Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—typically “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.
Note: It’s all spoilers below, so only read this column if you have seen The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (don’t mind spoilers).
When The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions hit theaters in 2003, they both received some ire from fans. Not as much vitriol as The Phantom Menace or Han shooting first, but it was there. What amuses me is that the arguments against it fell all over the place. I think if you put 20 geeks in a room who have seen the movies, they’ll all have different complaints about what the sequels lacked or what they focused too much on. There was too much focus on fight scenes, taking away from the examination of different philosophies—or, there was too much exposition and there weren’t enough fight scenes. I think a lot of this comes from false or heightened expectations. After the original Matrix destroyed the competition when it opened and brought in a new breath of air in regards to R-rated action films, expectations were incredibly high when the sequels were announced.
But where do you go in a film trilogy where, at the end the first film, your lead is the equivalent of a superhero? He can dodge bullets and fly. He’s the 21st-century version of Superman: in place of red and blue tights, he wears a black duster and sunglasses. You could focus on a jacked-in version of Supes/Neo inside the Matrix, where nothing is impossible, or you can go the alternate route and explore the real world of this universe. The Wachowskis chose to do both. Wanting to enlarge the fight scenes they revolutionized in the first film with its slo-mo “bullet time,” they gave us fun set pieces like the burly brawl in Reloaded and, taking it to the logical conclusion in Revolutions, the final confrontation between Neo and Smith. On the other end, they decided to expand on the real-world aspects of a human/machine war with a huge battle in which the machines attack the human city of Zion.
They took Neo’s Christian allegory to the conclusion they hinted at in the original and made him the savior of mankind, but did it in a way that bridged the Matrix and the real world. There are a lot of Eastern philosophies brought up in The Matrix, and I think they worked those in as well, just a little more subtly than the Christian themes. You still have the idea of choice, and only being able to make a real choice once you realize what it is, but they add in the flip side of the Oracle character in the form of the Architect. Whereas the Oracle can see the future but can only see it based on the choices you make, the Architect can’t see the future but can make decisions based on historical data. Up until now, the Architect has controlled everything, because it’s not about choices—it’s about the law of averages. But this is where Neo is unique. In Reloaded, where he is tasked with choosing door number one and saving humanity to create a new Matrix or door number two and saving Trinity, he does something that wasn’t accounted for in the averages. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one; Spock would be proud. I think it’s critical to remember that the films end with a final conversation between the Oracle and Architect, and the little program that creates sunrises/sunsets (the film isn’t clear on which one), Sati.
One thing that wasn’t as apparent as a theme in the Wachowskis’ oeuvre when the Matrix trilogy came out, but I think is more readily accessible and allows for a deeper viewing of them now, is the idea of balance and humanity. We’ve especially seen it come to the surface in their more recent Cloud Atlas and Sense8—the idea that we’re all connected, not only through different generations but across the globe. The Matrix trilogy has this in a rough form, but it has really crystallized over the years. It will be interesting to see where this theme goes from here.
Having watched these films a number of times over the years, I think they feel a lot more balanced between philosophy, exposition, and action than my first reaction might have held. I admit the first time I saw Reloaded I thought the temple drum jam seemed incredibly out of place and lasted too long. Now, focusing on humanity and connecting, I think it works surprisingly well. I do get the occasional fleeting glimpse of Elfquest and the last hurrah before the final battle, but that’s what it’s intended to be: a last chance to connect before we disperse.
All this and I haven’t even touched on the great scenes with Persephone and the Merovingian, or the subtle vampire/werewolf idea (which I would have loved to see more of), or Niobe being a commanding presence with her great pilot moments. There’s so much to like in these films. I think expectations garnered too many negatives when these sequels originally came out, but I urge you to re-examine them. You already know where the movies go, so let the characters and themes work for you.
Both films can be found on DVD and Blu-ray release. It is currently available via Netflix rental, but not streaming (what’s up with that?). Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.
Let me know if there are any films you think TBT should cover in the future.