The Matrix and Geek Culture

I recently published a comment on Wil Wheaton’s blog after he – as so many others – bashed The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions. I’m reposting the comment here because it’s something I feel very strongly about: the critical persecution of two the most brilliant films made in the last decade, and the fashion of anti-intellectual hating/bashing that has taken over the internet.

I am extremely disappointed by this shallow but fashionable bashing of the Matrix sequels.

Just once the creators behind a sequel actually a deliver a film that is more complex than the original, and what does everyone do? What do the self-proclaimed geeks, supposedly so much more intelligent than your average dude, do? They crap all over it because it doesn’t fulfill their expectations of being a rehash of the original, because it questions the simpler ideas the original presented, and because instead of being a fun popcorn flick it’s a serious, adult piece of science fiction and philosophy.

And then it becomes fashionable to hate this, and everyone starts going on about how much The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions sucked, like tiny versions of George Bush laughing about numbers, glorying in their own stupidity. Yes, thinking is hard, we know. It’s so much easier to stand in line with the sheep and tell us over and over again that a film that deals in actual and difficult philosophical questions is so much worse than one than just throws the occasional quote at us.

I keep hoping to see a little more insight from you, Wil. I’ve been following this blog from the very beginning, and always supported your work, and enjoyed what you wrote… so this kind of fashionable and anti-intellectual hating is a big disappointment, even though I realize you’ve expressed similar opinions before. Obviously you’re not required to the conform the wishes of your readers – and why should you – but from someone I’ve always considered intelligent, a more complex opinion would be appreciated.

I can understand that these two films are considerably more challenging than the first one, and that they may take more than one viewing to fully appreciate. I was very disappointed at first by The Matrix Revolutions, for example – but that’s because my expectations had been off, and I hadn’t understood the point of the film (Smith as a metaphor for death, etc.). When I figured it out and adjusted my expectations, I was utterly blown away (and deeply moved) by the film.

I’m disturbed by current geek culture. I used to think like many of them still do – we’re so much more intelligent, we’re the outsiders, etc. – but it’s really a giant ball of bullshit. An obsession with computer technology doesn’t mean you’re more intelligent any more than living in a trailer means you’re stupid. Half these “outsider geniuses” haven’t read a book in their lives, and wouldn’t be able to appreciate a complex film if it hit them on the nose. Geek culture isn’t about intelligence, it’s about clannishness. In fact, it’s turning more and more anti-intellectual, with everyone running after this or that fashion (“M. Night Shyamalan sucks! Ben Affleck sucks! Lost sucks! The Matrix sucks! Long live the 80s!”) like they are always accusing people outside the geek community of doing.

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  1. JM

     /  July 16, 2009

    I don’t know. If you don’t like a movie, you don’t like it, easy as that. Your problem if you get swayed by others. Tastes are different, and some people just don’t like watching a movies several times just to find some kind of meaning. Mulholland Drive is a good example. I watched it once, didn’t like it. Maybe it would have clicked with me after several more watchings, but it would still have been a drag. Same with the Matrix. Maybe the Watchowskis had some genius stuff hidden in it. But the movie was just bad IMHO. I don’t even remember what happened other than Neos girlfriend dying and some fighting between machines and humans.

  2. I don’t know. If you don’t like a movie, you don’t like it, easy as that. Your problem if you get swayed by others.

    Yes. I don’t think everyone has to like The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions – but most people never gave the movies a chance. Not even remotely.

    And some works of art just require more effort, or a second chance. (Think of a great many R.E.M. songs.) If you don’t want to try that, fine, but that way you’ll be missing out on a whole lot.

    But if you’re interested in complex and philosophical science ficton, deriding the Matrix sequels just because it’s fashionable and you never watched them with open eyes is just sad.

  3. But the movie was just bad IMHO.

    Also, this kind of atmosphere of fashionable hatred colours one’s experiences, even backwards in time. I remember that at the time, you actually kind of liked Reloaded, and didn’t think Revolutions was that bad. Granted, you still thought the original was better, but there was plenty you liked.

  4. JM

     /  July 16, 2009

    Your right with Reloaded – did I say anything against it – but Revolutions? As far as I remember, I watched that one one DVD long after it came out, and had to push myself to finish it. Certainly not in cinema.

  5. Your right with Reloaded – did I say anything against it – but Revolutions? As far as I remember, I watched that one one DVD long after it came out, and had to push myself to finish it. Certainly not in cinema.

    I vaguely remember that you didn’t think it was awful, but it wasn’t entirely your thing.

  6. I’m with you on this, Jonas. People don’t like the movies, and I just can’t understand why. They HAD action, but they ALSO had a plot and they made it believable, too.

    My mom didn’t like them because she says Neo should’ve had more power than what the writers gave him, that he should have been a digital version of God in the Matrix. I disagreed with her for two reasons.

    1) Writing with omnipotent characters is REALLY hard because they can just fix everything instantly. This means they either have to be indifferent to the suffering or they have to have some kind of master plan in mind for the story itself. Neo, having neither indifference nor a master plan, is simply a human, a rebellious creation of the machines. These guys knew that giving him all of that power right away would just be dumb.

    2) Neo nearly killed himself trying to use his powers in the real world. His body and mind weren’t ready to use them outside of the Matrix. This, in my opinion, is SMART writing.

    The philosophical side of the story is also very driving for the movie for me. The Matrix Trilogy has a great story, but adding deeper meaning just makes it better for me. I’m the kind of guy who likes a study Bible as opposed to a stored-in-a-pew Bible because I like to read the extensive footnotes and articles in it. So the Matrix movies are right up my alley.

  7. My mom didn’t like them because she says Neo should’ve had more power than what the writers gave him, that he should have been a digital version of God in the Matrix. I disagreed with her for two reasons.

    I think a large part of the point is that having power doesn’t mean you can easily change everything. That’s one of the wonderful things about the sequels – they really question the end of the first movie. So yes, Neo has superpowers. But what should he do with them? Simply defeat the machines? But the humans and machines are interdependent. Enslave the machines? But they are intelligent, too! And so on.

  8. JM

     /  July 16, 2009

    Maybe I was trying to be nice. 🙂 But anyway, tastes differ, and I don’t think that bashing the Matrix movies is just fashionable. There are reasons why people dislike it apart from that. It has to do with the first one just being more enjoyable to watch and less pretentious, or at least covering the pretentious stuff up with good action and innovation. It had high concepts, but was accesible for everyone. The later movies had high concepts, but weren’t accesible, had bad pacing and some terrible scenes. Considering that, it’s not hard to see why the first movie is still liked, yet the trilogy not so much.

  9. TJF588

     /  July 16, 2009

    I’m interested in what the meaning behind the giant Zion party and seeing Neo’s Naked Man Butt (TM) had, at least for the duration it took.

    Also, so much green tint. I feel for JM’s point, about accessibility and airs of pretention. The first movie’s rather contained, I think, in many aspects, while the sequels felt like the sort of pack-it-with-more philosophy (which kinda clashes with your “doesn’t rehash the original” statement, though yours may be more toward plot than “let’s up the Bullet Time (TM) ante!”). ‘course, understand, I haven’t watched them in months, and I’m not much of a credible critic anyway.

    I feel Reloaded’s pretty weak, while I do like Revolutions (mostly for the Neo-vs-Smith events, though my reasons are more aesthetics and “epicness”). Reloaded feels pieced together and I really don’t feel a story within it (I don’t clearly remember even the series of events, maybe because an event scene took so much time (esp. the car chase(s)), and what all there was to tell was split into a video game; whether that contributes to Reloaded’s weak narrative or not, I’unno.

    Still, man-butt. At TV Tropes, that scene was listed as a “Big-Lipped Alligator Moment”. I’d invoke “What Do You Mean It’s Not Symbolic?” or “Rule of Symbolism”, if the “depth” you claim these films have is really just a painted high concept; I’d have to watch the flicks again with those in mind to figure whether they sculpted an epic or rehashed stuff old as dirt.

    Will say, though, that what assumably little I’ve learned from The Matrix Online strikes my interest, and I hope that, since it’ll be ending soon (if it hasn’t already), they find a way to novelise/comicize/stand-alone-ize the story from it.

  10. The much-bashed rave scene is actually extemely touching to me, understood in correct context: it’s all about humans celebrating their physicality, their bodily life in the face of coming death. That’s why sexuality is so central in the second and third film.

    I’ll write an article about it at some point, maybe then you will see the film in a different light.

  11. The later movies had high concepts, but weren’t accesible, had bad pacing and some terrible scenes.

    I don’t think they weren’t accessible, but they did require more thought.

    The first movie’s rather contained, I think, in many aspects, while the sequels felt like the sort of pack-it-with-more philosophy (which kinda clashes with your “doesn’t rehash the original” statement

    But the philosophy is profoundly different. So I don’t think it’s even remotely repetitious. I also find the action scenes absolutely mind-blowing and exciting, because I’m invested in the plot. (The fight on the truck? Absolutely amazing and touching – just thinking of Morpheus in that scene, attempting and achieving what is considered impossible, gives me goosebumps.)

  12. Museum's Guard

     /  July 16, 2009

    Why, I just remembered xkcd comic 610 (Sheeple). I’m not actually adding anything to this discussion, but still.

  13. TJF588

     /  October 14, 2009

    What gets me about Reloaded, at least what’s stayed with me, is that it’s an [action scene]->[philosobabble scene]-> cycle, with few moments of standalone plot development. For examples, scenes where they’re determining what to do with the airship fleet are low in philosophical over/undertones, mostly connecting with the “deeper” matters by proxy; that is, “Morpheus wants to do such and such because he figures something,” without bothering on what that “something” is, since that’s handled in other, more dedicated, scenes. This gives Reloaded a bit of pretension to me, where the film figures it’s being stylish or (or and/or) “deep” that its narrative can be relegated to a flowchart.

    tl;dr: I think I think the second movie, and probably the third, are too heavy-handed in the big ideas and actions that these selling points weren’t integrated into a smooth narrative.

  14. I fear we shall have to agree to disagree – I felt that the movie flowed wonderfully, and that the big ideas are integrated rather subtly.

  15. The reason I disliked the sequels in comparison to the first was mainly the overuse of cgi. I loved the original matrix not only from a plotline point of view but also from a choreographed point of view. in the first one the choreography was beautiful and I felt the cgi in the sequels made it seem too….unreal. I felt detached from the scene. Whereas in the non cgi scenes its like you can feel every blow conneting, you lose this connection with the film and the phasing in and out of cgi sort of lowered my opinion of the sequels I far preferred scenes like the highway chase to the million smiths as the million smiths looked tacky, like the choreography of a badly done anime rehash. And yes a movie should be about the characters, their development and the plot but I also feel this should have been tackled better In an action filled movie like the matrix. Problem is, people bash the story which was actually interesting and innovative. I would still recommend the films to people however.

  16. I agree 100% with Stegg. Putting aside which is the better movie if you watch them many times and thing about them. The matrix had a great scifi concept and executed it with small, well done, and intelligent action sequences.

    But then in the sequel I felt their was way too much over the top action to be as enjoyable as the first film. For example I really have some issues with the end fight between Neo and the world turned Smith. Their is just way too much back and forth trying to make you think one or the other is about to, or has already, won or lost.

    I did love how the film ended with Neo making a truce with the robots.
    But I also felt that they never explained how Neo’s powers were usable outside the Matrix, and that it just did not make sense at all to begin with. I suppose that it must of been trying to hint at the possibility of this reality being as fake and mutable as the Matrix, which is a very interesting concept to explore and I do not want to say that a complex plot is worse then a simple one but it is not necessarily better.

  17. And I cannot believe you just insulted my favourite Star Trek character’s actor.


  18. Santa's Youngest Son

     /  February 3, 2012

    I’ll fist say that obviously, each person is entitled to their own opinion to any kind of thing and you can feel whatever you want towards whatever you want, it doesn’t matter what some other shithead things. This is MY opinion.

    I recently watched the films again. And I like all the three films. But I do think the sequels don’t come even close to the original. It’s not that I don’t like Reloaded and Revolutions, but they are definitely FAR from working for me as well as the first one.

    About people who don’t like the saga at all, I think that probably all the exagerated action and special effects and weird looking stuff… well yeah, that probably drives a lot of audience away. And distracts them from the fact that the films deal some pretty heavy stuff.

    Still, I didn’t get from the sequels the same feeling that I got from the first one.

    Reloaded… man, doesn’t that film feel like a really big action sequence? They just never stop fighting. Look, I like action films, but it’s just too much. They just NEVER stop fighting. And when they do stop, stuff starts exploding. It’s not like I don’t like to see Neo fighting thousands of Smith… but the whole film? Look, I’m not in the same page of tight-ass critics that won’t enjoy a film because it’s not groundbreaking or something like that. I enjoy the film. But if I have to draw the line on what I consider a great film, probably Reloaded doesn’t go in there. I think The Matrix used action in better ways. About the plot, it develops on the story of the Chosen One, all the previous Sions and Chosen Ones, and starts what will be the main complication on Revolutions. There’s a conversation towards the end between Neo and the architect of the Matrix, and a lot about predestination, an idea which I’m not too fond with. Probably the most interesting thing for me is how it treats the programs that aren’t inclined to either side, and have no purpose but just want to continue existing. Existential dilemma and all that. Oh yeah, the Oracle is a control measure, and Smith can burn himself into a person’s brain; I don’t mind that. I like the film, but it just doesn’t work that well for me as the original.

    Revolutions, well, that has a bunch of “real life” action, with machines and shooting and a general turned into a bloddy mess, all that good stuff. Neo can blow up stuff outside of the Matrix, the Matrix is becoming Smithland and all that. Action, action, action, and then we’re ending the film. Trinity dies, sad moment. The robots need Neo, Neo needs the robots not to kill everyone. Unspoken deal, and Neo is to fight Smith. They fight. Predestination talk. Both die, robots make peace with humans. The end is about non-predestination, you know, stuff didn’t go acording to the plan, that’s cool. But I still didn’t get what I got from the first film. Still, I don’t mock the films. They’re good films. But there’s no way I can compare them to the the original. So there goes the first film:

    I think original The Matrix is a really amazing film, I mean, really, really good. I like all kinds of films, I can enjoy a movie that isn’t that deep but just fun… but this isn’t that kind of film. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. Fight Club is another one. And why is that? Because they are about going agaist what is imposed to you by a supposedly higher self-proclaimed self-righteous power. You know, about For me, it has some pretty deep shit in it. And a great thing is, you can take the Matrix it as a metaphor for whatever you want, whatever it means to you; what it is for you will relate to who you are, what you are, what you like and don’t like, and what you do or don’t do, what you’re proud of and what you regret. So if you look at it like that, you can come up with what the movie is about for YOU. That’s kinda cool. When I watch the other two, I don’t get that feeling. I just feel like I’m watching a really cool story but that I can’t interpret, it’s all very explained you know?

    For me it isn’t about Zion, or machines, or a guy named Neo. It’s about our world, about mental slavery. I like the whole film, of course; I even like the slowmotion-shooting-dodge-jumping-punching-exploding action. But I think the best of the film is in the first 50 minutes. Morpheus speech when Neo first meets him, the speech that Neo’s boss gives about doing what you’re supposed to do, Smith’s little speech in the interrogation room about, well, about pretty much the same thing. The way Neo reacts in the beggining, not accepting that the world sucks, not liking what he sees. I also like the Cypher character, he kind of serves as a show of how people prefer looking the other way. That’s where the best in the film is for me. When the film ends, it’s not about Neo unplugging people from people-farms that serve as batteries for the machines, but about telling YOU “Come on man, unplug yourself from daily drudgery, get drunk, quit your job, set your car on fire, grab a baseball bat and go wailing on your TV, punch Donald Trump in the face”, you know? Do whatever you want, stop doing what your supposed to do. There’s a world of possibilities is out there. Stop whinning, you know?

    I don’t say any of this because most people think that way or anything. It’s a genuine opinion.