The Matrix Reloaded
It's finally out, the second chapter in The Matrix saga. The first time I reviewed this film, I unfairly focused on its shortcomings, and not much more. With this serving, I must say the Wachowski brothers and their screenwriting have grown. However, when it comes to storytelling it's, I'm sorry to say: still an amateurish attempt at philosophizing. But hold on, this isn't a negative review. It is possible to marvel at a film for its technical brilliance and decry its literary composition. This film is a technical marvel.. You know,the first time around, I completely ignored the philosophic issues the movie tackles. So, lets not make that mistake again.
Actually, this film does engage a deep question that reminds me of a work by a Tulane University mathematical physicist Frank Tipler, The Physics of Immortality Tipler is not the first real scientist to consider this question, but he wrote a book directed at laymen, which did contain some real scientific ideas. I guess that gives him credibility. The issue he explored was the possibility of God being an Artificial Intelligence. The relevance to The Matrix of his book takes a little explaining. He envisions God as an artificial being developing to a state of super-intelligence. This AI being is initially created by us. He estimates sometime in the next 50 to 100 years or so, we'll have the computing power to do this.That would put it at around 2050-2100 AD. Sound familiar? It grows and envelops the whole universe and in the process becomes OOO, that is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient. There is a lot of stuff this book examines, which It go into without writing about 20 pages of metaphysical narrative, but the end result is the Omega Point (that's his term for God) must do something to become OOO. It must resurrect all that has gone before it. How else could it be Omniscient if it didn't reconstruct the whole history of the universe? In so doing, it creates a world for us that is perfect, everlasting, and infinitely progressive. This world however is a computer emulation. Near the Big Crunch of the universe, we just can't live any other way. We will in the far future live in a computer emulation of our current natural world. Tipler argues that for life to survive in the far future (we're talking about circa 100 billion years from now), where the universe will be contracting back on itself, it must become a computer version of the natural one. Isn't that The Matrix? Tipler is really saying that flesh and blood will be dispensed. We will become abstract computer versions of our physical beings. But, the computer version of us will be an emulation of our physical selves. In that it will be indistinguishable from our former states of being. Emulation in computer science jargon means a program, which is bit for bit exactly the same as another. So, for example when you click on print preview in your word processing program the view you see on the screen is an emulation of what the printer will create. It is exactly what the printer program makes on paper. It is an emulation of the printed document. Tipler expands this idea to people and asserts that the computer version of us will be quantum particle for quantum particle, identical to our natural world selves. Thus, it is not a copy but the same as the real thing. He goes into somewhat boring detail to make this point. We will be unable to tell we exist as a computer emulation. Now, if I didn't know better, I'd swear these guys read Tipler's book and used it as the basis for The Matrix. But I know better, they didn't. By the way, Dr. Tipler has gotten a hell of alotta derision from his scientific colleagues, since writing The Physics of Immortality.
It is almost a prerequisite that you must see the first one, to understand this one. Of course this is intentional. These guys want to make money after all. I bet video and DVD rentals of M-1 are just rising like the tide now.
It seems that the struggle of Man vs. Machine has continued since we last saw our group of determined rebels. Neo, has become much more powerful, for instance he actually flies like Superman in this one. And the symbolism and allegory abounds more than ever. The revolt against that evil AI system has grown, and more people have been liberated from the Matrix. We get to see Zion, the rebel's heartland, its culture, structure and purpose. Ah, PURPOSE, and there's a word used quite frequently in M-2. It seems everything is preordained. All the programs, real humans, and events are going according to a divine plan. The machines are out to destroy Zion and as the story proceeds, we find they're drilling into the Earth's interior to crush this free human enclave.
Black, and black and black again. M-1 introduced us to some super-hip attire didn't it? I loved the black dress code the film inaugurated. And how 'bout black actors and actresses? With this installment brothers Wachowski have done much to introduce talented black actors to the Hollywood scene. For this I salute them. It is seldom, very seldom, why almost unheard of to have 3 out of the 7 principals in a blockbuster being people of color, specifically the color Black. Even better, this time less weight on the religious theme, thank you very much, though Neo does dress in a monk's long robe. The Oracle woman was still a bore. I know she died during the making of the film and for this I am sorry. But she was miscast in this film. I liked her laid back quiet tone, but her dialogue was pretty tired. And how come they can build spaceships but can't get Morpheus a microphone? Again, Lawrence Fishburne plays a role that is well scripted. His speech was actually a little inspiring. So, lets ignore the minor flaws? Conversely, his romantic rival was a very weak character. He had no presence and a bit part to match. I can't even remember his name, see what I mean!
The technical excellence of M-2 is not just spec effs. For instance, the lovemaking sequence between Kneanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss was done to perfection. The hypnotic beat that turns into an airy, sultry track as they make love was exciting in more ways than one. The cuts between their action and the festive dancing are entrancing. On the downside nobody else gets a love scene. Oh, well whatcha gonna do, huh? The fighting, now here is some fighting. The sequence between Neo and Agent Smith or make that Agent Smiths, will be hailed as classic for at least one whole year! So look out Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this one's gotcha beat. I didn't even mind Agent Smith sounding like Carl Sagan this time.
When this film first premiered it irritated me no end, that the serious field of cognitive science was used in the context of a trite Hollywood blockbuster. Three years later, I've mellowed on this point. I've begun to view the Matrix series as being in a class with the Star Wars saga. It's not to be taken seriously, but enjoyed for its technical wizardry.
Now for the Sequel
The film however takes itself very seriously. Near its denouement, we are introduced to a new character. He's called The Architect. Boy I tell ya these common noun appellations multiply like Agent Smiths. Let's see we got The One, The Key Maker, The Prophecy, The Oracle, The Source and now The Architect. What's next? No don't tell me, I'm gettin' it, ah yes I got it The Engineer! Oops, and I promised not to deride this one, pardon me. This Architect is a stately looking white-haired gent, whose manner and presence is intended to invoke the image of God. He's the AI God, you dig. He's done it all before and tells Neo, (remember he's The One) how the story ends. Neo, it appears is not the first One,. According to God, I mean The Architect; he has seen six other Ones. Though one should not have any other one before this One, or he wouldn't be the One. But there were, so much for Ones. Maybe they should have called Neo, The Seventh One. He's got some flowery dialogue too. While he delivered the equivalent of an undergraduate speech on metaphysics, I had to cringe at points. Let me see how did that go. Oh yeah, he created the 1st Matrix and inevitably an anomaly developed that destroyed its perfection. So, The Architect sits right down and makes himself another Matrix but the same pesky anomalies develop. It starts with the human attribute of choice; it makes for discord and reverberates throughout the Matrix. So, he's got to tear up his creation all over again, and make a new Matrix. Why? Well silly because perfection and sublimity require Purpose. For a committed Existentialist like me, nothing could more objectionable even if it is just a trite Hollywood sci fi flick! Here is the allegory of the film. The Wach Bros are telling us a story of God making, then remaking, and again remaking his grand creation. God keeps on trying 'till he gets it right you understand. The AI God doesn't do this because he chooses to, it is necessary he does. The AI God must achieve infinite Perfection. Recall what I said about Tipler's book above. Remember Tipler's notion that an AI would eventually become God? At this point, the AI would be the final end purpose (there's that word again) to our existence. I wouldn't be surprised if the final installment in this series throws in some more ideas attributable to Tipler. You know, I think these guys did read Frank Tipler's book!
One last comment. This Key Maker character got the worst part an actor could play in an action movie. This guy is thrown in cars, told to stay there, hauls ass whenever trouble starts and looks like a scared gerbil, while everybody else mixes it up. After playing such a demeaning role, they plug'em in the end anyway!
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Robleh Wais 5/17/03