After the Back to the Future trilogy tried the whole “shoot two sequels to a successful film back to back” thing, it wouldn’t be for another thirteen years before the same process was tried again. And once again, it would be two sequels based off of a surprisingly successful science fiction movie, which were then released about six months apart from each other. The Matrix was released in 1999 and changed movie-making forever with its use of special effects, revolutionary bullet-time technique, and its incorporation of philosophy into the story. It took the movie-going world by storm, at least that’s what I’ve come to understand about the movie by reading about it, since when it actually came out I was about six years old. I didn’t end up seeing the movie until 2008 or so, long after the movie had blown so many people away, as well as long after the sequels let so many people down.
Yeah, the Matrix sequels are pretty well known for not being very good, but we’ll get into that. Back in 2003 it must have been incredible to be a Matrix fan. Over the course of the year, viewers would be treated to not one, but two sequels that promised to expand upon the Matrix universe and reveal more about the post-apocalyptic world the characters existed in. I’m actually not sure I should even be analyzing this series on this blog, because even though it consists of three movies and tells a single, self-contained story, the two sequels really feel like one movie split in two, with The Matrix Reloaded being acts one and two, and The Matrix Revolutions being a long, drawn out act three. Still, the movies are technically classified as The Matrix Trilogy, so I’ll give them a shot anyway.
So like I said, I didn’t end up seeing the first Matrix movie until long after it had come out and the hype had died down. I first watched it on a road trip on a tiny portable DVD player, so naturally I didn’t enjoy it very much. When I eventually sat down to watch it in a more comfortable setting, I liked it a whole lot more. It has this reputation of just being a crazy action movie, so I found it surprising that there actually wasn’t much action until the final thirty minutes. It explores the idea of reality not being what we think it is, and creates an interesting scenario where humans have been taken over by machines and are now living in a false reality. I’m not interested in philosophy all that much, but I found the discussions the characters have in the movie to be fascinating. Other than that, though, the movie is just kind of whatever to me. I didn’t really find any of the characters themselves all that interesting, and while the action is cool and certainly revolutionary, I had seen bullet-time parodied so much by the time I finally watched the it that they kind of fell flat for me (though that is absolutely not the fault of the movie). It’s a really good movie overall that introduces some interesting concepts without delving into them too much, and would have worked perfectly fine as just a single, standalone sci-fi action movie that is also pretty smart.
The first Matrix became a phenomenon when it came out, so obviously sequels would eventually be in the works. Regardless of how the Matrix sequels turned out, I would never criticize the filmmakers for making them in the first place. The original movie opened up a whole world ready to be explored in further stories, and so it makes perfect sense that the Matrix sequels were made. That said, while I hesitate to call them both bad movies in general, they certainly were not worthy follow ups to the first movie. Both movies were released in 2003 to mixed reception, and over time the public’s opinion of them has gone down and down. In the long run, they have been seen as huge disappointments.
My own opinion on the movies has fluctuated over the past few years since I first saw them, but one thing has always been apparent to me: they should have been edited into one movie. Just cut down on all the filler, all the action scenes that go on for far too long, all the random scenes that made no sense (the techno rave scene in particular), and bam, you have a two and a half hour sequel that, while it wouldn’t have been as good as the first movie, at least the mediocrity wouldn’t be spread over two whole movies. That way, they may have been able to move on to a true third film to really tie things up and send the series off on a higher note than what we have now. In that situation, the Matrix trilogy could have been something special overall, rather than just one really good movie and two sequels that, while not completely terrible, should really just be ignored.
Looking at the movies individually, The Matrix Reloaded is really just sort of bland. It plays it somewhat safe as far as being a sequel to The Matrix. It has some pretty good action scenes (all of which go on way longer than they should) in the spirit of the original, and introduces some new concepts to the idea of the Matrix that might interest some viewers, but will more than likely just confuse others. Honestly, the movie isn’t all that bad, and when it’s over you might think “well, that was okay, but at least there’s a third movie that’ll answer all the questions I have.” Little did you know that after watching the third film, The Matrix Revolutions, you’d be left with even more questions.
That’s pretty much how audiences felt back in 2003. The Matrix Reloaded was released in May of that year, and while people were confused and probably underwhelmed by it, they held out hope that the upcoming third movie would fix and explain everything. The movie was still a huge success, since everyone just had to go see the sequel to The Matrix, but that success would be short lived. The Matrix Revolutions was released in November of that year to very negative feedback. It was successful in its first weekend due to diehard fans needing to know how it all ended, but after everyone who cared saw it and was let down, the movie brought in hardly any more money, and is mostly forgotten these days.
I first saw the third movie shortly after I saw the second, though I was warned by several people that it was really bad. That negative hype resulted in my opinion on the movie being much higher than it would have been, as I actually quite enjoyed it the first time I saw it. It has a lot of action and war sequences, and the gigantic scope of it all really appealed to me. But after reflecting on it a bit I realized that that was all the movie was: a big dumb action movie, when the series needed to end on something with a lot more substance to it. At that point, my opinion on the movie lowered to about the same level as everyone else’s, and I now see it as one of the more disappointing third movies out there, even if the second movie wasn’t very great either. It was one of the many movies at the time that succumbed to the idea that as long as you pack the screen with CGI, the audience won’t notice that there’s actually not all that much to the movie aside from that.
If I’m sounding too negative about these movies, fear not! My opinion on them actually raised quite a bit recently, after I listened to the commentaries on them by Rocco Botte (of Mega64 fame). Rocco talks along with the movie as you watch it, pointing out all sorts of themes and ideas that I never noticed before. I found it pretty fascinating, and I had to admit, there’s a lot more to the two sequels than I ever gave them credit for. I still don’t like them very much, but at least they are smarter than I originally thought. I’ll put a link to Rocco’s commentaries below in case anyone is interested.
So yeah, I wouldn’t say the Matrix trilogy works very well as a movie trilogy. Ignoring the fact that I and many others find the sequels to be subpar at best, they don’t even feel like two separate movies in their own right. Reloaded doesn’t have an ending, it just kind of stops, while Revolutions doesn’t really have a beginning, it just kind of starts. As such, the series doesn’t have that three act structure I feel a great trilogy should have, and so I can’t say it’s one of the great trilogies out there, or even a particularly good one. The first movie is an amazing concept adapted into a really good film, but it’s followed by so much mediocrity that you might as well only watch that one and skip the others.
But that’s just me. Again, if you ever end up watching the sequels again (or for the first time), here’s a link to Rocco Botte’s commentaries, which will absolutely make for a more interesting viewing experience: http://roccobotte.com/