Saturday, September 27, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Deeper down is where I think the captains were actually most different. Picard was a diplomat who was capable of getting tough, while Kirk was a guy who'd make peace with the aliens because he was basically a nice guy, not because he had any particular reverence for their culture. In fact, if the aliens started messing with his crew, or did anything untoward to their own people, he'd break out the phasers and the fisticuffs and have them licking his boots and begging forgiveness before it was time to beam up. A typical Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ended in one of two ways: 1) The crew of the Enterprise comes to a new understanding with a strange alien presence, and is morally better for doing so. 2) The crew of the Enterprise barely escapes from some kind of (often literally) nebulous space distortion by jury-rigging some kind of nonsensical solution with the warp core/transporter/holodeck/deflector shield, take your pick. A typical Star Trek: The Original Series episode ended in one of two ways: 1) The bad aliens are humiliated. 2) The bad aliens are dead. Furthermore, Kirk’s alien antagonists were less often just character actors with funny noses: they were planet-eating robots, or killer space amoebas, or beings so powerful they could take on the forms of Greek gods just on a whim. And the bigger they were, the more likely it was that Kirk, with the help of Spock and McCoy and Scotty and the gang, would be bathing in alien jerk-face blood en route to the next conquest. And Kirk could get tough when he was off the bridge too. While Picard could bark, “Fire photon torpedoes!” from the ergonomically-sound bridge of his family-friendly spaceship, and could agree to implement Data’s ideas with the best of them, let’s face it: he fought like a girl. Kirk? Take away the man’s phasers and he’d still beat the crap out of anything with a face. And if he found something he couldn’t punch into submission, he’d improvise a bazooka out of raw elements and blast it into the next world. He’d make peace with the aliens all right... after he’d destroyed everything they ever believed in.
So with the successful run of Star Trek: The Next Generation just completed, and the original crew of the Star Trek movie franchise having said goodbye, there was one last order of business: get the old-but-still awesome Kirk and the sissy-but-well-meaning Picard together in a movie to bridge the two series on the big screen. The result was Star Trek: Generations, which promised that we’d get both captains together to fight something that needed the two of them together to take down. And that something was... Malcolm McDowell?!? These guys have foiled galaxy-eating monsters and omnipotent psychopaths on a weekly basis, and you put the two of them in a movie so they can beat the guy with the stupid hat in A Clockwork Orange? Whatever. Let’s get to the plot.
As the credits roll, we’re treated to a perfectly antiseptic piece of music, the kind that’s used in IMAX movies about deep-sea animals. Bit of a step down from the rousing military score from Star Trek VI, isn’t it? The story opens as a new Enterprise with a new crew is about to head out on its maiden voyage. Kirk, Scotty, and Chekhov are aboard to wish the new crew well, which they’ll need, since their captain is Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and he’s showing all the gutsiness and command of a rookie Yankee pitcher. While everybody makes Kirk feel old and lonely, a distress signal comes in from two transport vessels that are stuck in some kind of energy field (It’s always some kind of something, isn’t it?), and you know you’re aboard an Enterprise because they’re the only ship in the quadrant! Despite having a skeleton crew, almost none of their standard armament, and a douchebag of a captain, the Enterprise sets off to rescue the ships, which are trapped inside what appears to be a big blowing space carpet thing, which looks like the updated version of that glowing thing at the edge of the universe in the original series. They start beaming survivors aboard while the transport ships fall apart. One of the survivors is Malcolm McDowell, who’s screaming about wanting to go “back.” Another is... wait for it... Guinan (AKA Whoopi Goldberg). Yes, that Guinan (played by THAT Whoopi Goldberg), the mystical sage and manager of Picard‘s alcohol-free bar on a future Enterprise. What a blow to the great Kirk’s place in our hearts to learn that he’s to blame for her still being around. Suffice to say that the ship gets jerked around for a while, Scotty makes up some technobabble solution--This really is becoming a Next Generation movie, isn’t it?--that requires Kirk to run down to the surprisingly-abandoned engineering (apparently they left dock without a, y’know, engineer who could have done this) and move some floppy discs around. I remember the old days, when Kirk would have stopped the energy field by talking it into destroying itself. Kirk saves the day, but just as they’re escaping, the hull gets breached, and Kirk is sucked out into the energy field to certain doom.
In the actual storyline, the Enterprise gets a distress signal from some insignificant space station. Arriving, they find some dead Romulans, some dead scientists, and a not-older-than-he-was-78-years-ago Malcolm McDowell, AKA Dr. Soran. Soran? Kind of like Sauron? Why don't you just call him Dr. Hitler and stop pretending you didn't just grab the first entry in the "101 Stock Villain Names" book. He initially pretends he's just an innocent scientist running experiments nobody's at all curious about, and that the station was attacked by the Romulans. That cover lasts about 90 seconds, until he gets back to the station, fires an experimental super-weapon that blows up the nearest star (yet another Star Trek super-weapon that nobody will ever try to duplicate in future installments of the franchise), and kidnaps Geordi back to the Klingon Bird of Prey whose crew he's in league with. Weeeell, three whole movies have come and gone since the last time there was a movie about a rogue Klingon ship's crew trying to get its hands on a planet/star-destroying superweapon, so why not use it again? This time, the rogue ship is helmed by two Klingon bitches named Lursa and B'Etor, who both look very uncomfortable speaking with their prosthetic teeth, moving their mouths the way I did when I had thick braces and a gargantuan retainer in my mouth. Wikipedia says that these two were on some series episodes, but since I tended to avoid the horribly self-important Klingon-themed episodes, I don't recognize them.
Guinan shrugs her shoulders, knowing that asking a fake Frenchman to beat up a real Englishman in a fight might take a while, and says to go ask Kirk if he'd like to come out of retirement, Rocky-style, for one last mission. Kirk's pretty resistant at first, understandably. After all, he's got Karma with the universe to spare, the Earth's not remotely threatened this time around, the aliens inhabiting the threatened planet might very well be Nickelback fans or something equally reprehensible for all he knows, and the Federation's probably better off in the end without all the squishy Dr. Phil types on the modern Enterprise. So he's persuaded to step out of the Matrix... er, Nexus and give old Picard a helping hand.
So this is it: the fabled team-up between Kirk and Picard. The union of two captains who have saved the universe countless times. The alliance of two heroes famed for their effective leadership, albeit with very distinct styles. The ultimate Star Trek fanboy dream. The whole reason this movie was made in the first place. And it amounts to the two of them rassling with one gray-haired bad guy for five minutes on the side of a boring sci-fi mountainside. Was this seriously the best they could do? First, I'd kind of figured that if these two teaming up was the big centerpiece of the movie, it would have started more towards the center, not dangled onto the end. Second, couldn't the threat that Picard needed Kirk to have a prayer of defeating have been something more than a lone Malcolm McDowell running around with a handgun? You could have at least given him a bunch of henchmen; I figure that there'd be plenty of baddies who wouldn't mind eternal paradise. Third, wouldn't it have been better to have two famed captains do some actual captaining? I realize that they couldn't necessarily have gotten Spock and the gang back due to budget reasons, but they could have had Kirk barking some orders at Data and Worf or something. And since they're both famous for commanding ships called the Enterprise, maybe it would have been nice to have the Enterprise nominally involved in the final conflict.
Back in the movie they actually gave us, the three old men squabble for a few minutes, Soran obviously wondering why the good guys think it's sporting for two of them to team up against him. We're not talking John Woo fight choreography here: Shatner's well on his way to his later Boston Legal girth, and Stewart appears to be practicing his future role as a guy in a wheelchair. They wind up with Kirk crawling to the end of a buckling bridge to grab a device that decloaks the invisible missile launcher, which Picard rigs so that it blows up upon launch, taking Soran with it. But Kirk goes down with the bridge, plummeting into a ravine and sustaining critical injuries. Kirk's final question is to ask, "Did we make a difference?" Well, Picard could have made a difference without getting your ass crushed on a barren planet, if only he had thought this through a bit. Does that answer your question? Furthermore, Picard has the gall to bury Kirk right there on the planet, eschewing the kind of lavish funeral Starfleet would likely want to give the greatest hero in human history. And considering what the Enterprise crew typically goes through, it would probably take about three weeks for them to find someone who could resurrect him, if only Picard had opted to haul around his body for a while. I think Picard was just sick of people thinking the fat old guy was awesome.
Don't future people ever get nostalgic about cars and helicopters and jet skis?
But let's not be sad, because out of tragedy comes new hope. When the survivors of the Enterprise are rescued (whose casualties were "light"), Data discovers that his cat is still alive! And he cries! So did Data's creator anticipate that emotion chip and just opt to manufacture some artificial tear ducts just in case? That's dedication for you. In any event, the crew beam up to the rescue vessels, and the music swells as some pretty hideous-looking starships fly off into space. It figures that a movie about Kirk and Picard teaming up doesn't even end with the Enterprise.
If I were to be generous, I would say that Star Trek: Generations might have been a half-decent episode of the TV show. It still would have had the horrible Data subplot, and the Picard/Kirk teamup would have still been both overplayed and underdeveloped, but it would have been an acceptable two-part episode. On the big screen, however, this movie is just way out of its league. It actually feels very cheap: the special effects are only modestly more impressive than what appeared on the Next Generation TV show, and in some cases, the movie actually steals special effects shots from past movies and TV episodes. I know that the shot of the Klingon ship exploding was lifted from Star Trek VI, and I think some of the random shots of the Enterprise moving through space might have been as well. Two years later, the sequel First Contact at least showed that on a similar budget, they could go back to making a Star Trek movie that actually looked like a movie, and not a slightly elaborate season finale episode.
"Oh, bloody hell. All right, I'll say it. Prepare to meet Kali... in HELLLL!"
The Star Trek movies have always been a crapshoot from one installment to another, but this one might represent the bottom of the barrel:
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture: What bright, shiny color of uniform should our brave men and women of Starfleet wear as they journey to save the Earth? I know! Sand!
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Even if it wasn't great, it would be worth it for the hilarity of seeing Kirstie Alley as a Vulcan.
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Didn't take them long to completely negate the emotional ending of the last movie, did it?
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: New Defenders of Wildlife ad: "If we don't save the whales, who will be around to save the Earth from giant intergalactic space turds?"
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: A true return to the heights of the original TV series. Well, in the special effects department at least. The story, meanwhile, was a mortal sin.
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: It didn't make a lick of sense, but the score was cool. And it was worth it to see Kirk make a 7-foot-tall alien his prison bitch.
- Star Trek: Generations: I think I've conveyed my opinion on this one.
- Star Trek: First Contact: Could you imagine if the Borg invaded a planet of George Romero zombies? That would be one heck of a ponderous battle scene. Anyway, I remain convinced that if the phasers never work against them, the Federation should just be handing out Samurai swords to all their people.
- Star Trek: Insurrection: F. Murray Abraham?!?!
- Star Trek: Nemesis: I know I criticized the lack of action in Generations, but you didn't have to turn Picard into Col. John Matrix.
"I can't heard a damn word the director's saying, you?" "I never listen. If they wanted me to listen, they'd let me direct again."
If you want to experience the thrill of Kirk and Picard working together, I recommend putting on a community theatre reading of some newsgroup fan fiction.
*No, I'm not going to talk about the Quantum Leap guy.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Ask him to make a superhero movie and, oh boy, you get Hulk.
Yes, Hulk. Just Hulk. I see via IMDB.com that the working title was The Hulk, which must have been too clunky. Why not The Incredible Hulk, which is what I thought the damn thing was called (and which the eventual sequel/reboot would actually call itself)? I can think of two possible culprits. One is the marketing department, which is always striving to make movies hip by legitimizing the pared-down, non-unwieldy titles we use anyway--that’s how we get X2 instead of X-Men 2 and Rambo instead of Rambo 4. The other suspect is Ang Lee himself. Because if we call the Hulk incredible, we’d obviously be ignoring the deep sadness inherent in this story. Personally, I thought we got enough of that at the end of every damn episode of the Bill Bixby show, but Angst Lee--I’m sorry, Ang Lee only cares about Bruce Banner’s Freudian struggle, to the point where every single event in the movie is relevant only for its impact on Banner’s psyche. I guess Banner’s emotional condition has to be a factor in a movie about a scientist who turns into a giant green monster when he’s angry, but I could have done with more “HULK SMASH!” and less “Hulk have repressed id!”
"Honey, I don't know how to tell you this, but another woman's come between us."
"Hulk no like aqua-massage machine at the mall!"
While the military again tries to decide what to do with him, Bruce is taken that night to a hangar and chained to some apparatus that’ll fry him with electricity if he hulks out. For whatever reason, they allow his father to meet with him. While Bruce has been away, his father’s been replicating Bruce’s Gamma radiation experiment on himself, which has not turned him into a second Hulk, but rather into a different freak, one that Wikipedia says is essentially Absorbing Man from the comics. I support Ang Lee 100% in not ever mentioning that name. Dad can now absorb and transform his body into anything he touches, which apparently includes both energy (electricity) and various forms of matter (metal, rock, water).
When you subscribe to DirecTV, you'll get 300 channels of Hulk, and with a 12-month subscription, you'll also get another 200 channels of Hulk in HD!
Pete Townsend completes another concert performance; National Guard intervenes. News at 11.
I’m not criticizing Ang Lee for trying to do something different with a superhero movie. But the complete overkill of imagery, much of it only tangentially related to the action at hand, gets really distracting. And they should have called this movie The Hulk’s Dad, because he’s the only remotely interesting character in the movie, even if he’s ultimately just another obsessed scientist. Bruce never does anything on his own in human form until the epilogue, and his climactic action in the big superhero fight scene is to give up to his father and ask him to absorb the Hulk power, rather than stand up and fight on against evil. That’s a man I want to cheer for.
Status Report: Connelly expression showing trace amounts of wonder, fear, confusion, and arousal. All systems normal.
- The first time you show the man hulking out, have it happen against villains, not against inanimate objects.
- You don’t have to make Bruce Banner a typical superhero, but it would be nice to see him do something vaguely heroic, rather than just act like a broken puppy until his next Hulk episode. Learning to do something good with his Hulk power is supposed to be the whole point of this character. The 2008 movie put Bruce far more in control of his destiny, and concluded with him accepting and taking control of his power.
- The Hulk is supposed to be scary and intimidating, not just pathetic.
- Most fans would rather see a comic book character depicted faithfully in a movie, rather than see a gross distortion of that character (again, from what I understand of him as a non-Hulk fan) in a movie that actively attempts to look like a comic book.
- Put Iron Man in the movie. Iron Man makes everything better. They should have put Iron Man in Babel and had him kick Brad Pitt‘s ass.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
So here we go, the last Matrix movie, at least one would hope. The end of the trilogy. The sum of everything that the filmmakers were always intending from the series' humble beginnings, or at least so the Wachowski brothers claim. The final battle between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the evil robot overlords that run the Matrix. And between Neo and the dastardly, out-of-control, frighteningly self-aware Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, still the only one having a lick of fun), who's spamming himself through the Matrix like a Buy.com price alert. Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) fighting on behalf of the dreary man-god she loves, as she reminds us every 5 minutes. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) fighting his addiction to Meat-Normous breakfast sandwiches from Burger King. Anthony Zerbe (Anthony Zerbe) fighting to keep his scene from being cut. If none of this makes sense, first see the original The Matrix, and then see The Matrix Reloaded and/or my review of it. And if it still doesn't make sense, create a new forum topic on IMDB.com, and I'm sure all the Matrix fans will give you respectful and comprehensible answers.
"I am sorry, Keanu, but Bollywood's standards for acting quality are somewhat more exclusive."
After some idle exposition in the real world that recaps the end of the first movie, we see that Neo, comatose and in a sick bay at the end of the first movie, is somehow still plugged into the Matrix and his consciousness is in an underground subway station. There's some cute little Indian girl standing above him, and... Oh, god. It's starting again. The exposition. I... just can't take it... First, the girl, explaining to Neo why he's trapped in a subway station outside the Matrix. Then the Oracle (Mary Alice all of a sudden) explaining to Morph and Trin that Neo's in trouble. Then the girl's father, saying to Neo that they're a family of programs that are smuggling their daughter into the Matrix for a reason that the movie's willing to spend much more time explaining than I am. Jiminy Cricket, make it STOP! How many consecutive scenes do we need of people providing emotionless exposition while doing nothing else?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Pillars continues to boycott this series.
To get Neo out of purgatory in the train station, the Oracle sends her bodyguard, Seraph (Collin Chou) to help Morpheus and Trinity capture the Trainman (Bruce Spence, AKA the gyrocopter pilot from The Road Warrior, so I will not tolerate any criticism of this fine human being), who's the Merovingian's (Lambert Wilson) man in charge of smuggling things in and out of the Matrix, for whatever purpose that could possibly have. The trio of good guys chase the Trainman briefly, losing him because Morpheus now threatens a cardiac arrest with more than 15 seconds of sprinting. After we head back to the train station for more philosophical exposition from the Indian guy (Kill me now.), Seraph, Trinity, and Morpheus attack the Merovingian's hideout, Club Hel, which Wikipedia claims is the correct spelling. They first have to blast their way, without even the slightest effort at tactical positioning, through a room full of bad guys who walk on the ceiling. Why walk on the ceiling? I'm not sure what kind of an edge that gives them in a room that's about 8 feet high, but if it looks kind of weird and costs some money to pull off, it's good enough for the Wachowski brothers. Surprisingly enough, none of our heroes gets scratched or express the slightest hint of concern before dispatching the baddies. Then, instead of maybe using stealth or something, they preemptively engage in a Mexican standoff against a bunch of unarmed S&M types in the club (See? I told you they could have snuck in.). All that fighting so they could immediately surrender their guns and chat with the Merovingian, and what do you know? He doesn't want to give up Neo. You don't say. But since this is The Matrix, there's no bit of idiotic planning that can't be overcome by kicking something. After the Merovingian blathers some more about causality--Seriously, dude, is there anything else that interests you?--the good guys kick the iceberg-reflexed thugs holding them at gunpoint, put a gun to the Merovingian's head at the outset of ANOTHER Mexican stand-off, and demand that he give them Neo back. And so he does, and Neo and Trinity have a tearful reunion after being separated a whole half-hour.
That's not so much a dress as it is a cleavage levee.
Eighty minutes later, when Neo finishes talking to the Oracle about nothing we didn't already know, he trods off and Smith finally arrives to see her himself. So if he knows where she is, doesn't that mean all the bad guys know where she is? So why has it taken so long for someone to come kick granny's ass? Hugo Weaving does his damndest to be terrifying while musing (in what almost sounds like iambic pentameter) about the purposefulness of the Oracle's decision to not fight back, as if he's the bastard child of Nietzsche, Iago, and Sam I Am. After a mercifully brief chat, he turns her into a Smith, one that starts laughing maniacally. And boy, do I mean maniacally. In fact, Agent Smith's pure joy for being evil probably makes him the most sympathetic character in the movie. Neo? Trinity? Morpheus? I've heard more enthusiasm in cold reads of The Canterbury Tales in high school English. So the real choice of the movie is whether you want to turn into a Smith and have constant fun, or to go to Zion and end up as one of the three things: a stick in the mud, a brain-dead raver, or Anthony Zerbe. I know what I choossssse.
Agent Smith protests the Vietnam War.
Back in the real world, the Smith-infected Bane (Ian Bliss) has woken up, and after a brief interrogation--which should have begun with the question, "If your name's Bane, how could you NOT be evil?"--the other characters lose interest in him. And the directors lose interest in them, because it's back to Zion for a little while so that we can hear some people gripe about how outnumbered they are by the impending invaders. Then hear some minor characters griping about how they don't want to die. Then hear The Kid (Clayton Watson) gripe to Captain Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) about how he just wants to help out and fight the Krauts, er, Machines. Then we get to hear the dumb white guy captain of the one Zion ship gripe to Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) about how they can't reach Zion in time to help in the fight, and then hear Niobe counter-gripe about how she's so damned awesome that she can fly his ship through an impossible-to-navigate tunnel that'll take them straight to Zion. Remember, being a female action heroine means never having to show the slightest humility. Meanwhile, Neo realizes that his only way to stop the war is to go to Evil Machine Capital for some reason.
And now, we see the sperm enter Gloria Steinem's uterus...
So they give him a ship and let him and Trinity head off, but unbeknownst to them, Smith-Man has stowed aboard. When Smith-Man makes his move, locking Trinity below decks (instead of taking the extra .5 seconds to kill her and toss her away) and holding Neo at gunpoint, he starts going on about how it was inevitable that he would break out of the Matrix and control the whole worrrrrrlllld! Ten minutes later, Neo figures out that this guy is Agent Smith. Definitely, this is a concept at odds with all past Matrix history that we know of, but considering that Neo is supposed to be the great and wise savior of the human race, you might have thought that he'd be quicker to at least get into the right frame of mind regarding the guy who does a perfect Agent Smith impression, calls him "Missster Anderson," and goes on rambling speeches about fate. Naturally, being held at gunpoint only means we're biding time until they start fighting over the gun, but despite losing the gun, Man-Smith does seemingly get the edge when he blinds Neo with a severed electrical cord. Too bad for him that in his blindness, Neo discovers that he actually has some weird screensaver-type vision that lets him see robots--which apparently includes computerized poltergeists that possess people's body, since Smith-Man not only has Agent Smith inhabiting his mind, but a full-blown scowling Agent Smith running the length of his body! Which makes it a lot easier for Neo to smack the guy's head off, thus allowing the audience to ditch ole Neo and Trin for a while, and enjoy the great characters of The Kid, Zee, Niobe, Ghost, and Fat Morpheus for the next hour.
"Too... much... botox...Uggghhh."
Next up on the Star Wars prequel-like tour of diverse and barely-related simultaneous fight scenes is the underground city of Zion, where the evil robot army has arrived and threatens Anthony Zerbe as we know it unless the valiant Zion soldiers can stop them. The defenders strap into Starship Troopers (the book)-like robot armor suits with machine guns on their hands (held sideways, because it's much more effective to hold dual-wielded pistols sideways), so that they can mow down the squid-robots that pour out of a hole at the top of their underground dock's huge dome. If that's a confusing description, just imagine what would happen if Quentin Tarantino adapted Galaga for the big screen, and that's more or less it. Un-armored infantry guys on the ground actually use ray guns to shoot the killer robo-squids. Do you think the Wachowskis regret introducing the ray guns in the first movie? They seem to clearly prefer machine guns in this movie, which strikes me as a step down technologically, especially when the giant mechs need little guys to run around and slap new cartridges into their machines every few minutes (which happens to be The Kid's job). You'd think having a few explosives would be useful against swarms of clustered enemies. The scene's kind of entertaining at the basest possible level a modern action movie can exist at, somewhere just below Stealth and just above Jackass. It's a level where characters can roar, "Where the hell's my infantry?!? I want that god-damned machine taken down!" and yet, paradoxically, the filmmakers expect all of this to be treated as profound by the audience. At least the robots don't stop to lecture on causality before attacking, a fact that immediately promotes them to the most sympathetic characters in the movie.
"Neo, you're completely blind. Quit criticizing my driving."
Meanwhile, Zion also dispatches lesbian prison babe bazooka teams to blow up the huge drilling robots, but when the robots' clunky extermination strategy meets the humans' clunky defense strategy, the edge still goes to the robots. Things start to look really bad in Zion, despite the fact that the vast majority of evil robots just fly around in formation, bunched up so that Zion's bullets can hit them that much more easily, and take only occasional interest in attacking something. But then somebody remembers that they can use the electro-magnetic pulse bombs (which were all the rage in the first movie) to instantly annihilate the entire invasion force, albeit at the cost of also destroying most of Zion's own defense weaponry. Given how things are going--"We can't hold them! Somebody needs to send in an 'S' power-up! We can't hold them back if we don't get the spreadshot! Or a bonus life! Anything!"--calling it even and shutting down all the evil robots seems like a decent idea. One problem: nobody thought ahead to keep one of those bombs at Zion. So the only ship in the quadrant--I'm sorry, Star Trek flashback--that has an EMP bomb is the idiot white guy captain's, which Niobe is piloting.
She's taking that shortcut of her's back to Zion, but accidentally alerts the evil robots, so she's got to go through the tunnels at maximum speed while the forty other minor characters on-board man the gun turrets. Which I'm sure pads out the tie-in video game very well, but this is not exactly the most engaging cinema. Niobe's piloting isn't very exciting either: the idiot white guy captain keeps exclaiming to no one in particular how impressed he is with her piloting, but given that we have no idea how maneuverable a sewer-traversing battleship in the year 3,000 is supposed to be, I'm not really sure how good at this she actually is. All I know is that I'm seeing a computer-generated electric razor streaking through a computer-generated tunnel while spraying bullets at computer-generated Contra enemies. Compound this boredom with the fact that Morpheus, once the true hero of the series, is reduced to riding shotgun and announcing useless information that even Lieutenant Chekhov would be embarrassed to mention, and being berated by Niobe the whole time for failing to shout out his numbers fast enough.
"Whoa. I don't like these new Swedish ergonomic chairs."
The ship's about to reach Zion, but the evil robots have already shut the gate, and the humans need a mechwarrior guy to shoot some chain to open it (Dude, I'm just explaining it; I didn't write it). Captain Mifune tries to make it to the gate, but is cut down by a swarm of squid-bots along the way, probably regretting not having any protective glass or shield installed on top of the pilots' compartments on the damn mechs. But the Kid's there to save the day, finally ready to fulfill his destiny of being the spunky little kid that could, the cyberpunk Rudy that wants to play the world's biggest Gradius game instead of Notre Dame football. So he hauls Mifune's mangled ass out of the giant mech, shoots the chain, and allows Niobe's ship to crash into Zion and kill all the evil robots with an EMP. Thus concluding the sequence with the greatest dollars-to-brain cells expenditure ratio in film history.
"Oh, god. We all wore the same thing. How embarrassing!"
This just in from Wall Street: apparently, the housing bubble has burst.
Fortunately, just as the machines are on the brink of exterminating the Zionites once and for all, Neo cuts a deal with them: he'll re-enter the Matrix, which Smith has completely taken over, and kick his ass one last time to keep him from wiping out all the robots and humans together. In exchange, the robots have to leave Zion alone and let people leave the Matrix if they want to. Personally, considering that the Planet Earth looks like the South side of Mordor right now, I'd have just demanded that they redesign the Matrix to look more like Acapulco and let everyone back in.
Stop punching yourself! Stop punching yourself! Stop punching yourself!
The machines jack Neo back into the Matrix, beginning the climactic battle and arguably the best scene since the first Matrix. It's a real shame that such a cool scene has to follow two hours of idiots spinning around on the ceiling and machine guns spraying bullets at robotic lice. Neo arrives in the Matrix strolling down in the pouring rain in the dead of night, illuminated only by constant lightning. The sidewalks and buildings are lined with millions of Smiths now that he has copied himself onto every last person in the Matrix. An impressive choral score booms; music is perhaps the only great improvement the series has made since the first film, having mostly abandoned punk and heavy metal. A single Smith, presumably the one possessing the Oracle, steps out to declare that only he will fight Neo: he's foreseen his victory over Neo, so one fighter is enough. Unfortunately for Neo, Smith's gotten a lot stronger since the hundred-Smiths fight in the previous movie, where each Smith on its own could have gotten taken down by a half-drunk Anthony Zerbe. This time around, Smith can fly and smash into Neo so hard that shockwaves expand like giant bubbles in the rain. Like most Matrix fights, the whole thing outlasts its welcome a bit, but has enough striking images and glorious Smith-ness ("Missster Andersssson, welcome back. We missssed you. Like what I've done with the place?" Truly a great line in a movie filled with awful dialogue.) that I was genuinely excited.
Oh, so THAT's why they all wear sunglasses.
Furthermore, it has a somewhat interesting ending. After a long fight, Neo ultimately allows Smith to absorb him and seemingly claim victory. However, because the machines themselves are plugging Neo into the Matrix themselves, they shoot some kind of a computer virus into him, and it spreads to Smith, blasting him out of existence and freeing all the people in the Matrix that Smith has absorbed. Granted, considering that the evil robots also control nearly every other person inside the Matrix in the same way, I'm not sure what they needed Neo for. But I'll trust that it's entirely possible there's some explanation the writers didn't want to create a long, rambling monologue to spell out, so I'll shut my fat yap and let it be.
We get to hear The Kid announce to an elated Zion that the war is over, making us wish it had lasted just long enough to do him in, and we get to see the Oracle have one last dialogue (not monologue; imagine that!) with the Architect, who is long on wind, but short on screen time, thank God, and we're done. Done! And the closing credits music is kind of cool too, in an odd, uncomfortable way. At least the last 15 or so minutes of The Matrix Revolutions depart from the original vision in that they're not acting like one of the most awful big-budget modern movies I've ever seen.
"Oh, no. You can't sign me for another sequel just when The Hobbit is scheduled to film. It's just not fair!"
I must admit that in retrospect, the plots for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions do sound good when you read an in-depth examination of them by an interested writer (such as on Wikipedia, your one-stop shop for obsessive over-analysis on the web). It's definitely not a conventional storyline, and while not necessarily insightful into the human condition--that's what a mishmash of academia will do to you--it's an interesting exercise in its own right. The problem is that there's an actual movie we need to watch, and while the philosophy and allusion would be great fun as a backdrop to a plot-focused film, the Wachowskis let it slow down one that's already padded out and poorly acted. It's a movie that's supposed to be about how and why humans keep on going, yet can't muster anything except the most shallow relationships and motivations for its actual human characters.
And that's not even mentioning the horrendous Battle of Zion sequence that's long and dumb enough to kill off all those brain cells you were devoting to the question of what the point of the Indian guy at the beginning was. Seriously, when you go from an hour of Matrix pseudo-philosophy to an hour of Smash TV, the effect is like getting smashed on the head by a hammer to offset the feeling of getting smacked in the nuts by a carpet beater. I get the feeling that the directors were largely out of ideas, on both the high-minded sci-fi and over-the-top action fronts, and tried to compensate by overdoing the hell out of both aspects of the series. I'm not entirely sure that the Wachowski's apparent struggle to make these movies work indicates any great humility, though: after all, it takes quite a mind, or pair thereof, to make a Speed Racer movie seem smug.
"Oracle, look! Our prayers have been answered!" "What is it, dear? Has Neo returned?" "No, Oracle! The movie's over!"
So here's to Agent Smith, the scowling ass of a villain, whose hatred of Keanu Reeves and tireless efforts to keep the Matrix movies focused on, y'know, the Matrix proved to be an inspiration to us all. Perhaps he'll return one day. Maybe next time your story will be told by filmmakers who know there's more to life than Nietzsche, LSD, and R-Type.