Thursday, April 11, 2019

Defending The Matrix Sequels

Originally published at Audiences Everywhere on 2/6/15
Warner Bros.
When The Matrix was released in 1999, it was met with a resounding rush of enthusiasm. It was the kind of cool that only the advent of a new millennium could create. While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace brought new interest (and heaps of criticism) to the franchise that had started a science fiction revolution two decades earlier, the Wachowskis pushed science-fiction forward, blending the excitement and fear of the internet age, anime, black leather, and sunglasses into something refreshing and mind-bending. At the start of the millennium, there was nothing more current than discussing bullet time and listening to Destiny’s Child singing “Say My Name.”
With the amount of hype that was built up for the release of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, expectations were always going to be impossible to live up to. The sequels, the third more so than the second, were torn to shreds, while the box office provided a final green glow before the age of superhero films started in earnest. And now, a little over eleven years since The Matrix Revolutions was released, many of the pop culturally minded look back on what was a great first installment without bothering to revisit the sequels, which leads me to my question. Assuming it’s possible to be let down by the same movie more than once: Are The Matrix sequels still let downs, still the cinematic equivalent of diarrhea that so many critics and former fans have made them out to be for the last decade plus? Allow me to blow your minds by telling you that The Matrix sequels were never bad and never deserved your feelings of disappointment. Feel that ripple around you? That’s just me altering your world. So give me your best Keanu Reeves “whoa” and follow me down this rabbit hole.
The Wachowskis have always been ambitious, overly so, and sometimes to the point of alienating their core audience. Even with their first feature, Bound, they pushed the envelope and tried to take viewers out of their comfort zones. They did this more recently with Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas (the latter a more triumphant success than the former, I’d argue), and I hope they do it with Jupiter Ascending. In each instance, the majority of critics and audiences have rejected their attempts, leading many to wonder what happened to the brilliant directors who gave us The Matrix. I’ll tell you what happened: they red pilled us. For all of its advances and creativity, The Matrix provides comfort. It’s just twisty and philosophical enough to make sure the masses aren’t left behind. Like the Wachowskis scripted V for Vendetta (a film I enjoy quite a lot, though not as much as the work on which it’s based), The Matrix is a simplification of something that’s not simple at all, a means for us to pat ourselves on the back and feel intelligent for figuring it out, while leaving just enough questions for water cooler discussions. (Do those even happen anymore?)
With, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, the Wachowskis get full on philosophical and mythological, without directly providing us with all the answers. I still won’t pretend I fully understand how exile programs have resulted in our legends about vampires and werewolves, and some of the new concepts are introduced far too fast and frequently to digest on the first go round. The scene with the Architect is filled with enough information that each sentence could be unpacked line by line. While the sequels don’t provide absolute clarity, they do provide the means for us to find the answers, to seek knowledge outside of the film, but the Wachowskis stop spoonfeeding us and make us work for sustenance and satisfaction. After all, “there is no spoon.”
I’m not saying the films are without their flaws; there’s some shoddy, texture-less CGI and the sweaty, grinding party in Zion goes on for an uncomfortably long amount of time (what kind of dancing was that anyway?). But even if we call ‘bullshit’ on the Wachowskis’ examination of the nature of free will and Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey,’ there are visual highlights of the films that cannot be denied. The freeway battle in Reloaded and the finale battle between Neo and Smith in Revolutions are still two of the standout big-budget action scenes of the last two decades. There’s also the fact that the Wachowskis create the most racially diverse depiction of the future ever put on film. Seeing people like me represented as sci-fi heroes is one of the reasons why the franchise was so impactful growing up. So the sequels are not as streamlined as the first, and there are times when they sag under the weight of what can only be called “too much muchness,” but for every flaw or supposed flaw, I see achievement and a willingness to do something different when so many blockbuster sequels play it safe and ask nothing of their audiences.
As a story without a true ending, Reloaded isn’t a fully formed sequel. And as the second half of a story that’s revealed as a cycle, Revolutions isn’t a fully formed conclusion. But this serialized sort of storytelling is exactly what audiences are clamoring for with the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now. If we view Reloaded and Revolutions not as two distinct films but as halves of one story, I think they work much better in terms of narrative. I can empathize with the reasons behind some people’s dissatisfaction with the conclusion. After all, the film does end on a note that Neo’s heroics may ultimately be for nothing and it never entirely answers whether he has free will or not, but aren’t these notions the ultimate question of life? In this world of sentient programs with God-complexes and overpowered digital messiahs, The Wachowskis are only providing a cinematic path to get us to consider the questions we face every day, whether they be consciously or subconsciously addressed. If it’s been a while since you’ve entered the Matrix, I encourage you to watch all three films and consider them in a new light. After all the big-budget films I’ve seen and important questions they have posed, I still stand by the fact that there’s nothing like The Matrix sequels, and I doubt there ever will be again.


Originally published at Audiences Everywhere on 2/5/15
Yesterday, Marvel released the first teaser trailer for their Netflix original series, Daredevil and it got a lot of people talking. We’re all about the Marvel Cinematic Universe here at AE, and we want to make sure your knowledge of Daredevil and his world doesn’t simply boil down to 2003’s misfire. To help you out and satiate that burning desire for more comic book knowledge that I know you all have, here’s everything you need to know about Daredevil.
Bill Everett/Jack Kirby (Marvel Comics)
The Comic: Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil, first appeared in 1964 in Daredevil #1 under the creative prowess of Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett. Daredevil resulted from Stan Lee’s desire to create a handicapped hero after reading an article that a blind person’s remaining senses become magnified. As a play on the notion that justice is blind, Lee made Murdock a lawyer who fought to save Hell’s Kitchen in and out of the costume. Through the 60s and 70s, Daredevil was depicted as a swashbuckling acrobat, a bit of a prankster akin to Spider-Man, but without the young adult issues and memorable villains. The origin story that Lee created has remained relatively intact over the decades. But the personality of Matt Murdock and his alter-ego Daredevil underwent a drastic shift during the 80s, setting the course for how he and his supporting characters appeared for the next 30 years.
After Lee left the comic, Daredevil underwent creative shift after shift (even becoming sci-fi centric at one point) and sales plummeted. When writer/artist Frank Miller took over (prior to his transformative work with Batman in The Dark Knight Returns), he changed the tone of the book and altered continuity as he saw fit, throwing out most of the character’s former villains and replacing them with new ones. One of the most notable changes under Miller, was taking the retired Spider-Man villain, The Kingpin and making him Daredevil’s nemesis. Miller pushed the book away from superhero theatrics, choosing instead to explore the gritty, mean streets of NYC, a place not of capes, and powers but of prostitution, abuse, drug shipments, and martial arts mysticism. It was during this time that the ninja clan known as The Hand, Mudrock’s blind sensei Sick, and assassin and love interest Elektra were introduced. As his world was reshaped, Daredevil became more of a battered boxer, a man committed to an ideal but also self-destructive violence.
Frank Miller (Marvel Comics)
Frank Miller (Marvel Comics)
After he left the series, Miller returned for what is considered the greatest Daredevil arc of all time, Born Again, in which The Kingpin learns that Daredevil is Matt Murdock and uses that knowledge to destroy his home, career, and identity. As one of the greatest deconstructions of a hero of all time, Miller also used the storyline to cement the importance of faith and Catholicism in Murdock’s identity as well as his struggle with depression. Daredevil, under numerous writers during the 90s, tried to remain true to Miller’s grit and realism by dealing with issues of feminism, mental illness and addiction, but the series never matched the sales it achieved in the 80s.
In 1998, Daredevil was successfully relaunched with a new issue #1 (the continuity introduced in the 80s remained intact) under filmmaker Kevin Smith. Smith’s Guardian Devil arc is a thematic successor to Born Again, meant to deconstruct Murdock’s faith. The 2000s were led by two successful creative runs by Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker which brought greater attention to Murdock’s law cases and his struggles with mental illness. In the current series written by Mark Waid, Daredevil operates out of San Francisco with a more positive lease on life and a more colorful menagerie of villains. Waid’s series will reach its conclusion this summer, and Daredevil will be relaunched with a new creative team.

Necessary Reading Material (in chronological order):
Chris Samnee (Marvel Comics)
Chris Samnee (Marvel Comics)
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus (collects #158-191)
Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Daredevil: Guardian Devil by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada
Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev Ultimate Collection vol. 1-3
Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark Ultimate Collection vol. 1-3
Daredevil vol. 1 by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

The TV Show: Daredevil is Marvel’s first venture with Netflix and its first steps to explore the seedy, crime-driven underbelly of Marvel’s NYC. Marvel and Netflix have three other series planned, AKA Jessica JonesLuke Cage, and Iron Fist, which will culminate in the Netflix miniseries, The Defenders. While all of these series will take place in the same universe as The Avengers and Agents of SHIELD, Marvel is seeking to differentiate the Netflix series from the rest of the MCU, offering more mature and graphic entertainment. Daredevil’s original showrunner was Drew Goddard of Buffy and The Cabin in the Woods fame, before Sony snatched him up to direct Sinister Six that may or may not happen. Goddard wrote and directed the first episode, but Steven S. DeKnight of Spartacus fame has replaced him as showrunner. DeKnight hasn’t provided many details about the direction, other than the fact it will take cues from Taxi DriverDog Day AfternoonThe French Connection, and The Wire.  It’s safe to bet that the series will be taking its time in introducing characters and concepts, which is why we won’t see Elektra or Bullseye this season. The 13 episode series will likely feel more like an extended movie than a villain-of-the-week network show, which means we’re in for a deeply personal look at the character.
The Tone: Steven S. DeKnight has confirmed that the show won’t be based on any specific storyline, but will draw its main inspiration from Miller and Bendis’ runs. As you can tell from the trailer, Daredevil is without question Marvel’s darkest offering yet. You can expect to get the full treatment of drugs, violence and martial arts that popularized those runs. It also seems likely that since the series will be more adult-oriented, we’ll witness some of the complicated moral positions lawyers find themselves in. There were some rumors circulating last year that the series would be set in the 80s, but this hasn’t been confirmed and the teaser doesn’t offer evidence either way. No matter what time period in which it’s set, you can be assured that we’re up for something different from Marvel Studios.
Confirmed Characters:
John Romita Jr. (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
John Romita Jr. (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox): Matt Murdock’s father was a local boxer, and his mother left him to become a nun after her inability to cope with postpartum depression. Matt’s father, Jack, forbid him to fight, and made him spend all of his time studying so that Matt wouldn’t end up like him. As a result of not engaging in fights at school, kids began to mock Matt with the name Daredevil.  Matt was blinded when he pushed an elderly man out the way of a truck carrying radioactive wastes from Stark Enterprises. Matt devoted himself to continuing his studies, while taking out his aggression at the boxing gym in secret. Matt was soon discovered by Stick, an old blind man who revealed that Matt’s heightened senses and acrobatic prowess were not a result of radioactivity, but a natural ability of all blind people given a willingness to learn. Matt attended Law School at Columbia University where he met his future best friend and law partner, Foggy Nelson. When Matt’s father was murdered by local mob boss, The Fixer, after refusing to throw a fight, Matt’s lust for vengeance led him to become the billy-club wielding Daredevil. After finding his father’s killer, he devoted himself to protecting Hell’s Kitchen. Originally dressed in a black, urban ninja outfit, Murdock soon adopted a red and yellow, horned costume made from his father’s boxing robes before donning the traditional red, horned suit. His nickname, The Man Without Fear, comes not from the fact that he is fearless, but because he is afraid and can rise to overcome it. In the series he will be portrayed by Charlie Cox of Boardwalk Empire and The Theory of Everything. Cox’s casting was an unexpected choice but he seems well equipped to deliver to sincerity, selflessness and self-abuse of the character. While all the promotional material so far has depicted him the black ninja outfit, we’ll see him wearing his more traditional garb by the season’s end.
Where you may have seen him before: While he’s appeared in a number of Marvel’s animated series over the years, Daredevil’s first live-action appearance was in the Bill Bixby led 1989 Incredible Hulk TV movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and was portrayed by Rex Smith. Most notably he was portrayed by Ben Affleck in 2003’s Daredevil, and I still stand by the fact that the movie was not Affleck’s fault.
David Mazzucchelli (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
David Mazzucchelli (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll): Karen Page first appeared in Daredevil #1, 1964. She began as the secretary for Nelson and Murdock’s law firm, she was also the object of affection for both men, setting up a love triangle. After Matt revealed his secret identity to her, Karen ends her relationship with Matt and decides to become a film actress. To say her film career went poorly would be an understatement. She becomes a porn star and develops a heroin addiction. In the famous Born Again storyline, Karen sells Matt’s secret identity for a fix. Near death, Matt saves her and nurses her back to health. Their relationship ends when Matt cheats on her with villain Typhoid Mary. Their relationship continues off and on until Karen moves to L.A. and becomes a morning radio host. She eventually returns to Matt and reveals that she’s HIV positive (later revealed to be a ruse set up by the villain Mysterio). Karen was killed by Bullseye during Kevin Smith’s arc and she hasn’t returned since. In the series she’ll be portrayed by True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll. As the teaser suggests, Karen won’t start out particularly innocent and we may see the traumatic side of her life sooner rather than later.
Where you may have seen her before: Karen Page has a few minor scenes in the director’s cut of 2003’s Daredevil where she is portrayed by Ellen Pompeo.
Chris Samnee (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Chris Samnee (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson): Franklin “Foggy” Nelson first appeared in Daredevil #1, 1964. He first met Matt at Columbia University where Matt protected him from bullies and helped him study. Despite being used as comedic relief from time to time, Nelson is a fully capable lawyer, perhaps even moreso than Murdock. While Murdock is known for his quick thinking and improvisation, Nelson is the research backbone of their firm. Despite Foggy’s loyalty to his best friend, and celebrity lawyer status, he sometimes feels inadequate compared to Matt, feelings brought on by their affection for Karen Page. After Matt revealed his identity to Nelson, the two became closer than ever and their partnership is better for it. Like Matt, Nelson was also abandoned by his mother, and has trouble maintaining romantic relationships. As two selfless, underdogs, it’s easy to see why their friendship has remained one of comics’ staples. Elden Hensen (Fulton Reed from The Mighty Ducks) will portray Nelson in the series, and his role will likely be the same as it in the comics.
Where you may have seen him before: Nelson’s only other media appearance was in 2003’s Daredevil where he was portrayed by future Iron Man director and Happy Hogan portrayer, Jon Favreau
Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall): Investigative reporter, Ben Urich first appeared in Daredevil #153 in 1978. As a journalist for the Daily Bugle, Urich investigated the criminal underworld and the strings that led to the Kingpin. He deduces Daredevil’s secret identity, the story which could have won him a Pulitzer but after getting to know Murdock, he kept the information secret. Though he almost lost his life several times over, Urich proved instrumental in helping Daredevil reveal the Kingpin and take him down. After helping takeing down the Kingpin, he next took on Norman Osborn. Urich has been a mainstay in reporting on the major events in the Marvel Universe and has appeared in a number of titles. In the series, he will be portrayed by Vondie Curtis-Hall and will work at the New York Bulletin (Thanks to Sony). It’s likely we’ll see Curtis-Hall appear in Marvel’s next Netflix show AKA Jessica Jones.
Where you may have seen him before: Ben Urich appears as a writer for the New York Post in 2003’s Daredevil and is portrayed by Joe Pantoliano.
Marvel Comics/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Marvel Comics/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson): Nurse Claire Temple first appeared in Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #2 in 1972. She’s the ex-wife of Bill Foster (Goliath) and the love interest of Luke Cage. Because she’s not a Daredevil supporting character, its unknown how Rosario Dawson’s take on the character will impact Daredevil’s world, but given how many beatings Daredevil takes it seems necessary for him to have someone who can patch him up. Given her history with Luke Cage, it seems likely the character will appear in his series as well.
Where you may have seen her before: The Netflix series will be the first appearance of the character.
Frank Miller (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Frank Miller (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Stick (Scott Glenn): The blind sensei known only as Stick first appeared in Daredevil #176 in 1981. He, along with members Stone, Shaft, and Claw, were members of The Chaste, a mystical martial arts group devoted to destroying The Hand, a corrupt group of ninjas that seeks to spread the influence of evil in the world. Stick was a hard and even cruel master for young Matt Murdock, in hopes the boy would fight against his emotional urges and become a powerful member of The Chaste. Matt Murdock’s inability to control himself led Stick to abandon him. He went on to train Elektra, but her anger overcame her and she went to the side of The Hand. Stick Returned years later, to aide Matt in taking down Elektra and the Hand. He views Matt as a disappointment, a man who has devoted himself to a silly costume when he could have become something great. Stick dies defending Daredevil and Black Widow from The Hand and has not returned since. In a moment of perfect casting he’ll be portrayed by Scott Glenn as a recurring guest in the series, likely to offer pointed prophecies about what’s to come.
Where you may have seen him before: Stick was portrayed by Terrance Stamp in 2005’s Elektra.
Alex Maleev (Marvel Comics)/20th Television
Alex Maleev (Marvel Comics)/20th Television
Leland Owlsey/The Owl (Bob Gunton): Leland Owlsey first appeared in Daredevil #3 in 1964. Leland began his career as a financial advisor, known as The Owl of Wall Street for his wisdom. Tax evasion and shady dealings cost him his career and put him on the run from authorities. In a effort to become a crime lord, Leland put the rest of his financial earnings into giving himself superhero abilities which resulted in his ablity to glide but also made his bones hollow and took away his ability to walk. Unable to physically fight due to his condition he wears razor sharp talons in case he needs to defend himself. Over the years he has become a main threat to the Kingpin’s empire and through his masterful manipulation and foresight, Leland has developed a reputable criminal empire of his own. Bob Gunton will portray him in the series and his has been described as being instrumental to the Kingpin’s plans. We’ll likely see a more realistic depiction of The Owl, one that may wear finger talons and can’t glide. If the comics are any indication he’ll prove a to be a behind the scenes threat to both Daredevil and the Kingpin
Where you may have seen him before: Besides a brief nonspeaking appearance in the 90s Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the Netflix show will be The Owl’s first major appearance.
David Mazzucchelli (Marvel Comics)/Marvel Television/ABC Studios
Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio): Wilson Fisk first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #50 in 1967. Fisk was born poor in the slums of New York. He was teased for his obesity and bullied as a child, just as Matt Murdock was. And like Murdock he devoted himself to studying law and the art of war, not to practice justice but to find ways to work around it, ways to turn a profit. Fisk began fighting back against his tormenters, using his build to train and become a capable threat. As a young man he was employed as an enforcer for NY’s top crime lord. Eventually the Kingpin killed him and took over his empire. On paper, Fisk was a legitimate businessman, trading spices like he was straight outta Westeros. In secret he developed a web of followers to become the head of crime for the entire East Coast. His criminal dealings put him in conflict with Spider-Man on numerous occasions. When he married Vanessa, she convinced him to retire to Japan, give up his empire, and sell out all the criminals he’d employed. Years later, former lieutenants of the Kingpin discovered what he had done and kidnapped his wife. The Kingpin returned to New York, and a move for revenge indirectly led to his wife’s apparent death. After he lost Vanessa, Fisk devoted himself to reestablishing his power. He became obsessed with Daredevil who became a constant threat. Behind almost every negative event in Matt Murdock’s life, the Kingpin has been there to torment him, convinced that he can destroy the only truly good man he’s ever encountered. D’Onofrio’s take is said to be well-rounded, adding shades of gray to the villain. Vanessa, portrayed by Ayelet Zurer, will be an art dealer and romantic interest for Fisk, allowing the villain’s softer side to be depicted. The arc of the show has been described to be as much about Matt Murdock transformation into Daredevil as it is Wilson Fisk’s transformation into The Kingpin of Crime.
Where you may have seen him before: The Kingpin has made various animated appearances over the years but has only had two live-action portrayals prior to the Netflix show. He was portrayed by John Rhys-Davies (Gimli!) in 1989’s The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. In 2003’s Daredevil he was portrayed by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, who was unquestionably the best thing about that film.
 And now you’re ready to witness Marvel Studios take The Man Without Fear to dark places on April 10th.