The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
THE MATRIX RELOCATED: Early in The Matrix Reloaded, a pilot declares that Keanu Reeves' character is "doing his Superman routine." A later scene is an almost direct analog to the conclusion of Superman: The Movie, in which the caped one brings Lois Lane back to life. Another chunk of Reloaded recalls Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Here, as there, we have an underground city whose denizens live in an uneasy relationship with machines and wait in catacombs for "The One." At yet another point, the film incorporates footage lifted directly from the 1960 flick The Brides of Dracula.

The second Matrix movie pulsates with allusions, quotes, parodies, and plagiarisms. The story feels less important than this free-floating set of cultural signifiers, as though the filmmakers decided to throw every pop archetype into a blender and hit "puree." And so we leap quickly from vampires to a car chase to some kung fu; we have religious symbolism, video-game imagery, even dance numbers.

The dance numbers, I should add, are technically called "fight scenes." But when the fighters are uninjurable ghosts and gods, when their steps are carefully choreographed, and when the music is closely timed to their movements, they qualify as dance. This is especially true when Reeves, a.k.a. The One, battles Mr. Smith, who might as well be called The Many. No life or limb is at risk here, and no one expects to see blood. Fighting? Please. This is a Chicago for guys.

I enjoyed the first Matrix but was ideologically uncomfortable with it: While its contemporary releases eXistenz and Being John Malkovich took a more plural and uncertain view of reality, The Matrix seemed to suggest that an ultimate truth is knowable and that those who know it constitute a superhuman elite. Everyone in the audience could project themselves onto Reeves' messianic hero, not least when he casually crushed his subhuman foes. But the second movie yanks the rug from below those certainties, hinting both that control systems run far deeper than the first movie suggested and that there might be more to freedom than "liberating" yourself from this endless series of controls.

At the same time, Reloaded is an enjoyable spectacle itself, probably all the more so for being such a muddle. You could be unkind and compare it to The Empire Strikes Back, another sequel that performed its chores by (a) adding much mystical speechifying and (b) not bothering to include an ending. Or you can praise it for actually attempting to go beyond the first film's simple setup, whether or not it's heading anywhere coherent.

My fantasy for how the trilogy should conclude: After learning that absolutely every level of reality is just another matrix, The One shrugs his shoulders and walks off the film set. A digital camera follows him across the street to a lecture hall, where a professor is denouncing metafiction and declaring postmodernism a literary dead end. Keanu's cell phone rings: It's his agent. We hear them chatting about how much they're making from all that Matrix tie-in merchandising. Then the wall collapses and the cast of Blazing Saddles falls into the lecture room, throwing pies.


posted by Jesse 1:19 PM
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