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Neil Gaiman, in one of the Matrix short stories written before the release of the second film, put out a much better reason for why the AIs want all those humans plugged in: they’re harnessing the brain activity for computing power. That makes helluva lot more sense than the duracell thing.

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malakim2099 said on July 4th, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I dunno, I like the Merovingian’s smugness. It was a nice counterpoint to the gothy self-righteousness of the rest of the cast.

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Walter Kovacs said on July 4th, 2011 at 11:12 pm

I always assumed:

(a) The whole ‘balance of power’ thing with Zion is just meant to create a eternal conflict. The ‘real’ Matrix, and the world of Zion, are all inside the Matrix (thus why Neo has powers ‘outside’ the Matrix), and the conflict is just a reality that rebelious people can ‘accept’, preventing them from realizing they are still in a dream instead of a dream within a dream (to borrow from Inception). The idea then is that, the humans aren’t locked in as batteries … they are being kept alive. So, backstory as given is mostly right, but when humanity nearly wiped itself out, it went into hybernation of a sort. It isn’t designed to be a source of power, but a way for humanity to survive on fewer resources, and avoid having to live in a post apocalyptic hellscape (unless they wanted to, and even then, it’s still a generally hopeful place, with a threat to fight against, etc.

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Tenken347 said on July 4th, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Going back to the end of the first movie, I thought they really dropped the ball on the sequels. Inside the Matrix, Neo is omnipotent. Outside the Matrix, he’s a nobody living in a burned-out shithole in the center of the earth. That’s the setup for a “power corrupts” story, and the idea of Trinity and Morpheus and the rest having to fight off an insane Neo in the Matrix while also trying to find his body in the real world so that they can unplug him is one that I think really could have gone gangbusters.

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@Cyd

That was the original concept for the movies too, but the studios said it was too complicated for general audiences and suggested making the humans living batteries instead.

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@Tenken347

That sounds pretty awesome, with the exception that your plot doesn’t really leave the machines anything to do. Maybe Trinity and Morpheus ally with the Machine Intelligence to hold Neo off in the Matrix until they find his body? Either way Keanu Reeves would have been much better as a creepy antihero than a creepy Jesus-figure.

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(Raises hand) Me. I’m quite interested in defending the Matrix sequels. In fact, I find it kind of suspect the way everyone rushes in to diss them, even in an article like this that’s supposedly about finding the good in them. I mean, look at this thing, John can’t write two sentences without interjecting how dumb and lame they were, as if he could hear fanboys sharpening their knives for daring to defend them. For Pete’s sake, the Star Wars prequels seem to have more defenders than the Matrix sequels. What’s up with that?

The sequels have their serious flaws, yes, but the second one in particular is one of the few sequels that actually builds on the first movie in interesting thematic ways–it literally had to be a sequel in order to subvert and expand on the ideas of the first one. Specifically, the idea of the rebellious, consensus-rejecting paradigm of the first movie being revealed as just another method of control is a fascinating one, and almost single-handedly justifies the sequels as far as I’m concerned. There’s lots of other good stuff in there, too–Neo’s climactic stand against Smith in the final movie is frankly a lot more inspiring to me than any other big SF/fantasy movie climax that comes to mind, because Neo is actually standing up for a consistent set of principles rather than just “boo evil”/”I believe in myself”/”love conquers all”. (Nothing wrong with any of those things, of course, but they’re purely knee-jerk emotional reactions; in the real world, a lot of people have done horrible or stupid things for these same reasons, and I really wish Hollywood would stop mindlessly falling back on these themes when they have nothing else to say.)

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Also because that final scene completely subverts your expectations for a finale. It is the good not defeating evil from the external but from entering into it and basically shining a light into the middle of darkness.

I really enjoy all 3 movies, I think the second two falter a bit when they focus on characters who don’t really need to be focused on and it gets away from being Neo’s story.

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Smith returning as a computer virus.

My reading of the films is that Smith is a feature, not a bug. (Specifically, Smith controlling the Matrix is what the Architect is referring to when he claims that the computers can find an alternative to the current status quo. And the Architect would be OK with Smith controlling the Matrix if it weren’t for that connection between the computer city and the matrix being a threat to the Architect.)

Then again, I think the Oracle is actually reprogramming the people who are visiting her, and that the actual war is between the Oracle and the Architect over the relative freedom of the computer programs in the Matrix.

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@Prankster: No, I can’t write two sentences without talking about how dumb and lame they are because they’re just that terrible. :) Yes, you’re right, there’s some interesting thematic material there–that’s the whole point of this week’s post–but it’s presented so thoroughly ineptly that it’s not worth watching the film for them.

Every single one of the martial arts battles is an utter pointless waste of time; Neo, at the end of the first film, is God. How exactly do you film a kung-fu fight with God? The “Burly Brawl” is a perfect example of this…Neo can’t hurt Smith, Smith can’t hurt Neo, and Smith can’t fly, so the entire battle is an exercise in waiting for Neo to remember that he can fly and Smith can’t. And when he does, sure enough, Smith just stands there looking grouchy.

Neo spontaneously and inexplicably loses Matrix powers in the second film (he goes from being able to annihilate Agents with his mind to having to fight them in elaborate kung-fu battles, and the only explanation given is, “Huh. Upgrades.” They were too damn lazy to find a full-sentence handwave.) He then spontaneously and inexplicably gains real-world powers in the third (“No, it’s okay, I can see Smith in Bane’s body with my Matrix-vision!”) People go to war in open-canopied mecha. Machines never use poison gas. There are numberless endless pointless talking scenes, as though the suits had given them notes that said, “People really liked the philosophy in the first film. Can you include more of that?”

The thing that sums up the sequels the best: Towards the end of the first movie, the Merovingian’s thugs are chasing down Morpheus and Trinity. Neo is halfway around the world, racing to help. There’s a huge battle scene, Morpheus is finally cornered…and he says, “I sure wish Neo was here to help me.” And then he does.

This is a clear example of utter ineptitude. The filmmakers have just worked their asses off to make their audiences believe that Neo is inaccessible as a source of aid. They’ve tried to make you forget he was there, even though it’s obvious that this is a situation that calls for a last-minute rescue. And what do they do right before he shows up? They ruin the surprise by telling you.

I could go on if you like. :)

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The Unstoppable Gravy Express said on July 5th, 2011 at 8:57 am

Not that it would have fixed everything, but I really thought Morpheus should have been consumed by Smith at the end of the 2nd movie, in the white corridor. All he did for the whole 3rd movie was stand around saying useless lines. It would have given extra pop (Magnitude: Pop POP!) to the cliffhanger and you could even have him return once all the Smiths explode.

I remember some story about how in Star Wars, Ben Kenobi was supposed to survive until the end, until Alec Guinness realized there was nothing for him to do after escaping the Death Star. So he said, “Hey, why not kill me off?” Hey presto, great moment. Strikes me as a parallel example.

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The Unstoppable Gravy Express said on July 5th, 2011 at 8:59 am

(of course you could argue that all the lines in “Revolutions” are useless except for the awesome Smith cookie speech.) :-)

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I think my favorite scene in the sequels is where Smith has possessed the guy on Neo’s ship, and keeps dropping all these hints to Neo about who he is, and Neo takes like forever to figure it out. I know this isn’t the exact dialogue, but it’s about how I remember it.

Smith: We meet again, Mister Anderson.

Neo: Who are you?

Smith: Don’t you remember your old friend…Mr. Anderson?

Neo: What are you talking about?

Smith: Surely you haven’t forgotten our many battles, Mr. Anderson. The Heart O’the City? The Burly Brawl?

Neo: Listen, if you don’t start making sense, I’m gonna walk away.

Smith: (sighs) I could not be making this easier for you, Mister Anderson. I wore a suit? Sunglasses? Good with a gun?

Neo: That doesn’t really narrow it down.

Smith: Fair enough, but come on! Who else calls you Mr. Anderson?

Neo: (thinks for a minute) Whoa! Are you my old boss from the software company?

Smith: (smacks forehead)

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Kid Kyoto said on July 5th, 2011 at 10:02 am

I remember loving the first one right until the moment Neo rescues Morphius from the Agents setting off the final chase/fight.

Why?

I was SURE the big reveal would be that Morpheus was the chosen one, and that being a prisoner and tortured would awken him. We’d learn that the handsome white guy was just his sidekick.

But oh well.

“(a) The whole ‘balance of power’ thing with Zion is just meant to create a eternal conflict. The ‘real’ Matrix, and the world of Zion, are all inside the Matrix (thus why Neo has powers ‘outside’ the Matrix), and the conflict is just a reality that rebelious people can ‘accept’, preventing them from realizing they are still in a dream instead of a dream within a dream (to borrow from Inception). The idea then is that, the humans aren’t locked in as batteries … they are being kept alive.”

This.

My other problem was at the end I had no idea what Neo was supposed to do. The world was in ruins and uninhabitable, was he supposed to awken everyone, who would then be blind, immobile and sufficating in a cyber womb?

The only way forward was to find that Zion and the rebels were just another illusion, and keep ascending until he finds some sort of reality. Even if it just turns out that Neo is a mental patient named Anderson we’d at least have a workable story.

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My defense of the sequels has always been to express disbelief at the notion that the first film was all that much better. They were all shiny-fun to me. Cool fight scenes and fetishwear. Cutting edge special effects.

Re-watching them all years later I can see that the first one is certainly a better film, but it still doesn’t seem better enough to disown the follow-ups.

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san dee jota said on July 5th, 2011 at 1:06 pm

The first film is all about anarchist anti-heroes mindlessly killing people because they “have to”. The scene where Neo and Trinity storm the building to save Morpheus and gun down what seems like dozens of security guards? Each of those guards were real people that died when they were killed in the Matrix. Neo and crew don’t even have the luxury of pretending that the guards were possessed by machines (and the movie never explains if the possessed die or go back to normal if the machine is somehow exorcised or simply leaves). Basically: killing people is what good guys do.

Meanwhile, the machines are busy trying to create a world where they can co-exist with humanity. But they can’t make it too perfect, or else humanity will go nuts. And they can’t just let the humans free while the machines ignore them, or else humanity will end up going to war with the machines (again).

The Matrix sequels make a lot more sense if you think that Zion and the post-apocalyptic are just another level of VR, where the machines let some humans “escape” and play “hero” because it’s the best way they’ve figured out to keep humans happy. The movie even hints at it; if deja vu is a glitch in the Matrix, what is it when the machines keep having to deal with “Chosen Ones” repeatedly?

It doesn’t make bad movies better, but it does help explain how Neo can see Smith outside of the Matrix or command robots with his messiah hands. It also helps explain how a city of humans can undergo periodic cullings, and helps smooth out some of the gaps in the story (like how any life could survive on Earth when the planet can’t get enough sun for solar power).

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I think @JayDee has more-or-less got it.

Walking out of the first film just felt so good. I was bursting with inspiration at the ideas the writers presented and immersed some cutting edge special effects. I had a dozen one-liners running through my head. It was all gravy.

Walking out of the second film didn’t feel nearly as good. And that nagging frustration at not being as captivated by the second movie as the first was what really doomed the sequels.

Looking back on the works as a whole, you can see some of the goofy plot errors and missteps of the first movie magnified several times over in the next two. It just left everyone in the theater thinking “Given such a big budget, a talented set of actors, and a captivating core idea, I could have done better than this.”

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Craig Oxbrow said on July 5th, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Bane’s Smith impression was hilarious. That’s pretty much what I liked.

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I think the Wachowskis, with the sequels, walk the line between being unclear and not spoon-feeding the audience. It was clear enough to me, watching the third movie, that Neo’s newfound power over the Machines in the real world came from his having visited the Source and come back–they make a huge deal about the Source being the lynchpin of the Machines’ consciousness–but it’s true they never spell it out. Did they need to? I don’t know. I kind of like that they make the audience do some of the work. On the flip side, I agree the Burly Brawl is poorly staged (though I believe the intent is that Neo can’t fly unless he clears a space to kneel down and do that ripple thing, which is why he doesn’t fly away until he’s beaten them back enough) but Smith very much CAN kill Neo–I mean, he does at the end of the third movie–so saying there’s no suspense is off-base. Likewise, I really don’t get your criticism of the car chase/fight sequence. The whole thing is ruined because Morpheus mentions Neo right before he appears? Really?

To me, these issues are legitimate but somewhat superficial. As far as I’m concerned, the important thing is that the movies actually have something to say beyond the aforementioned “boo evil” themes in most genre movies these days, which is why I connect with them in spite of their frequent clumsiness. Even the better action/genre flicks these days often fall flat, thematically and in terms of narrative ambition. Far from being “lazy and inept” I think the Wachowskis put way more thought into these movies than average.

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@sann jee: Zion’s not another level of VR, but otherwise, that’s exactly what the Machines ARE doing in the sequels. They’re trying to compensate for the anarchy caused by people lashing out against the system by creating the Oracle, Zion and the whole cult of the One. And they’re doing it to create a system where both can co-exist, yes. (Which is the answer to the commonly-asked question “Why don’t the Machines just lobotomize the humans?”, too.)

The realization that the goodies aren’t that good and the baddies aren’t that bad is crucial to the sequels. From the Machine’s perspective, they’re doing something positive for both sides, and the people who lash out are evil aberrations. They’re all about control, which is why they can’t understand why some people fight back against it. But it’s crucial that the Machines aren’t enslaving humans in some kind of hell-dimension, but rather keeping them in relative comfort and peace. It’s one thing to rebel against the system when it’s physically hurting you, it’s another when the ONLY thing that’s been taken away is your freedom to steer your own destiny–your ideological freedoms. That’s one of the things that makes these movies way more interesting to me than something like “Equilibrium”, which makes the society simplistically evil and repressive so that we can cheer for the hero as he cuts a swathe through the baddies.

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MORPHEUS: For the longest time, I wouldn’t believe it. But then I saw the fields with my own eyes, watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living –

NEO (politely): Excuse me, please.

MORPHEUS: Yes, Neo?

NEO: I’ve kept quiet for as long as I could, but I feel a certain need to speak up at this point. The human body is the most inefficient source of energy you could possibly imagine. The efficiency of a power plant at converting thermal energy into electricity decreases as you run the turbines at lower temperatures. If you had any sort of food humans could eat, it would be more efficient to burn it in a furnace than feed it to humans. And now you’re telling me that their food is the bodies of the dead, fed to the living? Haven’t you ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics?

MORPHEUS: Where did you hear about the laws of thermodynamics, Neo?

NEO: Anyone who’s made it past one science class in high school ought to know about the laws of thermodynamics!

MORPHEUS: Where did you go to high school, Neo?

(Pause.)

NEO: …in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS: The machines tell elegant lies.

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HonestObserver said on July 6th, 2011 at 2:58 am

That’s just nerd pedantry. It’s pretty well-established that the Wachowskis originally went for “the Matrix uses human brains in a huge parallel computing system” but dumbed it down to human batteries for the sake of Hollywood audiences.

Additionally, this post failed to talk about the Animatrix, which is lamentable.

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@John Seavey You are wrong – at the end of the first film, Neo wasn’t God, he was Superman. There’s a difference.

I defend the Matrix films on the grounds that they were good action-y films that tried to make a sci-fi universe out of whole cloth. It didn’t play it safe across a range of areas.

Plus: Hugo Weaving, who is generally awesome.

I also view the whole “but humans aren’t a good source of energy” the same as “but the Force doesn’t exist and you can’t hear explosions in space” view of films – it’s a minor point that shouldn’t interfere with the film overall, yet a lot of people get hung up on it like its a major failing.

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san dee jota said on July 6th, 2011 at 9:42 am

Somewhere out there on the Interwebs is an idea I wish I could take credit for: the machines need a power source, so they hook up cows to the “Mootrix”. Cows are much more docile than humans after all.

I also gotta’ confess that I’d never heard the bit about needing humans for processing power before this thread (which doesn’t really make any more sense than needing humans for energy). Although I -love- the idea that the laws of thermodynamics are something the Machines lied about and train humans to believe while inside the Matrix.

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I like the brain processor plot, not just because it’s actually theoretically possible unlike the power supply variant, but also because it neatly explains why the “awakened” humans can alter the Matrix with their thoughts: the whole simulation is running inside their collective minds. The only thing they’re “hacking” their own thoughts.

JS: “There are numberless endless pointless talking scenes, as though the suits had given them notes that said, “People really liked the philosophy in the first film. Can you include more of that?””

I think the problem was opposite: the Wachowskis were given too much freedom, and like George Lucas, the only reason they were ever good was because of the restrictions imposed upon them from the studio, their coworkers or their budget.

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