Steyn reviews one of my all-time favorite movies. Alas, he doesn’t seem to think much of it.
The point is Andy and Larry Wachowski figured they’d hit on the perfect wrinkle for a classic postmodern nerd franchise — the Star Wars of our generation. And if you say, “Hang on, old boy, surely Star Wars is the Star Wars of our generation?”, I’d say, nah, it’s too 1930s radio serial, and its grandiosity is plonkingly earnest and squaresville instead of as coolly meta as Keanu Reeves’ too-bored-to-act acting style. The Matrix was quickly followed by The Matrix Revisited, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Recycled, and Neo got paleo pretty quick. None of the sequels could quite match the initial red-pilling of surface reality, and so they simply dug the rabbit hole deeper. Zion is the last outpost of humanity – but maybe it’s merely a Matrix-within-the-Matrix? Ever consider that, huh? And what if Neo himself is a Matrix-within-the-Matrix-within-the-Matrix? He was supposed to be “The One” – but maybe one of the others is The One. Maybe The One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
By the sequel, the Wachowskis’ “innovative visual style” (a Cecil B De Mille-scale computer game peopled by sullen pouters) was looking a lot less innovative: they did all the same things they did in the first film all over again, just more expensively and even more arbitrarily — the scene in which Keanu/Neo is fighting a hundred guys in black and doesn’t win, doesn’t lose, but just finds himself fighting vainly the old ennui and so buggers off after 15 minutes pretty much sums it up. By the second movie, Keanu had perfected his morose blank look, and fine actors like Laurence Fishburne were turning in performances so clunkily solemn you’d think they were auditioning for George Lucas. As usual, the subterranean city of Zion proved to be just another generic dystopian underground parking garage; and the orgiastic dance party looked like a weekend rave in Huddersfield.
But by then the Matricians or Matricists or Matrons or whatever they’re called were hooked. In the original film, Neo discovers that the meaning of our lives is an illusion; in the first sequel, the meaning of the film is an illusion. It doesn’t make much sense as it’s flying by, and it makes even less if you pause the tape and copy out all the dialogue. The rabbit hole doesn’t go deep at all; the buck stops about four inches down.
Oh well, no two of us can expect to agree on everything, right? I loved ’em all then, and I still love ’em now. I am willing to grant that the second one was the weakest of the series; that extended Zion-party sequence was indeed tedious at best. It felt like filler, a superfluous time-killer without any real narrative point or purpose. That stipulated, however, I did still like at least some of the rest of Reloaded, and thorougly dug Revolutions start to finish.