Here’s a burning hot take for, y’all; “The Matrix Reloaded” is not bad actually!
In fact, it’s more than not bad, it’s actually pretty good and perhaps a bit misunderstood by the fans.
Now, I’m not here to tell you it’s the best Matrix film. That honor will remain always and forever with the first movie, as it remains not just one of the best action films of all-time but one of the best science fiction films ever, period. It’s a classic and simply one of my all-time favorite films.
But somehow, over the course of my lifetime, you know what movie I have watched exponentially more than “The Matrix?” The fucking “Matrix Reloaded!”
I used to think maybe it was an ironic infatuation. To a certain extent, I think it still is, as its overly indulgent action, bad lines at times, cringey new characters, and over the top moments can make it about as comical as many so bad it’s good movies. But growing up time can change perceptions, sometimes for the better, and can help you see things in new ways that you didn’t before and “The Matrix Reloaded,” especially this year, was one of them for me.
I could defend the much controversial sequel by going in on its ambitious action film-making (the car chase is still my all-time favorite in any movie), pulse-pounding score, or its eye-popping cinematography that, honestly, holds up even to today’s standards but I think these are all things that even the film’s detractors generally agree on.
No, I’m going to defend this film by talking about its most controversial scene: The Architect room.
I can hear the groans already and I don’t blame you. I found this scene preposterous and mightily confusing when I first saw it.
“The One is actually a part of the Machines’ system?? WTF!?”
To be fair, its set up is a bit muddled, given the clunky script and pacing issues of the movie but when you start thinking about the message more deeply, given current events, and its relation to the real world it hits about as hard and fits as neatly as the first film’s more positive message.
The first Matrix film has a pretty dark setup, obviously. Neo finds out that he’s a part of gigantic computer program meant to create the illusion of free will for humanity while they are quite literally eaten for power by the Machines like cattle. Of course, Neo discovers he’s more than just another human connected to The Matrix but a prophesized messiah who has the ability to combat the system beyond its considerable control. By the end of the film he fulfills his destiny by becoming The One and beginning a new revolution against the Machines that control the human race.
It’s a pretty positive and uplifting story when you really break it down. It shows the viewer the lengths at which power tries to maintain its control and the Machines are a worthy avatar for this metaphor, but it also shows that power can be fought against when someone begins to empower themselves. When Neo says he will “show you a world where anything is possible” at the end its an earned moment of catharsis for not just him but the audience as well. We begin to start to believe in hope and beating the system too.
“The Matrix Reloaded” however goes several steps further showing that power can maintain its control in far more nefarious ways. Throughout the film Neo is told about the illusion of control and choice by characters like The Oracle and the, admittedly cringey, Merovingian. It feels strange at first because Neo is supposedly someone who is above the system but you can tell there is sense of jadedness, with some optimism of course, when The Oracle explains his role in saving Zion, like someone who has seen someone try to do this before, and The Merovingian simply mocks him for being another in a long line of “predecessors” who is completely “out of control.”
But then Neo finally does get to the Architect after being led there by The Key Maker and it’s here he learns his true nature; that he is the sixth in a long line of previous “Ones” in the Matrix and a part of The Machine’s control. He is less a prophet and more just another cog in the machine meant to lead humanity in one direction over and over again in order to create an illusion of free will for the resistance, the same way The Matrix does its human cattle.
Neo was a part of their plan and had been from the start.
There were tons of fans, including myself at one point, who couldn’t square with this strange narrative turn. Like Morpheus at the end of the film, there was refusal to believe it. It seemingly rewrote how one could view the first film and Neo’s role in it.
It changed the way a lot of people could see the positivity of the first film and understandably that could, and did, make a lot of people upset. Neo wasn’t sent to save humanity; he was there to keep them in line. It was like saying “actually Emperor Palpatine always wanted Luke Skywalker to blow up the Death Star.”
I mean he does say this a lot though…
But “The Matrix” was always about the lengths at which power works to maintain its control over the masses and “Reloaded” asks how can a corrupt and evil system be a part of the solution? How can it be reformed?
Way back in 2008, I cast my first vote as an eligible American for Barack Obama for president. Like many millennials at the time I found his mantra of “hope and change” sincere and uplifting and I truly felt the country was going to take a turn for the better the night he was inaugurated. For a moment it really did feel like things would be different after eight years of Bush.
Fast forward to 2011 however, and things changed dramatically for myself when I found out about the drones.
I’m aware of the fact that in leadership positions hard choices are made but after spending the previous decade vociferously calling out the Bush Administration for what they did in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars this was a truly rude awakening for me. Combine this with finding out about him continuing Bush era tax cuts, re-upping the Patriot Act, the mass deportations, the major corporate donors, his mishandling of Flint, and The Standing Rock Crisis it became clear Obama was just as much a part of the machine as Bush was.
Now, I can already hear the pitchforks picking up and I’m not here to tell you that the Obama presidency didn’t have its moments or that it was worse than what we have now BUT this does not excuse what would be considered awful behavior by liberals under any conservative president.
Each Democratic presidency or nomination I’ve seen in my lifetime, from Clinton to Obama, has always touted themselves as a chance to “fix America” and bring “hope and change” to a largely corrupt system. But neither of these presidencies really changed much of what the previous conservative administrations did, in fact in some ways they got worse. Minimum wage hasn’t risen in over a decade, we still have the world’s largest prison population by far, the wealth gap has only INCREASED regardless of who held the White House, and need I remind some of you Black Lives Matter started under the Obama administration.
At some point the problem goes beyond just conservative stonewalling and political impasse. You can’t blame everything on Mitch McConnell (though a lot of it can too, admittedly). The system is behaving exactly as its supposed to because corrupt people hold power.
The extremely cynical Biden-Harris ticket we got going right now is being pitched, more or less, the same way as a “fight to fix everything terrible” that Trump has done. Look, I’m not going to tell you Trump hasn’t been terrible because that should be obvious to EVERYONE at this point, but when you have Wall Street goons actively cheering the announcement of the Democratic party nomination, a DNC that is running more conservative speakers in its first day than Latinx across the entire event, you have to wonder to yourself if they are really “The One.”
Again, I’m not saying things can’t be “better” right now under a Democratic White House or that some communities would benefit greatly from a change in leadership BUT the bar is FUCKING LOW and the truth of the matter is people WILL be hurt under the next administration regardless of who it is and framing it as “privileged” to think otherwise is actually quite privileged itself.
There are people who can’t wait for medicare for all. There are people who can’t wait for sentencing and prison reform. There are people who cannot survive another wave of US imperialism overseas.
We are being guided to the same predetermined destination that The Architect gives Neo and its what makes all this so aggravating for many.
“The Matrix Reloaded” shows Neo that he is simply another system of control for the afflicted masses but what makes the final moments of the film important is that he chooses to stop playing its game. When The Architect gives him the choice of the door that guarantees the “salvation” of the human race but in bonded servitude to the Machines and the door to make the supposed “selfish” decision to save Trinity from death but doom humanity to extinction, he does this fully expecting Neo to make the same choice every other One did before him did.
But Neo doesn’t, he goes through the door to save Trinity and for a chance to destroy the system in another way. Neo decides to break the cycle even if it might have catastrophic consequences. He challenges The Architect on whether he would be willing to allow Neo any chance at any other outcome and calls his bluff. It’s what makes him a hero and in a strange way gives “Reloaded” a positive ending as well.
And again, just looking cool as hell while doing it.
Now, with the way the next movie ends you could make the argument that the cycle continues and this theme gets contradicted but I would argue it’s a bit more ambiguous than that and with the fourth film supposedly on its way in the coming years there is a chance for a more conclusive and satisfying ending. This write-up is strictly arguing the message of the second film anyways.
What a viewer should get on further review of “The Matrix Reloaded” is that corrupt systems have more insidious ways of maintaining control than we may be able to accept. Wall Street goons wouldn’t allow a consistent formidable opposition party to run against them every year, it’s why they are deep in both red AND blue pockets. It’s why campaign financing is out of control. It’s why ultimately both wings of our government are pro-surveillance, pro-big money donors, pro-US exceptionalism/imperialism and the only real difference comes down to mostly minor minutia between the two to maintain their illusion of choice.
In the end to a certain extent, I still believe in the system, given that I donate money and support various leftist causes, progressive primary challenges, and reelections around the country in hopes they run a real left wing someday. However, each year, and frankly each month at the rate we’re going, I’ve grown more cynical about it. At best it is incremental change and at worst its ultimately empty power against the larger juggernaut of corrupt politics throughout our government.
“Reloaded” deposits that in order to break the cycle you have to make a choice not accounted for by the system. That in order to truly change anything, as silly and as obvious as it sounds, you have to do something different. Voting for people who better represent your beliefs much more fully and refusing to vote for ones who don’t is one way but as I stated in my “Black Sails” write-up the more active third option should never be off the table.
Changing the world shouldn’t come down to a false binary choice like the ones the Machines gave Neo at the end of “Reloaded.” And while, for the record, I’m not necessarily against people making the lesser of two evils choice again, people need to stop ignoring the ways in which corruption keeps its power and start having honest looks at those who call themselves “The One” who will make things right.
If this entire year hasn’t convinced you of that yet, I don’t know what will and the sooner we understand this the sooner we can start a real “revolution” in this country’s cynical politics.
Until then The Machines will continue to win…