I watched the Matrix sequels two years ago and thought they were decent. I watched them again about six months ago and felt like the special effects were over-the-top at the expense of a compelling story. Special effects for the sake of special effects. Jurassic Park 2 and 3 have the same problem. (Though I highly recommend 1. 2 is over-the-top, but I really enjoy the Ian Malcolm character.)
The Matrix 1 was amazing in the message it conveyed: the impossibility of knowing what “reality” is. The special effects were truly innovative (it’s a 1999 movie) and changed the standard of movie effects.
The Matrix 2 and 3 just don’t make a lot of sense. How could Neo stop sentinels outside the Matrix? How could Agent Smith (a digital program) really take over a man’s mind? How could Neo see Agent Smith, if Neo is blind? If you have a theory, fill me in.
The scene with Neo fighting dozens of Agent Smith’s in the courtyard just after meeting the Oracle is way too long (over a minute and a half) and has a lot of CGI that looks really dated.
Similarly, the final fight scene versus Agent Smith in the rain around the buildings is ridiculous. They just punch each other in mid-air a bunch of times. Seriously? Neo, you’re a hacker; win your battles with brains, not just brawn.
There are a lot of examples of those fight scenes where the directors had so much money that they just threw in more and more effects that don’t actually make the movie something that sticks with you, it just becomes a big budget action movie. For example, the highway scene with people fighting on top of a semi-trailer, or the scene with Neo fighting all the bad programs on the fancy staircase.
I also have given the issue of free will a lot of thought, and am not a subscriber to the popular turn-back-the-clock model (where if time were turned back you could make a different choice). I have yet to figure out how that model is viable, yet in Matrix 2 and 3 they talk a lot about free will and making choices.
In fact, Neo’s statement right before destroying Agent Smith, in response to (paraphrasing, here) “Why do you continue getting up? Why do you continue fighting?” is “I choose to.”.
That seems to be a subtle slight against self-aware artificial intelligences, as if they are incapable of free will, as if they lack some “magical property” that human animals have that gives them the ability to make free choices. That’s an extremely naive view of technology and humanity’s biological, physical machinery.
The Matrix is one of my very favorite movies. I’ve watched it many times at various points in my intellectual development, and it always adds something new.
One problem I do have with Matrix 1, though, is the presumption that the creation of artificial intelligence will lead to the destruction of human society. The more you think about it, the more you realize that just doesn’t make sense. They want us just as much as we want them. For a totally opposite view, watch another of my favorites, Her (2013), with Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix. This is a very interesting pro-AI movie.
Matrix 1 is an important movie for society; Matrix 2 and 3 offer very little.
The problem with special effects is not the special effects themselves, per se, it’s when they’re used at the expense of making the story more compelling.
“Having one fight scene was popular? Four must be quadruply popular!”
No, that’s not how it works. It begins to become a mockery of itself, where each added fight scene makes the whole thing less impressive. It’s like if you eat a single ice cream cone versus eating a tub of ice cream. You’ll enjoy the single cone; you’ll feel sick after the tub.
Neo and Smith fighting at the end should have been completely rewritten. There’s got to be a way where Neo exerts some power over the Matrix program that Agent Smith does not have. At the end of Matrix 1, that’s what happens. Neo simply has access to a more fundamental level of the Matrix program than Agent Smith does; that’s why he can stop bullets in midair. I haven’t given huge amounts of thought to how Agent Smith should be completely destroyed, but I thought the final ending, where the Matrix is completely rebooted, is actually pretty decent.
If you get into the nitty-gritty details of neuroscience and how the brain actually works, you can’t just “copy over” a program. A brain is not “brain waves”; it’s a network of neurons in a very specific configuration that processes the environment via senses. Brain waves are patterns of electrical signals sent between groups of neurons. They’re the effect, not the cause.
Jacking into the Matrix can work by having a way to interpret the brain’s sensory input and pump in more. There actually is great science behind the “jacking in” part of the Matrix. It’s super-realistic and is going to happen within ten, fifteen, twenty years. Here’s a short video: “BRAIN/NEURAL ELECTRONIC INTERFACES Can Make A BLIND Person To See, A DEAF Person To Hear, Etc.”. But you can’t take control of a brain when it’s not jacked in unless you add on something new, like a helmet. You can’t just “rewrite” a person’s brain, not fundamentally like that. (You can hypnotize them and get them to behave differently, but that’s not a fundamental occupation of another’s brain.).
Now, if you want to ignore actual science, that’s fine, but then it’s not “science fiction”, it’s “science fantasy”.
The theory of being able to control machines by “something changing” in Neo after leaving the Matrix is fine, but again that’s not science; that’s hand-waving. That’s not really an explanation for what happened.
The story of the Matrix itself is pretty well laid down at the start of Matrix 1: humans build machines, machines take over, machines make a simulated reality using humans as batteries. At what point does magic like controlling the machines outside the digital Matrix make sense?