The Outbreak: Ways I could have fixed <i>The Matrix Revolutions,</i> if anyone had asked for my help

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ways I could have fixed The Matrix Revolutions, if anyone had asked for my help

I finally saw the third film in the Matrix trilogy, and I actually liked it. But I liked Reloaded too, so maybe that’s not surprising; for some reason, though, I just wasn’t really interested in seeing Film Three when it came out. Now that I’ve seen it I think it has a lot to recommend it. The big battle for Zion was something I was extremely skeptical about—when you have access to a world where characters can fly and rewrite reality, I reasoned, why would I want to watch a bunch of people in Sigourney Weaver’s loading rig from Aliens shoot bullets at robots with tentacles?—but I was wowed by it from beginning till end. The aerial fight between Neo and Smith was terrific as well—Bryan Singer’s Superman film has a tough act to follow. And that subway scene at the beginning was just lovely.

That being said, this was a deeply flawed movie. I don’t know that the Wachowski Brothers could ever have lived up to the promise of the first Matrix, which after all was so well-received because of its many mysteries. Explain them away and the project loses much of its appeal. The first film was also so much of its moment, and benefited so greatly from the fact that it was introducing so many cinematic images and ideas to American audiences that hadn’t seen them before, that the sequels were almost bound to disappoint, unless the Wachowskis were the Beatles of action cinema and could reinvent the wheel with each new movie. They weren't and couldn't. But they could have made this one great. Wachowskis, if you’re reading, here’s how you could have done it.

1. Remember who your main characters are. Hint: They are Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. (Okay, that was more than a hint.) It’s understandable that you need to expand your cast beyond this core of three, but you could have done this with a lot more aplomb by a) not being so profligate with the crew members from Film One (what happened to that guy Tank, anyway? I thought he survived that movie.); b) spending Film Two building up—and I mean really building them up, a la Eowyn, Theoden, and Faramir in The Two Towers—a secondary core cast centered on Link, his wife Zee, and possibly Naiobi, rather than wasting time with stock sci-fi clichés-with-feet like the Council (I’ve never seen Babylon 5, but I imagine it as full of these kinds of robe-wearing, stentorian hair disasters), the tough-as-nails commander(s!), and the rookie with a lot to prove who’s gonna show ’em what he’s made of in the end. We don’t care about these people.

2. With #1 in mind, make sure to show your three main characters doing something together at some point in this, the climactic chapter of their story. No, having Trinity, Morpheus and some cipher named Seraph kick ass in a lobby together is not good enough. Neither is having all three characters together, but in the midst of a sprawling crew of other ciphers, some of whom are inexplicably being given equal narrative weight, and where all they’re doing is debating who gets to take what ship where.

3. If you feel like you need to separate the three of them, fine, but make sure what they’re doing is equally interesting. Return of the Jedi managed this with its tripartite climax—Luke dueling with Vader and the Emperor on the Death Star, Lando piloting the Millennium Falcon in order to blow the Death Star up, and Han, Leia, Chewie and the droids helping take out the Death Star’s shield. You had Morpheus co-pilot a ship—and badly, I might add—then sort of take shelter while other people fought, while Neo and Trinity drove a ship and then got into what basically amounted to a car accident. The bulk of the climax involved none of them.

4. If you’re going to make two of your main characters into a couple whose love essentially decides the fate of humanity, try to cast actors who have even a little romantic chemistry. This way, you won’t have to have all the other characters continually say to them, “I see that you are in love.” The audience wouldn’t need this pointed out to them—they’d know.

5. If one of your main characters has to tragically die, don’t have her do it after a glorified car chase that ends up reading like a less interesting, less-at-stake re-run of the long car chase that other, less central characters just got finished having. Don’t have her die from crashing her ship into a wall. Don’t force her lover to emote with a blindfold on. Don’t shoot the whole scene in nearly identical fashion to the similar scene from the much better received first film in the trilogy.

6. When you are shooting the final scene in your epic trilogy, don’t you think one of your main characters should be in it? At least one?

7. Don’t count on the audience caring about the Oracle. We don’t—the Oracle is a concept, not a character. This goes double because—through no fault of your own, we know—you had to switch the actress playing the oracle two-thirds of the way through your trilogy. We weren’t particularly attached to her as a character before, and now she’s a whole new person, literally. The explanation for why she’s changed wasn’t particularly good anyway.

8. The second film in your trilogy introduced a lot of new and interesting characters and concepts—the Merovingian, Persephone, the whole idea of rogue programs, the Architect, Agent Smith taking over an actual real-world human, et cetera. It would be nice if these ideas actually had anything to do with how the trilogy is concluded. They didn’t.

9. In particular, the Merovingian and Persephone are captivating characters who had exactly nothing to do in this film, and disappeared with little fanfare after 20 minutes. Don’t do that next time around. Same deal with the Trainman, who you introduced in this film and therefore got even less worthwhile screentime than his boss and his boss’s wife. Same deal with the Indian program and his “family.”

9. The only innovation from Film Two that did drive the plotline of Film Three was Smith’s ability to hack into other avatars and programs and duplicate himself. But if you’re setting this up as a threat to the existence of the Matrix and everyone and everything in it, it might help to show him taking the Matrix over, rather than abandoning the Matrix for about an hour, then coming back to show Smith’s victory as a fait accompli.

10. Here’s an idea to help resolve #8, #9, and #10—we can assume that Smith is able to conquer human avatars in the Matrix without much problem, but what about rogues like the Merovingian and his crew? How about we show them fighting, and Smith defeating them, which we assume happened off-camera anyway? That way we’d feel like we’d spent so much time building up those characters in Film Two for a reason. Plus, I think it would just be plain cool.

11. The climax of Film Two involved Neo meeting the Architect, a sort of “master program” who ran the Matrix and put a sort of philosophical smackdown on Neo’s attempts to undermine it. So maybe it would be a good idea to have the Architect have something, anything to do with the climax of Film Three? In nerd terms, he is your “Big Bad,” along with Smith. If you want to have some three-way conflict, that’s fine, but a climax that’s all Neo vs. Smith doesn’t convey that.

12. Nor does the big talking Wizard of Oz head in Machine City.

13. Since this film is called The Matrix Revolutions, perhaps you should a) spend more time in the actual Matrix; b) show the result of the Revolution therein. I’m sure you’ll argue you were going for something else philosophically, but to not show Neo either a) awakening avatars within the Matrix to the actual nature of their world, or b) showing the people in the big energy pods being freed is a borderline criminal missing of what the films’ point should have been.

14. Maybe someone else should handle the dialogue writing next time around. (“Are you from the Matrix?” “Yes. No. I mean, I was.”; “You did it.” “I didn’t do it—we did.”) Also, no councils, rookies, tough-as-nails commanders or cheering crowds with arms held aloft next time. And try to get your Australian actors to work on their American accents a little more. Finally, have Fishburne lose weight—his paunchiness undercuts his character’s authority and coolness, to say nothing of being out of place in a world where humans subsist on synthesized protein gruel.

15. In many ways you are victims of your own success. Film One was as mind-blowing as it was at least in part because American audiences had never seen wire-fu before; now it’s everywhere. (Same with bullet-time.) Moreover, the vinyl trenchcoats and black shades aesthetic defined cool for its brief moment, but in a post-Strokes world, stuff that pristine and “signifying” looks dated. Actually, Kill Bill outdid you in all these regards, with terrific fight choreography, a great sense of the plasticity of time that nevertheless did not rely on digital tricks, and a dusty, retrofit denim-and-leather style. Many commentators also posit that the dot-com boom helped make the first film’s look, and plot, make more sense. I don’t have advice for you here, but these are things worth considering.


Blogger Uncle Sammy said...

What is the Matrix?

Saturday, March 26, 2005 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Koala Mentala said...

I agree with most of your points. However, I could never see what, aside from the effects, was so "mind-blowing" about the first movie. I thought it was nicely executed mindless entertainment. The latter two (especially Reloaded) had some elements of NEME, but were mostly stupid, boring, and pretentious - a deadly combination!

Maybe they should have ripped off Morrison for the sequels, too...

Saturday, March 26, 2005 11:29:00 AM  

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