Originally Posted by Ambler
The biggest problem with the series is Neo. The brothers basically blew their wad in the first Matrix by having him become an all powerful god at the end, giving him no room to progress in the sequels. Neo spends the rest of his time in the sequels just looking confused, not knowing what to do, and playing around with his god like powers, but he's Superman and Superman has no complexities and its a boring character because of that. One of the best things about the first Matrix is seeing Neo try and fulfill his potential...at the end he essentially accomplishes that, and the sequels become boring because he doesn't have anywhere to go. The only vital thing he does in the sequels is kill the rogue Agent Smith, but he could have done that while also in the process of gaining his One like powers...developing over time in each film. You could still include the architect, and I feel it would've been an even more powerful scene if Neo had no yet achieved his god like One status yet, throwing a kink into the proceedings.
The first movie should have ended right after Neo saved Trinity from the helicopter. It was a powerful enough statement that he'd started his journey to becoming The One by knowing she'd grab onto the rope with his intuition...coupled with moving as fast as the agents with the slow motion bullet dodging shot, this was PLENTY and showed that Neo had promise. Morpheus goes "do you believe it now Trinity?" at the end of the helicopter explosion. It was a powerful scene, and I don't understand why they couldn't just end the movie there. Trinity also professes her love for Neo and they spend the sequel as a boring couple because, again, the wad had been blown and there is nowhere for the relationship to progress. A better alternative would have been for Trinity and Neo to have romantic chemistry, but leave it at that, and allow their relationship to blossom into love in the sequels. Trinity's death in the third movie would have been more tragic that way because they'd have just recently fallen in love...not been in love since the first movie and having nowhere interesting to go with that relationship.
If the brothers truly had sequels in mind from the beginning, they would have waited to give Neo the complete "One" treatment in the sequels, giving him room to progress. It's like if Luke became a fully fledged jedi at the end of A New Hope, which would've been silly...Luke was shown to have extraordinary talent by blowing up the deathstar, but he was not yet a jedi, there was simply no need for it then. The first movie had plenty of action, adventure, excitement and promise of things to come, without throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in the last act, much like The Matrix. The sequels left plenty of room for Luke's development and they were vastly more interesting films because of that, especially Empire (Jedi was silly, but the throne room stuff is amazing). I feel like The Matrix trilogy could've truly been on the level of the Star Wars original trilogy, but the brothers really blew it. Such a sad, missed opportunity there. The scripts were terrible I believe, because they no longer had an interesting journey for the main character to undertake...
I pretty much agreed with the first paragraph, at least in terms of why the story arc for the sequels is less engrossing.
But ending the first movie before Neo confronts Smith and is resurrected, thus proving he is the Christ figure referenced throughout the entire film? That does not seem like a better ending to me. There is no climax! The central question of the film is left unanswered and then we have another Matrix 3.
And believe it or not, the brothers did have sequels in mind at a pretty early stage. They actually shot a scene for the first film in which Cypher reveals to Neo that there were 6 Ones before him, and inexplicably removed it. (This is documented in the book "The Art of the Matrix", released Dec. 2000). There is also much talk in that book about concept art that was never utilized for the original but would be used for the sequels, such as the machine gun suits. There are also interviews which allude to a larger story arc created by the brothers prior to the release of the original.
That being said, it's inarguable that once the main character has achieved godlike status there aren't many problems that he can't surmount. Which is why the brothers opted for more abstract/existential problems - what is the function of the one, is the prophecy another system of control, is Neo truly free, does it matter if he's free, is Neo a machine, is Smith correct in his disdain for humans, is the Merovingian's perspective inescapable in that we are all victims of causes which precede us, is the future already determined and what does this mean for the "choices" we make, etc. This didn't work for most people and in terms of cinema it's extremely non-traditional. You also have a point about the Neo-Trinity relationship, but I believe that has more to do with the writing/directing of the relationship than the actual story. It's a chronic problem with sci-fi films (see Star Wars).
Pacing is a problem. The Zion scenes drag on, and for a film that pays such close attention to logical processes the siege of Zion makes zero sense. I enjoyed it in the theater but upon subsequent views the whole thing comes off as insipid and dull.
The second one was actually very good - it raised a shitload of very interesting questions in addition to the ones listed above: Can the Oracle be trusted? Is the Architect right in that resistance is futile? Does Smith have ulterior motives or is he simply a virus created by Neo messing with his functioning as a program? If Zion has been exterminated multiple times, do the elders remember any of the process and are they in on the system of control? How did Neo stop the sentinels? Is the desert of the real another literal matrix? Is Neo still dreaming? A few of these were explicitly answered, most implicitly, and some were pretty much neglected. The biggest problem I have is this: How did Neo stop the sentinels?
It was a very misleading and cheap move to end the movie on this note, which implies that some sort of huge reveal is coming in the final chapter only to be glossed over by the Oracle with a single, nebulous sentence: "the function of the One extends all the way to the Source" or some BS like that. Perhaps it's my own fault for reading too much into it, but for a series of films where analysis is not only encouraged but necessary in order to fully appreciate the films, the third movie was a major letdown and ultimately required a bit too much fill-in-the-blanks for my taste. Combined with the earth-shattering reveal of the real world as a simulation in the first film, another reveal was very strongly suggested for the final chapter. And it never happened. We get an hour of nonsensical swarming and guns to show us what we already figured was true: Zion has been exterminated 6 times and the humans are powerless to stop it. The difference for this cycle is the Oracle's humanistic gamble which pays off due to her intuition and challenging of the cold calculus of the machines represented by the Architect.
I don't want to get in to "should haves" but the siege of Zion could have been shown in twenty minutes. Compared to the Terminators it's like the sentinels are a bunch of stormtroopers. The machine city is fascinating and we're only allowed to see it for 3 minutes. Why did Neo have to return to the source in the first place? Is Deus ex Machina the mainframe that houses the Architect? I thought The Architect's room was the source? How is Neo destroying all of those sentinel bombs? Are the Wachowskis saying he's reached a metaphysical enlightenment and achieved actual telekinetic powers? Or is he a machine? When Smith copies Neo, are they cancelling each other out as +1 and -1 combine to equal zero? But if that's the case, why did Neo have to return to the machine city? Did Deus ex Machina gain the ability to delete the Smith program when it copied over Neo? Or was the Oracle's plan to engineer this chain of events that led to Neo making a deal with the machines predicated on his elimination of the Smith program that was also a direct result of her intervention? We get some closure on that last question, but the final sequence of the film is insanely ambiguous. These characters are interesting - the Zion people are not.
An important point that many people missed is that the Orcale allowed Smith to gain her power because she knew this would lead to his demise ("we can never see past the choices we don't understand"). When Smith refers to Neo by his name, that's the Oracle talking, reassuring him that she has foreseen this and everything is going according to her plan. When Neo realizes his sacrifice is inevitable, though, I have to wonder why he couldn't have let Smith overwrite him earlier. Did he have to "walk through the door himself" or "understand the choice he already made", and this realization had to occur on the path that the Oracle sent him on? Or did Deus ex Machina play some necessary role in removing Smith?
Smith's overtaking of Bain is also glossed over. There's a minor conflict, Neo is blinded, and Bain amounts to nothing. Reloaded ends with a dramatic shot of Bain implying that he is poised to cause some serious damage via infiltration of Zion's mainframe or at the very least reveal some sort of grander scheme based on his access to the real world, and it ultimately amounts to "I still hate you, Mr. Anderson, as much as I hate this rotten piece of meat". Not really a problem if they don't set this conflict up to play some major role in the third movie.
Is Neo being blinded integral to his ability to "see" the machines? What does this ability even offer? It seems to suggest some sort of spiritual awakening, an abstract sort of concept that has been literally alluded to via the "free your mind" motif, but in the context of the real world, it's just confusing. Is Neo "freeing his mind" in the real world? I thought his ability to manipulate the world around him only worked with matrix code?
Essentially there are only two possible explanations on this note: Neo is a machine, or the laws of physics can be transcended.