Having seen it again, all I can say is wow. It was just as much fun to watch and almost as impressive as it was 4 years ago. The music, the pacing, the visual effects, even the writing - it all pulls you in so effectively. It's a cohesive whole. It wouldn't be nearly the movie it is with even one facet missing, and it's assembled so perfectly, it's just breathtaking. Even if you don't like the movie, you have to appreciate the phenomenal skill with which it's been put together, all of the decisions that were made and that were made so well.
Watching The Matrix again also made me realize just how bad The Matrix Reloaded looks in comparison, and how weak a film it is when compared to the original. Is it a bad movie? No, not by any means, it's still enjoyable, but it's nothing compared to the original.
The Matrix Reloaded (TMR) suffers from a heavy dose of sequelitis, and the same sort that so many video games are guilty of. Many movies have a sophomore slump, where the second movie in the series is just not as good as the first (or third or whatever), where you get the impression the movie was made just to capitalize off the first. Oh sure, a lot of the individual components are similar, but they don't quite mesh, they aren't nearly as ground-breaking, they just don't hit the same heights as the first one.
TMR isn't guilty of that. Anything but. TMR is all about excess, about taking it to the extreme, and another level past that. This movie doesn't slump, it writhes and leaps spasmodically past the first and right over the edge.
The Matrix (TM) was lean, focused, wiry - concentrated on conveying its experience efficiently and fully. It was often quiet, it was often dark, and it rarely went over the top. There was humor, but it tended to be subtle. The action was fast and furious, but right when it carried you to that heart-pounding climax, it ended with a bang and let you catch your breath and steady yourself before taking you on the next ride. The movie had people talking - not just lecturing or speaking or uttering words, but just talking. The entire movie was, as frantic and energetic and powerful as it was, still understated, somehow.
TMR was the exact opposite. I suppose they were determined not to let the middle of the trilogy sag, and they wanted to outdo themselves. The problem is that they tried so hard that they overshot the mark and ended up with a bit of a mess.
Let's take one example: bullet time. Bullet time was used several times in TM, and it was a ground-breaking technique when it was used. No one had ever seen anything quite like it before, and most people had never even visualized anything like it before. When they made TM, they introduced a whole new way of seeing. Each time they used bullet time in TM, it took it a step further than the time before - but only a step. The first time or two it's used somewhat sparingly, and then it gets more audacious and really hits you when Neo dodges the bullets on the roof. Then they escalate it - next time we really see it, it's during Morpheus's escape, when they use it in a room full of water droplets splashing everywhere, bullets flying, wood chips bursting - and they freeze time this time, zooming through the water drops in an almost eerie fashion, until suddenly the action resumes with the bullet bursting through his leg. The next time we see it, it's combined both worlds, as Neo and Agent Smith leap through the air, firing their bullets, with the camera spinning around them in a couple of complete revolutions as they grapple and spin and fire in mid-air. Each time they use it in the movie, they introduce a new facet, explore it, put it aside, and move on to the next one - and that's it. They don't bash you over the head with it.
In TMR, they apparently assume the audience is full of idiots who can't get it the first time - or the second - or even the third. You want bullet time? Oh, we'll give you bullet time! In the playground fight, they randomly pause the action for no discernible reason, and throw more and more things on the screen until you practically lose track of what's going on. Why? I don't know, honestly, I guess because they could. It doesn't add anything to the movie, if you ask me. Not only does it not add anything, but in my opinion it detracted from it. The playground fight scene lacked one thing every fight in TM had in spades - a sense of reality. It might be a bit warped, our perceptions might be changed, but it felt like we were looking at something real. Why? Because we were seeing actual people, filmed in a new and amazing fashion, but still real people. In TMR, we were seeing computer generated characters - with all of the usual plastic, artificial look to them. Let's face it - anyone can do CGI nowadays, just ask George Lucas. Where TM drew you in by pulling you along with the camera as it spun around these real people, TMR leaves you hanging, suspended above the fight for the most part, watching a bunch of action figures have a pretend fight. It just didn't feel right.
Here's another example: The Oracle. The Oracle in TM was subtle, understated, and didn't really say anything in a definitive matter. As Morpheus explained to Neo, she told him what he needed to hear at the moment - and it was still technically the truth, even if it was obviously said in a manner that disguised it. In TMR, the Oracle doesn't pussy-foot - she just starts filling in the blanks, nothing particularly great about it. There's no more secret, now, there's no more hinting - here's the plot-bat, brace yourself, because you're about to get beat down with it.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The first movie was like a martial artist - skilled, exacting, powerful, but still lean and focused. The second movie was like the Hulk - big and loud and in your face, but with no control and no subtlety. He doesn't disarm you and stun you, he just punches a hole through your torso and leaps over to the next block. Sometimes it's fun to experience that, but you know, it just wasn't right. And that's that.
So - TMR. I've said it before but I'll say it one more time - it wasn't a bad movie - it was pretty good. The problem is TM was an excellent movie, and any less would be - and was - a let-down.