice as much, instead of four times as much, as anyone should pay to see a movie.
And then, the writer's block. What do I have to say about this film that hasn't already been said, and better? What is there to say about the film that it doesn't say for itself? I read others' reviews. I spent considerable time thinking about the movie, watching the first film and the "making of" DVD (Matrix Revisited) and, of course, wishing I could afford a second viewing. Bottom line? I'm not sure. But it's time to take my best shot.
Let's get the recommendation out of the way first. If you haven't seen Matrix: Reloaded on the big screen, do it now. If you wait for the DVD, you'll be kicking yourself in the ass later on. I have no doubt that it will translate well to the small screen, but it's one of those movies that really, really cries out to be seen larger-than-life. I'm hoping that the release of the third flick (Matrix: Revolutions) will be the cue for a "see all three" theatre run. I saw the original Matrix in the theatre and want to see it again that way, even after 100 or so viewings of the DVD version.
As one reviewer (from the Weekly Standard, of all places) points out, the first film "rewards repeated viewings." This one will as well. The reason why is complicated, but I think I may have my finger on it in some small way:
The Wachowski brothers were never told that it's impossible to achieve the depth of a Really Big Novel in a motion picture. Having never been told that, they didn't know that it couldn't be done, so they just went ahead and did it.
Most movies -- even ones that you'd like to see again -- have ready answers to clear questions, even if the script saves those answers for the end. If you watch the movie again, it's a familiar experience the second time. The Matrix is still giving birth to new questions, and hinting suggestively at possible answers, every time I view it. Reloaded doesn't really answer those questions, and I didn't expect it to, since it's the second of three films. It's not just "the middle of the story," either, though. It takes you further down the rabbit holes that the original film opened up. I suspect that the Wachowskis will refuse to tie things up with a nice pink ribbon in the third film, too.
If this sounds like the recipe for a confused and disappointed audience, I disagree. The questions that are asked are so important, and so ultimately unanswerable, that offering answers would be an act of hubris.
Nobody told the Wachowski brothers that filmmakers aren't supposed to ask those questions either, and once again they just went ahead and asked. And explored. And put their fingers on the raw nerve endings that most people don't realize they even have.
What is the nature of reality? Is there some "higher" reality? Is there a "controlling authority?" If so, is that controlling authority benign, malign or something in between? Is there an interface between realities, and if so is the turnstile one-way or is it possible to move back and forth? If nothing else, the Matrix films must surely drive Leonard Peikoff's pseudo-Objectivist mutual masturbation society about three different kinds of insane. The questions are asked, and the answers are sort of there, lurking in the background, not Ayn Rand style, in your face and closed for discussion.
Reloaded starts with new conflict, conflict being what film plots are all about. In The Matrix, we learned that Neo is "the One" -- a man who can bend and break the rules of the Matrix to fit his needs. This fact is revealed (in a backhanded way) through "the Oracle," and that is the rub. Neo's rescuer, Morpheus, is a believer in the Oracle and in her prophecies.
There are other humans -- allies in the struggle against a machine race that has driven humanity underground and seeks to eliminate it in all manifestations outside of its own slavery scheme -- who regard this whole take on the situation as a bunch of religious poppycock; and they don't intend to put Morpheus the Baptist in charge of the war plan.
And they may just be right. Despite the fact that Morpheus has brought back "the One," the machines aren't rolling over and playing unplugged. As a matter of fact, they seem to be mounting an offensive against Zion -- the last human city. Neo may be faster than a speeding bullet and all that inside the simulation, but out in meatspace he's just another guy ... and as far as the aOracleist crowd is concerned, this guy, his commander and their ship are needed for defense, not for further expeditions into the Matrix.
Naturally, Morpheus disagrees. Naturally, Morpheus and Co. act on that disagreement and go gallivanting off to find out just what is up in the Matrix and find themselves down more rabbit holes than you can shake a beagle and a .22 rifle at. Agent Smith, Neo's nemesis in the first film, returns as, well, a free agent, no longer controlled by the system but still not in any mood to break bread and hoist a brewski with Neo. The Oracle isn't what she seemed to be. The Architect, the Merovingian and Persephone, vampires (real ones, sort of) and a pair of albino ghouls who aren't really explained also play in the action.
And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to spoil it. If you have, you already know this. If you haven't seen the first movie, there's no way I could clue you in at all.
Action and special effects? They're there, bigger and badder than in the first movie. Somewhat less surprising, of course; The Matrix set the new standard for over-the-top fight scenes and special effects, and other filmmakers have been knocking off the Wachowskis for four years now. But you won't be disappointed unless you're unreasonable. This flick doesn't hurt in the action category at all.
Romance? Of course. Sharp, edge-of-your-seat cinematography? Check. Music? I'm already saving for the soundtrack. Libertarian sensibility? You bet -- regardless of whether answers are offered and what those answers might be, the Matrix films are, above all, about questioning authority and its sources.
It's all there, folks. If you see one movie this year, make it Matrix: Reloaded. But you won't see one movie, since the third is set for release later this year and since the capper on the Lord of the Rings trilogy is as well.