The Matrix: Part 5

Lobby pillars, bullet dodging, helicopter guns, subway showdowns, The One.

Chapters 28 – 32. “Virus to be Cured” / “Lobby Shooting Spree” / “Dodge This” / “Gotcha” / “Rooftop Rescue” (1:37:19 – 1:52:50)

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Logline: Neo and Trinity storm the building in which Morpheus is being held by the Agents.

The Sequence. The Wachowskis introduced the idea of a dream world powered by humans, and then layered more and more concepts atop of it. They’ve also been doing the same thing with genres and styles. The movie fused film noir with techno/hacker culture with sci fi dystopias, and now we’re layering John Woo gun fu into the mix. Maybe it’s derivative, but it feels fresh.

The sequence is rife with iconography. The white room filled with guns. Trinity running up the wall. The pillars and the air thick with plaster. The bullet dodging. The helicopter crash. It was so endlessly copied you worry its going to seem hack watching it again, but frankly I can’t think of any movie since 1999 that’s surpassed this particular kind of action filmmaking. That’s a credit not only to how well the sequence is done, but to the quality of the rising action leading up to it. I admire any movie that saves the best for last.

The Big Picture. This entire finale builds in stages. Even this Morpheus rescue is made up of four or five distinct mini set piece.. It’s a shootout in a lobby, a dangerous elevator ascent, a face-off with an agent on the rooftop, and a helicopter rescue and crash. If that’d been the end that would have been plenty great, but following this there’s an elaborately choreographed fistfight, AND a long footchase. As exhausting as the last act of the film is, every few minutes we’re seeing something new. Nothing is a variation on what’s come before.

Agent Smith become a more intriguing character here. Just as Cypher wanted desperately to escape the real world and return to the Matrix, Smith desires nothing more than to wipe out humanity, so he can be “freed.” It doesn’t really go anywhere in this movie, it mostly just serves to make him the most distinct of the Agents when he fights Neo later. And, intentional or not, his motivations are teed up for the sequels.

Live Reactions
1:38:37 – Smith’s speech about viruses makes a certain amount of sense. He’s the villain but the scariest villain is one who has a point.

1:41:52 – If I could change something about this scene, I’d make the first few guys in the lobby soldiers too. They’re paunchy guys in white reading the newspaper, they seem like jobbers, then people dressed in black come in and shoot them up. It’s a little rough in our modern climate, and I don’t feel like the movie is ever asking us to think of the morality of what Neo and Trinity are doing.

1:43:10 – It’s a sparse location, nothing but a lobby with a lot of pillars, but I think what makes the scene great is the layering of all the elements. The people, the smoke, especially the plaster. I’ve never seen so much plaster.

1:43:22 – You’ve got the love the three bullet ricochets that are perfectly in time with the music.

1:45:11 – You can see Neo’s eyes through his sunglasses when he says “There is no spoon.” There’s something so dispassionate about people in sunglasses, for this slightly more vulnerable moment we need to see his fear.

1:45:41 – The funniest moment in the whole sequence is the agents standing there blankly as the sprinkler’s go off. A one second beat is just inherently funny.

1:46:46 – “Dodge this.” Another one liner that gives the other guy enough time to get away. It would serve Trinity right if he did indeed dodge that.

1:48:00 – Another moment in which elements are layered. Bullets, rain, plaster, it’s so awesome.

1:48:04 – I like the cutaways to the agents getting off a single shot, before we return to Neo just unloading that mini-gun. It takes heavy artillery to even stand a chance against the agents.

1:49:50 – The tactical nature of the agents make them dangerous. They shoot for Morpheus’s leg. Then they shoot for the helicopter engine. They’re out to recapture Morpheus, not to kill him.

1:51:26 – First of two awed declarations that Neo is the one.

Behind the Scenes
-The people on the commentary claim that this scene isn’t actually violent, because Neo and Trinity are just killing digital constructs of people. But are they not killing the minds of innocent people and letting them die in those pink goop pods? Or have I been fundamentally misunderstanding The Matrix all along?

Action Level
Wall to Wall

Rating
Extraordinary


Chapters 33 / 34. “Subway Showdown” / “My Name is Neo” (1:52:50 – 1:58:42)

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Logline: Unable to escape back to reality, Neo stands and fights Agent Smith to the death.

The Sequence. For the most part I’m more impressed by the amount of work that goes into a fight scene than I am engaged by a fight scene just on its own merits. Actors generally don’t want it known that a stunt person did all of the work, so they spend months training to get in shape, then many weeks rehearsing every move of the fight in order to make it look (ironically) more spontaneous, as well as safe. There’s a reason you rarely see elaborate fight scenes on a TV show, they’re ambitious and time consuming even in a moderate to high budget feature film. The two Matrix sequels have a combined runtime of four and a half hours, and their shooting schedule was just a few days shy of the time it took to film the combined nine hours of The Lord of the Rings. Why? I can’t be sure, but the fights in the sequels are even more numerous and more elaborate, so…

I’m rambling. All of this is to say that I’m really impressed by the subway fight between Neo and Smith. But if I’m interested in the outcome, it’s more for the story that surrounds it.

The Big Picture. This is maybe my favourite ever instance of a subverted hero’s journey. Everything about this moment seems climactic. Neo doesn’t have Trinity or Morpheus as backup. The animosity between Neo and Smith is more personal than ever… that helicopter mini-gun may be the first time someone has ever killed a Smith. So they fight to the death. It goes on and on, and leads to a hard fought victory for Neo.

And then, because Smith can’t be killed, he instantly possesses another body and comes back for more. So without hesitation, Neo runs. Why not? He doesn’t have anything to prove anymore. He’s the hero, but he’s pragmatic.

The Oracle’s prophecy hangs over this whole fight scene. Having saved Morpheus, it’s supposedly now time for Neo to die. Or are events moving too fast for you to even be thinking of that?

Live Reactions
1:53:07 – This movie would have you believe that Sydney is made up mainly of shithole abandoned buildings and one empty lobby.

1:54:05 – Yeah, make your almost declaration of love to Neo at this moment, Trinity. We’ve got 15 more minutes of movie left.

1:55:18 – Smith’s neck crick is here. Nothing to speak on, I just wanted to time stamp it for anyone who wants to find it.

1:56:21 – There’s usually something so clean about combat in The Matrix. No one ever bruises or bleeds. Neo coughing up blood is one of the few exceptions.

1:56:30 – As a guy who’s super threatened by how unrealistically ripped every modern male action hero is, I really appreciate Keanu Reeves’ frame. That body type, thin yet fit, is my absolute best case scenario.

1:56:43 – I don’t know how much I really FEEL when I’m watching The Matrix, but Neo standing up, to Smith’s absolute bewilderment, does get me. Might be the soundtrack. Never underestimate a soundtrack.

1:57:15 – That’s one of the more interesting shots. It’s like Neo is punching Smith into another comic book panel.

Action Level
Wall to Wall

Rating
Great


Chapters 35 – 37. “Sentinels Attacks” / “He is the One” / “Final Connections” (1:58:42 – 2:09:29)

Mx18

Logline: Neo fails to escape the Agents, but by being killed he fulfills his destiny and becomes The One.

The Sequence. This right here is why we’re breaking up these chapters into sequence stuff and big picture stuff. Because as just an 11 minute scene, I like it by itself more than I do as an ending and (this isn’t that fair to say) a launching point into a bigger trilogy.

First of all, The Wachowskis not only vary the action throughout this finale, they vary their filmmaking styles. It’s all gliding slow mo when Trinity and Neo are in the lobby. It’s shot a bit more conventionally when Neo and Smith fight it out on more or less an equal footing. And now that Neo is at a big disadvantage fleeing all three agents, it’s a frantically edited, shaky affair. Smooth, still, shaky. Gunfight, fistfight, footchase. Sterile lobby, dilapidated subway, crowded streets. You could boil down a summary of all of these sequences to “Neo battle some agents,” but the visual language of them is always different. You can picture all three of them in your mind.

The chase isn’t as celebrated as the lobby, bullet dodging, or the subway fight, but in terms of escalation it does feel right to end on this chase. It’s a culmination of the paranoia from earlier. It’s Neo fleeing agents as he did in the cubicles, but now things have changed so much it might not even occur to you to compare and contrast them. And now that the Agents know where he is, are out to kill him, and body jumping without concern for secrecy. Neo is essentially on the run from the Matrix itself.

Then it gets a bit wonkier once Neo is killed. But that’s not to say there aren’t good things. There’s serious tension in the parallel action of Neo looking for an exit as the sentinels advance. There’s something poetic about Neo having to “die” in order to see the world as it really is. Neo holding up a hand to stop the bullets is as iconic as any image in the movie. And it’s really funny to see Smith run up and try to start some shit with Neo, only for Neo to be completely over him.

But… non sequiter that seamlessly ties back to the topic at hand alert… there’s a Goosebumps book I remember called Invasion of the Body Squeezers: Part 2. I remember that one vividly. It was about alien invaders that assimilate the human population by shoving their hands into people. And in the end, the lead finds the main alien in charge, then takes a running start and dives into its body to possess him right back. This killed the main alien, and the others died or ran off.

Am I accusing anyone of ripping anyone else off here? Absolutely not. I’m just saying the same storyline and the same ending occurred to both the makers of The Matrix and someone who wrote something called Invasion of the Body Squeezers: Part 2. Make of that what you will.

The Big Picture. I just don’t like this Trinity/Neo resolution. It’s a “Love conquers all” moment, which I’m totally on board with… for a movie in which love is portrayed as a force at work. The Matrix is not that. It’s philosophical, it’s stylized and it’s humanistic. But it’s not sentimental.

I’ve seen it suggested that Neo was actually killed here, and Trinity’s declaration of love is what causes him to become The One. Just to clarify, I don’t at all believe this. Trinity had had her epiphany somewhere along the line, and Neo would have gotten back up regardless.

But that’s kind of the problem with Trinity; her character arc is a secret to this point. We’ve talked about Neo as an audience proxy, Morpheus, Cypher, and Smith as flawed or even villainous characters with believable motivations. Trinity is a mystery until the end. If we remember her, it’s because the filmmakers put her front and centre in some iconic action moments. And that’s not nothing, but it doesn’t make her interesting as a person.

There isn’t any romantic chemistry with Keanu Reeves either. Which this movie gets away with. But it becomes a problem in the sequels, in which the alleged passion between them is the heart of the story. Trinity not only fails to gain any definition in those movies beyond how she feels about the guy she’s in love with, but Neo takes a huge step back too.

With this ending, he can’t be killed, he’s assured, he’s not stymied by anything. That’s great for an ending. Watching him in another movie, he’s inaccessible. He’s a guy playing a video game he’s totally mastered, and he’s got the Invincibility cheat turned on as well. Guess who that’s fun for? The guy with the Invincibility cheat on, and literally no one else.

Admittedly, the sequels are colouring the ending for me. And the damnable thing is, they’re just barely not bad enough for me to outright dismiss them like I do, say, Superman III and IV. I consider them part of the story, and sometimes, that sucks. But I’ll take that out of the equation and look at this as an standalone ending.

And it’s still not to my taste. It’s still “the prophecy was fulfilled” bullshit. It’s vindication for Morpheus who will go around believing he was right all along. No dude, you were guessing, and then you coincidentally happened to be right. Think of how smug he’s going to be about all this.

Oh well. In the end it’s about the journey, not the destination. The Matrix is the path you walk, and when you reach the door at the end, you can choose to walk through it, and, um, believe what you… there is no spoon, and the future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one…

I’m mixed up. Let’s forget the whole thing and go watch Aliens.

Live Reactions
2:00:24 – “Your other left!” That’s a fun bit of comedy that briefly relieves, but doesn’t defuse the intensity of the moment.

2:00:33 – We don’t see Smith assimilate another body from this point on. Are we to assume Neo killed an old lady when he kills Smith?

2:02:44 – The ringing phone in the total silence adds something.

2:03:28 – “Check him.” There’s a real Harry/Voldemort vibe here. After a long fight Smith finally kills Neo, then doesn’t dare approach the body.

2:03:41 – It’s a bit fucked up but I’ve got just the slightest twinge of savage pleasure at the crestfallen look on Morpheus’s face. Blind faith is a dangerous thing, even if it just so happen he was right about Neo.

2:05:58 – There should be a logo on the sole of the shoe. It feels like a commercial for messianism, brought to you by Nike.

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2:06:06 – Hugo Weaving is wonderful to the end. He’s scared but trying not to be.

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2:06:31 – Effects on par with an 80s movie. That flying green shit makes we want to search the DVD box in case my pair of 3D glasses fell out.

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Behind the Scenes
-I guess I tuned these guys out. But it was nice to have the company.

Action Level
High

Rating
Mixed

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