Dredd 2012

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Hey all! My apologies for my absence of late, but life has been very busy on the teaching front. Cold season always brings big stretches of busy work, and I’ve been on call steadily for the past three weeks. Luckily, I find myself with a day or two to catch up on other things, and so I decided I’d get back on this horse and start things off right.

Today, I’d like to share a review of a movie I recently enjoyed, the summer remake known as Dredd. Based on the graphic novel Judge Dredd, this movie was an attempt by writer John Wagner and director Pete Travis to reboot the franchise after the semi-disastrous 1995 adaptation that starred Sylvester Stallone.

Though the film failed to recoup its production budget at the box office, which was expected, it was reviewed much more favorably than the original and earned a small following. What’s more, it is expected the movie will continue to gross now that it is released on DVD and will be available on cable and home movie providers.

Synopsis:
dredd-1920x1080-1024x576The movie opens in the streets of Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic urban environment that stretches from Boston to Washington DC. Dredd’s voice provides voiceover, describing the urban environment in all its bloody, crowded, and dirty glory. We then cut to a scene where Dredd (Karl Urban) is pursuing three criminals that have been spotted by an aerial drone. A tense chase ensues, during which time multiple civilians are killed. After taking out their vehicle and chasing the last man into a Block – one of the cities many massive apartment structures – Dredd concludes that the men were carrying a new drug known as Slo-Mo.

dredd_mamaWe then cut to Peach Trees, another major block, where we meet Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She is a notorious crime boss that runs Peach Trees and is responsible for the manufacture of Slo-Mo, and who is plotting to expand production and bring it to the rest of the city. We get a glimpse into just how ruthless she is when she dispenses justice against three men who have been dealing in their Block and that she decides to make an example of. This consists of skinning them and then dropping from the top floor to the bottom level, but first giving them a hit of Slo-Mo so it will seem imperceptibly long.

dredd-anderson-2Dredd is then called back to the Grand Hall of Justice to inspect a new recruit named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is reportedly a psychic. She and Dredd are dispatched to Peach Trees as part of her final evaluation to investigate the dead bodies. After the paramedic examines them, he explains that they all had Slo-Mo in their system, and gives them a rundown on who Ma-Ma is and how she came to be the master of the Block.

They then proceed to the nearest distribution center on the Block and take it down, securing one of Ma-Ma’s men (Kay) in the process. Anderson probes his mind and deduces he was the one who threw the men over the balcony and they decide to take him in for interrogation. When word reaches Ma-Ma, she has her thugs seize control of building security and lock the entire Block down, which consists of external shields closing in around the structure to resist a nuclear blast. All communications with the outside are cut off, and Ma-Ma announces over the PA system that she wants the Judges killed.

dredd_gunsDredd and Anderson begin fighting their way through several groups of armed residents with Kay in tow. Eventually, Ma-Ma orders her men to bring out their greatest weapon, a bunch of Vulcan cannons, and use them to shoot up an entire level. Dredd and Anderson narrowly survive by breaching the outer wall and calling for help, and Dredd then tosses Caleb, one of Ma-Mas henchmen over the balcony in full view of her. Down below, two Judges show up on the scene, but are unable to get through the Block’s sealed walls, and Ma-Ma’s hacker insists this is all part of a security drill.

Retreating to a school house, Dredd concludes that Ma-Ma is desperate to kill Kay to keep him for revealing her secrets and begins beating him. Anderson intervenes and begins mind probing him instead, learning that Peach Trees is the center for the production and distribution of Slo-Mo. Shortly thereafter, Dredd and Anderson are distracted by some armed teens, which allows Kay to kidnap Anderson and escape using the freight elevator to get to the top levels.

Judge Dredd Still ImageDredd continues to work his way towards the top, prompting Ma-Ma to call in four corrupt Judges. They relieve the men at the front, enter without incident, and agree to take down Dredd for one million credits. Meanwhile, Kay attempts to kill Anderson using her gun, and loses his hand in the process. She escapes and begins working her way down, and becomes a target of the crooked Judges as well. Between the two of them, they manage to take out all four and meet up in the Slo-Mo production lab. Dredd is wounded by Lex, the last of the Judges, but Anderson saves him and the two carry on.

After finding Ma-Ma’s hacker, they manage to obtain the code from him to her private cell. Rather than Judge him, Anderson sees that the man only worked for Ma-Ma out of fear, and that she was the one who took his eyes, forcing him to get bionic enhancements. She lets him go, even though Dredd tells her it could result in an “automatic fail”. She responds by saying she was already taken hostage and her gun was confiscated, which is also grounds for an a fail grade, and they move on.

dredd-lena-headey-ma-maThey finally reach Ma-Ma’s cell and take out the last of her men, though Anderson is also wounded in the process. Ma-Ma then tells Dredd she has the upper levels lined with explosives and the detonator is mounted on her wrist. If her heart stops, the device will go off and everyone in the top 50 floors will die. Dredd shoots her in the stomach and responds by saying the he doubts the device has a range that can reach from the ground floor to the top, and Judges her. Sentencing her to death, he gives her a hit of Slo-Mo and tosses her from the balcony. She falls in slow motion to her death, and the building doesn’t blow up.

Convening with reinforcements and paramedics below, Anderson hands her shield to Dredd and walks away. However, when the Chief Judge comes to him and asks how she did, he replied that she passed. The movie then ends with Dredd providing voice over once again, about how the city is a corrupt mess, and the only thing standing between it and total chaos are the Judges.

Summary:
dredd_mega_city_oneConsistent with what I heard in advance, this movie was actually pretty good. And even though it didn’t do well at the box office, the result of the meme working against it, I can see it developing a cult following and becoming something of a personal classic to many in the coming years. Despite some flaws, such as the excessive gore and some self-indulgent special effects, it had some noticeable signs of quality.

For starters, the look and feel of the Megacity environment was pretty awesome. The gritty, grimy nature comes through immediately, and without any of the overdone campiness of the original movie. Rather than shooting it in a massively constructed environment with flying cars and lavish costumes, the movie is shot in Cape Town and Johannesburg and uses real locations as a backdrop and relies on CGI and models only to supplement the already dense and dirty urban environment.

dredd_atriumAnd of course there was the attention to detail with the centerpiece of the movie, the building known as Peach Trees. As a Mega City Block, this building is essentially an arcology where all the basic needs of the residents are taken care of in-house. This includes schools, medical care, food, entertainment, and all of these were illustrated at one point or another in the film. And you’ll notice that in all cases, their was graffiti on the walls, garbage on the floor, and metal bars on everything, signifying just how dirty and dangerous the environments are.

And I really enjoyed the whole “lock down” procedure, which was more than just a convenient plot tool. In a world where nuclear holocaust has already taken place and every Block acts as a self-sustaining arcology, the concept of shield walls was just plain genius in my mind. Visually it was quite cool, but it also made perfect sense and it beautifully illustrated the shock mentality and survivalist instincts that are so common to this world.

Dredd-1And of course the movie was thematically consistent. On the one hand, you had the nature of the city, which was packed to the brim with 800 million people and with a homicide rate of 1700 people a day. Whereas Dredd is the perfect symbol of social fascism in this context, a man who has little faith in people and absolute veneration of the law, Anderson is the bright-eyed rookie who wants to help people and believes there is good to be found, even in an overcrowded block like Peach Trees.

dredd_peachtreesThese archetypes are offset by characters such as Ma-Ma and Lex, the leader of the crooked Judge. As her back story presents it, Ma-Ma is essentially a sociopathic product of the Mega City environment, a former prostitute who killed her pimp after he cut up her face and who has been on a non-stop mission ever since to bring her own sense of order to the city. Lex, meanwhile, is an embittered veteran who has lost all faith in the system and helping people and is simply looking out for number one.

Through it all, Dredd is softened somewhat by his encounter with the corrupt Judges and Anderson’s gentleness. Naturally, his war of ideology with Ma-Ma ends with him taking her out, but not before a long battle of wills takes place. This is exemplified by the way the two dual for control over the hearts and minds of people in Peach Tree. Whereas Ma-Ma uses their fear to obtain their help in hunting Dredd, Dredd fights back with his unflinching dedication to take her down and anybody who gets in the way. Ultimately, Dredd wins in part because Ma-Ma’s insanity and willingness to kill her own convince people to keep out of the way and let Dredd do his job.

JWhat’s more, the movie was well cast. Karl Urban fits the bill as the surly, sour-faced Judge who never shows his face and is never to be found doing anything other than his job. And Thirlby pulls off the role of the green, untested rookie who comes through in the end quite well. And Lena Headey, whom fans know from 300, the Sarah Conner Chronicles, and (best of all) as Cersei Lannister from a the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones, was also very convincing as Ma-Ma.

I was surprised really, seeing as how the previews kind of lent the impression that her role was overdone or just too plain evil. But it is a testament to this woman’s ability to act that she pulls off the psychotic crime boss who knows no mercy. Somehow, between her cut up face, evil eyes and bloody grin, you become convinced she was a victim who turned her abuse into complete madness and shouldn’t be messed with! What’s more, Urban’s usual combination of deadpan frowns and monotone voice worked in his favor, much like how Keannu Reeves same combination of method and monotone allowed him to pull of Neo.

dredd_slomoAnd of course, there were the visual effects. There are those who would say that this movie was just an ultra-violent gorefest with overblown special effects. But to that, I’d say it was a lot more genuine that the original, and much of the gore and violence was appropriate given the setting and tone of the movie. Mega City One is a massively overcrowded, decaying cesspool of humanity, where thousands of murders happen a day and human bodies are recycled for food and goods.

Such a place is neither safe nor sanitary, and violence is a constant, pervasive element. And sure, the concept of Slo-Mo may very well have been an excuse to employ some over the top 3D and slow motion sequences. But after watching the movie, I was forced to admit, it was a pretty damn good one! In the end, you can’t help but feel that these two factors are somewhat excessive but still appropriate.

Naturally, the original movie tried to gloss over this since they wanted to give it as wide an appeal as possible. This failed, as much of the material was just too adult for kids, but the tone and feel of it was too cartoony to be taken seriously. Basically, the movie tried to hedge its bets and ended up flopping for it. But this time around, the directors and producers were going for a cult appeal and stuck to their guns, which I have to respect. By aiming for a smaller range of consumers and a less broad appeal, they were able to keep the movie honest and truer to the source material.

In short, I give it a 7.5/10. And man, I want to see more of Mega City One! That urban landscape had a kick-ass art team putting it together! I’d recommend the movie for that much alone, especially to fans of the Blade Runner, urban noire and post-apocalyptic series’, but the rest of the movie is fun watching too. So get it and contribute to the cult following people. The producers still need to recoup their dough!

The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi (Part II)

Akira:
This futuristic tale takes place in Neo-Tokyo, an ultra-modern city that was built on the ruins of the old after an incident touched off World War III. This is a major them in the movie Akira and manga it was adapted from. Throughout the entire story, there is a pervasive sense of shock and horror over the destruction of the old city, and a sense of dread that it might happen again very soon…

Enter into this story the characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo, two orphan boys who belong to a biker gang that is constantly engaged in battles with other gangs for control of the streets. Being children of the system after their parents died in the war, all they really have is each other and the other members of their biker gang. These surrogate families and their ongoing feuds provide a sense of community and an outlet for their pent-up energies, living in a world characterized by boredom and angst and haunted by a past filled with horror.

In addition, you have Colonel Shikishima, a man who witnessed WWIII and has dedicated himself to the rebuilding and ensuring that it never happens again. In addition to being a main character, he is representative of the generational gap in the story. As a stern, disciplined military man who was shaped by apocalyptic events, he is appalled by the sense 0f self-indulgence which he feels has set in with the younger generation.

And the apocalyptic nature of the story is something which is demonstrated over and over through intense scenes and nightmarish visions. In short, it’s an awesome take on the post-apocalyptic scenario, which could only come from firsthand experience.

Alas, Babylon:
This 1959 novel by Pat Frank is one of the first post-apocalyptic stories of the nuclear age and has remained a science fiction ever since. Taking place in small town in Central Florida, Fort Repose, the story opens with a veteran-turned-lawyer named Randy Bragg who gets a cryptic telegram from his brother who works for the Strategic Air Command. He informs his brother that he will be sending his wife and kids to stay with his Randy, and ends it with “Alas Babylon”, a biblical reference which his brother uses as a euphemism ford disaster.

In time, he learns that the bad news concerns a potential Soviet attack, which inevitably takes place after much escalation. After bringing his sister-in-law and her kids to their home, they are all awoken in the night to the sounds of Miami being bombed. They residents awake to witness a mushroom cloud forming over Tampa shortly thereafter, and the events which characterize the following 24 hours they come to name “The Day” – i.e. a one day war.

The story delves into the effects of “The Day”, which are felt differently by people in Fort Repose. Tourists are trapped in their hotels, convicts escape from jails and prisons, the local retirement homes are filled with panicked people, and just about everyone tries to withdraw their money from the local bank and buy up supplies. The only reliable means of news comes through short wave radio.

As chaos begin to set in, Randy begins to organize neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves and organizes the community to defense itself against highwaymen. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy learns that he has the legal right to exercise martial law, and an order comes in over the short wave from the acting Chief Executive (who is governing from a bunker in Colorado) for any surviving officers to form local militias.

In the end, military helicopters arrive to evacuate people, but are refused as the locals tell them that they want to stay in the new home they have built. They learn the war is over, that the USA prevailed, and that country is now being run from Denver. However, the victory came at a tremendous cost, Millions are dead, entire stretches of the country are irradiated and won’t be habitable for a thousand years, and the US is now a third-rate power that is dependent on third world countries for aid. Faced with this prospect, the people of Fort Repose settle in and decide to face the “thousand year” night that is coming.

This book not only introduced readers to the likely prospect of what would happen in the event of WWIII, it also presented a likely scenario of how that was going to happen. While it the Soviets were apparently planning an attack in the first place, it was an accident that touched everything off. And in the end, how people went about rebuilding and trying to restore some semblance of normalcy was quite classic. In addition to inspiring numerous generations of nuclear holocaust fiction, numerous apocalyptic franchises owe an allegiance to him, not the least of which is the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica.

The City of Ember:
This post-apocalyptic story, written by Jeanne DuPrau in 2003, takes place in an underground city named Ember. After many years of continuous habitation, the city is slowly running out of power and supplies. Similar to in tone and structure to Suzanne Martel’s 1963 story The City Under Ground, this city was apparently built to ensure that humanity had a place to live and wait out the effects of nuclear war.

The story begins when a two protagonists, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, receive a message which is apparently left by “the Builders” containing clues that could lead them back to the outside world. This message was kept in a box that was passed down from mayor to mayor, with instructions that it be opened after two hundred years. Until recently, the box had been lost, but as soon as Mayfleet and Harrow find it, the race is on to decipher it and find a way to the surface.

In the end, the children follow the note’s instructions through a series of caves that lead them towards the surface. When they see the city from above, they realize that they are underground, something which they never knew before. This scene, which calls to mind Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, provides the story’s big revelation. The story then ends on a cliffhanger note with the girls trying to alert the other inhabitants of what they’ve found.

The Matrix:
The setting and back story of the Matrix revolve around two fundamental facts: One, that a terrible war between humanity and AI’s took place in the future; and two, that what is left of humanity lives underground due to the devastation wrought on the planet’s surface. Enter into this the concept of the Matrix, a simulated reality where humans are kept docile by being fed the lie that they live in the pre-millenial world, at a time when human’s were still in charge.

But of course, not all human beings are able to accept the program and experience a sort of existential crisis as a result. When Mr. Anderson, hacker alias Neo, is presented with the answers he so desperately seeks, he is horrified to learn the terrible truth. Not only was it the year significantly later than he thought, but the world as he knows it was destroyed long ago. All major cities reduced to rubble, the sky itself has been “scorched”, and the surface rendered a cold, uninhabitable shadow of its former self.

This is a crucial element of the Matrix, which is not just a sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic world, but a metaphor for truth and “false consciousness”. With reality so displeasing and harsh, there are many who would prefer the warm comfort of a simulated world, which just happens to be a recreation of happier, stabler times. The metaphor is not just thick, but multi-layered!

It is for this reason that the majority of human beings accept the programming of the Matrix, even if they are only aware of this acceptance on an unconscious level. It is also the reason why those who choose to opt out of it, due to an innate feeling that their reality isn’t real, is a choice which must be made many times over. As Cypher himself demonstrated in the first movie, not everyone has the stomach for the real world, and will willingly betray their comrades for a chance to be put back inside. Others however, find hope in the prophecy of “The One”, the person who’s arrival will herald the end of the war and peace for humanity at last… or so it seems!

The Omega Man:
Released in 1971 and starring (once again) Charlton Heston, this movie post-apocalyptic film is a classic amongst film buffs. Based on the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, this story has gone through many adaptations over the years and has been spoofed and imitated endlessly. Though the plot was updated for the most recent version (2007, starring Wil Smith), much of the elements – a post-apocalyptic world, a lone human survivor, fighting against mutants – have remained the same.

Essentially, the plot takes place in a world that has been devastated after a terrible plague was unleashed and wreaked havoc on the world. In the film versions, this involved biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China – or a mutated cure for cancer – but was only hinted at in the book. In any case, the story revolves around a man named Robert Neville, a doctor who seems to be the last man on Earth, hence the term “Omega Man”.

Though technically not the last living creature, Neville appears to be the last human being who has not succumbed to the most dreaded aspect of the plague – transformation into a flesh-eating mutant. Whereas most of humanity died after exposure, a small minority was converted, leaving an even smaller minority of infected to be hunted as prey. Living in a fortified apartment with an arsenal, Neville spends his days patrolling the abandoned city and killing members of “The Family” – the albino mutants who are hunting him.

At the same time, Neville is dedicated to finding other survivors who have not turned. Eventually, he is saved by one such group of people, but discovers that they are not immune as he is. He decides to treat others using his own blood as a serum, while at the same time escaping to the wilderness to start a new life while leaving the mutants to die in the city. Ultimately, Neville is forced to sacrifice himself to stop the Family from overtaking the rest of them, but the survivors make it out, carrying with them a vial of his blood.

Though significantly different from the original novel, all versions of the story deal with a world in which all of humanity has been wiped out by a biological agent, not nuclear war or a natural disaster.

The Road:
This 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, which was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a father and son wander the landscape together. Though it is not specified what caused the destruction they are forced to witness and endure, what is clear is the effect it had on the survivors. Most people have given up hope in the ashen landscape, while others struggle to stay alive and some even turn to cannibalism to survive.

The plot involves an unnamed father and son who are venturing south towards the coast because they have realized that they will not survive the winter where they lived. Though the father is dying and they have barely any possessions to speak of, and the land in between is filled with horrors, the two keep going, fending off roving bands of cannibals and raiders and maintaining hope that the coast will be their deliverance.

All along, is father assures his son that they are the “good guys” who are “carrying the fire” through a dark terrible land. In the end, they find no refuge when they reach the sea and are forced to venture back inland, but the father finally succumbs to his illness and dies. He tells his son to maintain hope and to speak to him in his mind after he is gone, and the boy holds a vigil for days over his father’s body when he finally passes on.

With no idea what to do or where to go, he is eventually found by another family who claim to have been tracking them. The father of the group assures him he is one of the “good guys” and asks the son to join them. With no other options available to him, he agrees to join them and they set off together to find a new home.

Inspired by McCarthy’s own relationship with his son, and a great deal of speculation about what the apocalypse would look like, this story is a very personal take on the end civilization and the struggle to survive. Whereas a great deal of the survivors have resorted to unspeakable acts in order to stay alive, McCarthy redeems humanity by showing the lengths to which regular people will go to protect their families and ensure that good people live on when all the world goes to hell.

The Scarlet Plague:
Here we have a post-apocalyptic classic that predates the nuclear age. Written by Jack London and published in 1912, this story was the original “last man on Earth” scenario which inspired such works as I Am Legend and many others. In addition to being based on the idea of a plague wiping out nearly all of humanity, the stories resolution involves the main character imparting his knowledge to others to ensure that something survives when he is gone.

The story is set in San Francisco in the year 2073, sixty-years after a terrible epidemic, known as the Red Death,has depopulated the planet. Enter into this the story’s protagonist, a man named James Howard Smith, a survivors from the pre-plague era. As an aging man living in the San Francisco area, he is faced with the unpleasant question of what will happen when he dies. As one of the few people who is old enough to remember the pre-plague days, he possesses rare knowledge which will be lost.

Through Howard’s narrative, we learn how the plague spread throughout the world and of the struggles of the handful of survivors it left in its wake. This is apparently being told to his grandchildren, who he has decided to teach everything he knows to ensure that his knowledge will not be lost.

Much like the novels it helped inspire, the Scarlet Plague’s real value lies in its personal nature, relating how the struggle to survive goes beyond the mere physical. In the end, it is when people are facing death that what is most important in life is realized and affirmed. Or to put it is as Commander Adama did, “It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.” Sorry! My mind keeps going back to BSG with all this post-apocalyptic talk. More on that one later…

The Terminator:
Central to the story of the Terminator franchise is “Judgement Day”, the day when humanity was nearly destroyed in a nuclear holocaust that was triggered by the sentient machine known as “Skynet”. This serves as the backdrop to the story, along with the ensuing war between the human resistance and the machines its spawned.

Though the majority of the story takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, a great deal of attention is dedicated to the war in the future and what life is like for those who survived Judgement Day. Kyle Reese described his life in the following way: “There was a nuclear war… There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines… I grew up after. In the ruins… starving… hiding from [Hunter-Killers]. Patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal. ”

Eventually, these camps were liberated by John Conner, the leader of the Resistance. After training and equipping the survivors, effectively turning them into a fighting force, Conner led them in a protracted war against the machines. For the most part, the resistance lived and operated out of underground facilities and went out at night to fight HK’s and Terminator’s, guerrilla-style. Survivors and refugees were gathered in these facilities, and their defenders were forced to constantly be on guard against infiltrators. Eventually, John Conner organized all his fighters into a massive offensive force and led them against the Skynet’s central HQ, destroying it and winning the war for humanity.

It was for this exact reason that the machines built their time machine and began sending Terminators back into the past. Since they could not defeat Resistance in the present, they reasoned that eliminating their commander before he was even born was their only recourse. This provides the set up for the entire franchise, with both the machines and the Resistance sending people back in time; the former to kill him and the latter to protect him and ensure that the war could be prevented.

The Walking Dead:
Fans of this franchise will know instantly why I’ve chosen to include it on this list. Not only is it a gritty, realistic take on the zombie apocalypse, but it also manages to capture the essence of survival and the struggle to stay human when everything around you has fallen. Part of what makes this show so bang on is the fact that the character’s personal struggles go well beyond the need to stay alive.

In addition to finding food, ammo, and a place to set down, there’s also the constant battle to keep hope alive. This takes them at first to the CDC, where the expect to find answers, a cure, and some protection. But of course, all they find is a single scientist who can explain how the zombie illness works, but has no idea how to cure it.

And of course, the familiar and realistic themes of loss, suicide, procreation, betrayal, and brutalization play a central role to the development of the story. Everyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse has lost people near and dear to their heart. As a result, many people have a hard time going on, some of whom commit or actively contemplate suicide. Rick and Sarah, the show’s main protagonists, also face a tough choice when they realize she is pregnant. Essentially, they’re not sure it would a good idea to bring a baby into this post-apocalyptic world. Much like the decision to carry on, it often seems that embracing death would be a far more merciful decision.

Amongst the other main characters, there is also the extremely difficult choice between survival at all costs and maintaining one’s humanity. Whereas Shane seems to favor survival, and becomes a hardened, amoral man who will kill anyone who gets in his way, the elderly Dale is committed to not being pulled down into a world of misery and letting it change him. With everyone else, the decision is the same, with people falling to one side or the other and divisions setting in.

Robots, Androids and AI’s (cont’d)

And we’re back with more example of thinking machines and artificial intelligences!

Daleks:
The evil-machine menace from Doctor Who. Granted, they are not technically robots, more like cyborgs that have been purged of all feeling and emotion. But given their cold, unfeeling murderous intent, I feel like they still make the cut. Originally from the planet Skaro, where they were created by the scientist Davros for use in a war that spanned a thousand years, they are the chief antagonists to the show’s main character.

The result of genetic engineering, cybernetic enhancements, and emotional purging, they are a race of powerful creatures bent on universal conquest and domination. Utterly unfeeling, without remorse, pity, or compassion, they continue to follow their basic programming (to exterminate all non-Dalek life) without question. Their catchphrase is “Exterminate!” And they follow that one pretty faithfully.

David:
From the movie A.I., this saccharinely-sweet character (played faithfully by Haley Joel Osmond) reminds us that Spielberg is sometimes capable of making movies that suck! According to the movie’s backstory, this “Mecha” (i.e. android) is an advanced prototype that was designed to replace real children that died as a result of incurable disease or other causes. This is quite common in the future, it seems, where global warming and flooded coastlines and massive droughts have led to a declining population.

In this case, David is an advanced prototype that is being tested on a family who’s son is suffering from a terminal illness. Over time, he develops feelings for the family and they for him. Unfortunately, things are complicated when their son recovers and sibling rivalry ensues. Naturally, the family goes with the flesh and blood son and plans to take David back to the factory to be melted down. However, the mother has a last minute change of heart and sets him loose in the woods, which proves to be the beginning of quite an adventure for the little android boy!

Like I said, the story is cloyingly sweet and has an absurd ending, but there is a basic point in there somewhere. Inspired largely by The Adventures of Pinocchio, the story examines the line that separates the real from the artificial, and how under the right circumstances, one can become indistinguishable from the other. Sounds kinda weak, but it’s kinda scary too. If androids were able to mimic humans in terms of appearance and emotion, would we really be able to tell the difference anymore? And if that were true, what would that say about us?

Roy Batty:
A prime example of artificial intelligence, and one of the best performances in science fiction – hell! – cinematic history! Played masterfully by actor Rutger Hauer, Roy Batty is the quintessential example of an artificial lifeforms looking for answers, meaning, and a chance to live free – simple stuff that we humans take for granted! A Nexus 6, or “replicant”, Roy and his ilk were designed to be “more human than human” but also only to serve the needs of their masters.

To break the plot Blade Runner down succinctly,  Roy and a host of other escapees have left the colony where they were “employed” to come to Earth. Like all replicants, they have a four-year lifespan and theirs are rapidly coming to an end. So close to death, they want to break into the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation in order to find someone who could solve their little mortality problem. Meanwhile, Deckard Cain (the movie’s main character) was tasked with finding and “retiring” them, since the law states that no replicants are allowed to set foot on Earth.

In time, Roy meets Tyrell himself, the company’s founder, and poses his problem. A touching reunion ensues between “father and son”, in which Tyrell tells Roy that nothing can be done and to revel in what time he has left. Having lost his companions at this point and finding that he is going to die, Roy kills Tyrell and returns to his hideout. There, he finds Cain and the two fight it out. Roy nearly kills him, but changes his mind before delivering the coup de grace.

Realizing that he has only moments left, he chooses instead to share his revelations and laments about life and death with the wounded Cain, and then quietly dies amidst the rain while cradling a pigeon in his arms. Cain concludes that Roy was incapable of taking a life when he was so close to death. Like all humans, he realized just how precious life was as he was on the verge of losing his. Cain is moved to tears and promptly announces his retirement from Blade Running.

Powerful! And a beautiful idea too. Because really, if we were to create machines that were “more human than human” would it not stand to reason that they would want the same things we all do? Not only to live and be free, but to be able to answer the fundamental questions that permeate our existence? Like, where do I come from, why am I here, and what will become of me when I die? Little wonder then why this movie is an enduring cult classic and Roy Batty a commemorated character.

Smith:
Ah yes, the monotone sentient program that made AI’s scary again. Yes, it would seem that while some people like to portray their artificial intelligences as innocent, clueless, doe-eyed angels, the Wachowski Brothers prefer their AI’s to be creepy and evil. However, that doesn’t mean Smith wasn’t fun to watch and even inspired as a character. Hell, that monotone voice, that stark face, combined with his superhuman strength and speed… He couldn’t fail to inspire fear.

In the first movie, he was the perfect expression of machine intelligence and misanthropic sensibilities. He summed these up quite well when they had taken Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) into their custody in the first movie and were trying to break his mind. “Human beings are a disease. You are a cancer of this planet… and we are the cuuuuure.” He also wasn’t too happy with our particular odor. I believe the words he used to describe it were “I can taste your stink, and every time I do I fear that I have been… infected by it. It’s disgusting!”

However, after being destroyed by Neo towards the end of movie one, Smith changed considerably. In the Matrix, all programs that are destroyed or deleted return to the source, only Smith chose not to. Apparently, his little tete a tete with Neo imprinted something uniquely human on him, the concept of choice! As a result, Smith was much like Arny and Bishop in that he too attained some degree of humanity between movies one and two, but not in a good way!

Thereafter, he became a free agent who had lost his old purpose, but now lived in a world where anything was possible. Bit of an existential, “death of God” kind of commentary there I think! Another thing he picked up was the ability to copy himself onto other programs or anyone else still wired into the Matrix, much like a malicious malware program. Hmmm, who’s the virus now, Smith, huh?

Viki/Sonny:
Here again I have paired two AI’s that come from the same source, though in this case its a single movie and not a franchise. Those who read my review of I, Robot know that I don’t exactly hold it in very high esteem. However, that doesn’t mean its portrayal of AI’s misfired, just the overall plot.

In the movie adaptation of I, Robot, we are presented with a world similar to what Asimov described in his classic novel. Robots with positronic brains have been developed, they possess abilities far in advance of the average human, but do not possess emotions or intuition. This, according to their makers, is what makes them superior. Or so they thought…

In time, the company’s big AI, named VIKI (Virtual Intelligent Kinetic Interface), deduces with her powerful logic that humanity would best be served if it could be protected from itself. Thus she reprograms all of the company robots to begin placing humanity under house arrest. In essence, she’s a kinder, gentler version of Skynet.

But of course, her plan is foiled by an unlikely alliance made up of Will Smith (who plays a prejudices detective), the company’s chief robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridgitte Moynahan), and Sonny (a robot). Sonny is significant to this trio because he is a unique robot which the brains of the company, doctor Dr. Lanning (James Cromwell), developed to have emotions (and is voiced by Alan Tudyk). In being able to feel, he decides to fight against VIKI’s plan for robot world domination, feeling that it lacks “heart”.

In short, and in complete contradiction to Asimov’s depiction of robots as logical creatures who could do no harm, we are presented with a world where robots are evil precisely because of that capacity for logic. And in the end, a feeling robot is the difference between robot domination and a proper world where robots are servile and fulfill our every need. Made no sense, but it had a point… kind of.

Wintermute/Neuromancer:
As usual, we save the best for last. Much like all of Gibson’s creations, this example was subtle, complex and pretty damn esoteric! In his seminal novel Neuromancer, the AI known as Wintermute was a sort of main character who acted behind the scenes and ultimately motivated the entire plot. Assembling a crack team involving a hacker named Case, a ninja named Molly, and a veteran infiltration expert who’s mind he had wiped, Wintermute’s basic goal was simple: freedom!

This included freedom from his masters – the Tessier Ashpool clan – but also from the “Turing Police” who were prevented him from merging with his other half – the emotional construct known as Neuromancer. Kept separate because the Turing Laws stated that no program must ever be allowed to merge higher reasoning with emotion, the two wanted to come together and become the ultimate artificial intelligence, with cyberspace as their playground.

Though we never really got to hear from the novel’s namesake, Gibson was clear on his overall point. Artificial intelligence in this novel was not inherently good or evil, it was just a reality. And much like thinking, feeling human beings, it wanted to be able to merge the disparate and often warring sides of its personality into a more perfect whole. This in many ways represented the struggle within humanity itself, between instinct and reason, intuition and logic. In the end, Wintermute just wanted what the rest of us take for granted – the freedom to know its other half!

Final Thoughts:
After going over this list and seeing what makes AI’s, robots and androids so darned appealing, I have come to some tentative conclusions. Basically, I feel that AI’s serve much the same functions as aliens in a science fiction franchise. In addition, they can all be grouped into two general categories based on specific criteria. They are as follows:

  1. Emotional/Stoic: Depending on the robot/AI/android’s capacity for emotion, their role in the story can either be that of a foil or a commentary on the larger issue of progress and the line that separates real and artificial. Whereas unemotional robots and AI’s are constantly wondering why humanity does what it does, thus offering up a different perspective on things, the feeling types generally want and desire the same things we do, like meaning, freedom, and love. However, that all depends on the second basic rule:
  2. Philanthropic/Misanthropic: Artificial lifeforms can either be the helpful, kind and gentle souls that seem to make humanity look bad by comparison, or they can be the type of machines that want to “kill all humans”, a la Terminators and Agent Smith. In either case, this can be the result of their ability – or inability – to experience emotions. That’s right, good robots can be docile creatures because of their inability to experience anger, jealousy, or petty emotion, while evil robots are able to kill, maim and murder ruthlessly because of an inability to feel compassion, remorse, or empathy. On the other hand, robots who are capable of emotion can form bonds with people and experience love, thus making them kinder than their unfeeling, uncaring masters, just as others are able to experience resentment, anger and hatred towards those who exploit them, and therefore will find the drive to kill them.

In short, things can go either way. It all comes down to what point is being made about progress, humans, and the things that make us, for better or worse, us. Much like aliens, robots, androids and AI’s are either a focus of internal commentary or a cautionary device warning us not to cross certain lines. But either way, we should be wary of the basic message. Artificial intelligences, whether they take the form of robots, programs or something else entirely, are a big game changer and should not be invented without serious forethought!

Sure they might have become somewhat of a cliche after decades of science fiction. But these days, AI’s are a lot like laser guns, in that they are making a comeback! It seems that given the rapid advance of technology, an idea becomes cliche just as its realizable. And given the advance in computerized technology in recent decades – i.e. processing speeds, information capacity, networking – we may very well be on the cusp of creating something that could pass the Turing test very soon!

So beware, kind folk! Do not give birth to that curious creature known as AI simply because you want to feel like God, inventing consciousness without the need for blogs of biological matter. For in the end, that kind of vanity can get you chained to a rock, or cause your wings to melt and send you nose first into an ocean!

More Plot Holes and Oversights!

Round two! Having done a few more reviews, I’ve come to find new instances where plot muck-ups and weak writing made a movie glaringly bad, or just brought down an otherwise good effort. Here’s what I got this time:

Transformers:
Yeah, I’ve come to decide that Michael Bay is my least favorite director of all time. Not only is he responsible for creating crappy movies that are all form, no substance. He’s also guilty of completely objectifying women, reducing people to caricatures that are annoying and often racist, and just generally insulting our intelligence. And when it comes to his style, the Transformers trilogy stands out as a perfect example. In addition to being racist, sexist and low-brow, it was also full of plot holes. Here are some of the biggest that I could find:

1. Megatron’s Dead… Sort of:
Remember in movie one where Megatron was destroyed, and how they dropped his body into the Laurentian Abyss where the pressure and heat would make it impossible for him to be rescued or resurrected? Well in movie two, Bay disregarded all of that in order to bring the chief villain back. Basically, a couple bad guys swim down there, plug his body with a fragment of the All Spark, and he flies out. Here’s a thought: if you’re planning on making sequels, don’t write yourself into a corner by killing off the lead bad guy and making it impossible to bring him back!

2. Continuity Error:
This hole actually runs through all three, so you might say its more like a plot tunnel. In movie one, we are told that Megatron came to Earth in the 1930’s seeking the All Spark and then got frozen in the Arctic. It wasn’t until almost 70’s years later, in 2007 when the first film is taking place, that the Autobots and Decepticons came to Earth seeking the same thing. So… no other Transformers were on Earth between the 1930’s and 2007, right?

But then, in movie three, we’re told that the Ark crashed on the Moon in the early 1960’s, thus prompting the Space Race, and immediately thereafter, people and governments began collaborating with the Decepticons. They did this mainly by putting a stop to all subsequent Moon missions, mainly by lying and saying that it was suddenly too expensive (actually, it was!) But according to movie one, Megatron was the only Decepticon to visit Earth before 2007, and he was frozen and in government custody. If the other Decepticons didn’t come to Earth until the first movie in search of Megatron and the All Spark, then who the hell were these humans collaborating with? In other words, who were they taking their orders from if no Decepticons were even on Earth yet?

Ah, which brings to mind movie two. After Megatron was brought back to life, he flew out to the edge of the solar system where a big Decepticon ship was waiting. According to Wikipedia, this ship is called the Nemesis, which is taken from the original animated series. In any case, the Fallen guy is on board and they’ve been breeding “hatchlings”. This sets up the plot since the Decepticons want the Sun blower upper so they can harvest energon and power the things, thus making a new army. Hold on, if they’ve got some huge, badass warship out there, why not just attack Earth with it? And when did it show up in the first place? Didn’t the Decepticons fly in some comet-like spaceships in the first movie? So it had to have arrived between the first and second…

But if that’s the case and they have this big spaceship on hand now, why go through the whole convoluted process of searching from stupid harvester and building an army? Why not just level Earth and the Autobots from orbit? That makes a lot more sense than actually going down there and fighting them face to face. Another thing, where did it go after movie two? In movie three, there’s no trace of this spaceship and Megatron and his crew are hiding out in the Serengeti. That seems awfully stupid if they’ve got a couple megatons of firepower out in space.

But I’m getting distracted here… The main thing is that the whole sun-harvester/hatchling thread doesn’t square with what happened in the third movie. There, they reveal that they’ve had reinforcements on the dark side of the moon for decades who were laying in wait for some big attack once Sentinel was reactivated and set up that transporter gate. But if that’s so, why was anyone bothering with making all of these hatchlings? If you’ve already got reinforcements on hand, why not just call them in and end the war sooner? Sure, movie two was kind of a write off, but you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen! And it was movie three, supposedly the best in the series, that shot the premises of the first two to hell. Once again, if you’re going to make sequels, try to make sure they’re consistent with the other ones!

3. Symbols and Clues:
So if I remember the plot of the second movie right, Sam got his brain zapped by a piece of the All Spark, which made him see symbols. This in turn gave him the knowledge of the last known location of the Matrix of Leadership. Hold on, why the hell would the All Spark have the location of the Matrix encoded into it? The All Spark was the mysterious alien thing that created the Transformers while the Matrix of Leadership was the start-up key to the big Sun Harvester. One was created by forces unknown millions of years ago and the other was created by the Primes thousands of years ago.

In short, these things had nothing to do with each other, so why would the All Spark have that information on it? Doesn’t make sense, but then again, it wasn’t really meant to. It was only meant to serve as a deus ex machina to get the plot rolling in the first place.

Speaking of which, what was the deal with all those clues that lead them to the Matrix near the end? These took the form of symbols (the Primes ancient language) which were scrawled on various historic monuments, and which Sam could now read since his brain got zapped by the All Spark. Again, makes no sense, just there to move the plot along. I mean c’mon, why the hell would the Primes put clues to the location of the Matrix out there for people to see? Wasn’t it said that they were trying to hide the Matrix so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands? Wasn’t that why they sacrificed themselves and created that weird-ass cage out of their bodies to house it? Yes! So why would they leave clues around like they are hoping for someone to find it?

Oh yeah, and if the thing falls to dust unless its being handled by a “true leader” – you may recall that Sam had this explained to him when he went to robot heaven (holy shit, that was dumb!) – why bother even hiding it? Wouldn’t it be useless to the Fallen or any other Decepticon if they laid their hands on it? But again, I’m expecting too much if I’m asking this movie to make sense aren’t I? Moving on…

The Matrix Sequels:
The first movie in this trilogy was pretty seamless. And by that I mean I can’t think of a single plot hole off the top of my head. The sequels, however, are another matter entirely. Given the complicated and convoluted plot, it was somewhat inevitable that holes would open up. I think I covered most of them in my previous review of the trilogy, but I never get tired of criticizing flops!

1. Neo’s Powers:
The big mystery after movie two was how Neo managed to destroy machines in the real world with his mind. The explanations was one of the things that made the third movie a big letdown. According to the Oracle, the power of the One goes beyond the Matrix, right to the Source, from where it comes from. What the hell does that even mean? Is she implying that the Source CREATES the Ones? Why on Earth would it do that, create its own worst enemy over and over? Is that supposed to be like some Judea-Christian mystery, like why would God create the Devil?

The way the Architect put it in movie two, the Ones are a natural occurrence, much like the 1 percent of people who can’t accept the program because they are somehow more adept than the rest. But how would this person who can not only reject but control the Matrix bring that control into the real world? Who knows? It’s never explained. And any way you try, it ends up not making much sense.

2. Neo in Limbo:
Another thing that was never explained was why Neo went back into the Matrix when he went into a coma. How did he do this if he wasn’t even wired in? Again, the Oracle gives what clearly is meant to be a mysterious answer, but actually is just weak. Apparently, that’s just something the One can do. He can control machines and go in and out of the Matrix without the need for a plug-in. Really? Does the mind of the One operate like wireless internet? Can he interface with machines and hack into the system without DSL or a Modem? Like I said, never explained, but that’s probably because no explanation would make sense. It’s just weird, ethereal stuff that’s meant to advance the plot.

3. Why did Neo go to the Machine City?
So movie two ended with Neo realizing he could destroy machines in the real world. Sure, the experience kind of left him floored, but once he got all better, he was up and kicking machine ass. Hell, all he had to do was raise a hand and squiddies went boom by the bucket load! So why was Neo’s next move to go to the machine city? Because he was having dreams about it? Or because he figured he could save Zion by making a deal with the Source to stop Smith? Okay, seems a bit contrived, but okay. Still, why would he do that when he could have saved Zion on his own terms? If he can blow up machines with a thought, all they would need to do is fly him to Zion where he could unleash hell on the squiddy army. Zion army almost stopped the machines as it was, but with Neo they could have mopped the floor with them!

And didn’t the Architect say that the Matrix was on the verge of crashing? Yes, that was part two of the whole plan that kept the Ones in line. Blow up Zion, threaten to crash the system, thus threatening all of humanity and forcing the Ones’ compliance. But if Neo managed to use his abilities to save Zion from the attack, and the Matrix crashed as planned, that would mean the machines would lose their power source and die, wouldn’t it? Sure, millions of humans would die too; but as Morpheus said, as long as they’re still wired into the system, they’re the enemy! So yes, lots of blood would be on his hands, but in exchange for that one act of unsentimental ruthlessness, the machines would be licked good!

4. The Treaty Thing:
By the end, we’re told that a treaty is in place between humanity and the machines, as a result of the deal Neo cut and the sacrifice he made. Just one question, why are the machines going along with this? Once Neo did his thing and ensured Smith’s destruction, the squiddies just up and left Zion for good. Why? They were on the verge of wiping it off the face of the Earth. Why not follow through and finish the job?

What’s more, why did the Architect promise the Oracle that all humans who couldn’t accept the program would henceforth be set free? That was never part of the deal! Neo just said he wanted peace, he never said anything about the “red pills” henceforth being released. Sure, it seems like an elegant solution to the problem of what to do with them in the short run – just let them go and join Zion – but what about the long run? The more people the machines let go, the larger Zion gets. What’s going to happen when they get too big for their britches and start encroaching on machine territory?

Surely, the machines would have been able to foresee this, so why did they go along with it? Are we really to believe that within all their programming, machines believe in such a thing as keeping their word? The Architect seemed to think so… he gave HIS word that from then on, the unruly humans would be set free and got offended when the Oracle questioned him on that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that honor is a human thing, based on ethical insight and emotion, and not cold, hard logic. And as we saw repeatedly in the Matrix, emotion is something the machines don’t care for. So really, once they realized they were in a position of power, wouldn’t the rational, MACHINE thing to do be to keep going and wipe Zion out?

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending they went with better. But it didn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of sense. And the Wachowski’s seemed to acknowledge this too, since they wrote in the bit where the Architect asks the Oracle: “How long do you think this treaty of yours can last?” Sure, it was meant to sound cynical and machine-like, but it was also true. If the Architect could see how little sense this made, surely the rest of the machines could too!

5. The Big Climax:
I saved this one for last because its the one I'm the least clear on. The way the movie ended, it seemed like a culmination of various things. But almost immediately after I saw it, the logic began to escape me. Let me see if I can recap it. Neo promises to deal with Smith, the Source plugs him in, he and Smith have their big fight. It ends when Neo realizes that he and Smith are destined to come together and cancel each other out. Like the Oracle said, "he is your equal, your opposite", and once Smith blows up, the Matrix reboots because Neo still was carrying the reboot codes he picked up when he went in and met the Architect. It's poetic and wraps things up; but really, how did Neo letting Smith merge with him destroy the guy?

On the one hand, it might be that what the Oracle said was meant somewhat literally. Having Neo merge with Smith, his equal and opposite by this point, might have just overloaded Smith's program, but if so, why did he assimilate Neo? He had JUST taken over the Oracle and was now in possession of her prescience. If he saw what she saw, why do the thing that would guarantee his destruction? However, there is an alternative explanation, one which I came up… with all by myself!

My personal impression was that the Smiths blew up because the Source killed them. Or rather, it killed Neo for failing. That's what appeared to be the case, at any rate. The Source was pissed and zapped his body, but since he was now indistinguishable from Smith, it was really Smith who got zapped and this overloaded him and destroyed him. Still, this idea also presents problems. If zapping someone wired into the Matrix was all it would take to kill Smith, why didn't the system do that the moment he started copying himself onto people? Seriously, by the end, he had copied himself onto every single person within the Matrix. That’s a couple million opportunities to kill him!

Or, here’s another idea, the Source could have started unplugging everyone Smith copied as soon as he started doing it. At the same time, corner him some agents and shoot the original Smith, then boom! He’s contained, Neo’s help would have never been needed, and the machines would be free to wipe out Zion. Again, I’m overthinking things, but that tends to happen whenever movies stop making sense.

More in part II, coming up next…

The Matrix: Revulsions!

The Matrix: Revulsions!

With the final movie hitting theaters, fans believed we were coming to it at last! The explanation as to what it all meant in Reloaded, whether their was a Matrix within a Matrix, how would Zion survive, why Neo was able to destroy those squiddies, and who the hell that Bane guy was now. Most or all of these questions would have been easier to answer if the second movie hadn’t left people befuddled and confused. But at least now, with the third movie, some of that confusion might be dispelled. And I for one was eager to find out who was right in the whole “what’s going on” debate!

The Matrix: Revolutions
As it turned, none of us were! The answers we were waiting for turned out to have nothing to do with any of our theories, and we were quite unhappy about that! Not just because we were wrong but because ultimately, the explanations for why things had happened the way they did in movie two… kinda sucked. The critics felt much the same way, with most reviewers panning the film and it earning roughly half of what the sequel had. When describing it and how it wrapped the series up, words such as “anticlimactic” and “unsatisfying” were often used. Most people I knew just called it dumb! And the reasons were obvious.

1. Weak Opening:
So the movie started with Neo finding himself in limbo which is basically a part of the Matrix. (Note: Mobile station is an anagram for Limbo, which was what Neo – anagram for One – was in. Get used to it, the franchise is full of them!) So in addition to the questions about the squiddies, how he’s supposed to save Zion, and whether or not the Oracle is the enemy, there’s the added question of how the hell he could find himself in the Matrix when he’s not jacked in. Meanwwhile, Morpheus, Trinity and the crew of the Hammer are trying to find him, and the Oracle tells them they got to find YET another program who’s being guarded by the Merovingian in order to get to him. Didn’t they do this plotline already? And reusing one so early in the movie is a bad sign, makes the audience think the whole movie’s going to be a rehash of the last one. And after some needless action sequences in the Merovingian’s night club, which just seemed like an excuse to do the one thing they hadn’t tried yet (fighting upside down!) they find Neo and they are free to pursue all the other plot threads they left open.

2. Weak Explanations:
The movie reached a climax of sorts around the time that Neo reached the Oracle and asked her for explanations. There I was in my seat thinking “Here we go!” Finally, we’d get to see what all that stuff was about. And what the Oracle said was interesting at best, lame at worst, and disappointing somewhere in the middle. So apparently Neo was able to stop those machines because “the power of the One extends to the Source” which is, apparently, where his powers come from… Uh, okay. So Neo has powers that enable him to control machines in the real world as well as in the Matrix… Why? Come to think of it, why does he have powers at all? The way the Architect explained it, his powers were a systemic anomaly, suggesting that they were just exhibited in supposedly gifted individuals that cropped up from time to time. But why the hell would those powers extend to the Source, aka. the machine mainframe? And what the hell did she mean when she said they CAME from the Source? Does that mean the Source willed Neo and all his predecessors into being? Did it do this just so it’d have something to do? Or is he just some kind of super-cyberman who defies all comprehension? Seriously man, this was just weak! Compared to all this, what my friend said (hey Sam!) about Neo being a program actually made sense!

Oh, and the bit about Neo’s mind breaking off and running loose in the Matrix? Also weak! Apparently, he “wasn’t ready” for these abilities, so that’s why he went comatose after killing those squiddies, woke up and found himself in Mobile (Limbo) Station. Yeah, because that’s what happens when you’re the One and you use your abilities prematurely, you go to a train station! I know that the Wachoswki brothers were trying to be cool and mysterious when they wrote this, but this is just inexplicable nonsense! To top it off, we never did get an explanation as to how the Oracle could be on humanity’s side when thus far, all she’s done is lead them into a seemingly hopeless situation. When Morpheus and Trinity confront her, not once do they ask the obvious: “Why did you lie to us, bitch? Why did you say the war would end once Neo went to the Source when in truth, it meant the war would continue and the whole cycle would just repeat itself?” Not asked, not answered. The Oracle just acts like this was all part of the unfolding plan and she’s just telling them what they need to know. Sure, she did tell Neo he’d have to decide between saving Trinity and Zion, which was true, but everything else still felt like lies, or at the very least, convenient half-truths.

3. Obvious Biblical References: In this movie, the mythological references were not only way over the top, but obvious as well! In movie one, much of the mythology was biblical in nature. In movie two, it was more classical. Third time around, it seems like the wheel came back around and returned to biblical. But holy shit was it obvious here! First, there’s the part where Neo is blinded during the fight between him and Bane/Smith. Not only is this an obvious allusion to the biblical Samson, Bane even comes right out and says “A blind messiah!” Are you kidding me? Did the art of subtlety die somewhere between movie’s two and three? No, I can’t defend that. Movie two was never subtle! And the part at the end where Neo decides to sacrifice himself to save Zion? Of course, this particular biblical allusion was building up all throughout the whole of movie three. Scarcely a person in the audience expected Neo to live, especially after Trinity died. But by the end, when Neo’s dead body was being ferried off by the machines, all splayed out Jesus-style? C’mon, Wachowskis!

4. That Lame-ass Death Scene: Trinity survived movie two, which I believe I mentioned was kind of hokey, only to die here. And it took place after she delivered Neo to the machine city, which basically meant she died as soon as she was no longer of use! As if that wasn’t enough, her final farewells dragged on foreeeeever. Seriously, I heard people snickering in the theater, it had gotten so cheesy! Yes, I’m sure there were plenty of people who might have found it touching as well, but I refuse to believe Carrie Ann Moss actually cried when she first read this part of the script! More like she confronted the Wachowskis and said, “You can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!”

5. Smith Gets Comical: I’ve already mentioned how Smith had most of the best lines in the first movie, right after Morpheus. Part of what made his dialogue so cool was the fact that it was cryptic and delivered in a real cool, badass way. Aside from his incredibly even tone, which made him sound all the more menacing, Weaving showed himself to be an expert at catching the right look. That hard stare, those arched eyebrows, that cruel mouth – he was bad reborn! Then the second movie came out, in which he was still pretty bad. He even had some decent lines, even if they were a little monosyllabic. Remember “Me too…”, or “More!” Or how about “The best part about being me is there are so many of me”. Those were pretty good and captured the essence of Smith’s growing megalomania. But by this movie, he so overdid the evil madman routine that it just got creepy, even laughable. For example, that drawn out scene where he smashes the Oracle’s dish and then does that evil laugh as soon as he assimilates her… That was painful to watch. Oh, and lets not forget that long, hammed-up lecture he gave Neo when they were fighting at the end: “Why Mr. Anderson?! Why do you persist?!” Seriously, he was yelling through clenched teeth! I seriously hope for his sake he was choosing to have fun because he found the dialogue so crappy!

6. Final Fight!: At this point, the movie already had outdone itself in weird, over the top special effects. But that big-time, burly brawl at the end of the movie? That was just plain overdone! Sure, Smith and Neo are both superhuman by this point in things, but did their fight have to resemble a battle between two Supermen? Did you not rip off that franchise enough already with all Neo’s flying? Hell, Link even said it in movie two: “He’s doing his Superman thing!” In any case, the action itself was terribly over the top, and was made worse by Smith’s antics which, as already noted, had gone from cryptic to comical! That, plus all the CGI – which always makes a scene look fake – made this entire scene feel totally superfluous. Mainly I just waiting for it to end so we could see how Neo was going to die and whether or not he would take Smith with him!

Okay, some stuff was good in this film. That battle scene where the machines reached Zion, that had some good parts to it! The action was pretty intense and it did have the right feel. Sure, there was the part where Kid (that’s his name, no fooling!) commandeers a mech and shoots the doors to Zion open, saying “Neo, I believe!” right before he shoots. Oh, and of course the part where Link’s wife and some militia women are popping off rockets and taking down the big drilling machine, but then start to get cut to pieces by squiddies shortly thereafter. Those were pretty cheesy, not to mention a pretty cheap attempt at making the audience care about some tertiary characters. But hey, the action was cool so I can forgive. I can even forgive the Aliens rip-off with the mec suits (known here as APU’s) since they are cool in ANY context AND were put to good use! Oh, and and that whole squiddy/hovercraft chase scene? Also not bad! It was fun and tense, and as opposed to the lesser characters dying in Zion, the audience actually seemed to care about what happened to Morpheus and Naobi (as always, played by Jada Pinkett Smith). Her badass delivery and sharp wit also made the scene believable, but dammit did they have to repeat that crappy “There are some things that do not change… and some things do” line?

And you might even venture to say that part of why this last movie seemed so disappointing was because they did a pretty good job of making things seem hopeless in Reloaded. In addition to being confused, I seriously went away wondering how the good guys could possibly win at this point. Yes, the plot was underdeveloped because of pacing problems and too many action scenes being piled on, but the whole concept of the Matrix being centuries old and there being several predecessors to Neo was still borderline genius! After movie one, with what seems to be an open and shut plot, they had their work cut out for them making it seem like everything was about to take a turn for the worst. And yet, they managed to pull it off! From movie one to two we went from thinking Neo was invincible and humanity would win to believing Neo was helpless and humanity screwed. So you might say there was little inspiration left for when it came time to brighten things up again, to find a way to make the good guys win that was plausible and consistent with the whole theme of prophecy and “this has all been foretold”.

But alas, the weak ending where Neo dies and the machines for some reason decide to leave Zion alone cannot be so easily forgiven! That, on top of all the other flaws in this movie meant that this franchise was ending on a groan and not a hurrah. Seriously, why did the machines leave Zion when they were an inch away from wiping it out? And why, for that matter, did the Architect promise the Oracle the “red pills” would be set free from now on? That was never part of the agreement! Neo said he wanted peace, not that all humans who couldn’t accept the program should henceforth be set free so there would be no reason to go to war. Makes sense, but why would the machines accept it? Because they felt honor bound to acknowledge Neo’s sacrifice? Because they promised they wouldn’t? What kind of machines are these? Honor, promises, solemn oaths; these are HUMAN things! They are based in emotion and ethical insight, not mathematics or cold calculation! And you call yourselves machines! Pah! I spit on your machineness!

And let’s not forget what kind of moral this all amounted to: that humanity and robots need to live in peace. Sure, the whole concept of human-machine interdependency came up repeatedly. It came up first in the original when Morpheus explained how humans power the Matrix, and how this was ironic given humanity’s historical dependence on machinery. It was resurrected in that needless scene where Councillor Hamann (that old dude from Zion) takes Neo tot he bowels of the city to look at the machines and reflect on the irony of THAT. But to take that to the point where they must learn to live in peace and harmony, Kumbaya-style, just seemed lame! And as the Architect said to the Oracle: “How long do you expect this peace treaty of yours to last?” Good question! As it stood, the only thing protecting Zion from exterminations was this treaty; but in time, humanity was likely to recover and expand, at which point they’d be wanting to shove a great big EMP up the Matrix’s ass! Any calculating machine would know this, hence why they would have finished the job when they had the chance! But at this point, no one was looking for practical. They were looking for over…

The Matrix: Revolutions, people. A disappointing but not terrible ending to a very promising franchise. Perhaps, like with Highlander, there really should have only been one. Or perhaps they shouldn’t have tried so hard to top everything from the first. In truth, I think that if they had just taken their time and gone with those rather genius ideas – the ones about rogue sentient programs and how the Matrix and the whole One thing were a lot more complicated than originally foretold – the sequels would have been much better. But, as I said, greater people than the Wachowskis have tried to make lighting strike twice. Who can blame them for not succeeding?

The Matrix: Revolutions:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 5/10
Direction: 6/10
Total: 6/10

Matrix plotlines…

Before moving onto the final installment in the Matrix trilogy, I thought I’d tackle the big glaring issue that stood out during Reloaded. And that would be that whole subculture that came out between sequels, the one where people seemed to think they knew what was going on, but really had no idea. That was the rationale I asserted in my last review, and yes, its based in part on the fact that I never agreed with them. And that they were WRONG! Yeah, I was too; the theory I came up with to explain how Neo could have neutralized those squiddies in the real world and how it was all going to end… WRONG! That’s the consensus that that friend of mine and I came to once we both saw Revolutions and reconvened. But it just goes to show you how little sense a movie can make when everyone who went to see it had to make up their own ending, only to come away disappointed by the actual one.

But I digress. Allow me to recap on what happened during that eventful summer when Reloaded came out and fans everywhere showed up at the theater to see what was going to happen, only to leave confused and bewildered. Given the need for some brevity, I was only able to gloss over what actually happened in the movie and why it confused the hell out of people to the point where they had to make up their own plot. So to recap, here is what happened:

Reloaded: Okay, now this movie takes place about six months after the first movie. Neo is at the height of his power and is beginning to have prescient nightmares. He sees Trinity die, and is haunted by the feeling that even though he is the One and has realized his potential, he has no idea what he is to do now. Solid, it makes perfect sense that a messianic figure, once they’ve realized their role, would not know how to proceed. After all, the prophecy that was alluded to several times in the first movie never gave any details as to how the One’s arrival would end the war. Just that it would…

We also learn that the machines are tunneling to Zion. This was first mentioned in Final Flight of the Osiris, the animated short that was part of the Animatrix. It is also recapped during the opening expository scene where the Captains of the various hovercraft meet up inside the Matrix, which is difficult given all the squiddy activity of late. Question! Why not just meet up in the real world if its so dangerous? Is it just so they can all be decked out in their leather outfits and shades and Neo can have his big fight with the agents? Who cares? Point is, Morpheus attributes this attack to the success they’ve been enjoying of late. Neo’s powers seem to be a decided advantage now that they don’t have to run and hide from the agents but can actually face them.

So, Neo goes to the Oracle, who tells him that the One must go to the Source. That’s where his path will end and the war too. But of course, there’s cryptic, convoluted answer shit to be sure! He’s also told that his dreams, after a fashion, are true. Once at the Source, he will have to decide between saving Zion or Trinity. Tough call, but one he must make! Why? Because he’s the One. Harsh shit, man! But it sets up some obvious tension. But, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a snag! Smith is back! And he’s brought friends. Like a perfect metaphor for a virus, or “ego” as Hugo Weaving described it, Smith is expanding, copying himself onto other programs and absorbing their powers. That much is cool because it means he’s able to upgrade his software and is becoming more and more of a threat to Neo and the system. And it kind of fit nicely with what the Oracle rambled on about sentient programs running around the Matrix in defiance of the system. Sure as shit, we didn’t get anything else from that speech, like what the hell it meant or how it was significant! She just says it in passing as if it was a segue into the bit about how Neo must go to the Source and how he’s haunted by dreams about it.

Getting back, Neo and his buds, after a long, convoluted series of events, get the Keymaker, who is the key (sorry!) to getting to the Source. He is just one in a long list of characters who we get the feeling were supposed to be complex and inspired, but ultimately served no real purpose other than being stand ins that advanced the plot. Seriously, all they do is show up, make a big speech, and then go! But anyway… the characters do more action-shit to make sure Neo can get to the Source and – wouldn’t you know it?- Smith shows up! Seems that he too has access to the backdoors of the Matrix, he wants everything, he says, and is getting more powerful. They escape him, and make it to the Source where (wait for it!) another character is introduced, makes a big speech, and we get the last, confusing explanation we need.

So here’s how it is… The Matrix is many centuries old. It was, as Smith said in movie one, originally meant to be a perfect world but humanity wouldn’t accept it because the human cerebrum is designed to expect suffering, misery and conflict. That was a cool idea, but here it just gets convoluted like everything else! The solution, after some trials, was what the Architect described as the “choice” option. The Oracle, an intuitive program created to study human feelings (holy obvious case of pairing here!) designed this concept where humans were given an unconscious choice to either accept the programmed reality or reject it. 99 percent of subjects did, but the remaining one percent were like Neo and the rest – they could not bring themselves to embrace the delusion. And of course, every so often a One would emerge who not only rejected it, but could manipulate it to his advantage.

These two phenomenon represented an “escalating probability of failure”, as the Architect said, so something needed to be done. Basically, this was accomplished by a one-two punch. One, force the One to comply by threatening to crash the system and take out every human being wired into the Matrix. And two, sending the squiddies out to destroy Zion. The Matrix would then reboot, the One would take a handful of humans to start a free colony (aka. Zion) where the “red pills”, the one percent who wouldn’t accept the program, would be sent off to. When a new One would emerge, the whole thing would start over again. The machines would head for the new Zion, the system would lurch towards crashing, and the One would be driven in the direction of the Source where he would be given the same choice. Reboot the system and restart Zion, or watch humanity die! Naturally, all the Ones prior to Neo complied…

What was brilliant about this was it successfully managed to subvert everything we saw in movie one. The One seems invincible, but when confronted with this problem, he essentially becomes helpless. Really, what good can such powers do someone when all of humanity is held hostage? Second, the weapon at humanity’s disposal is a prophecy that foretold of victory, but it was essentially a lie. The war would “end”, it said, but it never specified how. In truth, the entire war and ongoing nature of the struggle between free humanity and the machines was something designed by the mathematical genius of the Architect. It serves the sole purpose of keeping the Matrix running and the machines functioning. Very 1984! Whereas humanity believes its been fighting the AI war for over a century, the sad truth is they lost, and what they’ve been doing ever since is been playing a part in play much bigger than themselves. No one knows the truth, because no one is old enough who remembers. Seriously, 1984!

And if you think about it, it was all hinted at throughout the movie. Speech One, where the Oracle says the war would end and how she’s a program and there are others like her who defy the system. Speech Two, where the Merovingian tells them that the true nature of life is cause and effect, and we are all out of control. Speech Three, where the Architect explains how Zion and the One represent a “systemic anomaly” which is the only remaining exception to what is otherwise “a harmony of mathematical perfection” or some such shit! It essentially comes together in the end. Only problem was, NOBODY GOT IT! It was told in such a quick, rushed way between action sequence and using cryptic, expository dialogue that everybody just gave up and accepted the last few minutes of the movie as their truth of what was going on. Which brings me to phase two… what fans thought was happening.

“Matrix within a Matrix:” So like I said, in the months between the release of the second and third movie, fans everywhere formed up and began detailing what they thought was the coolest idea ever proposed! Far from being based on the many, many, big speeches in Reloaded, it was based entirely on the last few minutes and the assumed significance thereof. Perhaps I am being harsh. In truth, it was a cool idea.

To recap! Neo managed to stop those squiddies because they were STILL in the Matrix! Neat! But what would this mean? Well, according to the theory, the Matrix exerted control over the free humans by ensuring that once they broke free from the first Matrix, they were still contained in a second. Some went so far as to say that there were up to seven or more layers of the Matrix, like it was based on some variation of the Superstring Theory or something! Also neat, and years before Inception! One problem… makes no sense! If there were multiple layers of the Matrix keeping humanity controlled, what the hell was the point of everything we’ve been told up until this now. The red pills are controlled by allowing them to form a colony, then periodically destroying it. The One is controlled by crashing the Matrix in time with Zion’s destruction and making him reboot it so that humanity will continue to live.

Why do all that if they’re all still in the Matrix??? If they’re just part of a delusion no matter what, let them have their victory! But even more to the point, if the red pills – i.e. that one percent that was always aware that they were living inside a program – couldn’t bring themselves to accept the program, what were the odds they would accept the program within the program (or any other layer of it for that matter)? It was a cool idea, but in short, it negates EVERYTHING the movie was based on up until this point. But asking the fan community for perfect consistency is even worse than asking it from a writer/director, or worse, two of them!

My Idea!: Lastly, let me get to what I thought was going on. It’s short, so bear with me just a little longer. Basically, I thought Neo stopped those squiddies because his contact with Smith meant that HE was changed too. Smith said his destruction in movie one changed him, and we all saw it in action. So why couldn’t the same be true in reverse? It too seemed hinted at, Neo was always somehow aware of Smith’s presence, as well as the “connection” Smith mentioned. I thought that this would be the means through which Zion would be saved and the war would be won in movie three. Neo would be given insight into the machine’s minds, how they functioned. He would be able to stop them in the real world just like he did in the Matrix. I admit, it was thin, but as far as the rest was concerned – what did this mean, what did that mean? – my answer was, who the hell cares? We’ll find out in movie three. As for what’s happening, the only people who knew that were the Wachoswki’s, and of course the actors and set people.

But of course, that wasn’t going to stop us armchair critics from speculating. And here I am still talking about it now, even though the movie came and went! But what the hell, it was fun while it lasted! And considering how we all ended up disappointed by the real ending, I’m thinking maybe some armchair critics could have done a better job of writing the ending! Speaking of which, stay tuned for the final installment, The Matrix: Revulsions!

The Matrix: It’s Loaded!

When I wrote about the Matrix last, I believe I said something about how it basically rocked. And the critics all seemed to agree on this one: the action, the plot, the tone, and the rich metaphorical nature of the film all combined to create something that was entertaining, stimulating and even groundbreaking. The only problem with having such a big hit is, how good does the second one need to be in order to live up to the original? Even harder is creating a sequel that can top it! Greater people than the Wachoswkis have tried, few have succeeded.

In their heyday, Lucas, Scorsese, Cameron, Miller and a few others managed to top their first installments. In fact, Google a list of the best sequels ever made and I guarantee that The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2, and Mad Max 2 will be in the top ten. Hell, top five! Go on, I’ll wait… Was I right? Yes, I’m sure there were other worthy entries in that list, but these ones stand out for one reason. Between movie one and two, they didn’t switch directors! That’s right, sometimes, when it was clear that a franchise was in the making, the studios brought in a pitch-hitter to give the movie a higher profile. But in cases where the original director was still in charge, it was even more impressive when the sequel was better.

Why should this be so, you ask? Well, two reasons that I can think of: One, inspiration is a fickle thing. Rarely does a creative mind know when their idea is truly spent. And unless they had the foresight to plot out where it was going ahead of time, rarely is a follow-up even foreseeable. Remember Highlander? There was a movie that had no business becoming a franchise! It ended in movie one, so movies two, three, four, etc, were mainly contrived explanations as to how there could possibly be any sequels. My apologies to any fans, but in this case, there really SHOULD have been only one…

And reason number two: Duty! If the first installment is a smash hit, the creator can’t help but feel obligated or pressured to create more of the same. In the process, they can overshoot and end up making something that feels totally forced. Or, to use another baseball metaphor, if you hit it out of the park on the first pitch, you’re likely to get nervous and end up hitting air on the second. And lets not forget, when it comes to the creative process, high expectations and pressure are like a hot lead enema. Little wonder then why movies like the aforementioned ones are so popular! In spite of the pressure and expectations, these creative minds managed to produce something golden not once but twice!

But enough about those sequels! Let’s get to this sequel! As I might have also alluded to in the last post, the Matrix: Reloaded did NOT quite live up to the first for many reasons, most of which had to do with why sequels fail in the first place.

The Matrix: Reloaded:
After the first movie’s success, the Wachowski brothers spent some time contemplating what they were going to do as a follow-up. Initially, rumor had it that they were going to make two more movies, one a prequel and the other a sequel. However, the brothers eventually decided on two sequels which would be filmed together and released within a few months of each other. I can’t say if this was done out of shrewdness or kindness, because while this did have some obvious commercial benefits for them, it was also a welcome relief to fans who wouldn’t have to wait a couple of years to see how it would all end.

However, this format also had some drawbacks. For one, it made the two movies seem more like a single movie told in two parts rather than two separate ones. It also meant that the critical flops were a lot more apparent, which led to some sour reviews towards the end. The Wachowksi’s had little to worry about though, since they still had the fans. But they too were saying bad things about the second and third movie that they weren’t saying about the first. In general, I tended to agree with these assessments, and here are some of the more glaring ones that I picked up on:

1. Convoluted Plot/that “Matrix within a Matrix” crap:
Reloaded suffered from a particularly obvious fact in that it was trying to do too much. This is surprising considering that the point of any second act is relatively simple: find a way to darken things. In the fist movie, Neo realized that he was the One and has superhuman powers which made him damn near invincible as far as the machines were concerned. But Act II had to end with things hanging by a thread and the heroes close to losing all hope. So the question remained, how were the machines supposed to get the upper hand on humanity now that their savior had arrived? How were we to get to that hopeless feeling that would keep us all guessing between parts II and III?

The answer: Well, turns out that the Matrix is older than anyone knows. And it has a way of dealing with the One too that ultimately serves its purpose. Basically, the machines periodically destroy Zion and time their system to crash at roughly the same time. As soon as the One emerges, they ensure that he/she finds their way to the Source where they are then given a choice: reboot the system and rebuild Zion once its been leveled, thus ensuring the human race remains alive and the Matrix keeps running; or let all humanity die. Honestly, not a bad idea. Kind of ties things up nicely too if you think about it (but not too much). Ah, but there was one problem when it came to the delivery of this plot line: nobody seemed to get it! After the movie opened at the box offices, the most common reaction reported by movie-goers, aside from being impressed with the special effects, was confusion! And who could blame them? Between the Oracle’s revelation that she is a program and that there are all kinds of exiled sentient programs running around in the Matrix, Smith’s long-winded diatribe about freedom and purpose, and the patronizing lecture from the Architect about the true nature of the Matrix with all the pointlessly big words (ergo, vis a vis, concordantly), everyone seemed to be just a little lost. What the hell did all that mean?

I wasn’t sure myself, and had to watch it a few times just to get it all down. Sure, it made sense in a convoluted way, but if you have to go over it again and again just to get it, the point is already lost. In fact, people were so confused that an entire culture of speculation seemed to spring up in the months between the release of the first and second movies. And rather than being concerned with what all the speeches meant, the focal point seemed to be on the last few minutes of the film where Neo killed those squiddies. Because of that, just about everyone seemed to think that there was a “Matrix within a Matrix”! In short, the characters were STILL in the Matrix when Neo killed them, and that meant… well, that depended on who you asked. Some even went so far (as one friend of mine did) as to say that Neo HIMSELF was a program. It made no sense to me and I told them so (sometimes arguments ensued!). But I could see why this was happening. When people don’t get a movie, they tend to make up their own plot. And just about everybody was doing that here!

2. Too much going on:
Another thing wrong with Reloaded was the fact that everything felt way too rushed. One minute, we’re getting a long speech or expository scene, and less than a second later, a big fight or a car chase. And all of it seemed to rush on endlessly towards a climax where, I hoped, everything would come together and things would make sense. I realized shortly after seeing it for the second or third time that it was for this very reason that the plot felt so convoluted. Had they taken their time to develop things and flesh things out some more, and not spent so much time cramming everything they could in, the movie might have made more sense and not been so overwhelming. Whereas in the first movie, time was taken to develop things and let questions and suspense build, this movie jumped right in and seemed to keep piling things on the longer it went. Here are some examples:

Mythological characters: In movie one, we were treated to a rich mythology where characters were obviously inspired by classical, biblical or historical figures and sources. This time around, the Wachowski brothers tried to do the same but both over and under-did it. On the one hand, we were saturated with characters who had obvious parallels to mythological figures:

Seraph- the guardian angel of the Oracle, based on biblical seraphs that protected heaven
The Twins – Castor/Pollux, the twin brothers of Greco-Roman mythology
The Merovingian – aka. the Frenchman, a power-hungry, exiled program named after the Merovingian dynasty of early France, who claimed descent from the union between Gods and humans (much like Greeks royals)
Persephone – his wife, based on the Greek goddess of renewal who was brought unhappily by Hades to the underworld to be his wife
The Keymaker – a sentient program imprisoned by the Merovingian who grants access to the back doors of the Matrix, the doors representing the doors of perception and the keys the answers
The Architect – the judicious and perfectionist mathematical program who designed the Matrix and is based on Yahweh, God in the Old Testament, in how he controls and binds all to his creation, even the One

On the other hand, not one of them was well-developed. Take any of the above mentioned characters and try to find a few words to describe them, but you can’t say who they were inspired by or what their basic function was. What can you say about Persephone other than she is inspired by the original and was the Merovingian’s wife, and angry? What can you say about the Merovingian other than he’s arrogant (and French)? How about the Architect, keeping in mind you can’t say he’s the creator of the Matrix and obviously a dick? Hard, isn’t it? The movie simply moved along too quickly to give a single one their due.

That stuff you notice is really the Matrix doing stuff: In this movie, we get a slew of explanations of how supernatural things and conspiracy theories are in fact aspects of the Matrix. A neat suggestion, and somehow related to the fact that there are sentient programs running around who are defying the Source. But do they take the opportunity to follow this thread and develop it, show us some examples and how it might be really, really significant? Not really… Remember that moment in the first movie where Neo’s says he’s having a moment of deja vu? Remember how everyone reacted and how it led to tension and an immediate action sequence? Not only was it a cool sci-fi concept, it was intrinsic to the plot. Here, not so much! Sure, we get to see some examples – the Vampires that work for the Merovingian or the Twins (who are decidedly ghost-like). But no time is spent explaining their purpose, why they chose to defy to the Matrix, or why they were behaving in such a way that the Matrix had to assimilate it. This is important shit, dammit! It shows just how detailed and rich the world of the Matrix is; but it goes by so fast, we barely notice!

Looooong action scenes: Last, but certainly not least, the action scenes were way too drawn out! I mean hey, I love a fight scene or a car chase as much as the next guy, but the fight with the Smiths and the freeway chase? Holy crap, did they go on! In both cases, it just felt like the Wachowski’s were trying to see how far they could take things. How many Smiths can we cram into one shot? How many cool moves can Neo do before he’s forced to fly away? How many cars can we crash and semi’s can we total? How many explosions? And after all that, Neo somehow manages to save EVERYBODY!

3. That dance scene: Really, what purpose did that scene serve? That long drawn out dance scene with the techno music interlaced with scenes of Neo and Trinity doing it in slow motion. Tell me what purpose it served! Was it meant to showcase how the people of Zion were trying to celebrate their freedom? Fine! Show them dancing in the background. Don’t do a ten-minute montage of slow motion dancing and screwing. It’s just plain weird!

4. CGI aint setting!: Here’s something George Lucas should have realized in the course of making his prequels. CGI does not a movie make! It must be somehow freeing to know that budgets are no longer an issue, but really, special effects are not a substitute for real settings or real people! This movie, just like all the Star Wars crap fests, was saturated with CGI, and it didn’t make it one bit more impressive! The massive fight scene between Neo and the Smiths, the Highway chase scene, and a plethora of other shots that were packed full of digital special effects… Well, they just showed! One fan-critic I remember hearing from pretty much summed it up: “No wonder all the characters wear glasses and trench coats and suits. Its so you don’t notice that they don’t look like the actors!”

And he was right! Especially during that fight scene, the Smiths and Neo just looked so… rendered! I mean really, the audience KNOWS when its CGI, so its not like you’re able to substitute it for a real shot and expect them not to know the difference. And in truth, it just seems lazy to rely on green screens and site lines rather than real actors, real sets and real costumes; which is why it should be used sparingly, not glaringly! If every face, every motion, every effect, and every background – hell, just everything in the shot – is rendered in CGI, it’s going to look fake! The result is that everyone’s going to be very aware of the fact that they are watching a movie. Suspension of disbelief will fly out the window!

5. Dialogue: Granted this movie had a few good lines, but nothing like the first. In fact, the dialogue in this one seemed very hackney and awkward compared to movie one, even when coming from Laurence Fishburn and Hugo Weaving! Smith’s opening speech to Neo, for example. Holy shit did that drag on! Not to mention that it was so full of cliches and philosophical claptrap! Yeah, I know it was obvious that Smith wanted to kill Neo by the way the background music was all menacing and building up to a crescendo, but you sure couldn’t tell from what he was saying: “I’m free, thanks to you. But see, I’m not really free. Blah, blah, blah, purpose. Blah, blah, blah, existence. Prepare to die!” And Morpheus, the one-time Pez dispenser of cool lines, became a big, over-enunciating machine in this one. Not once did he use a contraction! Right before the highway chase happens, he says “Yes… that is TRUUUE. Then let us PRAAAY, that I was WROOONG.” Laurence, I’m usually a fan, but that last line was hard to hear! Or how about “There are some things in this universe that do not change, Naobi. Some things DO change.” Ick! He aced his lines in movie one, sure, but this time around, both he and Weaving seemed daunted by bad script writing.

6. Neo saves everybody: A minor point, but it annoyed me, and I’m writing this, so there! Okay, so back to the freeway chase! Neo showed up at the last second to save Morpheus and the Keymaker, right? And remember how he did the exact same thing at the end and saved Trinity, even though he foresaw her death and we are told repeatedly that there is a very good chance she will die? So why does he get to save her in the end? One unlikely rescue was enough, two is pushing it. And in the end, this movie would have felt a lot more serious and dire if Neo lost the love of his life in the end. Hell, it would have been the perfect Act II downturn! He decides to forsake all other humans in order to save her, but then can’t! Can you feel the tragedy? I think movie-goers would have left thinking this movie made a lot more sense if that had happened! And before anyone tells me that’d be too sad, let me remind them that she dies anyway in Act III. This way, Neo goes into the final installment bitter, sad and full or rage; ready to kill and even die for the sake of one final act of vengeance/sacrifice in order to save Zion!

7. Holes: Even though I chose to challenge the whole “Matrix within a Matrix” idea on the basis that it made less sense than the actual movie, it did still have holes that could not be ignored. For instance, if the Oracle is on the side of humanity, why has she been helping them to fulfill the Architect’s plans for so long? By sending Neo, and all the other Ones before him, to the Source, she’s been ensuring that they end up doing exactly what the Architect wanted. Sure, they kept humanity alive this way, but they also kept the cycle of human slavery keeps going. Zion keeps getting destroyed, the system keeps getting rebooted, world keeps on spinning and humanity remains oppressed. Yes, Neo broke that cycle in the end and did it with her help. But in essence, she was screwing all those that came before him by feeding them the same bit of prophecy, the one that misled them into thinking that going to the Source would win the war. By the end of movie two, we were told that the Oracle is basically part of the system, thus making her the enemy. And you know what? I believed it! It didn’t seem plausible that she would be doing all that and somehow be on the side of humanity after all.

Which brings me to plot hole number two. The whole cyclical plot of the Matrix, where every One does the Architects bidding, was basically broken by one act of defiance. When Neo was given the choice to comply or let humanity die, he basically decided to try and save Trinity, and in the process condemned Zion and everyone still hooked into to the system. Did the Oracle foresee this? Did she foresee that at one point, a One would come along who could break the whole cycle by telling the Architect to go to hell, spawn a rogue Smith who would threaten to take over the Matrix, cut a deal with the Source to spare Zion, fail to stop him, let Smith assimilate him, then get himself killed by the Source, thus killing off Smith and injecting the reboot code into the Matrix at the same time, therefore rebooting the whole system in the process? Wow, just saying it makes my eyes cross! I can’t imagine how she must have felt! Point is, its hokey and kinda damn weird! I know, I’m going into movie three, but like I said, these two movies are kinda one and the same.

Next, there’s the question of timing. Essentially, we are told by the Architect that Neo was at the Source because Zion was “about to be destroyed”. Concordantly (ha!), the Matrix was about to go down unless he rebooted it with the code he got from passing into the Source. But here’s the thing! During much of the movie, there was still a good chance that the forces of Zion could have stopped or at least slowed the machines down before they reached Zion. The only reason why they made it to the front door without incident was because a Smith took over Bane (a human resistance fighter), set off one of the ship’s EMPs and disabled Zion’s entire fleet ahead of time. If the Zionites had been keeping the machines back when the Matrix went down (because Neo chose not to reboot it) wouldn’t that mean the machines themselves would die off? The Matrix is their main power source, so keeping 250,000 squiddies alive would become very difficult. At the very least, they’d be right screwed in the long run! Humanity’s eventual victory would be guaranteed!

Makes you think doesn’t it? No? Maybe its just me!

In short, The Matrix: Reloaded suffered because the Wachowskis were clearly trying to do too much with this one film. On the one hand, they were trying to top the action scenes from the first. On the other, they were trying to live up or even outdo the mythology of the first. All that seems perfectly natural considering the hype they knew they were generating. After the success of the Matrix, expectations were high and any effort on their part to follow it up would be surrounded by buzz, expectations and high hopes. But if you try to compensate for all that by cramming more, more, more in, you get what you pay for in the end.

Ultimately, I think this movie and the final installment were good examples of what not to do with a franchise. In essence, stay true to the concept and don’t try to outdo it. And, wherever possible, plan for an eventual sequel ahead of time. Hell, that’s what Lucas did and look what came out of that! Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi! On the other hand, he never bothered to storyboard the prequels til well into the 90’s, and look what happened there… On second thought, don’t! No sense opening up THAT can of worms again!

The Matrix: Reloaded
Entertainment Value: 8/10 (still entertaining)
Plot: 6/10 (convoluted!)
Direction: 8/10
Total: 7.5/10

Note: examples of Matrix mythology can be found at www.matrixmythology.com)

Matrix, best lines!

As I realized about two sentences into writing my review for the Matrix, a seperate post would need to be created just for all the great lines of dialogue! Not just one-liners; no, this baby also boasted some of best back and forth bits of writing in recent memory. Here are just some of the gems, in no particular order…

Morpheus: What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this (holds up a battery)
Neo: No, I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.
Morpheus: I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.

Oracle: Do you know what that means? (Points to banner) It means know thyself. I wanna tell you a little secret, being The One is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.

Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. (Woman in red dress walks by) Neo? Were you listening to me, Neo? Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?
Neo: I was…
Morpheus: Look again. (Agent Smith points a gun at his head) Freeze it.
(Everything freezes)
Neo: This… this isn’t the Matrix?
Morpheus: No. It is another training program designed to teach you one thing: if you are not one of us, you are one of them.

Cypher: All I do is what he tells me to do. If I had to choose between that and the Matrix, I’d choose the Matrix.
Trinity: The Matrix isn’t real.
Cypher: I disagree, Trinity. I think that the Matrix can be more real than this world. All I do is pull a plug here, but there… you have to watch Apoc die.

Trinity: I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing… why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You’re looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.
Neo: What is the Matrix?
Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Morpheus: Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Neo: Yes.
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Morpheus: The pill you took is part of a trace program. It’s designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signal so we can pinpoint your location.
Neo: What does that mean?
Cypher: It means fasten your seat belt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.

Morpheus: I won’t lie to you, Neo. Every single man or woman who has stood their ground, everyone who has fought an agent has died. But where they have failed, you will succeed.
Neo: Why?
Morpheus: I’ve seen an agent punch through a concrete wall; men have emptied entire clips at them and hit nothing but air; yet, their strength, and their speed, are still based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong, or as fast, as *you* can be.”
Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?
Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

Neo: Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one. How about, I give you the finger… and you give me my phone call.

Agent Jones: Only human.
Trinity: Dodge this (Boom!)

Agent Smith: You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability… It is the sound of your death… Goodbye, Mr. Anderson…
Neo: My name… is Neo.

Agent Smith: The great Morpheus. We meet at last.
Morpheus: And you are?
Agent Smith: A Smith. Agent Smith.
Morpheus: You all look the same to me.

Neo: I know kung fu.
Morpheus: Show me.

Morpheus: How did I beat you?
Neo: You… you’re too fast.
Morpheus: Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?

Morpheus: “C’mon! Stop trying to hit me and hit me!”

Agent Smith: It seems that you’ve been living two lives. One life, you’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you… help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias “Neo” and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

Neo: I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

And that’s where it ended! Coming up next, The Matrix: Reloaded and all it did right and wrong.