Talking Movies: Speed

Talking Movies

Released: 10 June 1994
Director: Jan de Bont
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $30 to 37 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, and Joe Morton

The Plot:
Los Angeles Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) specialist Jack Traven (Reeves) is sent to diffuse a bomb that revenge-driven extortionist Howard Payne (Hopper) has planted on a city bus. However, there’s a catch: passenger Anne Porter (Bullock) must keep the bus above fifty miles an hour or else the bomb will detonate!

The Background:
Speed was the brainchild of screenwriter Graham Yost, who was inspired by The Runaway Train (Konchalovsky, 1985) and thought the concept would be made more exciting if the train had a bomb on it and had to maintain a certain speed. Initially, the entire film was set on the bus and would culminate in a dramatic crash through the iconic Hollywood Sign but the ending was changed and the script was altered in order to sell the concept to 20th Century Fox, with Yost even working with Joss Whedon to refine the script’s dialogue and heavily alter Traven into a more earnest character. Reeves prepared for the role by shaving his head and incorporating his prior experiences on Point Break (Bigelow, 1991), and, after Halle Berry turned down the role of Annie, worked closely with Bullock to develop chemistry between their characters. Speed was a massive financial success; it made over $350 million at the box office and was widely praised for its action and intensity. While the sequel was a dismal critical and commercial failure, Speed remains one of the best action movies of the nineties and, considering that today is Keanu Reeves’ birthday, this seems like the perfect time to revisit the film.

The Review:
Speed begins not on a bus on the Los Angeles highway but in a large office skyscraper where a bunch of well-dressed, successful businesspeople find themselves trapped in a lift and held to ransom courtesy of a bomber we will later learn is named Howard Payne. For now, though, he’s just a maniacal madman who places a bomb on the lift and demands a $3 million ransom for the safety of his hostages, so the Los Angeles Police Department send in their S.W.A.T. team to try and free the hostages before the bomb can go off. The team is led by Lieutenant Herb “Mac” McMahon (Morton), who meticulously co-ordinates his guys with one primary goal in mind: the evacuation of the building’s occupants and the maintenance of protocol to avoid upsetting the bomber and unnecessarily losing lives.

Jack comes up with a unique solution when Harry is taken hostage by a mad bomber.

Jack Traven is a point man in Mac’s team; a bit of a wise-ass, Jack’s snark doesn’t float with Mac, who orders both him and his friend and fellow officer, Harry Temple (Daniels), to investigate the explosive device but strictly forbids them from interfering with it. While Jack remains professional enough to offer words of comfort to the trapped inhabitants, who have no idea of the predicament they’re in, Harry is the expert on explosives and Jack is far more likely to go with his gut instincts regarding the whole situation. Jack deduces that the bomber has every intention of blowing the lift whether he gets paid or not, and showcases his adaptability by rigging a nearby crane to take the weight of the lift, thereby ensuring the hostages’ safety when his hunch turns out to be right (though Payne only blows the lift because of Jack’s interference). Further deducing that their perpetrator is in the building, Jack sets out to track him down, with Harry reluctantly in tow; when Payne gets the drop on them, he takes Harry as a hostage and tries to use him as leverage to ensure his escape but Jack puts into motion his unique approach to such a situation and wounds Harry with a bullet to the leg and Payne appears to kill himself with a suicide vest. Unbeknownst to Jack, Payne survived the explosion and watches with glee as Jack and Harry are commended for their bravery and fortitude; Harry even gets a promotion to detective but warns Jack that they got lucky and that “luck runs out”.

Jack leaps aboard the bus and finds an ally in the annoying Annie, who takes the wheel.

Pissed off that Jack’s interference cost him $3 million, the maniacal Payne strikes by blowing up a bus and its driver right in front of Jack; Payne then calls Jack from a nearby payphone and challenges him to stop him once more. This time, he’s placed his bomb on another bus that will explode once the vehicle goes over fifty miles an hour, and specifically declares his intention to set off the bomb if any passengers are evacuated or if he doesn’t get his ransom in about three hours’ time. Naturally, Jack races to locate the bus and this is when we’re introduced to easily the most annoying character in the film, Annie Porter, played by one of my least favourite actresses in all of cinema, Sandra Bullock. A loud and flighty character, Annie has been forced to take the bus since she lost her driving license on a speeding charge and is the first to actively speak up when Jack dramatically leaps his way aboard the bus. However, when the driver, Sam Silver (Hawthorne James), is injured by an errant gunshot, Annie finds herself in way over her head and taking a central role as the panic-stricken driver of the bus.

Jack is wracked with anger when Payne causes the deaths of a passenger and his close friend.

On the bus, Jack finds an assortment of normal, everyday Los Angeles citizens, including Doug Stephens (Alan Ruck), a tourist on his first visit to the city who offers wry commentary, and Helen (Beth Grant), a regular passenger whose utter terror results in her being another of Payne’s casualties. When he first boards the bus, Jack is first faced with Annie’s loudmouth but the situation unexpectedly escalates when Ray (Daniel Villarreal) pulls a gun on him and demands the bus be stopped. Thanks to Gigantor Ortiz (Carlos Carrasco), Ray is disarmed but Sam is shot in the process, meaning Annie has to take over and, while tensions inevitably flair between the frightened passengers, Jack is eventually able to calm them. He does an equally good job of offering encouragement and support to Annie while remaining focused and pragmatic about the entire situation. Thankfully, he has Harry on the line to offer his insight on the bomb, which is packed full of C4, flanked by a number of decoy wires, and wired into a regular gold wristwatch. Bothered by the unreliability of the timer and the unpredictability of the bomber’s methods, Harry conducts a thorough investigation not just into criminals but into former cops and uncovers the bomber’s identity as a former member of the Atlanta Police Department bomb squad. Unfortunately, Harry’s desperation to nail Payne and help his friend leads to his tragic and untimely death as Payne rigged his home with an explosive booby-trap that kills Harry and, in one of the film’s (and Keanu’s) most emotionally impactful scenes, sees Jack enraged into a frenzy and swearing to make the bomber pay for his actions.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Speed is an exercise in tension and excitement; since the bus is forced to stay in constant motion, and over fifty miles an hour, the sheer level of pressure faced by Jack is reflected in the pacing and frantic nature of the film. Even when the bus gains a police escort, they’re never far out of danger; first it’s the gunman, Ray, then Helen nearly blows the whole thing (literally) by trying to escape from the bus as Sam is safely unloaded in an act of faith on Payne’s part, and then they start to run out of road. Even when Jack directs Annie to circle the airport indefinitely, he has to worry about the bus’s severed fuel line and is constantly having to adapt to new problems on the fly.

Jack is more than physically capable of taking on Payne’s sadistic challenge

Thankfully, Jack is more than capable of meeting Payne’s challenge; a focused and driven individual with a strong moral compass, he isn’t afraid to leap head-first into action but is also switched on enough to consider all of his options, while still acting on instinct the vast majority of the time. He commandeers a civilian’s car in a desperate attempt to warn Sam about the danger on his bus and, when that fails, he dramatically leaps from the car and onto the bus despite the fact that both vehicles are travelling at well over fifty miles per hour. While on the bus, he is as honest and forthcoming with the passengers as possible while still doing everything he can to keep things under control and exudes a confidence that, for the most part, keeps the passengers calm. Disgusted at Payne’s lunacy, Jack walks a fine line between negotiating and satisfying the bomber while making it abundantly clear that he has a personal vendetta against Payne. Desperate to keep the passengers safe, Jack doesn’t hesitate to try and disarm the bomb from underneath the bus and, once he figures out how Payne is monitoring them, he comes up with a genius and often copied/parodied solution of looping Payne’s video feed, thus outsmarting his opponent and safely evacuating the passengers.

The bus makes for some of the film’s most tense and action-packed moments.

Of course, much of the film’s action revolves around the tension and drama on the bus; while Mac works to keep the roads clear and safe for Jack, Annie is forced to plough head-first through the dense Los Angeles traffic, make sudden and hard turns to avoid collisions, and, of course, to make a seemingly impossible leap to cross an unfinished freeway. While it’s perhaps a little unlikely that such a large and cumbersome vehicle would be able to make such a jump, especially with the added weight of all those passengers, it does make for a thrilling scene that’s one of the film’s most memorable moments. Once the bus hits the airport, it’s largely out of danger and Jack’s focus switches to figuring out how Payne can always know so much; after making the connection between Payne’s seemingly random “Wildcat” reference, Jack discovers that Payne has a camera rigged on the bus and has Mac commandeer Payne’s signal to loop the feed. It’s lucky, and seemingly unlikely, that Payne only had the one camera on the bus (and that he didn’t rig up a microphone or other device so he could hear what was going on as well) but, when he figures out that he’s been duped out of his money again, the mad bomber decides to take a more direct approach for the film’s finale.

The film ends with a showdown on, and on top of, a runaway subway train!

After Jack and Annie’s dramatic (and explosive) escape from the bus, Payne disguises himself as a police officer, abducts Annie, straps her into an explosive vest, and escapes into the subway with his money and his hostage. Having eliminated Jack’s “shoot the hostage” strategy, Payne hijacks a subway train, handcuffing Annie to the inside, and makes his getaway, but is driven into a psychotic rage when he discovers his ransom is rigged with paint that makes it worthless. Jack, ever the man of action, pursues and boards the train, drawing Payne into a confrontation on the train’s roof! Despite being Payne older, insane, and handicapped by his missing thumb, the mad bomber is initially able to overwhelm is younger, stronger foe thanks to the threat of the detonator in his hand. However, Jack is able to behead Payne using an overheard railway signal (delivering an odd quip about being taller in the process), ending his threat once and for all while keeping Annie safe. Thanks to Payne’s trigger finger, though, the train is left out of control; with no way to free Annie from her cuffs and few options left, Jack opts to speed the train up and send it crashing out onto Hollywood Boulevard. Unbelievably, the two are left unharmed beyond the few scrapes and cuts they picked up from escaping the bus, and the film closes with them finally acting on the middling amount of sexual tension they shared during the film’s chaotic events while a gaggle of spectators look on.

The Summary:
I hate to say it, but I’ve never really been that big a fan of Speed. The premise is certainly unique, and definitely ends up being much more than just “Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988) on a bus” thanks to the high-octane thrill of a bus that cannot slow down and the many different obstacles that get in the way of that premise. Where it excels is in the performances of Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper; whenever anyone tries to tell me that Keanu is “wooden”, I point them to his intense and emotional fit of rage at learning of his friend’s death and his performance is only bolstered by Hopper’s maniacal bomber. Hopper is as much of a highlight as the ever-escalating action on the bus, which ploughs through traffic, red lights, and even inexplicably leaps a gap in the freeway in a bid to stay over fifty mile an hour. Where the film slightly falls, for me, though is in the casting of Sandra Bullock and her ever-grating performance as the flustered Annie (who’s as much of a liability as she is an asset) and the ending, which attempts to out-do the intensity felt on the bus with a runaway subway train and maybe pushes its luck a little too far. It’s an oddly contradictory film as well, feeling both too long and yet well-paced at the same time, but it’s definitely an entertaining and intense spin on the action genre. Speed is worth your time for Reeves, Hopper, and the sequences on the bus alone and is a great showcase of Reeves’ range and capability as an actor and leading man.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Speed? What did you think of the film’s premise and Keanu’s performance? Are you a fan of Sandra Bullock, or did she also bring the film down a notch for you? Did you enjoy the tense sequences on the bus and Dennis Hopper’s maniacal Howard Payne? How did you react when Harry met his untimely end? Would you have liked to see Keanu return in the sequel? How are you celebrating Keanu Reeves’ birthday today and what are some of your favourite roles of his? Whatever you think, go ahead and sign up to leave a comment down below or let me know on my social media.

Talking Movies [Sci-Fi Sunday]: The Matrix Resurrections


January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I have decided to spend every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.


Talking Movies

Released: 22 December 2021
Director: Lana Wachowski
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $190 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jonathan Groff, and Neil Patrick Harris

The Plot:
Twenty years after the events of The Matrix Revolutions (Wachowski Brothers, 2003) Neo (Reeves) lives a seemingly ordinary life as Thomas A. Anderson in San Francisco where his therapist prescribes him blue pills. However, when Morpheus (Abdul-Mateen II) offers him a red pill, Neo finds his mind reopened to the world of the Matrix.

The Background:
Andy and Larry Wachowski (as they were known then) hit upon their greatest and most notable success when they were able to sell Warner Brothers on The Matrix, a science-fiction film that was heavily influenced by manga and anime and made an instant and lasting impression on cinema by popularising “bullet time” and “wire-fu”. Produced for a paltry $63 million, The Matrix was a massive hit that is spawned not only two sequels but a whole slew of multimedia merchandise. However, neither of the sequels garnered quite the same critical reaction as the quasi-cult hit original; while the directors were content to allow the story to be continued, and ended, in The Matrix Online (Monolith Productions, 2005 to 2009), rumours continued to persist that a fourth film was being considered, with stars Reeves and Hugo Weaving both expressing interest in revisiting the franchise. Development of a continuation finally gained traction in 2017, when writer Zack Penn was confirmed to be working on a fourth instalment of some kind; although Lily Wachowski chose not to commit to such a large scale production, she gave her blessing and her sister, Lana, officially returned to direct the fourth film alongside returning stars Reeves and Cary-Anne Moss. Framed as a direct continuation of where the third film left off, fans were left confused when the first trailer dropped and Lawrence Fishburne announced that he was the only member of the original cast not asked to return. The movie also attracted undue criticism when filming damaged buildings and street lights in San Francisco, and was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but The Matrix Resurrections finally released and accrued a disappointing $15738 million at the box office. It was also met with largely mixed reviews; critics praised the film’s sentimental value and the return of its familiar characters while also criticising it as a redundant revisitation suffering from muddled execution.

The Review:
If you’ve read my review of the original film, you’ll know that The Matrix is one of my all-time favourite films and franchises; I was obsessed with the first film when it came out and watched it religiously on sleepovers with friends. The film was ground-breaking and endlessly alluring at the time and, while some elements haven’t aged too well, it remains a firm favourite of mine. I even really enjoy the blending of philosophy and high-octane action featured in the second film and, though I was disappointed by the third, I felt like the trilogy had been wrapped up decently enough and was somewhat annoyed to find that the franchise was going to be dusted off some twenty years later (twenty years! Man, do I feel old!) as I felt like the story had been told and it seemed like a cheap cash grab to me. But…it’s the Matrix, and I do love me some Keanu Reeves, so I was obligated to check it out if only to satisfy my own morbid curiosity and having been intrigued by the vague trailers and marketing.

Thing are not all they seem for Thomas Anderson, whose perception of reality is skewed by fragmented memories.

It’s a good job that I am such a fan of Keanu’s and the Matrix franchise as those elements ended up being some of the best parts of The Matrix Resurrections. Framed as a kind of re-quel, which treads over familiar ground (and even splices in footage of the original trilogy as flashbacks and dream sequences) while advanced the story twenty years after the last film. Despite apparently sacrificing his life to bring about peace between the machines and the humans of Zion, the man once known as Neo is alive and well in a new version of the Matrix, one without the green tint and grungy filter. Back in his original identity of Thomas A. Anderson, he is a successful videogame designer who found fame and fortune by creating an incredibly successful trilogy of (presumably virtual reality) videogames based on his disparate memories of the first three films. However, just as Anderson’s dreams and fragmented memories have created a virtual world for millions of players, so too have them plagued his sense of reality, and even drove him to try and leap off a rooftop in order to “fly away”. Following this apparent suicide attempt, his business partner, Smith (Groff), requests that he attend regular therapy sessions with the ominously named Analyst (Harris) and, thanks to a constant prescription of blue pills, Anderson is able to keep himself from suffering a psychotic break.

Anderson is captivated by Tiffany, whose visage stirs up memories of Trinity and he borrowed for his videogame.

Despite being deep into the production of a new videogame, Binary, for is company, Deus Ex Machina, Anderson is disturbed by Smith’s insistence that they work on a new Matrix videogame, leading to a montage sequence wherein Smith, Anderson, and his fellow programmers and stuff wax lyrical with some metatextual, on the nose commentary about big corporations mining familiar franchises just to make more money off previous successes. Sadly, this kind of fourth-wall-breaking discussion permeates a great deal of The Matrix Resurrections, with even Anderson himself being saddened to be taking a creative step backwards rather than trying something new and innovative. His only reprieve is his infatuation with Tiffany (Moss), a beautiful woman he sees on a consistent basis in a coffee house and who reminds him of Trinity, a woman from his dreams and whom he programmed into his videogame. When not struggling to strike up a conversation with her, or debating his sanity, or working on Binary, Anderson is running a singular module of The Matrix that recreates the iconic opening of the original film, but with a few alterations to mix things up, but for the most part is fairly convinced that he’s just a videogame designer with mental issues and a skewed sense of identity.

Allies old, new, and fundamentally changed work to bring Neo back to the real world.

All of that changes when he is suddenly met by a new incarnation of Morpheus, one seemingly pulled from his videogame world, who offers him a familiar choice: stay in his reality, or return to the real world. If you were wondering whether Lawrence Fishburne makes an appearance in this film, or his perhaps adopting a new avatar, you’ll be disappointed to find that Morpheus is long dead and only appears in archival footage; instead, where get this new version of Morpheus, one apparently spliced with elements of Neo’s old nemesis, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), to act as an agent within that loop. A far more mischievous version of the character, this new Morpheus is actually a sentient program, of sorts, who is able to communicate with and assist the heroes in the real world thanks to an advanced kind of nanotechnology, but he’s far from the wise mentor figure of his predecessor. Instead, he ‘s more like a necessary component to help convince Anderson to leave the Matrix and reclaim his identity as Neo, something he is largely reluctant to do thanks to the Analyst’s influence on his perception of the world. Still, Neo’s curiosity and familiarity with the words and images presented to him by Morpheus override his hesitation, and he’s soon joining Captain Bugs (Henwick) and the rest of her crew aboard the Mnemosyne hovercraft, sixty years after sacrificing himself to save Zion. Neo is disorientated and melancholy to find that his sacrifice didn’t appear to change much about the world, but Bugs takes him to the new Zion, Io, and reunites him with an elderly, cynical Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and learns that a peace does exist between man and machine. Shortly after the end of the war, the Matrix was purged of all former anomalies and blue-tinted machines helped the remnants of humanity to build a new haven and worked with them to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, while staving off attacks from the red-tinted, squid-like Sentinels that refused to abide by the peace treaty. The original Morpheus refused to believe that Neo’s sacrifice would fail, which led to Zion’s destruction, and a contingent of people have grown up idolising and even deifying Neo and Trinity for their actions, but Niobe’s primary concern is keeping her people safe, which leads to her reluctantly locking Neo up and pushing Bugs to defy her commander’s direct order and help spring Neo so that he can lead a desperate reinsertion into the Matrix to try and rescue Trinity.

The Nitty-Gritty:
If you’re a fan of the original film but haven’t really seen it in a while, then The Matrix Resurrections really has you covered, for the most part. It opens almost exactly like the original film, and the majority of its call-backs and references are to the ground-breaking original while repurposing some of the stronger elements of the sequels in new ways. One thing that is sadly largely absent from the film, however, is the kung-fu (or “wire-fu”, to be more accurate) fight scenes that so heavily influenced action cinema right up to present day. The first half of the film is a slow, introspective reintroduction to the world of the Matrix, one both familiar and disconcertingly different, as we follow Neo and try to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. Thanks to his fragmented memories and a skewed avatar, his sense of reality is more shot than ever, but he starts to piece his identity back together once he reawakens in the real world and is put through his paces by Morpheus. However, this isn’t really the all-powerful, full capable Neo we knew and loved; instead, he’s plagued by self-doubt and has no interest in fighting any more, especially after giving everything he had seemingly for nothing. While the world is noticeably better than the one he remembers, humanity is still somewhat divided; less and less people have been freed from the Matrix thanks to Niobe’s focus on keeping those who are free safe and the system of control he fought so hard against has simply been repurposed by a contingent of malevolent machines.

The new Smith offers little in the way of challenge for Neo, or interest to me as a viewer.

After his sacrifice, Neo’s body was taken away by the Analyst, who is revealed to basically have replaced the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) and is behind the stability of the Matrix’s new iteration and the resurrection of Neo and Trinity. Initially looking to study them, he patched them back together using a combination of the cloning technology used to grow humans and additional mechanic parts, only to find that their incredible bond threatened the very Matrix itself. However, when kept safely apart, their very presence in the Matrix vastly improved the energy output and acceptance of those plugged in, thus largely negating the peace Neo so desperately fought for. With Neo unplugged, the machines are on the brink and a new reboot of the system, something which Smith is adamant to prevent as it would mean he would once again be absorbed into the Matrix code. However, this is not my Smith; I’m sure Jonathan Groff is a great actor, and he’s clearly doing his best to channel Hugo Weaving at points, but he’s a faint shadow of Waving/Smith’s former greatness and I actually question including him at all. Had the filmmakers brought Weaving back and had Smith, like Neo, also suffer from fragmented memories and a new life, then maybe his inclusion would have been worthwhile but, instead, Smith feels very tacked on and largely inconsequential. There’s a moment where it seems like he and Neo would join forces this time around (and that does crop up again in the finale, with very little explanation), but it quickly gives way to a bust-up between the two that is one of the few highlights of the film, recalls their subway fight from the first film, and is spoiled only by the inexplicable and completely pointless insertion of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his exiles.

While there are some good moments, it’s mostly an unnecessary retread of things done better in the previous films.

A great deal of the film’s emphasis is, instead, on reuniting Neo with Trinity; while their romance was severely lacking in chemistry in the original trilogy, save for a few choice moments, they seem much more comfortable at ease with each other here, arguably because of the Analyst’s efforts to bestow them with new lives and personalities. While still a troubled and largely stoic reluctant saviour, Neo has a few more moments of levity here than in the original films, where he rarely showed much emotion at all, but is still as blinded by his love for Trinity as ever as he risks the fragile peace between Io and the machines by leading a risk attempt to convince her to return to him and the real world. This involves Bugs and Morpheus infiltrating the machine city, where Trinity’s body is held, with the help of their machine allies and Neo bartering with the Analyst with everyone’s future on the line. This proves to be a risky proposition as Neo’s God-like powers are both neutered and noticeably different this time around; although he still knows kung-fu, he cannot yet fly and his more acrobatic feats come in bursts, but he can still stop bullets and even has much more emphasis on creating shields and blasting foes away. The Analyst, however, proves to be a formidable foe as he’s ability to manipulate the Matrix’s famed “bullet time” technique to slow even the One to a crawl, but in the end he’s undone thanks to a tricky plot that sees Neo get through to Trinity, Bugs swap out with her physical body, and Trinity randomly revealed to be a new incarnation of the One as she and Neo fend off the Analyst’s swarm of ‘bots and fly off with a promise (more like a threat) to rebuild the world free from the Analyst’s influence.

The Summary:
I was hesitant about The Matrix Resurrections; the trailers were questionably vague and trying a little too hard to be mysterious for my liking, something which has only led to disappointment where the Matrix is concerned in the past. They also made the film seem to be a retread of the original, but over twenty years later and with some cast members inexplicably returning or absent. I feel like I could have maybe understood the need for a new Matrix movie if we’d had an entirely new cast, with maybe only Keanu returning, or seen the One reborn within the Matrix but in Keanu’s body once again (confirming a long-held theory of mine that the One always looks like Neo) rather than finding a pretty weak excuse to bring both Neo and Trinity back. It was pretty great seeing Neo back onscreen and revisiting the Matrix lore after the third movie to see where things had progressed, but I think the film played things a little too safe; not much has really changed thanks to the contingent of machines still warring against humanity, and I would have preferred to see humans and machines living and working together without any major discord and maybe have some the rogue faction be a more prominent plot point. So much of the film is focused on reintroducing Neo and the Matrix to us, which would probably be interesting for anyone who hasn’t seen the original films, but I’d wager that the vast majority of the audience has so I kind of wanted to get things moving, or maybe spend more time seeing how the Analyst was screwing with Neo’s mind rather than retreading the same old ground again but with different actors. In the end, it was an interesting enough epilogue to one of cinema’s most influential trilogies, but I honestly dread to think where the story will go when Warner Bros. greenlight an inevitable follow-up.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you seen The Matrix Resurrections? If so, what did you think to it? Did you enjoy the direction the story took Neo and how it handled his and Trinity’s resurrections or would you have preferred to see the franchise stay dormant? Which of the new was your favourite and did you like seeing how the relationship between humanity and the machines had progressed? Were you disappointed by the lack of Lawrence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and proper fight scenes? Which of the other Matrix sequels or spin-offs was your favourite? How are you celebrating National Science-Fiction Day today? Whatever you think about The Matrix Resurrections, sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check in next Sunday for more sci-fi content!

Talking Movies: Constantine

Talking Movies

Released: 18 February 2005
Director: Francis Lawrence
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $70 to 100 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, Shia LaBeouf, and Djimon Hounsou

The Plot:
Cynical exorcist John Constantine (Reeves) spends his days smoking and “deporting” demons to Hell in a desperate attempt to earn salvation before he dies from lung cancer. However, in begrudgingly helping troubled police detective Angela Dodson (Weisz) learn the truth about her twin sister’s death, he stumbles upon a much larger and darker plot to bring about the apocalypse.

The Background:
Constantine is an adaptation of DC Comics’ popular cult comic series John Constantine, Hellblazer. Created by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette and first appearing in the pages of The Saga of Swamp Thing #37 (Moore, et al, 1985) and visually inspired by British musician Sting, Constantine earned his own solo series in 1988 and became a popular anti-hero thanks to his grouchy demeanour and surreal occult misadventures and plans for a live-action adaptation of the character can be traced back as far as 1997.

Constantine was a chain-smoking, grouchy anti-hero who was well-versed in magical loopholes.

After passing through the hands of different directors and having a variety of actors attached to star, Constantine finally gained traction in 2002 but the title change wasn’t the only alteration the filmmakers made to the character: despite drawing inspiration from the “Dangerous Habits” storyline (Ennis, et al, 1991), the character was changed from a blond-haired, brown trenchcoat-wearing Liverpudlian conman to Keanu Reeves in a black coat with a cantankerous attitude. Despite this lack of fidelity to the source material, Constantine did relatively well at the box office, earning over $230 million; sadly, despite earning a well-deserved cult following over the years, the film was met with lukewarm reactions upon release, which has cast doubt over the chances for a sequel. As much as I enjoyed the later, unrelated Constantine series (2014 to 2015) and Matt Ryan’s remarkable turn in the role as part of the “Arrowverse”, I’ve always had a soft spot for Constantine and, considering that today is Keanu Reeves’ birthday, this seems like the perfect time to revisit this underrated gem.

The Review:
While not a snarky, Liverpudlian conman, Constantine is a moody, blunt, egotistical prick through and through; he’s thoroughly unlikeable in many ways with his demanding and condescending attitude but, while he acts like he has no interest in the welfare and interests of others, Constantine goes out of his way to help those in need and to exorcise any demons that are brought to his attention. Of course, he only does this out of his own self-interests; slowly and painfully dying of inoperable lung cancer, he is determined to buy his way into Heaven by “deporting” any demons and spirits that violate the rules and try to cross over. Yet, he doesn’t appear to take payment for his actions and tries, in his own grouchy and irritable way, to keep those around him safe (primarily by pushing them away to keep his conscience clean but still…)

Grouchy and rude, Constantine seeks to buy his way into Heaven by exorcising demons.

Though irritable and cantankerous, Constantine instantly recognises that something is amiss when a demon attempts to cross over to the living world and believes that something bigger and more threatening is coming as a result. He is disgusted when neither Good nor His God’s emissary, the Archangel Gabriel (Swinton), offer any assistance and resolves to sort the issue out by himself in his own sullen way. Constantine isn’t a man who suffers fools gladly and has no time for red tape, excuses, or time-wasters and, though he knows that he is destined to go to Hell for his sins, and to die from his habitual smoking, he nevertheless continues to oppose demons and angels alike as much as he continues to smoke.

Initially skeptical, Angela comes to warm to Consatntine’s abrasive demeanour.

Constantine’s investigations into this larger threat eventually cause him to cross paths with Angela, a cop who is haunted by her uncanny ability to sense where her targets are without even seeing them and tormented by the sudden apparent suicide of her twin sister, Isabel (also Weisz). Raised as a Catholic, Angela repeatedly repents for her actions as a cop and her conviction that her sister would never had killed herself leads her to Constantine, with whom she initially has a frosty relationship due to his rude and bitter nature. As the audience surrogate, we learn alongside Angela as Constantine exposits the “rules” of the wager between God and the Devil, Lucifer Morningstar (Peter Stormare), and take a dive through the nightmarish landscape of Hell itself. Angela is a tough and capable character with a real vulnerability to her; Isabel’s death clearly rattles her and there’s a definite sense that she’s way out of her element with all the supernatural mumbo-jumbo that follows Constantine and, yet, she repeatedly calls out his shit and holds her own and she only ends up in need of rescue because of her latent psychic abilities.

Constantine’s allies have complete in faith in him despite their nasty tendancy to die.

Constantine’s investigation is aided by a variety of his old allies; his constant companion is Chas Kramer (LaBeouf), here interpreted as a young and enthusiastic cab driver who is eager to be more involved with Constantine’s work and continually annoyed at the way he keeps him at arm’s length. Two more of Constantine’s allies, Beeman (Max Baker) and Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) help him to piece together the puzzle of the looming threat because they genuinely believe in and care for Constantine. Papa Midnite (Hounsou), meanwhile, is a far more reluctant ally; operating a bar that is “neutral ground” for Heaven and Hell, he refuses to get involved or to favour one side or the other. As detestable as Constantine can be at times, it’s heart-breaking to see his friends and allies die purely by association with him and it really lends a sense of tragedy to the character as it’s easy to see why he keeps them at arm’s length and is the way he is as he “doesn’t need another ghost following [him] around”. One thing I also really like about Constantine is the suggestion that Constantine, Midnite, Beeman, and Hennessy were once this team of exorcists and demon hunters and I would have loved to see their past expanded upon more in a sequel or prequel.

Constantine battles many demons but his true antagonist remains elusive.

A slight downside to Constantine is the lack of a tangible primary antagonist; Manuel (Jesse Ramirez) fulfils this role to a degree as, after finding and being possessed by the Spear of Destiny, he ominously makes his way towards Los Angeles as a constant reminder of the looming threat but he’s not an actual villain of the film and is quickly discarded once the finale kicks in. Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) somewhat fulfils this role as a scheming, devious puppet master but, again, he’s more of a lingering threat rather than a central one and, for the most part, Constantine battles against various demons and denizens from Hell, such as the decomposing soldier demons and bat-like scavengers.

Haeven and Hell join forces as Gabriel wants mankind to earn their place in God’s good graces.

As a result, for most of the runtime, the mystery of the Spear of Destiny and the impending resurrection of Mammon, the son of the Devil, takes centre stage until the very end of the film, where it’s revealed that Gabriel has been conspiring with Mammon. It turns out that Gabriel is just as jaded and weary with humankind as Constantine is with Heaven and Hell; appalled that humanity is allowed the chance to repent, no matter what their sins, and believing that people should earn their place in Heaven through true suffering, Gabriel goes behind God’s back to bring Hell to Earth through Mammon. It’s definitely a twist, especially for Constantine, who would never have guessed that an angel and a demon would join forces, and renders all of his incantations and wit mute since Gabriel’s power is unmatched, forcing him to make the ultimate sacrifice to end their combined threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing Constantine definitely really has going for it is snark; Constantine has a dry, cynical wit and biting, abrasive tone at the best of times but it makes for some amusing moments, such as when he literally points Angela in the right direction and compares Chas to other famous sidekicks, and it seems he always has a snarky comment and sardonic  response to everything happening around him.

Despite an attraction, they never act on their sexual chemistry due to Constantine’s guarded nature.

Despite this, and his demanding and patronising personality, Constantine inspires a great deal of awe and loyalty in those around him; Hennessy willingly communes with the dead and puts himself at risk even though it gives him horrible nightmares and leads to his death simply out of loyalty to Constantine and Beeman sums it up nicely, and emotionally, when, right before his own death, he tells Constantine that, despite his lack of faith, his friends have faith in him. Such is Constantine’s allure that he is able to convince reluctant middleman Midnite to get off the fence and help him (commenting that he (as in Midnite) is the “only one following the rules”) and, despite their rough start and Constantine’s abrasive nature, he builds a natural chemistry and rapport with Angela. Initially, she detests him and his rudeness but, the more she becomes exposed to his world and his beliefs, the more she comes to relate to and warm towards him. Their clear and obvious attraction is handled well and the two have great chemistry despite their conflicting personalities; they never truly consummate on this attraction, which is both surprising and frustrating since I just wanted to see them break that sexual tension.

Constantine depicts a nightmarish, fire-strewn version of Hell based largely on Catholicism.

Constantine’s approach to religion is largely based on Catholicism; rather than explore other religions or consolidate them into one, the idea seems to be that Catholicism sets the rules for this world and, as a result, suicides are condemned to Hell and repentance is the road to salvation. This simplifies matters considerably, but it does make one question how other religions fit into this world since we clearly see that Heaven, Hell, demons, angels, God, and the Devil are all real. This is best seen in Constantine’s frequent trips to Hell within the film, which is a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic mirror of our world populated by demons, tormented souls, and full of fire and suffering and even home to an extended version of the Bible. It turns out that travelling to Hell is incredibly easy and that all one has to do is die under the right circumstances for even the shortest length of time or simply sit in a bowl of water with a cat on your lap (though, to be fair, this appears to be a trick that only Constantine can pull off).

Constantine is a much more action-orientated character in the film.

As far as I can tell, Keanu’s Constantine differs from his comic book counterpart in that he is one of the few born with the ability to see demons, angels, and the “half-breeds” that walk among the living; Angela and Isabel also have this ability but, while Angela suppressed it, Isabel was constantly haunted and driven to her death by it. The same thing happened to Constantine, forever damning him to Hell upon death and driving his mission to deport half-breeds from either side when they break the “rules”. Constantine’s sorcery and magicks are downplayed compared to the source material; while Constantine has various religious and spiritual tattoos to help ward off evil spirits and is able to bring Gabriel forth at the conclusion, he primarily relies on special weaponry and gadgets provided to him by Beeman. This makes him a far more action-orientated version of the character; whereas his comic book counterpart would trick his enemies into defeating themselves or con his way out of confrontations, Keanu’s Constantine beats Balthazar into submission with a Holy knuckle duster and loads up a shotgun that blasts dragon’s breath and Holy bullets.

In the end, Constantine gets the last laugh on Lucifer through his selfless sacrifice.

Still, this is only really for one scene and, for the most part, Constantine is still more of a detective than a superhero; his methods involve a degree of preparation but he’s also able to think on the fly and use whatever he has around or on him to ward off demons (such as when he amusingly threatens Balthazar not with being deported to Hell but by reading him his last rites!) In the finale, when faced with Gabriel’s Holy power and Mammon’s inevitable resurrection, he performs the ultimate con, however, by slitting his wrists and bringing Lucifer to Earth to personally collect his soul. In the process, he’s able to bargain for the release of Isabel’s soul and is fully prepared to die and take her place in Hell, only to be lifted towards the Golden Gates of Heaven because of his selfless act. This results in one of the greatest moments in the film when Constantine flips Lucifer the middle finger as he slowly ascends to Heaven, which I always find to be incredibly in-character and enjoyable. Ultimately, though, Lucifer heals Constantine of his cancer and allows him not only to live but also gives him the chance to earn his place in Heaven; while it’s clear that Lucifer believes that Constantine won’t be able to change his cynical ways or contemptible personality, the film ends with him swapping cigarettes for gum and sardonically commenting that, after dying twice, he has come to believe that God truly does have a plan for everyone.

The Summary:
Going into Constantine, I had pretty much no knowledge of the comic book, so this was my first introduction to the character. Instead, I went in as a fan of Keanu Reeves and supernatural films and, as a result, was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Even now, as big a fan as I am of the character and Matt Ryan’s work, my experience with Hellblazer is pretty much limited to the character’s sporadic adaptations and the Original Sin (Delano, et al, 1993) graphic novel but, even so, it was this film that first made me aware of and spurred my interest in the character. As a result, if you’re unfamiliar with Constantine, I’d highly recommend this as your first exposure to the character; long-time fans of Hellblazer may have been disappointed by the many changes but, even as a Brit myself, I still really enjoy this movie for what it is: a supernatural action/horror film. There’s a lot to like here, from Keanu’s cynical portrayal of the character and his dry, bitter wit and cool, undeniable charisma to a striking and suitably terrifying interpretation of Hell and a pretty fantastic turn by Stormare as Lucifer. Obviously, Matt Ryan has delivered a far more faithful rendition of the character in the years since but, as an Americanised version of a notable British character, I think the film does really well at staying true to the spirit of Constantine and his comic books and I would definitely recommend this to anyone remotely interested in the concept.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Constantine? What did you think of the film’s concept and characters, especially Keanu’s performance? Have you ever read the Hellblazer comics? If so, what are some of your favourite stories and moments from Constantine’s history and how do you think Constantine holds up as an adaptation? Were you put off by the Americanisation of the character and, if so, do you prefer Matt Ryan’s portrayal? Would you have liked to see a sequel or Keanu return to the character in some way? How are you celebrating Keanu Reeves’ birthday today and what are some of your favourite roles of his? Whatever you think, go ahead and leave a comment down below.

Talking Movies: The Matrix

Talking Movies
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Released: March 1999
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Budget: $63 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano

The Plot:
Thomas A. Anderson (Reeves) is a nobody; by day, he sits in a cubicle and works a monotonous job as a software developer but, in his spare time, he has crafted a reputation under his hacker alias “Neo”. When he is targeted by Agent Smith (Weaving), Neo is brought to the enigmatic Morpheus (Fishburne) and offered both a startling truth and a destiny he could never have suspected.

The Background:
After managing to sell their script for Assassins (Donner, 1995) and the success of Bound (The Wachowski Brothers, 1996), Andy and Larry Wachowski (as they were known then) were able to sell Warner Brothers on another of their scripts: The Matrix. Featuring an impressive mixture of martial arts, philosophy, and science-fiction not often seen in major Hollywood releases and heavily influenced by manga and anime, particularly Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995), The Matrix made an instant and lasting impression not just on the science-fiction and action genres but on cinema as a whole. The film both popularised the concept of “bullet time” and wire-assisted kung fu (or “wire-fu”) in movies and cemented Keanu Reeves as an action star. Suddenly, parodies were everywhere and movie heroes were all sporting long dark coats, shades, and flipping all over the place and it was all largely thanks to The Matrix. When I was a kid, The Matrix as a big, big deal. My friends and I watched the film constantly, eating up the action sequences and the cool aesthetic and soundtrack. Produced on a paltry budget of $63 million, The Matrix was a massive commercial and critical hit, making over nearly $500 million worldwide. So great was The Matrix’s success that is spawned not only two sequels but a whole slew of multimedia merchandise, including comic books and videogames. While the sequels may not have garnered quite the same critical reaction as the quasi-cult hit original, The Matrix’s important at the time (and today) cannot be understated and a fourth film is currently in production, proving that The Matrix still has an enduring legacy in cinema. Considering today is “National Science Fiction Day”, this seems the perfect opportunity to look back at this classic piece of cyberpunk cinema.

The Review:
The Matrix has a pretty simple concept, one that has been done before and since in cinema, but complicates it with musings on fate, destiny, and the sense of identity and reality. At its core, the plot is incredibly simple, though: the world as we know it is merely a computer-generated construct, a form of virtual reality in which we have been enslaved by a race of machines in a post-apocalyptic world. Amidst this, though, we have themes regarding providence, choice, and some of the most impression action and fight sequences put to cinema.

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Apathetic to his everyday life, Anderson has far more prominence as “Neo”.

Our window into The Matrix is Thomas A. Anderson (or “Neo”, as he is known throughout the hacking community), a bored program developer who has lived most of his life with a feeling that there’s something not quite right with the world. Thanks to his illicit activities, he is acutely aware of the legendary Morpheus, a charismatic and prophet-like figure in Neo’s circles, and “the Matrix”, an undefined concept that is enough to rouse Neo’s curiosity. Keanu Reeves makes for a perfect audience surrogate; you instantly buy into the idea of him as an isolated, distracted hacker who is unfulfilled in his mundane life and eager for change but not quite confident enough to really buck the system more than showing up late for work or being generally apathetic. Once he meets Trinity (Moss), though, and is set on the path towards Morpheus and answers concerning the Matrix, Neo’s outlook begins to change; he was too afraid of plummeting to his death when trying to escape Smith and his cohorts but, once captured, is defiant enough to give them the finger and, after being reminded of the poor choices he’s made in life that have kept him stagnant, resolves to follow Trinity and her teammates towards an uncertain future.

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Agent Smith is a chilling, complex villain.

Opposing Neo is the aforementioned Agent Smith; in this movie, he’s just one of a number of men in black who target our heroes and are meant to be indistinguishable from each other. As the de facto leader, and the most charismatic of the three, Smith’s personality is revealed over time and in layers; he goes from a monotonous, fittingly robotic agent of the system to being wracked with personal animosity for Neo and being overcome by his own pride and hubris. Weaving is excellent in the role, exuding both menace and charm with the subtlest of movements and the merest of words and seeing him break out of his shell and reveal just how layered Smith is beneath his cold exterior is both captivating and terrifying at the same time.

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Trinity is a capable, if underwhelming, character.

Luckily, Neo is not alone in his journey; Trinity is his main link to Morpheus’s world and serves as his eventual love interest. Yet, while Carrie-Anne Moss is acceptable in the role and more than capable at holding her own in her fight scenes, I never really bought into the attraction between the two characters. People like to rag on Keanu for being “wooden” but I’ve always enjoyed his work and found him very charismatic and that’s no different in The Matrix, where’s he’s able to showcase a variety of emotions and character quirks. Trinity, however, is a very guarded and reserved character through and through; some of this is due in part to the way those awakened to the truth of the Matrix tend to be more emotionless and reserved, especially inside the Matrix, but it’s also because of her reluctance to admit her feelings to Neo out of the fear that he isn’t who she thinks he is and the fear that he is what she thinks, as it means a dramatic change for the world if true.

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Morpheus is easily my favourite character (…after Neo, of course).

Morpheus, however, fully believes in Neo from start to finish and never once does his belief falter. Morpheus is the enigmatic captain of the Nebuchadnezzar and is regarded as a legendary figure not only by Neo but his crew as well. Years ago, the Oracle (Gloria Foster) prophesised the return of “the One”, a man born inside the Matrix who would be able to manipulate it in superhuman ways and spell the end of humanity’s subjugation, and Morpheus has dedicated his entire life to finding the One. For whatever reason (it’s not really explained how or why), Morpheus believes that Neo is the One and actively seeks him out, shows him the truth, and pushes him to break beyond what he has been conditioned to know. Never once does Morpheus’s conviction falter and Fishburne makes for a very fitting mentor and father figure; he anchors the film, offering exposition, and is the heart and soul of The Matrix. Subsequent sequels may have ruined (or spoiled) Morpheus’s mystique somewhat but it’s captivating in The Matrix as he seems so infallible and believable that you can’t help but be sucked in by his words.

MatrixCrew
Most of the rest of the crew is largely expendable and inconsequential.

The rest of Morpheus’s crew is largely one-note and expendable; Switch (Belinda McClory) and Apoch (Julian Arahanga) are pretty forgettable and have maybe three lines between them and Mouse (Matt Doran) is the young, naïve crew member whose death is meant to be heartbreaking because of his youth but ends up falling a little flat as his characterisation amounts to “enthusiastic/annoying kid”. Tank (Marcus Chong) and Dozer (Anthony Ray Parker) stand out a little more thanks to Tank acting as the team’s operator (when inside the Matrix, he directs them, uploads additional training material and resources, and provides them with a way to dial out) and their status as brothers born naturally in the real world.

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Cypher was an insufferable prick but he did have a point…

Luckily, we also have Cypher (Pantoliano), the more outspoken and neurotic of the crew who takes an instant dislike to Neo thanks to his largely jaded attitude. Cypher is, if his name and Pantoliano’s scenery-chewing acting didn’t make it clear, the ultimate betrayer of the crew as he has grown disillusioned with Morpheus’s teachings and the reality of the real world and therefore deceives his crewmates, killing three of them and leaving Morpheus in the hands of Smith and the other agents. Cypher’s motivations are entirely believable, however, as the real world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but it’s still extremely cathartic to see that smug smile blown off his face after his heel turn.

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The fights are varied and grow in intensity.

Of course, as good as the majority of the cast and characters are, the film’s main draw is its extensive action and fight scenes. Thanks to a combination of computer-generated imagery (CGI), wire work, and an extensive training regime, the film’s fights are high intensity and a spectacle to see; the film begins with Trinity performing that iconic leaping kick in slow motion as the camera pans around her, includes a playfully enjoyable sparring session between Neo and Morpheus, emphasises the aggression and nigh-unstoppable nature of the agents when Morpheus is effortlessly pummelled by Smith, and ends with a long, multi-layered fistfight between Neo and Smith. Unlike the majority of action films, The Matrix presented a world where characters don’t need to appear athletically competent to perform superhuman feats as knowledge and techniques are literally downloaded into their minds, instantly turning them into a master of the arts when plugged into the Matrix.

MatrixEffects
While the sets and practical effects look great, some of the CGI hasn’t aged too well.

Unfortunately, the special effects falter a bit in the real world; the sets and interiors are great, with the film favouring the “lived in” look of similar movies like Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997) and made popular by the Aliens movies (Various, 1979 to 2017), but the CGI elements haven’t aged too well. The squid-like Sentinels, especially, look particularly cartoony these days and most of the sequences involving them and the Nebuchadnezzar don’t quite hold up to the more practical effects of the film. Similarly, some fight scenes, particularly those using bullet time or other camera tricks, can result in the actors taking on a rubbery appearance but, when they’re inside the Matrix, I feel this effect actually works better and serves to highlight the falseness of that reality.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Matrix still holds up very well to this day thanks to its enduring themes and the intensity of its otherwise over-the-top fight sequences. There are, of course, a few plot holes and questions raised by the film’s concept that are either not answered in subsequent sequels or poorly addressed. First and foremost for me is the question of how, exactly, child birth happens when humans are simply grown in endless fields. The idea of the fields themselves seems to suggest that the machines are cloning humans, but this isn’t really addressed; neither is how the awakened humans built their ship and other equipment, where their food and clothes come from, or how they don’t simply freeze to death under the scorched skies that blanket the real world.

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The machines grow and harvest humans to use them as a power source.

Most of these questions are left intentionally unanswered in this film; we’re told (briefly) about Zion, the last human city, and given snippets of information regarding their war against the machines but nothing concrete. This adds to the mystery of what exactly happened to turn the world into a post apocalyptic hellhole ruled by machines and is completely believable; if all of humanity were blasted to smithereens, why would we have any specific information some one hundred years later? Truthfully, the real world is of little consequence in The Matrix; it’s there and a stark contrast to the artificial world of the Matrix but is never portrayed as being preferable. Instead, the idea is that the truth and the concept of being free from the machines’ control is preferable to being a slave, a literal biological battery, to the will of the machines. As a result, any human awakened to the truth is immediately drafted into the resistance effort but Morpheus is explicitly honest about their chances:

MORPHEUS:
They are the gatekeepers. They are guarding all the doors, they are holding all the keys, which means that, sooner or later, someone is going to have to fight them.

MatrixAgents
The agents are the nigh-unstoppable arms of the system itself.

The agents embody this philosophy; practically nameless and faceless, the agents are able to possess (more like overwrite) any person currently plugged into the Matrix, effectively allowing them to endlessly respawn even in the rare instances that they are defeated or incapacitated. Yet, Morpheus also states that everyone who has ever tried to fight an agent has died, which isn’t that surprising considering that, as computer programs, they are faster, stronger, and far more durable than a mere human. In a reflection of Morpheus’s conviction, though, he doesn’t hesitate to take on Smith in hand-to-hand combat to allow Neo to escape; Morpheus, previously portrayed as calm, collected, and a severely disciplined fighter, is absolutely dominated in this fight. His near infallibility is then tested to the limit when the agents subject him to a concoction of drugs, torture, and questioning to try and obtain access codes to the Zion mainframe. Morpheus resists, however, and retains enough of his strength (both physical and mental) to break his bonds once Neo and Trinity affect their action-packed rescue plan and, throughout the entire movie, maintains a quiet confidence that, in time, Neo will see the truth about himself. It is therefore heartbreaking when Neo is executed by Smith, leaving Morpheus so distraught that he doesn’t even care about living any more.

MatrixTheOne
As the One, Neo effortlessly stops bullets and parries Smith’s attacks with one arm.

In the wake of Neo’s death, Trinity finds the resolve to finally admit her feelings for him and, with a kiss, restores Neo to life. As cliché as this sounds, it’s actually one of the most affecting scenes in the film; previously, the Oracle said that Neo was “waiting for something”, specifically suggesting that “something” was his next life, and Neo’s resurrection sees him assume the confident, God-like status of the One at last. His wounds healed, the speed and power of Smith is as nothing; Neo easily blocks and parries Smith’s attacks with one arm, looking hilariously and awesomely bored by the conflict, and easily dispatches the agent by blasting him to pieces. Now able to view the complex code of the Matrix itself, Neo ends the film fully able to manipulate and alert the environment as he blasts off to the sky to the sounds of Rage Against the Machine (a fitting band if there ever was one).

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The film is not without a few logistical concerns regarding its world.

This ending is as exhilarating and cathartic as you could hope for; all throughout the film, Neo has struggled with the destiny Morpheus has laid out for him and seeing him grow in confidence and ability leads to some of the film’s more impressive action and fight sequences. The gunfight between him and Trinity and a bunch of guards is worth the price of admission alone but seeing Neo effortlessly take out Smith, especially after the gruelling physical battle they went through previously, never fails to get my blood pumping. That’s not to say that the film isn’t without a few flaws, though. Chief among them, for me, is the “bug” that Smith implants into Neo; it makes sense, as he wants Neo to lead him to Morpheus, and it’s a nightmarish sequence, but it’s rendered immediately mute when Trinity pulls it out of Neo in the very next scene. Ironically, if Smith had simply just waited outside Neo’s apartment building he would have been led right to Morpheus but…no, apparently the bug is more efficient. Additionally, the scene where Neo is awakened is a bit confusing; he swallows a pill to help the crew find him in the real world, randomly gets smothered by liquid glass with no explanation, and when he does wake up the Nebuchadnezzar isn’t even there to retrieve him until he is literally flushed away. Finally, while I like that the film addresses that Neo’s eyes and muscles would have suffered atrophy, I would argue that the plugged in humans would be next to useless in the real world, especially upon being unplugged.

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The Matrix raised many questions, some which ended up with disappointing answers.

The Matrix’s philosophical musings are far less as explicit as in its sequels; here, exposition is delivered in snippets that are easy to digest and understand. There’s no double talk or complicated words here; we’re simply told as much information as these characters know and even Morpheus explicitly says that he (and even the Oracle) doesn’t have all the answers for Neo’s (or our) questions. Clearly, the film is left with many questions still to be answered but, unfortunately, it didn’t really turn out that the Wachowski’s were capable of delivering interesting answers to those questions. As a result, as much as I enjoy the sequels, neither are on the same level as the original, which is still one of the most compelling and original movies ever made that never fails to deliver despite a few flaws.

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The Summary:
The Matrix still holds up really well even after all this time; sure, some of the effects aren’t as impressive as they once were and a lot of the tricks popularised in this film have been done bigger and better since then, but it’s still a great piece of cyberpunk cinema. The sequels may have somewhat tarnished the legacy of the first film, and retroactively raise more questions than answers, but the concept and action on display in The Matrix is just as exhilarating as ever.

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The Matrix has some flaws but they’re far outweighed by the positives.

The film is also full of some strong performances; Keanu Reeves proved with this film that he was a competent leading man in Hollywood, Laurence Fishburne set himself up for similar mentor roles in the future, and the film all but launched Carrie-Anne Moss’s career and put Hugo Weaving on the map. It’s not a flawless film, or even a perfect one, but it’s still highly enjoyable from start to finish; effectively a live-action anime, The Matrix is a perfect example of a strong, original concept bringing new life into tried and tested ideas we’ve seen executed in previous films and media. Ahead of its time in many ways, The Matrix set the scene for the slew of action and superhero movies that followed and built upon many of the techniques on display here and its legacy still holds up to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of The Matrix when it first came out? Did you enjoy the sequels or do you feel they spoilt the concept of the first movie? Which of the film’s characters or many spin-offs was your favourite? Are you excited for the upcoming fourth movie or do you feel it’s maybe best to let the franchise lie? How are you celebrating National Science-Fiction Day? Whatever you think about The Matrix, or sci-fi in general, drop a comment below.

Talking Movies: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Talking Movies
JW3Logo

Released: May 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Budget: $55 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry, Mark Dacascos, and Asia Kate Dillon

Plot:
On the run with a $14 million bounty on his head, former hitman John Wick (Reeves) must fight for his life against not only a city full of assassins looking to cash in but also his former masters, who will stop at nothing to kill him.

Background:
John Wick (Stahelski, 2014) was a surprise hit that both reinvigorated Keanu Reeves’ career and showcased, with brutal glee, that violent action movies can still be popular and profitable. In a world where action movies are often watered down affairs, John Wick opted for a smorgasbord of head shots, tightly choreographed fight scenes, and high-octane, no-nonsense brutality that was only further escalated in John Wick: Chapter 2 (ibid, 2017). While Chapter 2 had a few narrative flaws, it still upped the action and the fight scenes and anticipation was high when, at the end, Wick committed the ultimate sin by killing a member of the High Table on hallowed Continental grounds.

The Review:
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (which, if we’re honest, is one hell of a mouthful of a title) picks up only a few minutes after the end of Chapter 2, with John Wick desperately battling through his wounds and scores of assassins looking to collect the $14 million bounty in order to retrieve a few personal items to help him get the bounty off of his head.

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“Survival” is the name of the game for John Wick.

With few friends left and few avenues to go down, Wick finds his life made all the more miserable when an Adjudicator (Dillon) visits his allies Winston (McShane) and the Bowery King (Fishburne) to punish them for helping Wick in Chapter 2. As part of this, she recruits the help of Zero (Dacascos) and his students to further compound the highly trained killers looking to collect on Wick’s bounty.

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Wick is forced to call in some old favours…

As with a lot of sequels, Parabellum chooses to expand its scope internationally; after battling through New York, Wick manages to secure passage to Casablanca and Wick also ends up traversing a harsh desert, helping to give the film (and its multi-layered world) a unique visual flair. Wick is forced to turn to Sofia (Berry) for help in trying to appeal to the Elder of the High Table and get his bounty lifted but, along the way, he must fight scores of assassins and killers in increasingly brutal fight scenes and action sequences. This is where the strength of Parabellum, and the John Wick franchise, lies; like its predecessors, Parabellum’s plot is incredibly simple, allowing the world and intricate network of assassins to be expanded even further while Wick uses any means necessary to stay alive.

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Wick is more than capable of handling mutliple foes…

Wick is a character who doesn’t mess around; if he has a means to kill someone, he’ll use it, and he’s more than capable of engaging bigger, or multiple, foes, even with his bare hands. Once he gets a firearm in his hands, though, he doesn’t hesitate to unload his trademark gut shot/head shot combination at every opportunity. Parabellum is largely padded out by lengthy fight scenes, some of which you could argue go on a little too long, but it honestly never gets old seeing Wick find new ways to bludgeon his enemies to death or adapt to new situations.

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Wick is a complex character at times.

I am a massive fan of Keanu Reeves; I’ve enjoyed a lot of his movies and he’s an incredibly inspirational guy in real life too. Wick is a perfect character for his particular acting style, being soft spoken and direct; he doesn’t say too much and, when he does, generally opts for simple, short statements. Wick is generally cold and calculating in battle but is quick to rage and has a truly heartbreaking reason to stay alive. While it seems like he is set to undergo a dramatic character change mid-way through the movie, however, this plot point is suddenly and strangely dropped but the reward for this is some of the most brutal and exciting fight scenes put to film.

The Nitty-Gritty:
There isn’t too much to spoil here; John Wick beats a guy to death with a book, stabs another guy in the eye, and kills his way out of pretty much every situation he is in; however, the central plot revolves around Wick trying to appeal to the Elder of the High Table to have the bounty lifted and this is where some of Parabellum’s issues lie. Wick goes to great lengths, pushing himself to the point of death, to gain an audience with the Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) and, in the end, is asked to do two things to get his bounty lifted: sever his ring finger and give up his wedding ring (and “his weakness”) and kill Winston, a man he considers a close friend. Wick, desperate to stay alive to remember his wife, doesn’t hesitate to do the former and it seems as though he is set to become the emotionless, remorseless Baba Yaga of legend but, when the time comes to kill Winston, Wick instead decides to spare his friend and fight alongside Charon (Lance Reddick) to defend the Continental.However, while they are able to route the Adjudicator’s army and Wick defeats Zero, Wick is seemingly betrayed by Winston in order for him to stay in the employ and favour of the High Table. Winston shoots Wick off the rooftop but Wick survives (thanks to his bulletproof suit and being John fuckin’ Wick) and is taken to the Bowery King, who was badly scarred by Zero earlier in the film, apparently setting the two up to fight against the High Table in a fourth movie. While it seems as though Winston knew Wick would survive and that his betrayal seems to have been planned, this turn right at the end of the film left me a little more confused than I expected to be. it seems that the conclusion is setting up Wick, Charon, Winston, and the Bowery King to join forces against the High Table and go to actual war but, instead of that or Wick degenerating into the ruthless killer he is said to have been, we’re left with an uncertain future for the inevitable fourth film, which is good for building anticipation but I think it might have landed better if it had been a bit more obvious that Winston hadn’t truly betrayed Wick.

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In Summary:
If there’s one word you could use to sum up the John Wick franchise, it’s consistency (well, “brutality” would also work…); each movie is tightly choreographed and filmed, has some spectacular action scenes, and ups the ante in an effortless way. It’s quickly become a film franchise where it’s hard to pick a favourite, as each entry is just as good as the last; though John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum has some issues with its narrative choices, it more than makes up for it with its rich world and vicious fight sequences that make it a must-see for anyone who is a fan of action movies or wants to get into the genre.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good