New Trailer: True Blood, Season Six

true_bloodWhen it comes to shows that seem to love making fans wait, True Blood is in a category reserved for shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Naturally, it takes time to produce big-budget, cable miniseries, especially ones with big name actors, writers, producers and crews who aren’t used to churning out the slop network television specializes in.

Still! It sucks when you find yourself having to repeatedly check IMDB just so you can be reminded how painfully long you have to wait for a new season. Lucky for fans of this and the other aforementioned shows, there appears to be some overlap. TWD just wrapped up season 3, GOT is just half done their third season, and True Blood will be airing on June 16th. So even when one is making us wait, at least one is stepping up to provide.

In any case, True Blood‘s new season promises a lot of things. After last season’s big climax, where Bill Compton drank the blood of Lilith and became some sort of uber-vampire, people were scared. And even though its leaders were mostly killed off, it’s clear that the civil war between Sanguinistas (vampire supremacists) and Integrationists is still raging, with the powers that be intervening and taking the offensive against vampires on all sides.

And then there’s Sookie and her Faerie brethren who find themselves caught in the middle. And the mystery of who killed her folks appears to be nearing revelation, and all other threads showed some hint of further development. In short, plenty of action left to be had…

So if you like vampires, mythical creatures, plenty of gore and nudity, but can’t stand the saccharine tone of Twilight and other YA vampire crap, I recommend checking it out. Now if they could all stop broadcasting new episodes on the same night – Sunday, I’d be in business! Even when you’re just downloaded, it creates a crowded schedule 😉 Enjoy the trailer!

How to Ninja Proof a House

ninjahomeinvasionFrom the good people who brought you “How to zombie-proof a house” comes the latest in sensible real-estate planning. This time round, it is how you go about protecting your home from ninja intrusion. Using a full-page infographic with multiple panels, which you can check out here, all the countermeasures you will need to know are listed.

Combining ancient know-how with modern technology, these counter-measures include:

  • Squeaky floors
  • Security cameras
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Maze-like hallways
  • Powerful ventilation
  • High-tech locks
  • Facial recognition software
  • Smart floors
  • Gravel Yards
  • Steel walls and ceilings
  • Tall and curved outer walls

ninja.jpgWhat impresses me about all of this, aside from the time and thought dedicated to it, is how well it merges knowledge from feudal Japan with modern home defense systems. For example, feudal barons who feared assassination during Japan’s Sengoku (or “Warring States”) Period would have rooms in their fortress built with long wooden panels that would ensure they would squeak when stepped on. These were often combined with trap doors to ensure that anyone skilled enough to slip inside would find themselves in a jam quickly!

Gravel yards placed at intervals throughout their estates and round, vertical walls were also popular tricks to ensure easier detection and to give ninjas a harder time of getting inside. And of course, narrow, winding hallways also ensured that a single or group of infiltrators would have a harder time finding their way and could be ambushed when they came around a corner.

Cyber Ninja Artart, alphacoders.com
Cyber Ninja Artart, alphacoders.com

Combining all this with the latest in alarm systems, biometric locks, facial recognitions software, security cameras, environmental controls and fire sprinklers, you’ve got a pretty handy arsenal with which to fight off skilled assassins and masters of stealth. And  let’s face it, modern ninjas have no doubt updated their repertoire to take advantage of the latest in tech as well, which would most likely include night vision, thermal imaging, flashbangs, airgun grappling hooks, and possibly even knock-out gas.

Were ninjas to become a credible threat to our safety and well-being, this is undoubtedly the kind of database we would want to consult. And as we all know, ninjas are cool! When zombies go the way of vampires and witches, aka. become somewhat of a tired cliche, I’m sure these guys will be in line to become the next big craze!

Ninja Games

The Superhero Challenge Part II: Backstory!

I got to say, I was impressed with the response my “Superhero Challenge” got. I knew that the topic was a fertile one, hence why my wife and I started talking about it. But I wasn’t sure how much thought other people were likely to put it into it. I’m so happy there are plenty of geeks like me out there! For those of you who came in and selected your powers and a name for your character, kudos! Now we just need to get to work on your backstory.

Every superhero and villain has one. They give them depth, motivation, and an origin story that makes their actions and purpose seem relatable. After all, a hero who does heroic things just because is no hero at all! He’s just a cardboard stand in whom no one can relate to. But a hero who helps others because of personal tragedy or to bring meaning to their own life is something we can all get behind.

Heck, the same is true for a super villain isn’t it? No one believes that a bad guy could kill, maim and plot the destruction of the world simply because he’s Evil the Cat. He too needs a history to explain how he became the way he was. It’s simply the way people work. We desire explanations and love a good origin story!

So I’ve prepared the following list of motivation/creation factors. I’d say pick one, but since there are some obvious places where overlap occurs, feel free to pick a second if it’s appropriate. And just to be creative, I’ll include a list of possible factions/forces that could have been involved. Circumstances are one thing, but going from that to the five W’s (who, what, when, where, and why) is a different matter. Read on and select:

  1. Tragedy – this can be the death of one’s parents, a wife, a husband, a sibling, or even a child. The loss effected you deeply, and led you to resolve that you would never let that happen to anyone else. Or maybe you just want some payback on the bastards who did it! Either way, the tragedy has become your weapon, and those who would harm innocents fear you now!
  2. Vendetta – a slight variation on Tragedy, this involves a purposeful attack on you which left you scarred, angry, and motivated to seek vengeance on the ones who did it. Whereas the loss of family is a tragedy that would have hurt you deeply, this is a wound that has left you pissed and determined to see the people who did it suffer horribly!
  3. Accident – maybe you fell into a vat of chemicals, got bombarded by some high-energy gamma rays, survived an atomic blast, had a brush with near death, or just stumbled onto something you weren’t supposed to. However it happened, the experience left you scarred and forever changed. Fighting crime or doing evil is now your outlet over the pain of the life you lost, and a means to put your freaky new abilities to work!
  4. Mutation – similar to option two, this could be your mother having been bitten by a vampire (a la Blade), the result of evolution (a la X-Men), or again exposure to some process that isn’t exactly scientifically possible. But it’s left you with powers and there must be a reason for it, or at least a positive (or selfish) way to use them.
  5. Alien Influence – alien technology came to Earth and picked you as its beneficiary. Or maybe you just accidentally found it and decided it was mighty cool and useful. Hell, maybe you ARE an alien who fell to Earth (i.e. Superman), and being one gives you strange and awesome powers that no one else has access to. How will you use it though is up to you. Will you be a savior, or a terrible force to be reckoned with?

Who hurt /changed and/or effected you? In short, what was the motivation behind the thing that made you what you are today? The list of possible candidates is potentially long, so I’ll try to break it down to as few possibilities as I can. And off the top of my head, and calling to mind all the examples that I can think of, I have come up with a list of seven different kinds of people/organizations who usually have a hand in the creation of superheroes and villains. Select one and proceed to the end:

  1. Crime Kingpin – every city has its share of crooks and criminal masterminds. Did you, your family, or someone else you care about run afoul of these villains? Did you, they, owe them some money, protection fees, a debt of blood which they exacted, thus leaving you hurt, bitter and angry?
  2. Negligent Superhero – let’s face it. Sometimes superheroes do bad things. Whether its collateral damage from their crime-fighting antics, the result of too much force, or maybe they were just having an off day, sometimes they hurt people without intending to. This is sure to leave some people angry, scarred, and looking for payback. After all, the Joker was either a hapless victim or a petty thug (depending on which back story you believe) before Batman sent him into that vat of toxic chemicals. And you got to figure a lot of victims get caught in the crossfire whenever there’s a big showdown between the good guys and bad. And in some cases, the victims blame the heroes…
  3. The Government – yeah, we all know they’re up to some clandestine stuff, or at least they used to be! And whether they decided to quietly bury the outcomes of their ugly projects and black ops, or simply don’t know about them anymore, you were the end result and now the truth must be brought to light. Expose their crimes, and if the ones who did are still around, make them pay! Otherwise, they might do it to someone else!
  4. The Corporation  – and when it’s not the government doing dirty, crooked things and then trying to cover it up, it’s usually the private sector! We all know there are plenty of corporate magnates out there who love to experiment with weapons, chemicals, radiation, and risky ventures that will leave people dead, mutated, or just plain altered. And you know they won’t be held accountable for it. No sir, not by the courts and not by the law! It’s up to you to bring these bastards to justice, or perhaps they are after you because you are now in possession of something they want. Doesn’t matter, as far as you’re concerned, the initials CEO stand for Chief Enemy Officer!
  5. Aliens – sure, there are plenty of nice aliens out there. ET, Alf, and the Predator people can be pretty stand up if you know how to stay on their good side. But alas, there are plenty of aliens out there that are just like us humans. Cruel, manipulative, and irresponsible when it comes to how they treat other people and dispose of their technology. Maybe you came into something powerful by accident, or maybe it was the result of something they purposefully did to you. Either way, you gotta follow this up and figure out who they are. And while you’re at it, show off whatever it is they gave you!
  6. Vampires/Paranormals far be it from me to discriminate against folks on a count of their background or supernatural affiliations. But when Vampires, Werewolves and other paranormal creatures start hurting people, it’s on! Was it you they hurt, your family, your friends, or do they just have it in their heads that “your kind” needs to be destroyed or pushed out of the way? Doesn’t much matter, because the end result is the same. Death to (fill in the blank)!
  7. International Villains sometimes, its not our own governments or their secretive agents that we need fear. Sometimes, the threat comes from aboard, either in the form of renowned terrorists, spies, or assorted Bond-like villains. And when they crossed you, your family, your friends, etc, they went too far! Now it’s up to you to make them pay for their crimes. This may be a fight you pursue alone, or as part of a team or a government agency. But in the end, you will bring the fight to their doorstep!

Okay! That’s it, that’s all on my end. Once again, the challenge is to make your selection and combine them with your characters powers and name to come up with a profile that is all your own! And please feel free to comment and include a small bio blurb which I will then include in a list of superheroes in my third and final installment. I plan to call it, “The New New Justice League”! Okay, that name is negotiable, but the intent is pretty clear right? Let’s make some new and interesting comic book icons!

More Things Geeks Never Say

Hey all, I told you I’d be back with more things you’ll never catch a geek saying. And I am! Yes, a list such as this is not something you can cover in a single post, even if you do permit yourself 15 examples instead of the usual ten. And so I return for another installment, and be warned, but this one is not likely to be the last. And in honor of this year’s Comic Con, I was sure to throw in some rather specific examples.

One thing though. From here on in I thought I’d stick to top 10 lists. They do seem to be the most effective, and the Nostalgia Critic already claimed the whole “Top 11” thing so I won’t be doing that either. And of course, suggestions are always welcome and are sure to make their way into the next list. Kudos to Jeff Whelan for recommending a Jar Jar comment. You read my mind, brotha!

Okay, here we go! Installment the second on things geeks never say:

10. No self-respecting man reads comic books!

9. NaNoWriMo-whatta? That some kind of Japanese anime?

8. No grown man ever wears a costume to a convention! There might be girls there!

7. Outside of Twilight, I really don’t watch anything involving vampires

6. Thank you, but one Robocop movie was enough for me

5. Of course the government isn’t out to get us. What are you, paranoid?

4. Aliens don’t exist. The Bible would say so if they did.

3. Levar Burton? Wasn’t he that guy who was in Roots, and nothing else? 

2. Cesar Romero was the only Joker in MY book!

1. Jar Jar Binks was the best Star Wars character ever!

A Tribute to Badasses!

You know those characters, people who come to us from our favorite movies, TV shows, or pop culture in general. The kinds of people who excel at kicking ass and taking  names? The kinds of people that just never seem to die, they just keep getting bigger and badder the more time passes? Yeah, we all have people like that in our collective imagination, the inspiration heroes and villain who just impressed the hell out of us and made us want to be badass like them!

Well today, I felt inspired to do a little tribute piece to characters such as these. On the one hand, this seemed like a good diversion from my usual conceptual pieces which deal with big and potentially boring stuff. I mean, outside of people like me, who really cares about planetary cultures and mega cities? On the other, it felt like an overdue acknowledgement to all the characters that were well written, well scripted and well executed over the years. Yes, today I’m paying tribute to all the people in sci-fi who were so good at being so bad, or just bad enough…

Here they are!

Alucard:
The main character from the short-lived by popular Hellsing series. Not to be confused with Van Hellsing, also about a vampire hunter, this series was all about an organization in the UK that was dedicated to fighting vampires, ghouls, and other hellish creatures. Their chief operative, a mysterious vampire named Alucard (Dracula backwards), was quite the epitome of badassness!

In addition to his cape, Victorian-era clothes, and massive handgun, he had the supreme confidence and “man of few words” thing going that can only come from being alive for so freaking long. As they say with most vampire series, the longer they live, the more powerful they get. And Alucard has been around for a long, long time!

Ordinarily, he would just dispatch his enemies with a few blasts of his massive double-action pistol. But when faced with truly powerful demons, he would break the really scary shit! We’re talking seriously dark, scary energies that would tear an enemy to pieces, body and soul! Though it was never made clear why he was helping humanity in the animated series, the original comic did a better job of exploring his back story and motivations.

Taking its cue from Bram Stoker’s original novel, Dracula was apparently defeated by the notorious Abraham Van Hellsing and agreed to become the family’s loyal servant. The main story takes place several hundred years, later when the latest descendent of the Hellsing family is carrying on the tradition of keeping England safe from the forces of evil.

Blade:
Here we have another vampire hunter who’s more than just your average guy! Though his real name is Eric Brooks (according to the comic series), this street hunter goes by the professional name of “Blade”. Little wonder, considering that just about every weapon in his arsenal features an acid edged pig-sticker or a sharpened silver stake! But of course, the real twist comes in why he does what he does.

As if that wasn’t badass enough though, he also alternates between a Gran Torino and a motorbike, wears a leather cape over segmented body armor, and packs enough firepower to take down an entire SWAT team single-handedly! All the while, he utters his few, but cryptic lines through those big, vampire incisors.

Known ominously as the “Daywalker” to vampires who are scared shitless of him, he combines the best of both worlds when it comes to human and vampires. He is immune to silver, garlic and daylight, but can heal almost instantaneously and has super strength. His only weakness however comes in the form of the “thirst”, the need for blood which every vampire suffers from and must eventually succumb to, or die. In order to preserve his humanity, Blade relies on a synthetic “serum” which temporarily satisfies his cravings.

In a theme that has growing in popularity and familiarity since the early 80’s, Blade is a half-man, half-vampire who’s mother was bitten while pregnant with him. Tormented by his split identity, and the supposed loss of his mother, he has chosen to resolve this crisis by hunting those that made him what he is and robbed him of his human life. However, the question of what he will do once he’s rid the world of the last vampire, and what he will do when the serum stops working, are questions that remain unresolved, and help to drive the story.

Boba Fett:
When you hear the name Star Wars and the word badass, what naturally comes to mind? Assuming you know anything about Star Wars, then chances you thought of Boba Fett! This notorious bounty hunter was probably the most badass thing about the series, dwarfing Vader, Jabba, and the Emperor in terms of shear awesomeness!

Hell, this guy not only appeared repeatedly in movies two and three (with a small cameo in a deleted scene in movie one), he also had entire novels, comics, and games dedicated to him. Annnnd, if the Dark Horse series Dark Empire is to be believed, Fett even escaped the mighty sarlacc. Who else amongst the expanded cast of the Star Wars saga can boast that kind of record? Lando? HA!

Though Lucas attempted to explain Boba’s origins in the prequel movie Attack of the Clones, other stories from the expanded universe claims that Boba was in fact a former Stormtrooper of Mandalorian origin.

However, on this latter point, all sources agree. Clearly, Boba Fett was of Mandalorian origin, a warrior race that had become virtually extinct after the Sith Wars and had relegated themselves to the role of bounty hunters and mercenaries. Boba had apparently distinguished himself amongst his rivals by delivering on contracts, charging exorbitant fees, and being very hard to kill. Hell, somebody who crawled their way free of the sarlacc aint no pushover!

The Joker:
Batman’s nemesis, and Gotham’s smiling psychopath, the Joker is one of those villians you just love to hate! And yes, he’s also pretty damn badass! Though he has gone through countless renditions and adaptations over the years, all the variations revolve around the same basic theme.

Basically, the Joker is a sociopathic criminal who thrives on chaos, the perfect polar-opposite to Batman’s vigilante persona. Over the years, he has been in and out of Gotham’s Arkham Asylum, examined by doctors, but always seems to escape to stir up shit again.

In his most recent incarnation, as performed by Heath Ledger, the Joker reached new heights of popularity and badassery! Not only did he manage to rip off the mob, turn Gothamites against the Batman, drive Harvey Dent mad, commandeer the mob, bring Gotham to the brink, and stay one step ahead of the Batman and police the whole time. He managed to do it all with a twisted smile on his face! That’s an awful lot for a man who claims he doesn’t do planning!

Looking to the comics and expanded franchise, one sees even more examples of badassery! Here, as well as in the movies, new and old, the Joker is notorious for causing trouble and doing it with a shit-eating grin. In addition to the general mayhem he’s been known to cause, his credentials include turning a psychologist into his willing sidekick (Harley Quinn), kidnapping and torturing the Commissioner’s daughter, killing one of the Robin’s, and nearly killing Batman on numerous occasions. Yet somehow, he always manages to escape, survive, and live to inspire chaos another day. Malevolent? Yes. Psychotic. Oh yes! But a notorious badass as well? You betcha!

Raven:
“Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world… Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.

That pretty much says it all. Taken from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Raven is one of the chief antagonists of the story and one of the baddest motherflechter’s around! An Aleut by ancestry, he is skilled in the art of harpoon throwing, knife fighting, killing people, and being untouchable. Of course, this might have a lot to do with the fact that in the sidecar on his motorbike (pretty badass in itself!) he has a thermonuclear device stashed. This, apparently, he got off a Russian sub after stowing aboard and killing the entire crew with glass knives, and its wired to go off in case anybody does the unthinkable and kills him. Hence, nobody messes with Raven, as if his size and skill with weapons weren’t intimidating enough!

People recognize Raven not only by his obvious size, leather jacket, and motorbike, but also by the words “Poor Impulse Control” tattooed on his forehead. This is a holdover from his years in the corrections system of the future, where they’ve resorted to tattooing a prisoner’s particular maladjustments directly on their forehead for all to see. But for those who’ve pissed him off, or are just on his hit list, the first indication that Raven’s around is the telltale presence of his harpoon in your chest!

Molly Millions:
Also known as “Sally Shears”, Molly is a recurring character in William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. Technically, she is what is known as a “razor girl”, though cyber-ninja works just as well. Basically, she’s a gun (or razor blade) for hire who gets paid by high-rollers to take out anyone who stands between them and their objectives. This, she typically does by slashing people with razor claws that are imbedded in her fingertips, though she’s adept at hand to hand combat and wield firearms with the best of them too!

Thought tough, deadly and ruthlessly efficient, she has shown herself to have a softer, sensitive side, not to mention a sympathetic past. For instance, her first appearance is in Gibson’s short story (and film adaptation) of Johnny Mnemonic. Here, she goes beyond her usual mandate and begins to fall in love with the story’s protagonist, Johnny.

In her follow-up appearance in Neuromancer, she admits that he was the first “client” she overstepped her boundaries with and still mourns him years later. She also reveals that she began as a “meat puppet”, a form of prostitute who allows their body to be controlled by handlers while they are maintained in a blank-outed state. This is how she apparently paid for her cybernetic enhancements and became a mercenary ninja.

On top of all that, she is a fiercely loyal and levelheaded woman who, despite the nature of her job, is committed to her moral code and values the kinds of human relationships that are becoming increasingly rare in Gibson’s world. One might say that she’s tough because she has to be and would much rather live an ordinary life where love is not obsolete and murder for hire is not the only way for street people to get ahead. Still, don’t mess with her! Just because she’s got a soft side doesn’t mean she won’t fillet your ass!

Ripley:
Mother, warrior, humanitarian and xenocidal ass-kicker, Ellen Ripley defined female badassery for an entire generation of moviegoers! From her humble origins as a crewman aboard the Nostromo to her showdown with the mother Alien, Ripley demonstrated the full range of the heroine protagonist. She was began as a regular officer who was put into a terrifying and claustrophobic situation, a lone survivor of a xenomorph attack aboard a confined spacecraft.

But living to fight another day, she faced her vulnerability, overcame her fear, and put it all on the line to save a little girl. And in the course of that, she also strapped on some heavy artillery and kicked some serious ass! And in the end, the showdown between herself and the Alien hive queen was not only cinematic gold, it was so thick with allegory you could cut it with a knife! Two mothers, two titanic forces, coming together to fight for their young!

Let’s face it, this is what makes Sigourney Weaver and her character so awesome and sympathetic. She’s a regular woman who, when faced with treacherous odds, went above and beyond to do the right thing. And let’s not forget that her motives were purer than anyone else’s. Whereas some people were interested in their bonuses and others in shooting shit up, she fought tooth and nail to protect and save the life of a young child, a girl who reminded her of the daughter she lost.

And it worked. In the end, she outlived all the professionals who ignored her or were sent in to “protect her”. When all else failed, this lady came through and showed that you don’t come between a  mother and her child and you don’t underestimate a determined woman, or she’ll kick your ass! Yes, years later and Ripley still remains an inspiration to women everywhere, and a reminder to us boys to respect and honor the women in their lives. In the end, they are a hell of a lot tougher than you think 😉

Vampire Hunter D:
Yet another vampire hunter who’s got some questionable ancestry! Vampire Hunter D is based on a novel series with manga and anime adaptations. Taking place in the distant future, thousands of years after WWIII took place, D wanders through a pre-industrial world hunting the demons, vampires and assorted creatures that have come to plague it. Apparently, in the distant future, vampires have established themselves as a sort of Nobility that control their fiefdoms through a combination of advanced technology and magic.

Much like Alucard, D has a questionable ancestry which is gradually established as time goes on. Right off the bat, it is clear that he is a dhampire, the child of a vampire mother and a human mother. As time goes on, it becomes established that he is fact the son of the ancient Count himself. As a result, he has some pretty badass powers, which include spontaneous healing, super strength, and some pretty dark powers! Unfortunately, he also has his share of weaknesses as well. Sun-sickness, garlic; all the things that are fatal to vampires are pretty harmful to him as well.

Believing that vampires have overstepped their traditional authority, D is dedicated to sending them back to the darkness from whence they came. Though he is part vampire, he values his human side and cannot condone how vampires abuse the humans they have dominion over.

Ah, and his weapon of choice for dispatching vampires and demons? A big katana-style sword! This weapon can decapitate even the most powerful vampire, or rend him from his neck to his navel. Oh, and did I mention he also has a smartass symbiot living on his hand? Might sound weird, but this thing keeps him company, keeps him honest, and has even saved his life a few times.

Vasquez:
Yes, I realize I’m doubling down on a single franchise. But no list of badasses would be complete without mentioning Private Vasquez. Also of Aliens fame, this woman put the  bad in badass, toting that massive smartgun and telling everybody who got smart with her where to go! Seriously, those iconic lines, “Let’s ROOOOOCK!” and “I just want to know one thing… where-they-are!” Bam! There wasn’t a single person in the audience who wasn’t get goose bumps.

Not only was she clearly a tough, take-no-prisoners kind of woman, she commanded the respect of those around her, particularly the men. Hudson, played by Bill Paxton, would get smacked down anytime he tried to sass her. Recall the lines: “Vasquez, anybody ever mistake you for a man?” “No, how about you?” Classic! And of course Private Drake, her partner in arms, practically followed her around, even though he was twice her size!

But of course, she too had a sensitive side. When Drake fell protecting their group, she took it really hard. She was even willing to go back into the den of the xenomorph’s when it became clear he was still alive. Even though it was obvious he and the others were being used as symbiotes and the odds of them making it out alive were virtually nil, she was still willing to risk her life. One seriously got the impression that she loves the big lug after all…

But mainly, she was an ice cold chick and tough as nails. When those around her began to panic and cry “game over, man!”, she raised her gun and started kicking ass! And when at last she was cornered and wounded, did she roll over and die? Hell no! She grabbed hold of that grenade and went down with a bang, taking as many of those buggers as she could buggers with her! RIP Vasquez. You rock!

Well that’s all for now. I was going to include some non sci-fi examples in this list as well, but that would made it too long to post! Stay tuned, I’m thinking I’ll save those examples of mainstream badassery for next time. And I might just have some final thoughts to offer on this whole phenomenon known as badassesness. I love inventing words! Bye!

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)