The Matrix Resurrections

You can’t be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. These are some of the first words said to a fresh-faced Neo, by Morpheus, in 1999’s sci-fi phenomenon The Matrix. This is true both of the titular simulated world and the film centered around it. You can read the plot synopsis online, even read the script if you so wish, but you won’t truly know The Matrix unless you witness it firsthand. The themes, performances, sets, and soundtrack can be read about, looked at, and listened to but it is the culmination of all these aspects that makes The Matrix what it is. After a hiatus of almost 2 decades, it makes sense that The Matrix Resurrerections should be the same.

Set 60 years after Neo’s sacrifice in Matrix Revolutions, game developer Thomas Anderson (Neo’s simulation self) is having psychotic episodes brought about by memories suppressed by an AI known as The Analyst. Whilst working on a sequel to his Matrix videogame trilogy, he is freed from the simulation by a new cast of likable characters, before they attempt to rescue Trinity, whose memories are also being repressed. It’s a simple premise but the specifics of the plot are a tad more complex. As a whole, the film tackles the concept of legacy, in relation to both franchise creator Lana Wachowski and franchise owner Warner Brothers Studio. Watching Resurrections felt like watching an argument between the two, with Warner Brothers wanting a standard sequel and Lana wanting something that channels her emotions and experiences. Indeed, the film feels like a compromise between these two visions, like the film was going to go ahead without Lana and she channeled that frustration into the script.

So far, the film appears to be splitting audiences. Either the script is poor and the action is good or the script is good and the action is poor. Given how divisive both previous installments were, it’s almost comforting to see that Resurrections is too. “Comforting” is almost the perfect way to describe it. From the opening scene, which directly parallels the opening of the original Matrix, to the presence of Agent Smith, albeit in a different body. There’s a running theme of experiencing the same scenarios in a different body which feels like a much more obvious Trans allegory than the original trilogy. It’s clear how much of Lana’s own transition, especially in relation to her creation, is being explored here. As one of the most prolific directors of the early 2000s, her transition was never going to be a quiet affair and nobody will ever really understand how it affected her except for her. This author won’t speculate, but it can’t have been easy and I truly hope that she is happy not only with herself but with how Resurrections ended up.

The action is classic Matrix with a large amount of kung-fu and an equally large amount of gunfire. The violence is more weighted than in the previous two installments, due to Neo’s lack of practice and 60 years of taking the blue pill. It’s a miracle that his first fight with Smith doesn’t kill him, although he really cuts it close, only being saved by his new force powers. It’s a very cool power, and it’s great to see it finally making a debut after being considered for Reloaded, but it does feel like he’s found the one combo move that works and is continuously spamming it. Although, it does mean that Trinity gets to kick more ass than him this time around, which not only mirrors the original film but Lana as a person.

Where the film falters is in its pacing. The issue with seemingly having two films at play is that neither fully get the time they deserve. Many of the themes take a backseat for the majority of the action-packed third act and The Analyst, though an entertaining villain, lacks the looming presence of the original Smith. Even Smith, this time portrayed by Jonathan Groff, never takes up the amount of screentime that the character deserves. Although considering how little he feels like Weaving, many audience members may find this to be a relief.

It seems like the weakest elements in The Matrix Resurrections are ones controlled by the studio, although there’s every chance that that’s my bias showing. It’s also entirely plausible that this is how the film wants me to feel.

Is this film saying too much, or not enough?

Has Resurrections already decided your answer?

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Animatrix

Anime is a medium encompassing many types of productions. From the classic cyberpunk Akira to the whimsical and beautiful films of Studio Ghibli, it’s a difficult description to pin down. What is certain is that it was instrumental in inspiring the Wachowski sisters to create their iconic, cinema-changing action classic The Matrix. So it is perhaps no surprise that, when visiting Japan to promote the first installment of what has become a quadrilogy, they made contact with many of its greatest animation studios. From this was born The Animatrix, an anthology of short films which place within the world of The Matrix. From origin stories to depictions of life in the hellscape left behind by war come 9 stories that can be watched separately or back-to-back.

Final Flight of The Osiris is a beautiful tragedy of great importance. As the titular craft, Osiris is overcome by Sentinels, the crew attempt to survive long enough to deliver a package inside The Matrix. With fluid CG animation worthy of a PS3, the character emotions come across wonderfully. It also contains the classic, lovable Matrix score and colour palette, making it feel connected to the larger universe. The story itself is a prequel to Enter the Matrix – a 2003 videogame whose events run concurrently with Matrix Reloaded. It’s this kind of world-building and cross-media involvement that makes this franchise so special.

The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2 demonstrate that destruction only brings more destruction. The war between man and machine is presented almost like a documentary and, with stunning manga-esque animation, the machines are initially shown as defensive rather than viscous. They want to exist in partnership with humanity but humanity is unwilling to accept them and thus the machines are to be pitied. This changes with their vicious revenge after they are attacked by nuclear weapons and the sun is blocked out. They are unstoppable. No longer to be pitied as victims but feared as an inevitable reckoning. Gone is their romanticisation from Part 1, replaced with grisly deaths and utter despair. The machines were almost to be rooted for but Part 2 shows them as the emotionally devoid demons they became.

Kid’s Story focuses on a familiar and friendly face. The Kid from Matrix Revolutions previously lived in The Matrix as Micheal Popper who, after questioning his reality, is chased through his school by Agents before taking a literal leap of faith from atop the roof. He is not the first to see Neo as The Chosen one but he is the first, as far as we’re aware, to bet his life on that belief. But that isn’t what makes him special. He believes Neo is responsible for freeing him but, as the person who acted on that faith, he really saved himself.

Program demonstrates a remarkable test of self-will. Set within a training program with a Feudal Japan aesthetic, a young woman (whose name is Cis) is offered by a man she identifies as Duo to return to take the blue pill and return to The Matrix. The visuals of the program are stunning, using the aesthetic as a reason to soak itself with a red colour palette, but this story really shines with its moral quandary. Whether an individual takes the red or blue pill is a discussion as old as the franchise itself but so is whether they would return to their unknowing life after taking the red pill. The primary example is Cypher but Cis and Duo are equally compelling characters which is a remarkable achievement given their lack of screen-time.

World Record is a fascinating look at a rare case. Track athlete Dan Daris is attempting to beat his 8.99-second world record in the 100m sprint despite being informed that he could severely damage himself if he runs. Through sheer determination, Dan pushes himself beyond the edge of the simulation and out of The Matrix. It tends to be that people require help from an outside source to escape but exceptions like this make for some of the most intriguing stories. It is matched superbly by its fluid animation.

Beyond shows that the Matrix is not a perfect simulation. It may come across that way but anything built by code can glitch. This is the discovery made by a teenage girl searching for her cat at a derelict house. She is led by children who are amazed at the lack of gravity in the area and mainly use it as a safety barrier to jump from great heights. It perfectly demonstrates the different mindsets when encountering a peculiarity. The children accept it and build their games around it whilst the teen has her worldview shattered by it. This feels like a meta-commentary on the release of The Matrix which is either an action flick or a mindblowing experience.

A Detective Story is as cool as any detective story. This classic crime noir sees a Private Investigator hired to track down the mysterious hacker Trinity. It’s nostalgically old-school down to the Alice in Wonderland references and assumptions that Trinity is a man. It does a remarkable job of building lore in a short amount of time, showcasing how long The Agents have been hunting Trinity and what they’re willing to do to succeed. This is the closest any of these stories come to featuring one of the main Matrix characters but the lack of colour makes it stand out from the crowd.

Matriculated is a visual masterpiece. Rebels living above ground are capturing machines and attempting to teach them humanity through a Matrix of their own design. It demonstrates the best of human nature, the desire to help and to educate. It would be easy to destroy the machines while they are incapacitated as their ancestors did, but the rebels seek co-existence. Once inside their Matrix, the animation makes full use of CGI providing visuals akin to a stereotypical drug trip. This is the kind of exploration that a franchise like this is made for but as with many stories, this one ends in death.

What’s so wonderful about The Animatrix, aside from the visuals, sound, and storytelling, is that it isn’t required viewing to understand the Matrix films. Yet if you witness these tales, you will have a greater understanding of the universe as it’s presented in those films. Morpheus’ initial speech to Neo about the fall of mankind carries more weight, the beginning of Reloaded has a little more context and The Kid is a more endearing character (although not by much). The Matrix has always been an interesting world but The Animatrix fully realises all that it could be.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Matrix Trilogy

*This piece is comprised of my 3 Matrix reviews, with an additional conclusion, which brings it up to the length of my later reviews*

Now over 20 years old, The Matrix is considered a cult classic, and re-watching it on the big screen it isn’t hard to see why. This film is a masterclass in Science Fiction from the Wachowski sisters in almost everything from story to score. Keanu Reeves’ natural sense of wonderment is a perfect fit for the out-of-his-depth Neo, and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith is a pure joy to behold. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so lets start with the plot.

Mr Thomas Anderson, also known by his online alias Neo, has been found by a man calling himself Morpheus who confronts him with a truth, that his reality is a simulation known as The Matrix designed to power AI Sentinels in the real world. We follow Neo as he trains to be “The One” while trying to survive sentinels in one reality and battling Agent Smith in the other. The attention to detail in both realities is astounding, with a gritty apocalyptic Earth in one hand and the too-perfect green hue of The Matrix in the other. This contrast is further displayed through the score and sound effects, using an electronic techno vibe for The Matrix while reality is more dark and suspenseful. The Wachowski sisters have done a beautiful job bringing not just one, but two, worlds to life.

As for the acting, I don’t think these roles could have been cast better. Morpheus spends 20 minutes being hyped up by the film, and once he finally appears he positively oozes respectability. His crew is also enjoyable to watch, as is Neo, but to me the star of the show is Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. Smith is an AI who has become smart enough to wonder why he needs to take orders. This could very well have been overplayed, but Weaving portrays the character with just the right balance of subtlety and insanity. Trinity, I find, can be a bit of a one-note character, existing only as a love interest for Neo and as a right hand woman for Morpheus. When she’s given an action scene though, she delivers the goods just as good, if not better than, her male cast members.

The one thing that stands out most to me are the special effects. After 20 years, the CGI holds up better than many other films of it’s time, even if Agent Smith’s body absorption or the bullet time effects are kind of obvious. What is most amazing though is, not how well the CGI holds up (because it’s rarely used), but the practical effects. I’m not talking sets or pyrotechnics here, I’m talking about the blue pill/red pill shot. Given the amount and quality of CGI available at the time, it would have been ridiculously easy to do the shot digitally, but they did it practically. I understand the logistics of how that shot was done, but it still blows me away every time I see it.

The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy, with the reviews for each film being poorer than the last, but that doesn’t matter here. This film, for all the plot threads it introduces like Zion and The Prophecy, stands just as well on its own. It isn’t perfect of course, its still very much a product of the 1990s, with Trinity often feeling like The Token Woman and the CGI being more noticeable now than it once was. That doesn’t distract from the film’s enjoyment though, which is the mark of a truly great film. There’s a reason its a cult classic, after all.

Given that this cult classic proved to be one of the most influential films of its age, it is perhaps no surprise that a sequel was immediately set into motion. However it would not be like most sequels in that The Matrix Reloaded and its follow up The Matrix Revolutions were filmed back to back, which is a practice that was rarely used at the time and has barely been used ever since. At the time, the only examples of this method of filming were Back to the Future Parts 2 and 3, Superman 1 and 2 and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which are wonderful films. I’ve heard it said that the only good Matrix film is the original, but I’ve never believed that. The Matrix Reloaded may not be as good as The Matrix but I still think it’s a decent film.

The plot picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as our team returns to the underground city of Zion. The city is preparing for an attack but our heroes must leave and re-enter The Matrix to find The Keymaster. The film flips between our heroes and the people of Zion but continues to focus primarily on Neo. He’s anxious because he’s had a vision of Trinity dying and Agent Smith returning, though Smith is no longer an agent of the system and has gone rogue. By the end of Reloaded, Smith has not only returned but has entered the real world, and has Neo’s Matrix abilities.

The main complaint of Reloaded seems to be that there isn’t a huge amount of plot which, leads to a film comprised almost entirely of action scenes which gradually become repetitive. I can see where this comes from, as the plot is definitely lacking in substance, although I would’t go so far as to call the action pieces repetitive. Originally, Neo was unable to keep up with the agents he was fighting but now they are perfectly matched which means the fights aren’t going to be as exciting. Where once there was fear of injury, and perhaps death, now there is not. Luckily the fight sequences are beautifully choreographed and it’s almost like watching a ballet, which isn’t something one expects from science fiction but I am more than okay with it. Special mentions go to the fight on the freeway and the so-called Burly Brawl, which are both fantastic examples of the choreography and the CGI. While the CGI isn’t flawless and can seem a bit bendy at times, it is still very impressive for a film that’s nearly 2 decades old.

Audiences also seem to take issue with The Architect, who designed The Matrix and tells Neo that he is is not the first to be The One. I will admit that I initially found his intellectual language difficult to decipher, but eventually I got my head around it. In layman’s terms, this is the sixth iteration of The Matrix and Neo is the result of an anomaly in its code. He is the sixth chosen one and the events of this trilogy has played out 5 times before, meaning that The Machines have already destroyed 5 iterations of Zion. Once you break through his technobabble and really grasp what The Architect is saying it’s a brilliant plot twist and re-integrates that sense of dread which appeared to be missing. It is setting up our heroes to fail regardless of what happens.

Lastly we come to Trinity and her romance with Neo. I wasn’t a huge fan of her in The Matrix and I’m still not, but she has grown on me slightly. She serves as an Achilles Heel for Neo which humanises him, but in Reloaded she is actively useful. During the final sequence several vital assistants of our team die and Trinity has to plug herself into The Matrix to replace them. This inevitably leads to her death, but Neo chooses to restart her heart instead of going directly to The Mainframe where he could have destroyed The Machines. In one swift moment, she goes from a one note pawn to an essential part of Neo’s growth as a character.

The Matrix Reloaded is a wonderfully made film between the CGI and the acting, but I will admit that it has one major flaw. It feels at times like it serves only as a prologue to The Matrix Revolutions. Whether this is due to how much footage was shot or how it was planned to be from the beginning I do not know, but I don’t think it works in the film’s favour. There are definitely worse examples of filler, which is what I think best describes it, and if you can make peace with that I think you might find yourself enjoying it as I did.

Technically, The Matrix Revolutions the second half of The Matrix Reloaded. It’s a continuation of the story that began there and was left on a cliffhanger. Of course, the whole trilogy has one overarching narrative about the battle between humans and machines, but the original Matrix film can stand alone. It has a solid beginning, middle and end. The Matrix Reloaded feels like it ends in the middle of its story. The Matrix Revolutions is the ending to that story, and as endings go, it was not the best received. As far as I can tell, it was thought of as repetitive and cliché. The fighting was supposedly boring and overly computer generated. They had the “audacity” to abandon The Matrix itself for the human settlement of Zion. We shall address all of this, but first a quick recap of the plot.

We follow Morpheus and the remaining humans as they defend Zion from an impending machine attack. Meanwhile Neo and Trinity (with a stowaway Agent Smith) travel to the heart of the machine city to see if it holds the key to their survival. You may have noticed that Neo comes second in that description, and that’s because he comes second in this film. Freeing humanity and protecting Zion have always been the primary objective, it just so happens that Neo is no longer directly involved with that objective. As such, it makes sense that we see less of him and more of the humans that he has been aiming to protect since the beginning. His existence isn’t what matters, it is the future of humanity that comes first. Neo is often compared to Christ Jesus, including through the film’s own lens, so it astounds me that people could miss the point entirely. Christ Jesus was sent to die so that we may live, and as a result, the same should be expected of Neo. I’ve heard it said that the “Christ symbolism” is over the top here, but it’s never exactly been subtle. You can see it as a cliché ending, but clichés become what they are for a reason- they work, and have worked for years. It also wouldn’t have been beneficial to the plot to spend more time inside The Matrix itself, because we already know exactly what is taking place there. Agent Smith absorbs every single inhabitant, including The Oracle, so we only need to see him again for the final battle. That battle may seem boring and overly CG’d to some, and that’s okay. It isn’t as exciting as any of the fights that have come before, but, from a story-telling point of view, it shouldn’t be. Neo and Agent Smith are now equally matched so there aren’t really any stakes here. Nobody has the upper hand. With that said, I wouldn’t have minded a larger-scale fight through the entirety of The Matrix instead of just one street. As for the battle of Zion, I think it still holds up, especially for a film made in the early 2000s. It’s unrealistic to expect a battle that is 100% practical effects, and I think that is more true today than it was at the time. Take a look at what movies like Avengers Endgame achieved with their CGI and the reaction they get, and explain to me how it’s fair to judge a 20 year old movie for doing the same. To their credit, they built a fully functioning mech suit and copied it into scenes several hundred times over. It’s still visually stunning to look at, and has the highest stakes of the entire trilogy.

My take on The Matrix Revolutions may seem like a small rant to some, and they’re not entirely wrong. I would not have “every film is worth something” as my tagline if I didn’t genuinely believe it and to see something as iconic as the Matrix trilogy being torn apart without a second thought is painful. It probably doesn’t help that I’m I’ve witnessed the Star Wars and MCU franchises go through it too. The Matrix trilogy, as well as many other films, is not without faults, but you can still like it in spite of them. I still feel like The Matrix Revolutions delivered a solid ending and I still have a lot of fun watching it. I hope you can too.

When it comes to the Matrix trilogy as a whole, I think that it more than withstands the test of time. The chances are that it will continue to do so because it’s timeless. Yes, it may have that distinct 1990’s feel to it, but that works withing the context of the narrative. Looking back now, it seems to be full of science fiction movie cliches but we have to remember is that The Matrix is almost entirely responsible for birthing those cliches. I say nearly, because this trilogy takes a huge amount of its inspiration and aesthetic from 1995’s The Ghost in the Shell which was an adapted from the manga of the same name. In a lot of ways, the Matrix trilogy is The Ghost in the Shell but remade for a western audience, meaning if you liked one, you are almost sure to like the other. It was a fairly niche market at the time, and I don’t think anybody could have predicted just how much of an impact this market would have on society. Not only is science fiction the biggest genre on the planet right now, but anime has managed to break into the mainstream. Each has maintained an even more niche market within it of course, but as a whole, these genres are acceptable in today’s society. You need look no further for proof than the 2017 American remake of The Ghost in the Shell and the upcoming Matrix 4. I hope that, with this in mind, people may revisit this trilogy and appreciate it for the cultural phenomenon that it is. I certainly do.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

V For Vendetta

This author does not believe that blowing up the Houses of Parliament would change anything, and contrary to popular belief, neither does V For Vendetta. Anybody who watches this film and comes to the conclusion that blowing up the Houses of Parliament will fix the government needs to re-watch it. It is just a building, and destroying it, no matter how satisfying, would have no real impact because the government would simply find somewhere else to meet. Instead, the message is that the government needs to be disassembled from the highest ranking person to the lowest. It is the people who hold the power, and the building is simply a symbol of that power. On top of that, it is we, the people, who have the real power and we’re simply not using it. When, during the film’s climax, the public finally take a stand there is still the possibility that it will end in bloodshed. With the government disbanded, the military finds itself without any commands and become regular people, with guns, which they choose not to fire. Remember, V For Vendetta was released in 2005, and based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore from 1982. That’s two iterations in two decades and it continues to be relevant now, a decade later. On top of the political message, it’s also a very well made film.

We follow Evey as she encounters the mysterious freedom fighter known as V in his quest to free the country from a tyrannical government. Meanwhile Chief Inspector Finch is hunting him down and stumbles across the horrific history of this same government. This is a film that relies mainly on the performance of its three core cast members and they each do a fantastic job. Natalie Portman gives an emotionally charged performance as Evey, and it is especially impressive during her interrogation scenes. Stephen Rae is perfectly sceptic as Finch from the very beginning. It is clear that he has never completely trusted the government, and there’s a certain amount of joy to watching his suspicions be validated. Then there is the one and only Hugo Weaving as V. Wearing his iconic Fawksian mask, his performance must come from movement and voice alone. Rattling off about 25 words that begin with v in his opening monologue and playing several different characters as V, Hugo Weaving more than proves he is the right man for the role. Of course some of the minor characters are wonderful too. The late John Hurt provides a brilliantly manic power as High Chancellor Adam Suttler. It’s the kind of zealous politician I never would have thought would gain power in the real world, how I wish that were the case. It makes V For Vendetta perhaps more relevant now than ever before. Then there is the lovely Stephen Fry as talk show host Gordon Dietrich in a performance that will unfortunately end up resonating with many in the LGBT community. The scariest aspect in all of this is that the film isn’t set in some post-apocalyptic future, but in a future that could very well be our own.

I haven’t divulged many of the plot details because V For Vendetta just isn’t the type of film that you can read about. Sure, many people have written about it and the context contained within, but the best thing you can do is watch it for yourself. It’s now a tradition of mine to watch it every single 5th of November because the themes ring so strongly. This day, which should be remembered for being anti-capitalist, has instead been capitalised on (reminder: Fireworks Now Available!) and as the years go by I fear that it may lose all meaning, if it hasn’t already. However you’re choosing to mark this November 5th, please remember where we’re coming from and think about where you want to go from here.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer