Are The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both released in ’03) the least satisfying, most ruinously awful sequels ever made? Not just because they blew chunks on their own terms, but they tarnished the reputation of The Matrix (’99), the perfect, almost-jewel-like original that launched the mini-franchise.
This led me to contemplate a list of stand-alone films that never should have given birth to a sequel or sequels or a spinoff TV series. The Jaws movies after Steven Spielberg‘s 1975 original. The Jurassic Park sequels. The Hangover sequels. The Terminator sequels. A voice is telling me Jim Cameron should have left Avatar alone and not gone on to commit to…what is it, three sequels? But of course everyone has written about these.
What about the reverse? What first-rate films that never inspired any follow-ups should have spawned a sequel or cable series? I honestly would’ve loved to see a Michael Clayton series on Showtime, Hulu or HBO, perhaps not with George Clooney in the title role but then again why not? He arguably delivered his career-best performance in Tony Gilroy’s 2007 legal thriller, and the film itself is surely his finest ever. I would’ve been down with a mid ’80s TV series about the continuing legal adventures of Frank Galvin, the wounded Boston attorney played by Paul Newman in The Verdict.
15 years ago I wrote a piece called “Neo Schmeo” that tried to sum up the Matrix sequel failure:
“I never would have guessed after getting my first look at The Matrix — a movie that freed my heart and made me levitate — that the sequels-to-come would turn out as badly as they have.
“Now the word is spreading like a huge fart and it’s all over but the revenues. This franchise went spiritually belly-up after the release of The Matrix Reloaded last summer, and now here’s The Matrix Revolutions to drive the final stake in and kill it for good. The legend, the faith, the magic…dead.
“You may be able to figure out most of what’s going on in Revolutions…or not. Point is, if your experience is anything like mine you’re going to stop caring anyway because you’re going to find yourself realizing with a jolt you’re totally done with looking at Carrie Ann Moss and fat Larry Fishburne doing that deadpan superhero thing in those shades and leather outfits.
“It hit me around 25 minutes in. I said to myself, ‘I’m done. I don’t want to watch this shit any more…ever.” I see the Matrix Reloaded DVD on the shelves at my local DVD store and a thought never even occurs to me about renting it. I don’t want to look at a scene, a snippet…nothing.
“I could go on for six or seven paragraphs trying to pick through what made sense to me and what I’m still trying to figure out, but why should I write anything in this column that will pay even an oblique tribute to something I believe everyone should wash their hands of?
“I saw Keanu Reeves in Nancy Meyers‘ Something’s Gotta Give last night (i.e., Monday) and I was so grateful he wasn’t wearing his leather Neo outfit I almost teared up. He looked so normal and natural and regular guy-ish. Considering the metaphorical implications made me feel light in the head.
“It doesn’t matter what Revolutions makes. Either it gets people where they live (like The Matrix did) or it doesn’t. Millions are going to go this weekend and what of it? Ticket sales don’t mean anything. Not with big-studio tentpolers.
“The Matrix Revolutions is like a bowl of narrative spaghetti, meant to be savored (I presume) for being a wonderful tangle that geek boys can dive into and try to put together in some fashion. But there is no one strand that leads to any kind of thematic core or foundation that seems to support the whole thing. The story hasn’t been told — it’s been heaped upon us like some kind of bizarre attack of live pasta and CGI squid.
“The big attack sequence on Zion is too overwhelming to make much of an impact. Too many millions of sentinels, no way of keeping score, and I don’t want or need this in my life.
“”I know this: When inquiring minds feel they need to compare notes in order to get their heads straight about what may or may not have happened story-wise, which I was doing with friends in front of the Fox Village last Thursday night and then on the phone and internet after that, the movie hasn’t done its job.. Journo after journo raised their eyebrows and gave me that ‘look’ after the all-media screening.
“One guy said, ‘Oh, well…!’ Another said, ‘I hated it!’ Another said, ‘Who was that big Wizard of Oz guy with the big deep voice at the end? Where was he during the last two installments…?’
“The single best bit in the whole thing is when Neo tries running on foot out of the train station, and finds himself right back where he started a second later.
“The second best scenes in the film both belong to Hugo Weaving. His scene with the Oracle, and his scene at the end when he talks about the meaninglessness of it all, blah, blah. That was great.
“They should have left it alone with the original The Matrix, and been proud of that triumph, and gone on to something new and fresh. But no — Joel and the boys and Keanu Reeves wanted to make all that money. And money’s all they’re going to get.”