Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

REVIEW: Star Trek: Generations

Yes. That's exactly what Shatner looks like in this movie.

Kirk or Picard: who's the best captain of the Enterprise?* Not that I'm particularly concerned about this topic--my shameful geek obsessions have long since moved on to Lost, 24, and various video games--but I think a person's answer to the question is actually illuminating about a bit more than just identifying his fanboy loyalties. On the surface, the captains are alike in many respects: while Kirk has the reputation as the guy who bangs a planet's women, then bangs its greatest warships out of existence, he certainly gave his fair share of preachy speeches about peace and tolerance and love. He and Picard probably wouldn't have made many decisions differently, aside from Kirk's giddy enthusiasm for breaking the Prime Directive (don't radically rewrite an alien society's way of living just because it pisses you off), which Picard tended to get far more moralistic about.
"Walter and I are pleased to announce an exciting new project we're working on together, which will debut this Saturday on the Sci-Fi Channel."

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.
That is the new Enterprise??? Since when did LEGO start taking defense contracts?

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.
Oh, just for old time's sake: Duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, DUH-dum! Duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, DUH-dum! ...

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.
I understand the sailing uniforms, but is that Ensign... Gozer down there?

Flash-forward 78 years, to the HMS Enterprise, a galleon sailing the high seas. Yes, it’s another moronic holodeck simulation, this time with the whole senior crew dressed up as old-timey sailors to honor Lt. Worf getting a promotion (well, an improved title; he’s still doing what he did for most of the TV show). It’s amazing how much time for kitschy role-playing group bonding sessions you have aboard the flagship of the most powerful space navy in the galaxy. I'll trust that you, dear reader, have seen enough of the TV show that I don't need to explain any of the crew to you, except to say that, as a small mercy, Wesley Crusher is nowhere to be found. As the biological crew members goof off like drunken idiots in their alcohol-free future, the android Lt. Data asks Dr. Crusher what “fun” is. She tries to give him an honest answer instead of saying, “We’ve had this same conversation with you every week for seven years you cybernetic numbskull.” Data doesn’t get it, but his whole character is about trying to become more human, and fortunately for him, he’s got the futuristic equivalent of a video game cheat code, a leftover from the TV show: an emotion chip that he can plug into his robotic brain whenever he feels he’s ready. I like that in a franchise so in love with itself for its insights into the human condition, the writers can posit that some programmer can balance downloading a pirated copy of Iron Man and writing the code that lets a piece of machinery feel love and joy. Regardless, the emotion chip subplot has just about nothing to do with the main storyline, and only exists because, towards the end of the series in particular, every single damn episode of The Next Generation had to be about either Data or Worf. Worf has next to nothing to do in this movie (despite the fact that most of the main villains are fellow Klingons!), so they decided to fill the Data/Worf quota by having Data mug for the camera, draw raised eyebrows from his crewmates, and generally make an ass of himself throughout the whole movie.
It's the FUTURE, so you don't just store a computer chip in some kind of casing. You keep it hovering and spinning around like a Quake power-up.

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.
Air-traffic controlling in outer space looks challenging.

After consulting with Guinan and the Stellar Cartography room--a rather unnecessarily big room to keep aboard a ship designed for scientific and military operations--Picard figures out Soran's plan. He's determined to enter the Nexus, that carpety energy thing we saw at the beginning of the movie, which is the gateway to some heaven-like paradise. I'm not entirely sure how anybody knows this, considering that it's supposed to be damn near impossible to enter or leave the damn thing, but there you go. He's blowing up stars to divert the Nexus' path so that it will intercept a planet Soran can comfortably stand on, even though nuking the next star will result in the destruction of a planet with millions of people. This is obviously spoiling a later plot development, but since Kirk safely entered the Nexus by being sucked out of a damaged starship, why the hell couldn't Soran just beam himself into the damn thing, or invite some other paradise-seeking people to fly into it and eject themselves? And why the hell hasn't anybody paid attention to the friggin' Nexus up to this point? As soon as the Enterprise starts to look for it, they know where the stupid thing is. Good job exploring the interesting crap out there in the universe; it's much more interesting to learn about Data's pet cat and Worf's constant pissiness about how the rest of the Klingons think he's dishonorable.
Charles Krauthammer, in a role that will surprise you.

The Enterprise arrives at the star system where Soran plans to nuke the sun and enter the Nexus. In orbit around the planet, Picard cuts a deal to get Geordi back whereby he agrees to replace him as the Klingons' prisoner, so long as he gets to beam down and try to talk Soran out of his genocidal mission first. After Picard beams down and Geordi's returned, it's revealed that the Klingons put a device in Geordi's visor that lets them see whatever he sees, allowing them to get the miracle four-digit number that somehow lets them completely bypass the ship's shields. The Klingons start shooting, which takes acting commander Riker off-guard; it's a pretty godawful performance by the Enterprise, as they get pounded for several minutes while returning fire about twice the whole time. And since this is a "movie," random bridge crew don't just get knocked over, but get vaulted through the air by exploding control panels. You know, maybe Starfleet should consider not putting C4 in their instrument panels anymore, since I'm pretty sure that computer hardware alone has little explosive potential. Fortunately, the good guys can pull their own nonsensical science-fiction solution out of their ass ("Generate some kind of ionic burst from the deflector dish," or something like that), and blast the Klingon ship to pieces in one shot. Unfortunately, the warp core's damaged, as usual, but this time it requires that they evacuate everyone to the saucer section and leave the rest of the ship behind before it blows up. Unfortunately, because this ship is carrying a crapload of children and non-uniformed idiots into battle, it takes them forever to get the lower decks evacuated. Seriously, how the hell do the Klingons and Romulans keep losing to a vessel that's 30% battleship and 70% community college? The saucer section detaches, but gets caught in the shockwave from the warp core breach, sending it toward the planet as the newly-emotional Data proclaims, "Oh, s***!" Data, not even Bones ever said, "Oh, s***!" Get it together. The saucer section crashes into the planet hard, sweeping down a whole forest full of model train set trees, passing a confused Godzilla and Mothra along the way. But as we all know, just so long as the whole thing doesn't actually explode in flames, the recurring characters inside are fine.
"Ahhh, Picard! The thing you call eHarmony has sent us to mate with you!"

On a mountainside elsewhere on the planet--you know, the sunny, rocky desert planet from Starship Troopers, Star Trek V, half the Space: Above and Beyond episodes, and 90% of the Firefly episodes--Picard has beamed down to try to talk Soran out of his scheme. The man's got his star-destroying rocket ready to go, and a force field around it to protect himself from Picard, who's phaser-less anyway. I'll say one good thing about this scene: it reminded me that Malcolm McDowell is actually still a pretty good actor in his gray-haired years, which for British actors is also known as the "Generic Villain in Hero-Driven Action Movie" years. Picard finds a way past the force field, sneaks up to Soran and... is promptly kicked off a bridge. He fails to stop Soran from firing the rocket, which takes about 5 seconds to leave the planet's atmosphere, and another 4 to get all the way to the sun; that thing must have some real kick at the end. Soran and Picard are sucked into the Nexus, and everyone else dies.
Safety belts are tentatively scheduled to be installed on the Enterprise-W. Until then, all Enterprise models will come stocked with extra Tylenol.

Cut to Picard's paradise in the Nexus. I didn't mention it earlier, but he was very upset to learn that his brother and nephew had died, thus giving him some kind of weirdo Hallmark card/Charles Dickens Christmas scene with his made-up wife and made-up family. I guess Picard doesn't want any specific family (although his dead nephew is among his 200 children), just any old shmucks the Nexus pulls in off the street and dresses in Little Women outfits. Now, Kirk, on the other hand, spends his Nexus time chopping wood and cooking eggs. Any doubt remaining as to who's more qualified to kick Soran's ass? When Picard snaps out of it, aided by the ghost of Christmas Past... er, ghost of Guinan, he's told he can leave the Nexus anytime and anywhere to stop Soran. Gee, do you think it might be a good idea to return to the Enterprise back when you had Soran in custody, so you could warn the crew about what was up? Sure, the crew would be a bit freaked out to see a clone of their captain suddenly appear, but considering their 150+ incidents of similarly goofy stuff happening in the past, I think they'd get over it. But no. Picard, great tactical genius that he is, decides to go back to fight Soran on the mountainside, apparently ticked at how easily he was dusted last time around. So let me get this straight: every time Picard loses the fight with Soran and fails to stop the rocket from firing into the sun, he'll get sucked into the Nexus and get to try again, just so long as he doesn't get himself killed. Doesn't that mean Picard gets infinite Continues, to use an appropriately video-gamey term? There's a very sobering line about terrorism, that the good guys have to succeed every time, but the bad guys just have to succeed once in order for a catastrophe to occur. Here it seems to be reversed. Furthermore, if Picard's going back in time, shouldn't there be two Picards showing up on the mountainside now? You'd think that he could just get together with himself and lay low a few times, then try it again when he has something like seven Picards to throw at a very surprised Malcolm McDowell: four to hold down his arms and legs, one to kick him in the groin repeatedly, one to deactivate his star-destroying rocket, and one to taunt him for his role on Heroes. But I'll just say now that the movie tries to sweep that idea under the rug, and there'll be only one Picard at any given time.
Star Trek: The Adventures of Deadeye the Klingon Gunner

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.
He has emotions for four hours and he's already flashing gang signs.

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.
"Upon further review, we have ruled that the Nexus' feet were in bounds. Touchdown."

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 really don't know what happened with Generations. Having more involvement from Kirk wouldn't have guaranteed a good movie--Kirk's crew didn't exactly have a spotless cinematic record--but I can't imagine a producer said, "Let's put Shatner in the first 15 minutes of the movie, show the android acting like a crackhead for 90 minutes, then bring Shatner back for the last 15 minutes and slap his face on the poster."

"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

COMING SOON: Star Trek: Generations

In a franchise that has featured stories about aliens stealing Spock's brain and a Klingon ship blowing up God, this movie is an embarrassment.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I guess they cut the scene where the Hulk visited downtown Chicago and tweaked the cameraman's nipples.

I think Ang Lee needs an intervention. He seems to be embarrassed by any movie he makes that might be interpreted as entertaining. Ask him to make a kung fu movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and you get a half-hour tragic love story in the desert, book-ended by hour-long blocks of people in bathrobes doing their Peter Pan impressions through the treetops. It was actually not a bad movie, but you get the impression that if you had yelled out, “Yeah, kick his ass!” in the theater, Ang Lee would have turned around and scolded you for not appreciating the tragedy he had woven.

Ask him to make a superhero movie and, oh boy, you get Hulk.
So where is this one in relation to the other 1,965 other desert bases?

Yes, Hulk. Just Hulk. I see via 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."

We start off with an army base in 1966, where a scientist with a typically hideous 1966 moustache performs some experiments on animals in his lab. We know this man is evil because he has no remorse in dismembering starfish. In the span of about ten seconds, he gets warned by a military officer that he can’t experiment on humans, experiments on himself, hears from his wife that she’s going to have a baby, and welcomes into the world his newborn son, Baby Bruce Banner. Dad knows right away that the genetic manipulation he performed on himself is now manifesting itself in his son. When the kid’s a few years old, Dad sets off some kind of impending freaky sci-fi technological disaster after hearing that his funding‘s been cut, but takes some time to have a vicious shouting match behind closed doors with his wife. We'll see the rest of this later.

Before we cut to modern-day Bruce Banner and start the long countdown to his inevitable Gamma radiation mishap, I’d like to take a moment and say a few words to the people who edited and storyboarded this film. Give it a rest. When Ang and his minions heard they were doing a movie based on a comic book, they decided to stay true to the source material by using as many wacky editing techniques as possible--y‘know, like how comic books use lots of unusual shots to fit all their information on the pages? Split screens, every manner of wipe, zooms in and out, foreground images sharpening while backgrounds blur, characters freezing and suddenly becoming outlined in comic book art, gratuitous montages of moss growing on rocks, dream sequences within flashback sequences within daydreams, metaphorical images of the Hulk trying to break out of Bruce's subconscious--if you were to lock Andy Warhol and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a room with watercolors, paper, and forty pounds of raw opium, you couldn’t possibly get anything as goofy as this film. And many of the strange special effects are not to punctuate the big action sequences, but to distract you during the talky scenes and prevent you from paying any attention to the banal dialogue. "Hulk confused!"
I always wondered what that Angle button on my DVD remote does. Now where's the upskirt angle?

Compare this to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, which break out the unusual editing tricks only to accentuate the dramatic sequences or add humor. It’s definitely possible for heavy-handed direction to work well in a fantasy movie, like 300, but when your only purpose for over-directing is to remind the audience that something weird is going to happen eventually, to help the audience get through intimate scenes with a terminally dull hero and heroine, you’ve got a movie without correct priorities.

As for the actual story, Bruce (now played by Eric Bana) has grown up to be a scientist at Berkeley, experimenting on frogs to try to make Gamma radiation work as some kind of miracle cure for flesh wounds or something. He’s assisted by Dr. Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), also his recently-ex girlfriend. As funding for the experiments dries up, a sleazeball alpha male from a military contractor, Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas, perfectly cast if absurd stereotyping was the intention) arrives to offer them jobs at ComEvilHalliburtonCorp and gobs of cash. I don’t know how he got past the Berkeley Liberal Arts professors, who turn into 28 Days Later zombies when they smell military-industrial complex blood, but that’s neither here nor there. Since the military is pure evil, Betty scoffs him and his perfectly lupine eyebrows away.
23:59:57, 23:59:58, 23:59:59...

The experiments continue to fail at anything except microwaving frogs, but a strange new janitor starts working the night shift. A strange new janitor with an unfriendly poodle, which is just about the dopiest eccentricity for a mysterious character ever, both before and after you find out what it means. The janitor (Nick Nolte, in a role inspired by his famous mug shot) is running his own experiments while Bruce is away. Okay, let’s cut all the pretenses of surprise. The dude is Bruce’s thought-to-be-dead father, and he’s not exactly lightened up over the years.
Eric Bana reacts in horror to Jennifer Connelly's sudden unleashing of an emotion.

It’s finally time for the Gamma radiation disaster, and it actually comes and goes pretty quickly, without much excitement or grandeur. I would have thought that in a big-budget action movie, they would have made this seminal event something pretty exciting, but all we get is Bruce zapped with an odd photographic effect, another montage, and then Bruce recovering in a hospital bed. I was amazed by how lame the scene was until I realized that being hit by these Gamma rays is a relatively minor event in Bruce’s story. He doesn’t become the Hulk. He’s always been the Hulk, due to his father‘s messed-up genes. Not that I’m a particular prude about this character, but I find it a bit distasteful that “accident” origin story has been completely warped into a “destiny” origin story, all so that Ang Lee and his screenwriters can pull a predictable daddy issues/repressed memories angle out of their backsides. The Hulk has been in Bruce since his childhood, and the accident just lets him loose. I liked it when the Hulk condition was a freak of science that was his own damn fault, when the story was less about exploring his repressed memories, and more about Bruce just trying to figure out what to do with himself. At least the sequel/remake/apology to this film would get it right.
"Let me consult with the 'stache before I give you my answer."

While Bruce recovers, Betty meets her father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliot, who has all the range of a Manny Ramirez bobblehead doll). He probably got his nickname because his moustache resembles a cartoon bolt of lightning. Seriously, I had a difficult time looking at the guy; the thing was so neatly-defined, yet crooked, pulling away from his lip on the left side. You can count every single strand of hair in it. I spent the movie convinced that the moustache was going to detach itself and become the lead villain. Anyway, Betty wants to meet her dad to ask him to get Talbot to back off, but Gen. Ross also wants in on her and Bruce’s research. She says to him, “I had hoped you’d just wanted to see me,” playing the victim even though she wasn’t there out of love for him either. I think Hulk might out-do the show Lost for highest density of characters with crappy fathers. Gen. Ross also happens to be the military officer that shut down the elder Banner originally, so he’s more aware of what’s going on than Betty thinks.
Connelly facial expression now within defined limits. Cancel Red Alert.

Papa Banner reveals his identity to Bruce while he’s in the hospital, as well as his intention to continue the research with or without Bruce’s permission. Later, while working at night in the lab, Bruce starts to randomly get angry for no apparent reason. Sure, he eventually gets a phone call from Betty that pisses him off when she says that Talbot’s still harassing them, but the man was convulsing in forced rage beforehand, looking like he was either constipated or about to eject an alien from his chest. He turns into the Hulk and smashes the lab to bits. Good job, Ang. You know, when I always imagined Banner turning into the Hulk, I imagined him getting a random hissy fit in an empty laboratory and smashing a bunch of beakers. The drama of the scene isn’t helped by the fact that the Hulk has the jerky movements of a 1930's stop-motion animation monster, or the fact that this olive green embodiment of white-hot fury has Eric Bana’s dopey face and gets all mellow when he encounters his father. Awwww. "Hulk no smash. Hulk have moment."
Scarves are absolutely essential for keeping your neck warm in California in the summer.

After the destruction of the lab, Gen. Moustache essentially figures out what has happened to Bruce, being well aware of his father’e experiments. Papa Banner, furious that his old enemy Gen. Moustache was brought into the mix, sics his dogs on Betty. Yes, he dispatches the dogs that have been infused with some of Bruce’s DNA. Hulk dogs. So when Bruce gets wind of this, breaking out of his house arrest as the Hulk to go find Betty at her cabin in the woods, he squares off against a trio of Hulk-dogs, including a poodle. At the very least, for all the flaws in his movie, Ghost Rider never fought a bunch of dogs with flaming skulls. This is a fight that more than slightly resembles something out of King Kong, if you replace Kong with a cartoony green giant with Eric Bana’s face and unbelievably stretchy pants, and replace the T-Rex with a POODLE!
"What am I wearing? What does that have to do with... Wait a minute! You're not John Zogby!"

After the Hulk wins, Betty actually does the reasonable thing and turns Bruce over to the military. I say reasonable because we know it’s going to happen anyway, and this movie’s already getting long, as is this review. Banner’s sedated and shipped to an underground army base in the desert; judging by the music, I can only assume the base is in Saudi Arabia. Here, Betty pleads with her father to help Bruce, but the moustache’s host says that Talbot’s in charge now, and he’s only interested in reproducing Bruce’s Hulkism as a weapon, and disposing of the younger Banner when he’s done. Naturally, in true King Kong rip-off fashion, they push Bruce a bit too hard, injecting him with some kind of hallucinogen that helps Bruce remember the truth: his father tried to kill him after his firing ended his chances of curing Bruce’s heretofore unmanifested condition, but he accidentally killed his wife instead. Frankly, I think convincing his son to not go into a line of work that involves copious amounts of Gamma radiation would have done the trick, but then again, Dad did have a hideous moustache of his own, so maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly. Bruce hulks out, breaks his restraints, and busts out of the base, killing Talbot along the way by turning him into a cartoon (seriously; watch the movie if you dare). Now I have to admit that here, all the split screens and camera tricks actually work pretty well, now that it’s used to give a sense of scale to a big fight scene, as opposed to a scene of Betty dreamily telling off Talbot in her office.

"Hulk no like aqua-massage machine at the mall!"

Out in the desert, Hulk is harassed by tanks and helicopters for a while, and smashes them up in ways that supposedly don’t kill any of the army men inside. Good for him, because you can’t really blame the soldiers too much for following orders and shooting at the giant green monster stomping toward a city. Hulk makes his way to San Francisco, and Betty, by leaping vast distances across the desert. I never read the comics, but I wasn’t aware that one of the Hulk’s major powers was reducing his own body weight so that he can leap across ZIP codes and barely kick up sand as he lands. He also gets real mellow in the desert, staring at fungus growing on rocks in hushed awe, and posing mid-air like he’s on the bow of the frikkin’ Titanic. I thought that when the Hulk gets mellow, he stops being the Hulk, but while that happens when he finally meets Betty in San Francisco and is taken in again by the military, he conveniently stays in Hulk form up to that point.
I'm pretty sure any caption I could come up with would only diminish the impact of this image.

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!

Dad absorbs the electricity in the Army’s death-trap failsafe device, and pulls Bruce through the air into the desert again, leading to one of the strangest final fights you’ll ever see in a superhero movie. Not only has Absorbing Dad come completely out of left field, but the Hulk doesn’t even win. He fights back at first, but it’s kind of hard to beat a guy who can turn into a gigantic monster made out of water or electricity. Most superheroes would come up with some kind of clever Mythbusters-style solution to make him react with sodium or something, but admittedly, the Hulk’s a bit dumb and a bit unprepared for this. It’s not until the Army suddenly pulls some kind of sci-fi bomb out of its ass and drops it on Dad that the fight ends. Bruce just kind of disappears, and winds up hiding in South America a year later, where he’s giving medicine to villagers (who apparently live in the middle of the jungle). When government thugs arrive to take the medicine, Bruce finally says (through subtitles) the line you’ve waited for him to say: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Bravo. Now have him say it in English.

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 2008 remake/reboot The Incredible Hulk was a far more generic, by-the-books superhero action movie, although it learned from the mistakes of the first film. For example:
  • 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.
THIS is why we leave the Christmas tree unplugged when Uncle Nick comes over.

Definitely give Ang Lee credit for trying a wide variety of movies, even though I’m not interested in seeing a lot of them, and I’m sure he’s a very good director when he’s in his element. But when the supernatural elements in your movie come across as odd more so than awesome or exciting, and your personal drama is played out by actors in dire need of Prozac, you lose. "Hulk bored."

Saturday, September 13, 2008


THIS will get Bruce Banner angry.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

REVIEW: The Matrix Revolutions

That guy in the upper right almost makes Morpheus look svelte.

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 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, 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!"

Neo and Trinity fly their ship above ground and make their way to the evil robots' capital city, using Neo's magical robot-destroying telekinesis power (still not remotely explained, although at least acknowledged that it's inexplicable) to take out defenses along the way. Things still get hairy enough that they need to crash full-speed into one of the robot buildings, and Trinity gets impaled by shrapnel. Now, at this point, most movies would give her a few last blood-choked words with which to say goodbye. But this is The Matrix, where actors are paid by the word, so she says goodbye with a monologue to rival anything the stuffy old sentinent programs in the Matrix have to offer, and delivered at such a slow pace that I had to check to see if my DVD player was out of RAM or something. She doesn't sound so much like she's dying as that she's strapped into a dentist's office chair and being pumped full of some very cheap anesthesia while reciting her audition scene. Thus, Carrie-Ann Moss/Trinity leaves the series the same way she entered it: emotionless, unattractively made-up, and appallingly dull when she's not launching herself across the screen in slow-motion.

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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

COMING SOON: The Matrix Revolutions

There's only one hope for redeeming this franchise: Anthony Zerbe in a black trenchcoat and sunglasses. Will it happen? Stay tuned...