Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fixing the Matrix Trilogy

The original Matrix movie is quite a stunning achievement. Visually it is breathtaking, but the thoroughly rich mythology that they weave is fantastic. So of course they made two sequels. The Matrix Reloaded was problematic, but acceptable if there was a good payoff in the third installment. Because of all the dangling plot threads, the second movie would only make sense if the 3rd movie was good.

The Matrix Revolutions was not.


People point to the overloaded budget or the arrogance of the filmmakers, but as usual I think that most of the problems occur either in the story or editing phase. The bare bones of the story are excellent. These few changes could have cut away the dead weight and let the movie soar.

Here are my ways to fix the Matrix Trilogy (in no particular order)

  1. Let Morpheus lead the Battle of Zion. The biggest structural problem with the last movie is all of the time spent on the attack of the human home city. It is not that the visuals aren't stunning and the idea itself is bad. The problem is that none of the main characters are in Zion when the attack is happening. Peter Jackson once said about filming the Battle of Helm's Deep that no matter how big the action was, every 3 seconds you would have to cut to one of the main characters. The rationale was that if you don't have a deeply personal connection to the events on screen, then the spectacle of war won't matter.

And that's exactly the problem you have with The Battle of Zion. Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Link, and Niobe are off somewhere else. The people we follow at the battle are Link's wife, the Kid, the Awesome Asian Battlesuit Drill Sergeant, GI Jane Clone, and the Anti-Morpheus Guy. I couldn't tell you a single one of their names, and that is the problem. And if I don't care about any of them, then I find myself getting bored.

What should have happened is that after Neo and Trinity leave, the rest of the group should have ended up in Zion before the battle in Matrix Revolutions. Morpheus could then lead the way and organize the strategy. You could still have as part of the strategy Niobe pilot the ship out of the city to find to retrieve an EMP from one of the crashed ships, and then race back to set it off. With Morpheus leading the fight, the scene would have an emotional anchor.

  1. Get rid of Sati. The last movie is convoluted as it is. But then they introduce a little girl who is hinted to be some kind of savior. But she adds NOTHING to the story. She serves no function whatsoever. In no way does bringing her into the movie push the story forward. Either show us why she's a big deal (which would probably be more problematic in this already complicated story) or scrub her from the script.

  2. Don't waste character space. This is a continuation of the thought from point 2. We have dangling character arcs like the Kid's, Sati's, and the Oracle's. There are all of these hints at larger events that are occuring or unique storylines for each character that we cannot see. Sometimes that can be helpful in adding texture to a story. In the original Matrix, the character Switch has a unique style and personality. I'm sure that there was a lot more to her story than what was shown, and I find that intriguing. But the writers were smart enough to only pursue story avenues that advanced the main point. Talking about how the Kid woke himself out of the Matrix or how the Oracle's body was destroyed because she made a “choice” seem to tantalize plot threads for future resolution. But alas they are roads that go nowhere. And even when the do push the story along, they do so in a clunky way. When Persephone enters the movie, she helps the heroes reach the key-master. But you have a long digression where she wants a kiss from Neo and to punish her husband. You didn't need any of that. And it doesn't become important later to the overall story (and you don't really get that she is an emotional vampire that can only feel things through others).

  3. Understand Neo's power. Once he becomes “The One” Neo gains super powers inside of The Matrix. But he hardly ever uses them properly. Because of his god-like status, a lot of the dramatic tension is gone because he is near omnipotent. So to make him seem more vulnerable, the film-makers aren't sure how to use him. Understanding how powerful he is, the Matrix Reloaded separates him from Morpheus and Trinity so that the highway chase now has some real danger. His first Agent Smith fight could be forgiven as Neo's attempt to overcome this new threat in a traditional way and failing. But the fight in the Merovingian's house makes no sense. He can stop bullets but he can't stop swords? He could have blown away all of the enemies with a sneeze, but he engages in kung fu hijinks for NO REASON.

  4. Don't kill Trinity twice. I understand that she has to die and I get the juxtaposition of Neo saving her in the Matrix and not in the real world. But the scenes are so repetitive Instead of the emotional gut punch in part 3, we feel like we've seen this scene already (even the camera angles are the same). Instead, Neo should have saved Trinity outright in The Matrix Reloaded. If Superman always saves his Lois Lane, how devastating would it be to finally see him fail to rescue her in the end.

  5. Cut down the Philoso-babble. The first movie was lousy with philosophical-sounding dialogue. Apparently the screen writers decided to fill up more screen time with even more sophisticated sounding words. But the problem is that they don't help the story. The mind/body, fate/free will language of the first film help accentuate Neo's central problem of believing he is the One. But the other movies move towards distraction. The Merovingian speech on cause and effect (complete with close up shots of digital genitals) and Sati's father's explanation of the relationship between words and ideas DON'T LEAD ANYWHERE. Those are not important plot points. It's just the writers showing off that they minored in Philosophy in college.

  6. Cut the prayer orgy. I don't know why they called the meeting at the beginning of The Matrix Reloaded a prayer service. There was no actual prayer. And then there was a very long, grind-y rave that followed. I don't know about you, but that ain't ever happened where I go to church. Not only that, the scene serves almost no purpose.

  7. Change the theme of the last movie. In the end Neo doesn't fight for love or life. He fights because “I choose to.” Choice without content is empty. Choosing simply to choose is meaningless. He needs to choose to do the right thing because it is right. Choice is not absolute. Goodness is absolute.

  8. Don't let Smith go insane. The thing that made Agent Smith so scary was how coldly calculating he was. When he started laughing manically like a Saturday morning cartoon villain, he lost a lot of his charisma. When he starts rambling and babbling like a madman, we take him MUCH less seriously.

  9. Show Smith destroying more of the Matrix. Smith is clearly the enemy of the humans. But he is also a mortal enemy of the machines. We need to see this before Neo confronts the machines. That is the whole reason why they form the alliance at the end. But we don't feel that the machines are really threatened. Maybe after he takes over a person, we see in the real world the human battery go offline, thus disrupting the machines' power supply. If that happened, you know that things would be dire for them and the humans.

  10. Explain why Neo has powers in the real world. Making “the One” inside of the Matrix just another programming safeguard was actually a very cool layering to the story. Neo is brought to the brink of despair and futility. But when he comes out of the Matrix he can affect the machines. He can “see” what they see. But they never explain why. Is this what naturally would happen if the One ever decided not to reload the Matrix? Or is Neo special in a way that none of the other “ones” were? There isn't even really a hint at an explanation It would have been nice to spend time on. The first movie had an Oracle, so there was a mystical side mixed in with the sci-fi. In the Matrix Reloaded, this was mythologized saying that all supernatural things from vampires to oracles are programming flaws. But the third could have returned to a small bit of mysticism saying that even the machines and programs are beholden to a higher power than the material.

  11. Show us an epilogue. I know that the makers of the Matrix wanted to continue the story through online gaming and whatnot. But we need to see how the machines and humans work together after the war ends. We need to see the peace that Neo and Trinity and others died for. The movie ends with humans huddled in caves and the machines carting away Neo's corpse. We should see Morpheus and others in the machine city, helping some humans awaken. And we should see Neo and Trinity taken and honored. We should see the civilizations grow together in mutual respect and prosperity Perhaps that is a little soapy, but it would make the appreciation for the sacrifice even deeper.

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