Do I even want to go and see The Matrix Resurrections?

This week, the official trailer for The Matrix Resurrections – supposedly the fourth film in the Matrix series – was released, and despite really liking the Matrix trilogy (I’m one of what seems like a minority of people who like the second and third films), I find myself wandering whether I should even go and see this film at all.

In recent years, Hollywood has created a lot of sequels to films and series’ that had seemed to be over and complete many years or even decades ago: Disney’s attempt at a Star Wars trilogy, the new Jumanji films, the Jurassic World films, the Fantastic Beasts films, Independence Day: Resurgence, and more that I can’t remember.

Many (but not all) of these haven’t been very good, and some – like Disney’s Star Wars films – have been absolute garbage. (You’d think that, given how obsessed Hollywood seems to be with sequels, that they’d have gotten good at them by now.)

And at this point, I have very little trust in Hollywood that they can make a sequel to a film or series – particularly one that was made over a decade ago – that doesn’t just completely ruin the whole thing. This is no longer a per-franchise problem – it’s no longer ‘Oh well that sequel film wasn’t very good but sequel films for other franchises will probably still be great.’ – I think we’re at the point (well beyond the point, some would argue) where we just cannot trust Hollywood with any sequel to any film or series.

This problem does seem to be particularly prominent for films or series’ made over a decade ago. (Unbelievably, The Matrix Revolutions came out in 2003!) I think this is partly because filmmakers don’t want to imitate the style of older films (even though they could do so very easily) – either the style of storytelling or the technical style. This is one of the apprehensions I have about The Matrix 4 after seeing the trailer – it seems very apparent to me that they have not tried to reproduce the visual style of the original three films. This will make it very difficult for this film to sit alongside the other three.

But even more important than that, the ending of The Matrix Revolutions was conclusive – the end of a war – it doesn’t get much more conclusive than that. Continuing the story after that necessarily means that you either have to have a ‘quieter’ period within the world of the story, where the necessary world-building can happen to build up to a more dramatic time period, or you have to undo something about the previous ending. Hollywood always seems to go for the second option, which is the incorrect option, as it undermines the previous story, and any character development that happened in it. (This is the option that Disney went for with the Star Wars films, and it’s a big part of what killed the franchise.)

Based on the glimpses that we get from the trailer, it appears that the matrix is still running, and Neo and Trinity are somehow back inside it, despite both dying at the end of the last film. (Now, it’s generally not a good idea to try to work out the story of a film like this based on its trailer – the trailers are designed to confuse you as to what the actual story is – but this is what appears to be true.) While the conclusion to the last film was that the matrix would continue, but anyone who wanted out would be freed, it does look like something is going to be undone with this new film.

(Also, Laurence Fishburne is not returning for this film, despite the character of Morpheus being in it. I don’t know why this is – it’s possible that he simply didn’t want to. But Laurence Fishburne was iconic as Morpheus, and it really lowers my confidence in the film that he’s not in it.)

So I really don’t know if I want to go and see this film at all. It seems likely that this film is going to undo part of the ending of the previous films. That will in turn make this film unpopular, reducing the chances that a subsequent film or two are made to complete what will almost certainly be a new trilogy of films (because how can you follow a big trilogy of films with just one more film – surely you have to have another trilogy?). That will leave us with the original trilogy, plus one, maybe two more films that undermine the original trilogy, and which aren’t in themselves complete. It seems to me like this series is likely to end up a mess.

I will probably decide closer to the time whether I actually want to see it or not.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Review

On to the originals. My posts about these films aren’t really going to be reviews, so much. Almost everyone already agrees that these are good films, so there’s no need for me to go through them and point out the good things in them. Instead, in these posts, I’m just going to make some observations about the films, and point out that some of the things that the prequels are criticised for also exist in the originals, but a lot of people are much more forgiving of them.

Watching the films in the order that is chronological for the internal universe really highlights that the original Star Wars films were very simple films. The prequels are a lot busier by comparison – a lot more happens in them, over far greater scales, and it happens a lot faster. In fact I think the complexity of the prequels is part of the reason why a lot of people don’t like them (not that I ever really hear anyone say that), whereas the simplicity of the originals is partly why they are so successful. The originals don’t try to do too much – why, in Episode V, Han, Chewbacca, and Leia spend most of their time just trying to avoid capture. In this way the originals are also unlike the main Disney films. Those films are also very busy – it seems to be a very common thing with modern Hollywood films – they don’t like to have a scene with just two characters talking or trying to solve a problem – they like to have five characters all talking to each other while trying to solve one problem while walking to another location where there’s another problem.

An example of the simplicity of this film is right at the start. When C-3PO and R2-D2 land on Tatooine in their escape pod, they land in the middle of nowhere. This is very likely, given that Tatooine is mostly desert. Their first objective is to find their way out of the desert. Even this goes wrong, and they end up being captured by the Jawas. They do eventually find Luke and get to Obi-wan, but all of this takes quite a bit of screen time. If this were a Disney film, I expect the droids would land right outside wherever it is that Obi-wan lives.

In the original films, C-3PO and R2-D2 get a lot more to do, and are a lot more interesting. They don’t get as much to do in the prequels – partly because those films are just so busy – and they are merely accessories in the Disney films. The banter between them is much better in the originals – it’s great that R2-D2 plays the fool in order to get his way, and that we can tell that simply from what he does and what C-3PO says.

Peter Cushing is just amazing. He has such extraordinary presence. Just from the way he walks into the room in his first scene, you can tell that he’s in charge – the way he walks is brisk, confident, and assured, but not arrogant – which is what you would expect from someone near to the top of the empire, and who has a lot of power and authority. Despite there being other people playing similar parts in Star Wars films since then, no-one has managed to equal that portrayal – no-one else has had that presence.

Even though it was actually different in the original version of A New Hope, when it came out in cinemas, I really like the concept of Jabba the Hutt. I really like the idea of giant slugs being the mobsters of the universe. This shows the raw creativity that went into the original Star Wars films. Again, if this were a Disney film, Jabba the Hutt would probably have been humanoid. The Disney films seemed to be very against having any characters that deviated much from humans.

As with the prequels, there are some bad reaction shots in this film. In fact there’s one particularly egregious example, and that’s Luke’s reaction to seeing his aunt and uncle incinerated. This reaction is nowhere near strong enough. This reaction is so underplayed that the first two or three times that I watched this film (many years ago now – back when I was about twelve or something), I didn’t even realise that those skeletons were his aunt and uncle. I just thought that they were two other random people who happened to be in the area – precisely because Luke’s reaction isn’t very strong. Luke is looking at the bloody skeletons of his aunt and uncle, and his reaction is to just slowly look away. It’s not strong enough.

There are also several bad lines in this film. The dialogue between Luke and Han when Luke tries to convince Han to rescue Leia is a bit unrealistic. And the dialogue between Luke and Biggs is – I dislike the word ‘cheesy’, but that’s the only word that really describes it. The performance of that dialogue is amateurish. It’s bad in the same way that some of the dialogue in the prequels is bad.

They convey the sense of scale in this film very well. This is something I’m very interested in with films that have very large objects or environments in them. In this film, the Death Star genuinely feels big. This is something that they failed to do in The Force Awakens – in that film, Starkiller Base did not come across as something planet-sized. Conveying scale well is all about physics. Large objects in large environments work differently to everyday-sized objects. Another example of a film that failed to convey scale well was Jupiter Ascending. In that film, ships go in and out of Jupiter’s Red Eye storm. The ships are shown as being comparable in size to the storm itself, but in reality, the Eye of Jupiter is 1.3 times the width of planet Earth – far bigger than the ships.

Part of how the scale of the Death Star is conveyed is the final battle of the film. The final battle has a lot of screen time, and we see a lot of the surface of the Death Star in it. This close, the surface of the Death Star appears flat. This is what shows its scale – we’ve seen that the Death Star appears spherical from afar, but when you get close to it, it’s so big that you can’t tell at all – and we see lots of positions in between these two extremes throughout the film.

This final battle also shows the simplicity of the film – which is part of its success. The rebels make multiple attempts to blow up the Death Star, and several of them fail. This raises the tension. As the battle goes on, fewer and fewer ships remain to make the attempt, and the more times they fail, the harder we understand it to be. The fact that the film takes its time in this battle is what makes it successful.

And finally, my favourite scene in this film is the final one – for one reason: the music. The music in the final scene is just fantastic. Of course, this film being the first Star Wars film, it gets the credit for all of the main music in the series, but I particularly like the music in that final scene. It’s not just triumphant, but a true finale.

So this film is good, but not without its flaws. Its main success over the prequels comes from it giving enough time for the various scenes and sequences – it doesn’t rush anything. In terms of raw creativity, world-building, performances, music – this film and any of the prequels are roughly equal, I think.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – Review

So, Episode III. I get the sense that this is the prequel film that people like the most. It does have a great many excellent moments – particularly after the half-way point, where Anakin becomes Darth Vader. I like almost everything in the second half of this film.

As with the review for the previous film, in this review I’m going to have to go through the events of the film in mostly-chronological order. (I would prefer to split the review by the different aspects of filmmaking, but that’s not really possible with this film.) A lot happens in this film, and a lot of the scenes we see build very rapidly on previous scenes.

The opening sequence is excellent. Such a complex, low-altitude space battle is not something we’ve seen before in this series. And George Lucas putting it over Coruscant leads to many interesting questions – if anything of sufficient size falls to the ground, it will cause A LOT of destruction – there’s nothing but city down there – anything that falls WILL kill a lot of people. Since Palpatine is ultimately orchestrating this entire war, and could stop it at any moment, it shows how little regard he has for the people of the soon-to-be empire.

The buzz droids are also not something we’ve seen before. They are an interesting new weapon, and an example of good world-building. In a universe with droids as clever and common as R2-D2, buzz droids would definitely exist.

We even get some good character moments in the opening sequence. Anakin’s determination to save Obi-wan from the buzz droids makes the ending to this film all the more tragic. But then despite Anakin saving Obi-wan, Obi-wan still berates Anakin – as he did throughout the last film – that Grievous’ ship’s shields are still up.

Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee are brilliant as always. If this film were released today, I’m sure the way McDiarmid plays Palpatine would be described as over-the-top, cartoonish – or even slightly flamboyant. There is a trend at the moment for gritty villains. But McDiarmid playing the character in this way is what makes it enjoyable – the character isn’t supposed to be some pretentious mIrRoR tO tHe AuDiEnCe – he’s supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil – someone who is devious and cunning – and McDiarmid plays that perfectly.

Like with the last two films, there are some odd lines of dialogue in this film. Some very noticeable examples are in the conversation between Anakin and Obi-wan after they have gotten the chancellor back, and just before Obi-wan goes back to the temple. This entire conversation is a bit off – the whole thing sounds like two actors acting rather than two people who are actually friends talking to each other. Once again, I think this is a writing problem – the lines just haven’t been written in a very natural way.

We then get many scenes that are great setup for Anakin’s fall. Anakin starts getting visions of Padmé’s death and he goes to Yoda for advice. (As a side note, I really like that Anakin can go to Grandmaster Yoda – this again shows how Yoda is not just the leader of a martial order, but a spiritual one too – he has to be involved as much in the moral training of the Jedi as the day-to-day running of a martial school.) The advice that Yoda gives Anakin is ‘Train yourself to let go.’.

This is the worst possible advice to give Anakin at this moment – he is never going to follow that advice. This shows how even if the Jedi’s teachings are correct, they did not adjust how they taught them for Anakin – who of course, was older than most people are when they join the Jedi Order – they knew he had already formed attachments – they needed to adjust his training based on that. And here, Yoda doesn’t know the exact details of Anakin’s situation, of course, but as soon as a Jedi as powerful as Anakin – and the Chosen One – came to him talking about fearing someone’s death, Yoda should have inquired more. This should have been a red flag for Yoda.

Anakin keeps getting bad instruction and bad advice from the Jedi Order – Obi-wan constantly berates him, and now when he goes to Yoda he doesn’t get the right advice. They are not good mentors for Anakin.

At the same time, Anakin sees Palpatine as an excellent mentor – his true mentor. There are several scenes in the previous film and this one that show that Palpatine has befriended Anakin over the time he’s been on Coruscant. (In truth, these scenes have told us this rather than shown it – through off-hand lines of dialogue. Seeing Palpatine befriend Anakin should probably have been a more major component of these films, given how important it is – it could certainly have replaced some of the overly-long action sequences – but I’m not sure it could ever have been given enough time given that this is just three films – this is perhaps another reason why the story of the prequels might be better told through a long-form television series than a film series, but at the time the prequels were made, such series’ were less common.)

Palpatine often compliments Anakin. In the previous film, Palpatine tells Anakin ‘You are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met.’. Later in this film, he says that Anakin is the obvious choice to be the one to hunt down General Grievous, and at around this point in the film he tells Anakin that he is appointing him to be his personal representative on the Jedi Council. Anakin immediately assumes that this means he will be a Jedi Master, and from his reaction it is apparent that he has always wanted this (and probably believes that he already should be one). For the entire time that Anakin has been training to be a Jedi, he has been told that he is the Chosen One – he is expected to be a great Jedi, and he has always wanted to meet that expectation. After years of feeling like Obi-wan has been holding him back, it is now Palpatine who allows him to progress. Anakin keeps receiving good sentiments from Palpatine, and now Palpatine is giving him the opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to do – Anakin sees Palpatine as a good mentor. This is all excellent setup for Anakin’s fall.

The Jedi give Anakin a seat on the Council, but they do not grant him the rank of master. Anakin is angered by this. He sees it as unfair, and as the Council deliberately holding him back. This adds to Anakin seeing the Jedi Council as being in opposition to him (something which started when Anakin first met the Jedi Council in Episode I – they did not want him to be trained as a Jedi – his first impression of the Jedi Council was as something that would get in the way of what he wants to be and do).

Then the Council asks Anakin to report on what the chancellor is up to. Anakin strongly dislikes this – it goes against the Jedi Code – it goes against what he has been taught that it means to be a good Jedi. Anakin first being denied the rank of master and then being asked to spy on Palpatine are more excellent setup for Anakin’s fall. First he is prevented from being the great Jedi he wants and is expected to be, and then he is asked to do something that a great Jedi would never do. It puts Anakin in direct conflict with the Council, and he realises that they are not the moral paragons that he has been taught that they are (which leads into the later line of ‘From my point of view the Jedi are evil.’). The Jedi Council asking him off-record to do this makes it worse – they are being secretive and deceptive – qualities that are associated with the Sith. The line from Obi-wan at the end of the scene ‘The Council is asking you.’ is the perfect line to end on – this makes it clear to Anakin that it is the Jedi Council – and thus the institution of the Jedi – that is the problem.

This scene also shows Anakin’s naïveté when it comes to politics. Palpatine putting Anakin on the Jedi Council was him trying to get Anakin to spy on the Council for him, but Anakin didn’t see it that way, because it wasn’t put that way (and because Anakin was blinded by ambition). Anakin should have disliked the idea of reporting on what the Council was doing to Palpatine as much as the idea of reporting on what Palpatine was doing to the Council, but he didn’t, because he couldn’t see what Palpatine was up to.

All of this is a master stroke of writing. We see how the Jedi are not good mentors to Anakin, while Anakin increasingly sees Palpatine as his true mentor. We see Anakin increasingly see the Council as being opposed to him, preventing him from becoming the great Jedi that he was told he would be and that he wants to be. We see the Jedi Council ask Anakin to do something against the Jedi Code – the moral code that they teach as the way to act – and spy on the very person who Anakin sees as his true mentor. This is all brilliant setup for Anakin’s fall.

After this we get the famous scene in the opera. This scene is so memorable that most Star Wars fans can quote it word for word. The best thing about this scene, of course, is Ian McDiarmid’s performance – again, maybe it’s a little bit over-the-top, but I think that’s good – that’s part of what makes it memorable. When I rewatched this film, one line that struck me as great was ‘If they haven’t included you in their plot, they soon will.’ – what a deliciously manipulative line for Palpatine to say to Anakin.

Shortly after that we get the final scene between Obi-wan and Anakin before Anakin turns to the Dark Side. Now, there’s nothing about the scene that suggests that this will be the last time they speak before Anakin turns to the dark side – there’s nothing foreboding about it – you only realise that it is the last scene when you rewatch the film, but that makes it all the more tragic. This final scene shows a very ordinary conversation. This means that from Obi-wan’s point of view, everything seemed fine, and it’s only when he returns from Utapau that he starts to see what’s happened.

What’s also interesting about this scene is that we finally see Obi-wan praise Anakin – ‘You have become a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be.’ – after berating him almost constantly for years. Had Obi-wan not berated Anakin so much, Anakin might not have started seeing Palpatine as his true mentor, but this praise is too late.

The world design of Utapau is excellent – we’ve not seen a world like this before in Star Wars. The prequels are excellent in how many new worlds and species are introduced. Grievous has an interesting character design – once a completely biological lifeform, he is now mostly machine – good foreshadowing of what Anakin will become. The fight scene between Obi-wan and Grievous is perhaps overly long (or perhaps other parts of the film are not long enough), but at least it incorporates elements that we’ve not seen before.

The scene where Anakin realises that Palpatine is a Sith Lord is good, but it needed to be a bigger moment. This is a pivotal moment in the story of the prequels – this moment and the moment where Anakin becomes Palpatine’s apprentice are possibly the two biggest moments – but it doesn’t entirely seem like the big revelation that it should be for Anakin. For that I think there needed to be more focus on Anakin’s reactions to every line Palpatine said, and more tension in the scene overall. The success of this scene depends not on the audience realising that Palpatine is a Sith Lord – we already know that – but on us seeing Anakin realise that, and understanding how he reacts to it – which we don’t get enough. Anakin has been told he is the Chosen One who will destroy the Sith for years – we should have seen a reaction from him of deep suspicion and indecision.

And then we get to the most important scene of the prequels – the scene where the Jedi try to arrest Palpatine, and where Anakin turns to the Dark Side and becomes Palpatine’s new apprentice.

As has been commented many times before, the fighting between Palpatine and the Jedi could have been a lot better. It veers between fairly slow, simple fight choreography between the actual actors, and a CGI Ian McDiarmid jumping around unnecessarily. This should have been an epic, memorable fight, and it’s not (well, it’s memorable for the wrong reasons). I get the sense from behind-the-scenes videos that they just didn’t spend enough time on this aspect of the scene.

Mace Windu overpowers Palpatine, of course, and then Anakin comes in. Anakin has not seen the fight, nor heard anything that Palpatine said to the Jedi, and now he must choose who to believe about what has happened. The setup to this moment is fantastic – who does Anakin believe? Does he believe Master Windu, who has never trusted him – who was the person who said that he wouldn’t be trained as a Jedi, and then that he would not be given the rank of master – who is part of the Jedi Council, which Anakin has long found frustrating, and which asked him to do something against the Jedi Code, and who is now about to do something against the Jedi Code? Or does he believe the person he has long seen as his true mentor, and who claims can teach him how to save Padmé? It’s glaringly obvious which one he would choose in the end.

I like almost everything in the film from the point where Anakin turns to the Dark Side onwards. The music as Order 66 is executed is fantastic – sorrowful, mournful. We even get some great world-building as that happens – we see several completely new planets, with very different terrains and life-forms, just for a few seconds each as part of the montage. It’s more world-building than we get in all of the Disney films. The sight of the Jedi Temple on fire at night is also delightfully tragic.

The fight between Anakin and Obi-wan on Mustafar is one of the highlights of the trilogy, I think. Mustafar is another environment that we haven’t seen so far in the series, and an excellent choice of backdrop for a fight between father and son, or between brothers, that will decide the fate of the galaxy. The music – Battle of the Heroes – is outstanding – both epic and tragic. I know very little about sword-fighting, so I couldn’t say exactly how good or bad the fight choreography is, but throughout the entire sequence, it looks like both characters are giving it all they’ve got.

I think possibly the best line of the prequel trilogy is Obi-wan saying ‘I have failed you, Anakin. I have failed you.’ – because it is absolutely true, and it’s only now that it’s too late that Obi-wan has realised it.

It is a beautiful tragedy when Obi-wan has to watch Anakin be burned by the lava. He has to watch the destruction of his pupil and brother, who by this point hates him not just because he is on the opposing side of a war, but because he has been the source of his frustration for years, and is now just letting him burn. I think Christensen performs brilliantly in this scene (and so does McGregor, when I think about it).

There are some bad lines in this part of the film. Some of Padmé’s lines when she’s talking to Anakin after she arrives on Mustafar are a bit odd. I think that, as ever, this is down to how the dialogue is written – it’s far too terse – and a lack of reaction shots and close-ups. Also, after the Mustafar sequence, when Padmé is dying, and the robot says ‘She’s dying, and we don’t know why … She’s lost the will to live.’ – this is a bit daft.

At the same time as the sequence on Mustafar, we see the fight between Yoda and Palpatine. Once again, Lucas finds a way of doing something different with the fight – this one taking place in the main senate hall. The destruction of the senate hall as the head of the Sith and the head of the Jedi fight is a simple symbolism, but a satisfying one.

After all of that, there are various short scenes that wind down the film, and the trilogy. Qui-gon being the first Jedi to become a force ghost is a nice touch – you get the sense that if there’s anyone who would be the first, it would be him. Padmé’s funeral, while short, and sort of cliché, is beautifully tragic – and a great scene to have at the end of this trilogy – the tragedy of Padmé Amidala and the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker are essentially one and the same.

This film has an extraordinary number of excellent aspects. It has some bad lines of dialogue, and there are many missing reaction shots. Some of the scenes are too long, others too short, others not impactful enough. The film has many flaws, but I don’t think they at all outweigh the extraordinary number of good things about the film. This is an excellent, but imperfect, film.

This is the same as what I said about the previous two films. There are many, many great things about this trilogy, and the idea that it was a complete disaster, as some people seem to think, is completely flawed. To see this trilogy as a disaster, you would have to ignore about 90% of it, and over-focus on about four or five lines of dialogue throughout the three films. You would have to ignore all of the great world-building, the great actors, the great performances, the great sword fights, the great costume design, the great music, a story structure which is unlike most of what we get from modern Hollywood (one of the things people who like The Last Jedi claim is great about the film was that it didn’t follow the same tired structure that a lot of space fantasy films do – well the prequels also don’t follow that same structure), and you would have to over-focus on ‘I don’t like sand.’ – a line so forgettable and ignorable that I’m amazed anyone at all complains about it.

If nothing else, writing these reviews has shown me just how many things I like about these films, and I will now be able to come back to this review if I want to think over these things again.