Film Review: Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 3 (working title)
Release Date: October 27th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Cornel West, Mary Alice, Bruce Spence

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 129 Minutes

Review:

“Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you? Oh I can, I really should thank you after all. It was, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.” – Agent Smith

*Sigh*

Well, I got to the end. But I’m glad this journey of revisiting The Matrix film series is now behind me.

Reason being, I didn’t really enjoy these films because of how dated and horribly cliche and goofy they are. Plus, each installment in this trilogy got worse. I thought that this one might play better than the second but this film is such a massive misfire that it didn’t even come close to hitting the target it was aiming at.

My memories remembered this as a big two hour action sequence. But it’s not. There is a lot of action but it doesn’t really come until the last hour of the movie. Everything before that is really unnecessary. I mean, fuck, Neo was stuck in a subway station for a fucking half hour while his squad tried to save him from his limbo. Great way to use your time wisely in a final installment. The first act of this picture felt like episode 15 of a season of a TV show where they needed filler bullshit to pad out the season to 22 episodes.

Once the action does get going, the film gets better but we’re also thrown into action sequences with characters we just met or barely know and there’s no real reason for us to feel connected to many of them. So when some of them die, it doesn’t hit you in any emotional way. Maybe the first act of this film could have developed these disposable and empty characters.

Anyway, Neo is blinded in the most ridiculous way ever and he has to fight a swarm of Sentinels using his “electro-psychic vision” or whatever the hell his blind Daredevil sense is called. But that fight is mainly just Trinity flying a ship, dodging Sentinels that Neo doesn’t explode with the Force because at this point, Neo is a blind Jedi master over technology or something.

Trinity dies, which makes all the “No Trinity don’t die!” bullshit of the previous film seem like a massive waste of time and bad storytelling.

Now the big battle between Neo and Mr. Smith within the Matrix is pretty awesome and the only real highlight of the film. Tech-Jedi Neo becomes ’90s Goth Club Superman and he and Mr. Smith both swing for the fences in an over the top CGI bonanza. This sequence works for me and it accomplishes what it set out to do tremendously well. However, it doesn’t excuse the other 90 percent of the film that made me want to stick my head into a wood chipper.

But hey, I survived. I’m not sure if Neo did, as it seemed unclear when Doctor Octopus arms carried him away like a half dead messiah.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 2 (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 2003 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Roy Jones Jr., Cornel West

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.” – Merovingian

From memory, the Matrix sequels weren’t as good as the first film. Having seen this one again, a decade and a half later, I’d say that this holds true.

Still, this wasn’t a bad experience. This one does stand out simply for the fact that it has the best action sequence out of the series. Granted, my mind might change after I revisit the third film next week.

The scene that I’m talking about is the Interstate chase which is actually more than a simple car chase. It is an insane bonanza of flying bullets, flying bodies and vehicular carnage. Although, I have some issues with it too.

To start, I want to point out the positives. It was a lengthy section in the film but none of it was dull and it was high octane and over the top in an entertaining and gratifying way. I loved how things shifted throughout the sequence between switching roads, driving in opposite directions and the human vehicle jumping. The dynamic of the Ghost Twins also works well to spice things up, even if I thought that the characters were kind of lame attempts at trying too hard to be cool but then again, that’s just about everything in these films.

However, the sequence is far from perfect and it actually looks cheap considering that the entire strip of highway over this long, drawn out, violent jamboree takes place within highway walls. The geography of the location is the opposite of dynamic, it’s just a simple highway, lots of cars and concrete walls as far as the eye can see. Sure, there are some building far off in the distance and some powerlines sprinkles in but it lacks detail, depth and the appearance that anyone cared about anything other than the action and CGI effects.

Also, the physics are really bad despite all of this existing within the Matrix. But that’s an issue I have with the whole film series. But it is kind of intriguing that this all goes down and the star of the film was far away from it until that final moment where he literally swoops in to save two of the heroes from exploding semi trucks.

Like the first film, I thought the writing was pretty weak and too many things were way too convenient. This had a lot of fate and destiny mumbo jumbo surrounding its characters and their special roles with the Matrix system that I was still pretty annoyed by it all. Why is there an Oracle? Why is there the key maker guy? What the hell is a Merovingian? Why is Agent Smith going rogue? Why is there still a One? I don’t know? But most importantly, why did I waste ten minutes of my life sitting through the Architect’s villainous monologue, which just made things more confusing?

I know, I know… this is supposed to be mindless escapism but the problems I had with the film in 2003, seem worse to me in 2019.

But hey, explosions, fights, CGI fuckery and cave raves! What’s not to love?

In the end, this was worth revisiting and I certainly wasn’t bored watching it. Well, except the first hour was a little too slow, but this does a good job of evolving beyond the first film and setting up the third and final act, which if I remember correctly, is pretty much just a two hour action sequence.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Matrix (1999)

Release Date: March 24th, 1999 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus

I enjoyed The Matrix films back when they were coming out but I was never an immense fan of them, despite their cultural influence and how they were heavily ripped off for other action and sci-fi films from the early ’00s.

It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen these, so most of the details have been lost to time and even though I remembered the gist of the story, I felt like I went into this with mostly fresh eyes.

This is the best film in the series or at least, it’s considered to be when looking at the critical and public opinion on this series. From my memory, I always liked this one the best and I’m assuming that the other two will still fall somewhere beneath this one when I revisit them over the next few weeks.

Overall, this film is pretty good in most aspects. However, there are some style choices that I don’t like, which actually bothered me back in the day too.

For starters, I’ve never been keen on the “bullet time” thing. I understand why certain moments were presented like this on screen but I always thought it was hokey looking in execution. Twenty years later, it looks dated and even more hokey. It’s also cliche but that’s really not this film’s fault as it was what brought that technique into the mainstream.

Also, I don’t like the movement during gunfights. The flipping off of walls with all limbs extended out is just going to make you a bigger target and for those who understand the physics of combat, it’s baffling and it shows off this film’s biggest weakness: style over substance (or practicality).

Plus, I don’t like how hard the film is trying to convince you that it is cool. Sure, it was cool in 1999 but the way coolness is achieved doesn’t quite work the same way in 2019. I’m not saying that the filmmakers should have predicted that because no one is an actual psychic but it dates the film.

I don’t like the use of filters in the movie either. The real world is shown in bluish hues while the Matrix itself is presented in a greenish tone. I understand the use of color to differentiate between the two spaces but it feels like the Wachowskis are trying to channel David Fincher and even though Fincher is a better director, I don’t like his overuse of color filters either.

In regards to the story, I have issues with that as well.

I guess my biggest gripe about it was the plot device where the Oracle told characters specific information about prophecies and whatnot and then later you find out she lied and it’s just brushed off with the line, “She told you what you needed to hear.” And why does this film have prophecies anyway? And where is the Oracle getting her info? And why does there need to be a “One”? It’s all kind of derivative, even by 1999.

Also, why does Agent Smith so badly want out of the Matrix? Why does he have emotions? He’s just a computer program, right? He should just follow programming without philosophizing about it. And can’t the Matrix fix his programming if it’s broken? Why does he care that the world within the Matrix is gross? How did he develop feelings and a personality? Why does he have such a grudge? Is all of this explained later because I don’t remember? Either way, it’s sloppy storytelling.

But all this criticism aside, I still like this movie. It’s hard to quantify why with all this baggage I just dumped on the floor but I think a lot of it has to do with the cast, their chemistry and how their performances propel the film forward. Also, if you don’t overthink it and just watch it as mindless entertainment, it is still a fun film with a lot of action and cool moments.

Some of the CGI looks bad in 2019 but this is still full of some incredible shots. That exploding helicopter scene still looks f’n fantastic.

It’s also best to ignore the limitations of technology for the time when this came out. Considering that everything in this film had to be done over hard wires, makes me wonder why this advanced artificial intelligence that wants to enslave humans weren’t using Wi-Fi. I mean, humans were using it pretty regularly less than a decade later. So in the year 2199 (or thereabouts) the evil robots hadn’t yet found a way to work around the hard wire problem? But again, the Wachowskis aren’t psychics.

Anyway, just ignore all the crap I just said in the previous 873 words and go into this film mindless with the intent of just enjoying some solid escapism from your own personal Matrix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: Mortal Engines (2018)

Release Date: December 5th, 2018 (Belgium, Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines)
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Frankie Adams

Media Rights Capital, Scholastic Productions, Silvertongue Films, WingNut Films, Universal Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“I was eight years old when my mother died. She loved traveling the world and digging up the past. He used to visit all the time, and then one day everything changed. She’d found something, something he wanted.” – Hester Shaw

Mortal Engines seemed to have a lot of fanfare when it was being made. But once it was about to come out, that fanfare had died down and ultimately, it bombed at the box office.

I did have an interest in this because Peter Jackson was behind it. But once I found out that he wasn’t directing this, my interest died down and I figured I’d see what the public’s consensus was before jumping in, headfirst.

This is a pretty weak film. Now it isn’t bad but it completely lacks the spirit of Jackson’s most famous films: the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Maybe that’s because he didn’t direct it or because the story itself just wasn’t strong enough.

Now the idea behind the story is cool. This is a really neat concept as it is about massive cities that move around and steal the resources of smaller settlements. At least, that’s what the film was sold to me as. This picture really just showcases one city: London. Maybe the sequels would have shown more moving cities, which could have been badass had this film succeeded and its sequels weren’t cancelled.

Moving cities battling other moving cities almost sounds like the makings of a kaiju movie where the giant monsters are the cities themselves. That could have been cool but now we’ll probably never see it, unless someone steals the idea for another film or if there is another attempt at this young adult novel series several years in the future. But really, this would probably work better as a television series.

I thought that the acting was pretty good and Hugo Weaving really owned the scenes he was in. However, Stephen Lang’s performance, as the cyborg Shrike, was actually chilling to the bone. He was the best, most complex character in the film and even though you initially see him as an unstoppable force of evil, the more you learn about him, the more you understand what his motivations are and how there is a tortured human being’s soul buried under his metal shell and wires.

By comparison though, a lot of the other characters besides Weaving and Lang, felt a bit flat.

The special effects were impressive but this is a Peter Jackson produced motion picture with his effects studio Weta providing those effects. That being said, you can expect to be as impressed by the visuals of this film as you were with Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations.

It’s a shame that this wasn’t a better motion picture and that it ultimately flatlined upon arrival because it would have been really cool to see another epic fantasy trilogy by Peter Jackson. Also, the video games could have been incredible. But alas, I guess we’ll have to wait to see Jackson wow us once again. But hopefully, the next big fantasy or sci-fi film he’s a part of will see him once again in the director’s chair.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other YA novel adaptations of recent years: The Maze RunnerDivergent, etc.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Release Date: December 5th, 2002 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean (Extended Edition), Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 179 Minutes, 235 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth… Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain side… Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time… The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life age of the earth… But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve been sent back until my task is done.” – Gandalf

I have seen all of these movies probably a dozen times but it has been several years now since revisiting them. From memory, I always thought of The Two Towers as the weakest of the trilogy but it is still a masterpiece and a perfect film for what it is: a bridge between the beginning and the end.

It also ups the ante quite a bit and is more epic in scale, as the two final battles alone are bigger than anything we saw in the first film, apart from the intro that showed the fall of Sauron millennia earlier.

But, really, the climax to this motion picture is absolutely amazing. If you are a fan of epic battles, this does not disappoint. If you are a fan of fantasy, this should definitely satisfy your palate.

All the key players are back and that includes Sean Bean’s Boromir, who died in the previous movie. Granted, he is only in a couple of flashbacks in the Extended Edition but it’s great to see him and to get more context in regards to how Gondor is run and the relationship between Boromir, Faramir and their father.

The return of Gandalf and the shift in power away from Saruman and to him is a really great moment that helps turn the tide towards the light. Ian McKellan was superb and his character’s evolution was incredible. The continuation of his battle with the Balrog is one of my favorite cinematic moments of all-time.

It is Viggo Mortensen who steals the show, however. While he was great in the first picture and was perfectly cast, he truly shines here and anyone watching this film would want to follow him, which is great considering what his role is in the goings on of Middle Earth and how this series ends in the following film.

If you are going to watch these films, you should always watch the Extended Editions, as they provide more story, better context and a heftier helping of the meat and potatoes. The Extended Edition of The Two Towers offers a lot of extra footage that isn’t in the original theatrical version. It isn’t so much that it makes it a different film but it certainly makes it a better one.

The Two Towers is perfect. It is a masterpiece like the other two pictures in the trilogy. It is the weakest, sure, but I’d rather be the weakest film in this trilogy than the best film in the Transformers series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Release Date: December 10th, 2001 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Sala Baker, Peter Jackson (cameo)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 178 Minutes, 208 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“[Gandalf is standing on the bridge, in front of the Balrog] You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!” – Gandalf

This was a definite treat to revisit, especially since I just revisited The Hobbit trilogy beforehand. I wanted to watch them in chronological order for the first time but having now seen this again, a film I have probably seen a dozen times already, I have an even greater appreciation for it, as it’s truly perfection.

Unlike those Hobbit movies, The Fellowship of the Ring and its two sequels, didn’t have identity issues. It has a consistent tone throughout and it knows exactly what it needs to be and how to accomplish that. This was Peter Jackson at his absolute best and this is a timeless movie and will continue to be for generations.

Being that this was the first major live action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, makes its level of perfection something truly special and a feat that proves that the impossible can be possible. I should state, though, that the Soviets and the Finnish did their own live action adaptations before this but no one has really seen them and they weren’t done with the resources and budget that allowed this story to really live and breathe the right way.

I’ve tried to think of negatives for the sake of this review but the acting is superb, the directing and cinematography are flawless and the special effects are better than anything else that predates this film. Also, the issues that exist with The Hobbit films don’t exist with this one.

We have real human beings in prosthetics and makeup as the orcs and goblins. Also, the film isn’t afraid to rely on some other practical effects. Sure, there is CGI galore but the film doesn’t default to it and it’s why this looks better than The Hobbit films, which started coming out 11 years later.

The best thing about this film is its spirit. You immediately care about these characters, all of them, they mesh well pretty exceptionally, and none of them look stupid like most of the dwarves in The Hobbit. Gimli, the main dwarf in this story, looks like a real character and not a cartoon caricature.

Also, you care about the journey and how it is taking a toll on everyone in the party. You feel their emotions, their stress and their burden in seeing things through no matter what the cost.

The action is stupendous and the big battle at the end of the film is incredible. Also, the wizard battle between Gandalf and Saruman is incredibly badass.

Howard Shore, who scored all of these Tolkien pictures, did a much better job at creating the themes for these films than The Hobbit trilogy. The music here hits the right notes and it’s all become pretty iconic.

There is a reason why this film gave birth to Tolkien Fever in the early 2000s. Everything about it was just right and it was a real example of filmmaking and storytelling perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.