Laurence Fishburne

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019, Chad Stahelski)

Even with conservative expectations, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum disappoints. Even with adjusted expectations as the film progresses; the first act seems like it’s going to be a two hour real-time action extravaganza with lead Keanu Reeves fighting his way through seventies and eighties New York City filming locations, only with twenty-first century fight choreography, special effects, and gorgeous high dynamic range photography. The film’s lighting is explicitly, intentionally exquisite and director Stahelski prioritizes those possibilities in the composition. It’s a great looking film.

Even after the first act, when Reeves is off on a quest to find the master assassin–there’s definitely a movie buff involved in making the Wick franchise; this time Reeves does a Tuco homage—Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—but it doesn’t seem like it can be screenwriter Derek Kolstad because the script sounds like no one involved with writing it (shouldn’t dump it all on Kolstad, he had three co-writers on this one) has ever seen a movie. Just video games. Yet someone knew Reeves on a horse versus ninjas on motorcycles would be great.

And a lot of Parabellum is great. Lots of really good supporting performances—Halle Berry’s action sidekick is outstanding and the film’s less once she leaves the story. And not just because Reeves ends up roaming a very artificial looking desert in hopes of the aforementioned master assassin giving him a last chance. No spoilers on the master assassin but… it’s a casting disappointment. Not just because the actor’s not a big enough name for a film very deliberate in its guest stars, but also because said actor’s performance is wanting. Parabellum is like if a video game were well-acted. Ian McShane is outstanding with absolutely nothing to do except act it up. Same goes for Anjelica Huston, who plays Reeves’s old teacher; she teaches mastery assassin classes to the boys, ballet to the girls. They never get into the gender split.

But pretty immediately Stahelski makes it clear the ballet is going to be a metaphor for the action sequences. And he delivers on them. The fight choreography is fantastic, the lengthy endurance fights are awesome, Evan Schiff’s editing doesn’t break anything (doesn’t really help either); Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s music is solid. They seem to be borrowing from a John Carpenter theme for this score. I think They Live but I’m guessing. Effective music. The film’s exceedingly well-produced, well-executed.

Oh, yeah, great cameo from Jerome Flynn. Don’t want to forget him.

Now for the negative adjectives.

The third act is a disaster. Not because it’s got this big double-cross and triple-cross or whatever cross, but because of how poorly the previously complimented creatives execute the crosses and crossing. Parabellum doesn’t sour right away, it starts by one thread not paying off, then another, then finally it becomes clear they’re just setting up the sequel. Only in a way you could never make a sequel but promise further adventures. No rest for the wicked type stuff.

Maybe if Larry Fishburne weren’t so eh in his role as an erstwhile Reeves ally. Or if Asia Kate Dillon’s emissary character (she works for the still unseen big crime bosses and assesses betrayals or something) weren’t blah. Dillon plays it better than the part deserves, especially since Stahelski ignores Dillon’s successful infusion of comedy into the role. But the most disappointing performance is Mark Dacascos, who’s an absurd (but deadly) assassin out for Reeves’s blood. Dacascos gets wackier and wackier as the film progresses, culminating in what could be a seriously funky homage (saying to what would spoil) but it doesn’t build to anything. He’s just runtime fodder to get Reeves to the sequel setup.

It’s a real bummer, considering the often excellent production. It’s a super-violent, extravagently silly action picture; good lead from Reeves (he doesn’t get too much dialogue this time), great fights, beautiful looking. The writing just catches up with it. The writing and the uneven distribution of good supporting players.

Parabellum could’ve been a contender. But isn’t, which is a bummer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams, based on a story by Kolstad; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Evan Schiff; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Halle Berry (Sofia), Mark Dacascos (Zero), Ian McShane (Winston), Asia Kate Dillon (The Adjudicator), Lance Reddick (Charon), Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King), Jerome Flynn (Berrada), and Anjelica Huston (The Director).


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Chad Stahelski)

If—and it's a big if—there's anything interesting about John Wick: Chapter Two as a sequel, it's how poorly the original filmmakers execute the sequel. It feels like a contractually obligated affair, only with the original principals returning.

Well, save David Leitch who produced the first film and was the (uncredited) co-director. Guess we know who brought all the energy. Because Chapter Two’s direction and action scenes are exactly what you'd expect from a contractually obligated sequel. There are big set pieces but with the locations, not the fight choreography, not the direction, not the editing (Evan Schiff’s cuts are middling at best). There's not even good (or enthusiastic) soundtrack selections. There aren't any sequences with distinct accompanying songs. The score’s no better; Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score does a minimalist Western theme for unstoppable assassin Keanu Reeves and it's a bad choice. It doesn't bring anything. John Wick: Chapter 2: it doesn't bring anything.

The movie starts shortly after the first one. In the first one they killed his dog and stole his car; Chapter 2 begins with him getting the car back from an exceptionally bad Peter Stormare. One cameo from John Leguizamo later (the film would’ve been immeasurably improved with more Leguizamo, who’s likable in a film without much likable) and Reeves is retired. Moments after re-burying his suitcase of guns and assassin credits (the criminal underworld, globally, operates on single gold coins in John Wick world), bad guy Riccardo Scamarcio shows up at Reeves’s door with a job he can’t refuse because in John Wick world, the plots don’t work if there aren’t jobs you can’t refuse. Being an assassin means following the rules; returning Ian McShane, who’s possibly the only consistently welcome frequent supporting player, can’t shut up about the rules. At least he’s amusing with it. Common, who plays Reeves’s target’s bodyguard, can’t shut up about the rules and he’s terrible at it. The film’s bereft of good villains. Common’s not good to start then gets worse the more the film asks of him. Scarmarcio doesn’t seem terrible when he arrives, then gets worse as things progress, but some of the problem for him is the stupid plot being, you know, stupid.

After getting his house burnt down for initially refusing the offer he can’t resist, Reeves meets up with McShane (to get McShane in the movie before he needs to be), then has his equipment prep sequence, which has him getting a bulletproof suit—like, tailored suit, not special outfit, suit suit, just bulletproof—and guns from Peter Serafinowicz (whose Q cameo is one of the film’s better ones). Reeves of course using all the guns he gets, including the AR-15 the film includes to show its love for gun culture, which never gets actually exciting because they’re not gadgets or even distinct weapons. The bulletproof suit comes in handy for Reeves walking around twisting and adjusting his suit jacket to block during gun fights. Handy for Reeves. It looks really stupid.

Also stupid-looking is the big finale with the amped up hall of mirrors shootout. For a second it seems like director Stahelski is including the hall of mirrors to do something fresh or innovative with the trope. Instead, he just adds some CGI to it and calls it good. Then it goes on forever. A lot of John Wick 2 is tedious. Especially the fight scenes, which are never well-choreographed enough to be interesting on their own; they don’t have much dramatic weight as it seems unlikely any of the goons Reeves fights are going to be able to take him.

Speaking of Reeves… he’s really bad here. It’s Derek Kolstad’s script, which seems unfamiliar with how Derek Kolstad’s script for the first film dialogued Reeves. Reeves has a lot of action hero one-liners. They’re all bad, with some being stupider than others.

Can’t forget the Larry Fishburne cameo. He’s really bad. Obviously he’s a Matrix stunt cast but you’d think they’d make sure he and Reeves would at least be fun together. They’re not

I guess Ruby Rose, who plays a deaf (or possibly just mute, it’s unclear) assassin, gets away somewhat unscathed. She’s not good, but she’s also not bad. Not being bad is a rarity in John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s a great example of sequel as pejorative.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; written by Derek Kolstad; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Evan Schiff; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Riccardo Scamarcio (Santino D’Antonio), Ian McShane (Winston), Ruby Rose (Ares), Common (Cassian), Claudia Gerini (Gianna D’Antonio), Lance Reddick (Charon), Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King), and John Leguizamo (Aurelio).


Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed)

Despite being in the first scene in the movie and sharing most of Paul Rudd’s scenes with him, Evangeline Lilly is definitely second in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The film gives her her own action scenes–some truly phenomenal ones–but very little agency. She’s entirely in support of dad Michael Douglas; even after it’s clear Douglas–in the past–was an egomaniac who hurt lots of people, it’s not like Lilly has any reaction to it. Or the film for that matter. During the scene maybe, with Rudd laughing about what a dick Douglas has always been, someone getting very upset remembering how Douglas treated them, Douglas looking bemused, and Lilly looking vacant. There are a few of those scenes and they really define the film’s dramatic qualities.

It doesn’t have many.

It’s got a lot of humorous qualities and a lot of charming ones, but not dramatic. Nothing ever gets as emotionally intense as the first act, in flashback (either straight flashback or dream sequence). Even when there’s all the danger in the world, as Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas race against time to save Lilly’s mother (and Douglas’s wife), Michelle Pfeiffer, from being trapped in the Quantum Zone. Realm. Sorry, Quantum Realm. There’s a lot of quantum things in Ant-Man and the Wasp, it’s hard to keep track.

But the film isn’t about dramatic possibilities so much as good-natured, comedic special effects action ones. There’s this omnipresent theme about parents disappointing children–Douglas and Lilly, Rudd and his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), not to mention the villain (Hannah John-Kamen), who’s got her own father issues. But if the film never acknowledges it’s a theme, is it really a theme? The screenplay (by five screenwriters) never worries about it and director Reed really doesn’t narrative echoes. It’s not his thing. His thing is humor and pacing and the film excels at both of them.

Because, even with those five writers–including Rudd–it’s not like there’s much depth to characterizations. Walton Goggins is one of the villains and he’s basically doing a really broad caricature of Walton Goggins being in a Marvel movie as a Southern tech-gangster. Randall Park plays a goofy FBI agent who Rudd keeps on one-upping and it’s even broader. Michael Peña excels with similiar treatment; he’s always played for obvious laughs and Peña plays through, fully, successfully embracing it. Goggins and Park act obviously to the joke. Not Peña.

None of the leads have much heavy lifting either. Rudd and Lilly are so adorable–and find each other so utterly adorable–it’s hard not to enjoy every minute they spend together. Douglas is one note, but the script doesn’t really ask for much more. Pfeiffer does more in her two scenes than Douglas does in the entire film. And she doesn’t even do a lot.

Meanwhile, Larry Fishburne–as one of the many people Douglas screwed over in the past–is able to bring some gravitas to his part. He takes it seriously, even when no one asks him to do so.

But none of it really matters because everyone’s really likable, including villain John-Kamen (far less Goggins, who’s nowhere near as funny as he needs to be to warrant so much plot import), and Ant-Man and the Wasp is full of delightful special effects action sequences. Whether it’s when Lilly is shrinking down and growing big to kick ass in fight scenes, flying all over the place, throwing people all over, or when it’s Rudd growing big instead of shrinking down and using a flatbed truck as a scooter. Reed and the screenwriters know where to find every laugh, every smile–it doesn’t hurt Rudd and daughter Fortson have such cute scenes. Opening on Lilly, making the movie about her missing mother, her lost childhood, it almost seems like it’s a movie about daughters. Oh, right, John-Kamen too. But it’s not. It’s about being cute and funny. It’s never even heartwarming when it’s not cute. There’s not much depth to it.

And, for a movie without much depth, it’s an awesome time. The special effects sequences alone–it isn’t just the fight scenes with awesome shrinking and growing effects, it’s sight gags and car chases and everything else (not to mention adorable giant ants). The film’s inventive as all hell. Except with John-Kamen’s villain, who’s not just occasionally invisible, but also immaterial. Her powers make narrative sense, Reed doesn’t visualize them as well as the rest.

By the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, you want another one. It’s a delightful, thoroughly competent amusement. Even if Christophe Beck’s score is never as good as it seems to be.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peyton Reed; screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari, based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dan Lebental and Craig Wood; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; produced by Kevin Feige and Stephen Broussard; released by Walt Disney Pictures

Starring Paul Rudd (Scott), Evangeline Lilly (Hope), Michael Douglas (Hank), Hannah John-Kamen (Ghost), Laurence Fishburne (Bill), Michael Peña (Luis), Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie), Walton Goggins (Sonny Burch), Randall Park (Jimmy Woo), T.I. (Dave), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Judy Greer (Maggie), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet).


A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Chuck Russell)

Dream Warriors is masterful in its manipulation; it’s the very definition of franchise building. Screenwriters Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell wrap what appears to be particular kind of narrative–after a film away, Heather Langenkamp–the original’s protagonist–is going to be the focus. Only she’s not. Then it’s like the character who opened the movie–Patricia Arquette–is the actual focus. Only she’s not.

And no one’s going to think Craig Wasson’s the focus, even though he at least gets to participate in it–the focus is building a mythology around Freddy Krueger, a mythology with nothing to do with the actual narrative and entirely self-contained. According to the IMDb trivia page, Craven had it just the opposite; so either Russell or Darabont went in and separated things out. The screenplay is admirably constructed. It’s bad and dumb, but it’s well-constructed for what it’s trying to do.

But Dream Warriors isn’t just masterful in that type of manipulation. Whether it’s getting away with tons of fantasy special effects in a mainstream horror movie or turning the audience’s passive dislike for a character into a tacit approval of Robert Englund’s terrorizing of them, the whole thing is an expert package.

Mood is very important here because, as a director, Russell never wants to show his hand. There’s a certain respectability Dream Warriors is going for, what with having Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor in the opening titles, which are a very classy sequence of arts and crafts from Arquette, set to Angelo Badalamenti’s (initially) way too good–for the movie–score. Roy H. Wagner’s photography reminds of giallo, with its shadows against the strong colors of the sets. Except Russell’s rarely ambitious in his direction. Editors Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss have some effective cuts with Badalamenti’s music, but none of them have to do with Englund’s villain or even the sensational dreamscape where most of the big action takes place. Instead, they’re for the setup, when Dream Warriors is trying to appear sincere.

The acting is mostly bad. Often because of the script’s silliness. Expert construction or not, it’s silly. Langenkamp suffers the worst, except for maybe Priscilla Pointer, who plays the head psychiatrist of the Dream Warriors–a bunch of teens Englund is haunting. Pointer’s character isn’t just played as mean, she doesn’t even get anything to do with it. Arquette’s a little better than Langenkamp but not much. Craig Wasson plays another psychiatrist and even roughs up John Saxon at one point. Saxon’s so out of it he doesn’t look embarrassed in that roughing up scene. John Saxon was in Enter the Dragon. Craig Wasson shouldn’t be able to rough him up.

The rest of the supporting cast is a low mediocre. Except for Larry Fishburne. Larry Fishburne’s excellent. Movie should’ve been about him.

But it’s not made to be excellent, it’s made to further a franchise–and it succeeds. It even gives Englund some occasional good moments amid his otherwise one-note, sensationalist routine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Russell; screenplay by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Russell, based on a story by Craven and Wagner and characters created by Craven; director of photography, Roy H. Wagner; edited by Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss; music by Angelo Badalamenti; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Patricia Arquette (Kristen Parker), Craig Wasson (Neil Gordon), Laurence Fishburne (Max), Priscilla Pointer (Dr. Elizabeth Simms), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid), Ira Heiden (Will), Jennifer Rubin (Taryn), Penelope Sudrow (Jennifer), Bradley Gregg (Phillip), Nan Martin (Sister Mary Helena), Brooke Bundy (Elaine Parker), John Saxon (Donald Thompson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


The Colony (2013, Jeff Renfroe)

The Colony really took four writers? It’s only eighty-some minutes long. Not surprisingly, director Renfroe contributed to the script. Maybe he put in all the terrible action sequences he knew only he could screw up.

Renfroe’s not a terrible director. All the new ice age shots are good, the confined dialogue scenes are okay… sure, he’s bad with actors, but the script’s got a lot of problems and, frankly, many of the actors are just bad.

Lead Kevin Zegers, for instance, is awful. He has one expression and a little goatee to show he’s secretly tough. Since the picture is so short, all the character establishing stuff in the first act is left dangling. Atticus Dean Mitchell, playing a scared teenager opposite Zegers, is so much better it’s uncomfortable.

What Renfroe does have going for him is the two aces in the hole–Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton. The script fails Paxton dreadfully; at a certain point, he just seems to give up–but Fishburne’s fantastic. He’s got a couple outstanding monologues, but he’s great throughout. Not great enough to make The Colony worth seeing, but great.

There are some other good performances. Charlotte Sullivan isn’t bad as Zeger’s girl. She’s leagues better than him anyway. John Tench is okay, though again… script fails him. You’d think four writer could get one successful character arc.

Half awful (during Renfroe’s incompetent action scenes), half good music from Jeff Danna.

The Colony’s a derivative B movie. Should’ve been a better one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Renfroe; screenplay by Renfroe, Patrick Tarr, Pascal Trottier and Svet Rouskov, based on a story by Tarr and Trottier; director of photography, Pierre Gill; edited by Aaron Marshall; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Aidan Leroux; produced by Paul Barkin, Matthew Cervi, Pierre Even and Marie-Claude Poulin; released by Image Entertainment.

Starring Kevin Zegers (Sam), Bill Paxton (Mason), Charlotte Sullivan (Kai), John Tench (Viktor), Atticus Dean Mitchell (Graydon), Dru Viergever (Feral Leader), Romano Orzari (Reynolds) and Laurence Fishburne (Briggs).


Armored (2009, Nimród Antal)

Antal’s composition is so strong, I would have thought Armored could get away with almost anything and still be a solid diversion. The action direction is good but not anything special–the chase sequences are boring, for example. But Antal’s composition for conversations? It’s amazing; sort of a cross between Michael Mann and seventies Steven Spielberg. It’s just stunning.

Armored‘s ending is rather weak. They close fast instead of spending forty seconds to make the resolution make sense. This incomplete ending comes after a particularly perfunctory action sequence. It’s a gimmick picture–Die Hard in an armored truck–and writer Simpson maybe has enough script for seventy-five percent of the film’s ninety minute running time. They can pad, but not enough to cover.

The acting is good–the cast is better than one would think, especially Columbus Short. Simpson’s script is just good enough Short can deliver a phenomenal performance. It’s too bad it wasn’t better though, since the role should have gotten Short some recognition. It’s not a dumb action movie, it’s a flawed heist movie with a lot of potential.

Matt Dillon and Larry Fishburne are both solid in supporting roles. These days, both are playing world weary heavies. Armored is not different. It’s interesting to see former teen heartthrobs Dillon and Skeet Ulrich in this one, playing unglamorous “regular” guys. Ulrich is fine. He’s finally learned to act.

Milo Ventimiglia is unexpectedly good. Fred Ward and Jean Reno are wasted. Amaury Nolasco barely makes an impression.

So, Armored is nearly mediocre.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nimród Antal; written by James V. Simpson; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Armen Minasian; music by John Murphy; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by Joshua Donen, Dan Farah and Sam Raimi; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Matt Dillon (Mike Cochrane), Jean Reno (Quinn), Laurence Fishburne (Baines), Amaury Nolasco (Palmer), Fred Ward (Duncan Ashcroft), Milo Ventimiglia (Eckehart), Skeet Ulrich (Dobbs), Columbus Short (Ty Hackett) and Andre Kinney (Jimmy Hackett).


Predators (2010, Nimród Antal)

How’s this one for a double standard? When director Robert Rodriguez made Desperado, he demanded a Mexican actress (Salma Hayek) play a Mexican character (against studio wishes). When producer Robert Rodriguez made Predators, he cast a Brazilian actress (Alice Braga) as an Israeli character… Braga’s fantastic in Predators, but really… why isn’t anyone crying foul?

Predators is a semi-remake, semi-sequel. It’s a sequel to the events in the original, but basically remakes it in structure. I’m sure the filmmakers would call it homage, but I’m not sure, for example, John Debney’s score contains one note not from Alan Silvestri’s score for the original. It doesn’t matter because it’s fast paced and rather well-directed. A lot of it is really poorly plotted–screenwriters Litvak and Finch are apparently completely incapable of coming up with a surprising turn of events. I guess Rodriguez, as producer, didn’t care enough to hire a soap writer to get some twists and turns in it.

The film’s rather well-cast, which helps a lot. Adrien Brody’s muscle man turn is solid; he should probably play a similar role in a real movie. I already mentioned Braga. Walton Goggins is great but wasted. Oleg Taktarov impressed. The other two names–Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne–are problematic. Fishburne does a good job in an undercooked role. Grace is just playing the same characters he’s played before, though I suppose (for the most part) less annoyingly.

Did I already mention Antal does a great job?

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nimród Antal; written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Gyula Pados; edited by Dan Zimmerman; music by John Debney; production designers, Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute; produced by Robert Rodriguez, John Davis and Elizabeth Avellán; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adrien Brody (Royce), Laurence Fishburne (Noland), Topher Grace (Edwin), Alice Braga (Isabelle), Louis Ozawa Changchien (Hanzo), Walton Goggins (Stans), Oleg Taktarov (Nikolai), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (Mombasa) and Danny Trejo (Cuchillo).


The Matrix Revolutions (2003, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I think The Matrix! Part Trois has to be better than the second one, if only because it’s not as terribly boring in its action sequences. The second one had that highway battle and it was bad and the Keanu Reeves versus a million Hugo Weavings and it was bad. Here, Keanu Reeves fights one Hugo Weaving (in an atrocious performance, it’s a shame how the sequels degraded the fine work he did in the first film) in front of a bunch of non-participating Hugo Weavings. It’s better. And it’s a huge, CG-aided flying fight scene–it’s the Superman versus Zod scene no one ever got to see.

Reeves is okay. It’s amazing how little his eyes effect his emoting when he acts. Jada Pinkett Smith is awful and as much as I appreciate the Wachowskis’ minorities inheriting the earth thing (none of the surviving principles are white), I’m pretty sure the character they have her play is just the equivalent of Will Smith’s heroic, but definitely not revolutionary or intimidating, black guy for white audiences.

Harry Lennix is bad in this one. Maybe he was bad in the second one too. I can’t remember. He’s usually good. But he’s an idiot in this one, even though he’s supposed to be smart.

I think the script probably read well. As a movie, it’s a bit of a disaster; I’ll bet the script read well.

Except for the Wizard of Oz cameo at the end, it wasn’t completely awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lilly and Lana Wachowski; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Mary Alice (the Oracle), Lambert Wilson (The Merovingian), Harold Perrineau (Link), Harry Lennix (Commander Lock) and Monica Bellucci (Persephone).


The Matrix Reloaded (2003, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

The Wachowskis get to do whatever they want with The Matrix Reloaded so they do this bombastic, pseudo-intellectual sequel and they’re totally bored with it. It’s very obviously not what they want to be doing with their time.

They got about as much mileage out of the Matrix as they could in the first one and putting a dream sequence into the second one doesn’t do them any favors.

This film has Harold Perrineau giving a bad performance. I didn’t even know it was possible for him to give a bad performance. He’s just terrible–he’s this useless, throwaway character.

Speaking of bad performances–Jada Pinkett Smith. I’ve seen her in something else and I was waiting for she to give one of the worst performances in film history and she certainly delivers.

The fight scenes are the boring and cartoonish. They’re not exciting. They look like a video game.

The film almost turns around at the end when it mocks the audience–the entire movie is invalidated in the last act, in a self-congratulatory way–not a fun way, but a wink wink. If the viewer is paying attention, he or she just realized the movie was a waste of time and money. But the cliffhanger ruins it. It’s cheap instead of cruel. Cruel is interesting. Cheap is predictable.

At least George Lucas is making a fortune off the toys. He cares about something. The Wachowskis don’t have a motive, artistic or commercial, for making this mess.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lilly and Lana Wachowski; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Gloria Foster (the Oracle), Monica Bellucci (Persephone), Nona Gay (Zee), Randall Duk Kim (Keymaker), Harry Lennix (Commander Lock), Harold Perrineau (Link), Adrian Rayment (Twin No. 2) and Neil Rayment (Twin No. 1).


The Matrix (1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I have this vivid memory of seeing The Matrix in the theater. When the agents, dressed in their black suits, got out of the car, everyone groaned–they thought it was a Men in Black reference. Of course, the thing about The Matrix is it fakes being wholly original.

One of the nice things about being technically dynamic and full of great special effects is not having to worry about the actors much. Keanu Reeves is fine. Laurence Fishburne is pretty good. Carrie-Anne Moss’s only good scene is the one romantic one.

Hugo Weaving is great.

Joe Pantoliano is okay. Gloria Foster’s one scene is good. Marcus Chung, the biggest supporting cast member, is annoying and has some rather bad readings.

The Wachowskis composition is startling–it’s an exploration of what Panavision can do, in a way no one’s really done since Spielberg in the seventies.

Don Davis’s music is great.

I always notice it and don’t want to forget, especially now. The Matrix is unique in being a mainstream American movie where the leaders are black–Fishburne, Foster; looking at how Iron Man or Batman use their black characters, things have clearly gone downhill. Now, we have tokenism for the twenty-first century.

I haven’t seen the film in about nine years. It’s better than I remember it. Not as startling as the first viewing, but solid. The lack of plot originality isn’t an issue–it’s so well-made, not just technically, but as a communal filmgoing experience.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Gloria Foster (Oracle), Joe Pantoliano (Cypher), Marcus Chong (Tank) and Julian Arahanga (Apoc).


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