Love bug bites the new Matrix
With a common objective of saving the planet, sparks fly for Carrie-Anne and Keanu in the new Matrix, Phillip McCarthy reports.
Things have definitely got hot and heavy between Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss in the new Matrix movie.
When a sultry siren asks Reeves's Neo for a kiss - she's a virtual person, played by Monica Bellucci, desperate to feel love - Moss's Trinity pulls a gun from her skin-tight leather suit and suggests it will be her last lip-lock. The planet's future, naturally, is at stake, so Neo dutifully puckers up and Trinity pouts. It's all part of the job when you're trying to save humanity.
Fortunately, romantic plot points, subtle or otherwise, are not exactly what Matrix movies are famous for - kung fu moves and "bullet time" slow-motion technique are more the thing - but Neo and Trinity do get a love scene in the first of two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded. They've hardly rushed things. It's been three years since the prototype Matrix - where we got an inkling that hormonal sparks were starting to fly - changed a lot about the way action movies are made.
"The love scene wasn't so bad," Moss said. "At least we weren't totally naked, because I'm a pretty modest girl. It was nice that it came in the second movie, because Keanu and I are good friends so it wasn't like doing a scene like that with a total stranger. But it's a little disturbing trying to look convincing when you're actually very embarrassed, and having the Wachowski brothers screaming at you 'have your orgasm now!'."
Larry and Andy Wachowski are the films' reclusive directors and, fortunately for Moss, the make-out session was a very small part of the brothers' agenda during an 18-month shoot, mostly at Sydney's Fox Studios. The first Matrix, after all, raised the old Hollywood clichés of the car chase and the fight sequence to a level of high art. Despite a deluge of imitators in the years since, they had to deliver enough new thrills to keep the fans happy.
"Larry and Andy changed the way movies are made," Reeves said. "When the first one was a big hit, and suddenly the studio wanted to spend twice as much on a sequel, they could have done something big and empty. But they had already thought out a whole Matrix universe. So they went back and said, 'give us a better budget and we'll give you two sequels'. These films took up my entire 37th year, but I agreed as soon as they asked me."
It helped that in ratcheting up the thrill factor both in The Matrix Reloaded and the already completed third instalment, The Matrix Revolutions, the Wachowski boys had about $US300 million ($467 million) to spend on a production also filmed in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The premise of the trilogy certainly struck a chord with conspiracy-minded computer geeks and anyone else who thought they might be spending more time than was healthy online. What we know as 21st century reality, the films suggest, is really computer-generated cyber time and we are, in reality, living in the 22nd century enslaved by a race of master machines who need our bioelectric energy to keep their lights on.
The computer program behind the trick is, of course, the Matrix. A few rebels have managed to escape the Matrix's byte and base themselves in the last urban stronghold of free humanity, Zion, which has a less than sunny location near the Earth's core. One intrepid rebel strategist, a Jedi knight type named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), journeys through the Matrix's digital sequences in search of the leader who can out-hack the machines. That turns out to be Neo.
In Reloaded, Neo's abilities have developed exponentially and in movie terms that means just one thing: he jumps wider, flies higher and takes out more bad guys with more spectacular moves than in the first.
But Moss, 35, is the one who gets the sexy clothes. Reeves spends even more time in Reloaded than in the first movie in what looks like a cassock.
Ardent Keanu watchers might have liked a little more exposure. Diehard Matrix fans probably won't care. They'll come for the thrills.
Part of the challenge the Wachowski brothers unwittingly set themselves after the first movie - with those eye-catching fight sequences seemingly lifted from the pages of comic books - was to come up with martial arts concepts equally buzz-inducing.
If there's one that comes closest to the mark in Reloaded, it's a scene unofficially called either Super Brawl or Burley Brawl, in which Reeves faces off against his old nemesis, Agent Smith, played by Australia's Hugo Weaving. Since Agent Smith is, in essence, a virulent computer virus, he can make copies of himself. This he does and the hapless Neo finds himself facing off against 100 Smiths, all with Weaving's high forehead and Smith's black suit.
"Larry and Andy pushed the whole thing to another level," Reeves said. "So a lot of the moves I do in this are way more complex than in the first one. The first one was walking, the next two were advanced gymnastics. "But I had some body memory from the first time around. I knew what I was getting into and I could pick up the choreography more quickly and I was familiar with wire work."
It wouldn't be fair to say who ultimately wins the Burley Brawl but, since they spent take after take testing each other's strengths, who would win a real fight - Reeves or Weaving? "There wouldn't be a fight," Reeves said. "We're both gentlemen."
Of the leads, Reeves and Moss probably have the most fight time on screen and did the most training. Now that they're in love it's not just humanity they're looking out for any more. Like a particularly accident-prone couple, Neo and Trinity rescue each other quite a bit.
"The brothers prefer the actors to do as much of their own stunt work as possible," Moss said. "I think they think it's more real that way. They'd prefer to bring the stunt men in only when it gets too dangerous.
"I broke a leg while we were training in San Francisco. I was on wire and I had a bad landing. But it healed well because I guess I was in pretty good condition physically."
In the movie Moss looks totally ripped, as they say at the gym, and even her face has the taut look of strict diet and serious exercise. If she looks more filled out today, a lot of it is to do with maternal glow: she's seven months pregnant. She says she doesn't know the baby's gender.
Even more of a mystery are Andy and Larry Wachowski, who have a kind of Garbo-esque penchant for privacy. Their five-line joint biography in the film's production notes doesn't even give their first names. The brothers are of the "let the art speak for itself" school and are so loath to do anything as tacky as publicise their movies that they asked Warner Bros for an exemption in their contracts from any requirement to talk to the press. What a nerve!
Ask Laurence Fishburne what they're like and he pauses for an excruciatingly long time before saying. "Larry's smaller." Fishburne describes the brothers as "very shy" and said he spent little time with them, had fairly brief conversations and got little feedback. On the other hand, he jumped at working with them again when they flagged, halfway through making the first Matrix in 1999, that they had a couple of sequels in minds.
"They're not really very demonstrative people," said Fishburne. "I just did my thing and I assumed they hired me because I do what I do.
"But generally I would go to them with a specific point or idea and they would tell me whether it was appropriate. They're not big on feedback, but I'm confident enough in what I do."
One thing that appears certain is that there won't be a fourth Matrix. As producer Joel Silver puts it: "The closing credit in Reloaded says 'to be concluded'. It doesn't say 'to be continued'. And Revolutions, when it comes out, is the conclusion.
"The brothers just don't want to do another one. If we can't get them to talk to the press to promote a big [northern] summer release, we won't get them to make a movie they don't want to do."
The Matrix: Reloaded is released on May 16.