“Six months after the events depicted in The Matrix, Neo has proved to be a good omen for the free humans, as more and more humans are being freed from the matrix and brought to Zion, the one and only stronghold of the Resistance. Neo himself has discovered his superpowers including super speed, ability to see the codes of the things inside the matrix and a certain degree of precognition. But a nasty piece of news hits the human resistance: 250,000 machine sentinels are digging to Zion and would reach them in seventy-two hours. As Zion prepares for the ultimate war, Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are advised by the Oracle to find the Keymaker who would help them reach the source. Meanwhile Neo’s recurrent dreams depicting Trinity’s death have got him worried and as if it was not enough, Agent Smith has somehow escaped deletion, has become more powerful than before and has fixed Neo as his next target.” (courtesy IMDB)
In 1999 a science fiction ‘sleeper’ electrified movie audiences with its tale of alternate realities, apocalyptic imagery and displays of martial arts that appeared to defy space and time. The $65 million Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow release unveiled the story of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a sallow computer hacker reborn as Neo, a cyberpunk messiah. The film’s cryptic catchphrase “What Is The Matrix?” challenged viewers to address the notion that present-day reality is, in fact, a dream conjured by machines that have turned the tables on the human race, enslaving them as a source of electrical energy.
The Matrix (1999) went on to win four Oscars, including one for its special effects. The movie’s sophisticated visuals set new precedents in popular culture and spawned countless copycats that cashed in on its signature Bullet-Time effects, in which characters cavorted through frozen-time environments. Both Shrek (2001) and Scary Movie II (2001) used Bullet-Time to comedic effect, but other imitators were more overt. At first, effects supervisor John Gaeta felt the imitators were paying a great compliment, as many of them were actually funny, coming from friends in the effects industry but, after a while, it became overwhelming: “Charlie’s Angels (2000) irked us because it was so blatant. In my opinion, the only person who has done anything unique with virtual camera technology, in terms of using it for exposition, is David Fincher. We respect that because he’s utilising the tools.”
Industry and public praise for the effects in The Matrix challenged the film’s two writing-directing brothers Andy Wachowski and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski to delve deeper into the virtual realm when contemplating a sequel. The brothers were exhilarated by the response to the first film, and they felt empowered to write the extension to their science fiction story the way they wanted to. Though the effects of the first film were universally hailed, the technology of the day had allowed the brothers to only partially realise their ambitious vision. Raising the bar for the sequel, the dynamic duo re-teamed with John Gaeta and a long list of visual effects vendors from around the world.
While writing the script, they started thinking about the essence of being truly ‘superhuman’. Within the matrix everything is really a state of mind, a mental self-actualisation of one’s abilities and the filmmakers wanted to visually depict that power, simulating events that Neo was a part of. The extension of the story ultimately amounted to a five-hour saga divided into two films – The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) – chronicling Neo’s efforts to disarm the forces of the matrix before the machines destroy humanity’s final refuge in the subterranean city of Zion. Part one would reveal the nature of Neo’s true identity, while part two would resolve the war with the machines.
Six months after the events of the first movie, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) receives a message from Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) calling an emergency meeting of all of Zion’s ships. Zion has confirmed the last transmission of the Osiris (seen destroyed in the excellent Animatrix anthology DVD release): an army of sentinel robots is tunneling towards Zion and will reach it within a matter of days. Commander Lock (Henry J. Lennix) orders all ships to return to Zion to prepare for the onslaught. Morpheus defies this order and takes the Nebuchadnezzar out so Neo can contact the Oracle (Gloria Foster).
Meanwhile, aboard a ship called the Caduceus, Bane (Ian Bliss) encounters Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) while in the matrix. Smith takes over Bane’s avatar, then uses it to leave the matrix, gaining control of Bane’s body in the real world. Back in Zion, Morpheus announces the news of the advancing machines to the people, while Neo returns to the matrix to meet the Oracle and her bodyguard Seraph (Collin Chou), who instruct Neo to reach the source of the matrix by finding the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), a prisoner of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). As the Oracle departs, Smith arrives to demonstrate his ability to duplicate himself using other people in the matrix as hosts, prompting a so-called ‘Burly Brawl’ between Neo and Smith’s duplicates, and eventually Neo is forced to retreat from the increasingly overwhelming numbers.
The Merovingian refuses to release the Keymaker, but his wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci) betrays him and leads Neo, Morpheus and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to the Keymaker. Neo holds off the Merovingian’s servants while Morpheus and Trinity escape with the Keymaker via a busy highway. In the real world, Zion’s remaining ships prepare to battle the machines but, within the matrix, the crews of the Nebuchadnezzar, the Vigilante and the Logos help the Keymaker and Neo reach the source of the matrix. The Logos is successful, while the Vigilante is bombed in the real world, killing everyone on board. Eventually the Keymaker unlocks the door to the source of the matrix, allowing Neo and Morpheus to escape, but the Keymaker is killed by one of the many Agent Smiths.
Neo meets a program known as the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), the creator of the matrix. The Architect explains that Neo is part of the design of the matrix, and unless Neo returns to reboot the matrix and pick survivors to repopulate the soon-to-be-destroyed Zion, the matrix will crash killing everyone connected to it. Combined with Zion’s utter destruction, this would mean mankind’s extinction, but the machines would survive. Neo learns of Trinity’s situation and chooses to save her instead. As she falls off a building, he flies in and catches her, then removes a bullet from her body and restarts her heart. Back in the real world, sentinels destroy the Nebuchadnezzar, and Neo displays a new ability to disable the machines with his thoughts, but falls into a coma from the effort. The crew are picked up by another ship called the Hammer, and are told the remaining ships were wiped out by the machines after someone activated an EMP too early. Bane, who has murdered the rest of the Caduceus crew, is revealed to be the only survivor.
The Matrix Reloaded ends with a cliffhanger that promises further machine mayhem in The Matrix Revolutions. A teaser trailer attached to the credit roll offered glimpses of the approximately 750 different visual effects shots that were still in production at the time, and it set the tone for a shift in emphasis in the final installment of the three-part saga. Two-thirds of Reloaded takes place in the matrix but, in Revolutions, the proportion switches – two-thirds of the visual effects content is set in the real world, with about one-third in the matrix. In fact there are so many fully-CGI shots in Revolutions that, at a certain point, it almost becomes an animated movie. But that’s another story for another time. Right now I’ll politely ask you to please join me next week on Horror News when I have the opportunity of inflicting a pain beyond pain, an agony so intense it shocks the mind into instant mashed potato! Till then, toodles!