A Plague on the House of Wachowski

(My favouritest banana, Banana Gordon-Cash-Mirer, has volunteered the following film review. Many thanks go out to
her!)

I accept that we live in an uncertain and changing world, but there are a few things I have trusted to be my anchors, and until I saw The Matrix Reloaded, one of those anchors was Harold Perrineau. From his paraplegic prisoner on Oz to his drag queen in Woman on Top to his incomparable Mercutio in Romeo + Juliet, Perrineau's characters become intense, sympathetic and wise in spite of their obvious crimes, inevitably stealing the show. But now, thanks to directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, I am once again at sea, because as the programmer Link, Perrineau has finally turned in a mediocre performance in a silly movie. These are the same wastrels that cost me my love for Hugo Weaving by casting him as an evil robot named Mr. Smith. I am more angry at them for my lost faith than for my having sat through 138 minutes of incomprehensible CGI and 5th grade French.

In this, our second voyage with Captain Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the newly enlightened crew of the Nebudchanezzar, we move from the computerized distopia of the first Matrix to the last free city of Zion. I regret to inform you that Zion is a bunch of caves. The Wachowski brother's vision of the future is a bit like Manhattan covered in cork. We seem to have invented machines that recycle our air and water, and more machines that create tribal music to rave by, but we haven’t mastered, for instance, metal, or shoes. But fear not! The human race of the future has neatly dispensed with such troubling modern issues as urban sprawl and interracial dating. In fact, when the evil machines have crammed us into the last available space on earth, we will still be able to buy tube tops.

If the vision of the next millennium seems a hard pill to swallow, wait till you hear how we're going to talk. We were
spared the worst of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss because the brothers W wisely decided to give Neo and Trinity little to say and much to do. The only problem is that the two of them look exactly alike. Jada Pinkett Smith wastes her time with a competent performance as Morpheus’ ex-girlfriend, and Perrineau is squandered on a tedious parting scene with some chick in a toga then shelved until it’s time for someone to explain to the audience that bad things are happening by saying "oh shit." The dialogue was as bad as you'd expect, but I bet you didn’t see three gaping monologues coming at you. I won't ruin the ending by telling you who delivers the last and most boring, but I will tell you this: Laurence Fishburne is a bad actor. And since I previously had no beef with Lambert Wilson, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he was starving when he took the role of Merovingian, a snide French computer program. He rattles off in the tongue of Voltaire and Goddard a bunch of insults as creative as a bathroom stall before explaining his diarrheic ravings thus, "It’s like wiping your ass with silk." Neither of these musings enhanced theme, plot or character, and the script could have shown us some mercy. If not, they should have used some Shakespearean actors who know what a monologue is about--Perrineau, for instance. At the very least, one of the actors could have volunteered to deliver his speech with some variation on the sensei-to-karate-kid omniscient monotone. All of which just proves the series' greatest conceptual flaw: if the machines need our body's electrical impulses to live, they needn't have bothered with the Matrix, they could just have bored us into submission.

Which brings us to the computerized imagery for which the first movie was famous. Okay, I understand that the technology used to make the action scenes in this film were complex and sophisticated, and that a lot of effort went into making them. But I have to ask, is the proper showcase for our new expertise really a movie? All of this sophistication has produced long fight sequences which may be impressive, but which are far from believable. CGI was hot when it first hit, and I could see why when its artisans used it sparingly, interspersed with live action. But now audiences know the trick, and these long shots of Neo running on the faces of 50 circling Mr. Smiths have about as much verisimilitude as Madden Football. You can get away with it in a Matrix movie because the characters are actually living in a computer, but I doubt this will be the last scene of its kind. I just don’t see the point of laboriously pushing the limits of special effects with resources and intensity that should have produced an AIDS vaccine when the product looks fake.

In the end, though, I have to say I ended up liking this movie better than the last. All the mystical hooey from the first movie gets a logical explanation, and we are no longer asked to suspend our disbelief far enough to imagine Keanu Reeves as the new Christ. But as it is often said that a great director can turn out a great performance from any actor, it should also be said that someone who can kill the talent of the man who produced the best Mercutio since Shakespeare quit directing is a failure indeed. The cutting-edge effects were not enough to bolster the film's primitive social critique or its sloppy writing. I wasn't engaged enough by The Matrix Reloaded to follow the plot, and left the theater feeling jaded and astray.

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