In which Neo is a very messy house guest.
5) Neo vs Merovingian’s Henchmen
- Neo, again. Played by Keanu Reeves.
- Armed with: nothing to start with, but eventually employs several weapons including dual sais, a broadsword, and a spear that gets broken in half and he subsequently uses the two halves as short clubs (or Eskrima).
- The Merovingian’s henchmen, six of them. One of them, Cain (he was partnered with a guy named Abel. They’re named after the famous Biblical brothers because of no good darn reason I can think of) was in an earlier scene heavily implied to be a vampire, or perhaps a werewolf. The others are also refugee programs from previous versions of the Matrix, most likely encoded as other supernatural creatures. Though they’re no match for Neo they seem to be superior to even the upgraded Agents, even if the Agents dress better. The Merovingian himself is there but he just hangs back and acts snooty. Played by stunt men, with Lambert Wilson hamming it up as the Big M.
- Armed with: They enter with automatic weapons, but discard those for hand-to-hand combat and, soon enough, a variety of short-range weapons including swords, a trident, a spear, a flail, a staff, dual hooks, a spiked club, etc.
The Setup: Neo and his crew came to the Merovingian’s hideout asking for the Keymaker, for reasons that make this movie sound more & more like a video game the longer you get into it. He refused and sent them off, but was betrayed by his wife Persephone (Monica Belluci aka the Platonic Ideal of sexuality) because she’s sick of how much of a dick he is. In a story development that literally not one single audience member thought was a good idea, Persephone exchanged the Keymaker’s whereabouts for a “loving” kiss from Neo, but before all of them could leave the chateau they’re confronted by a furious Merovingian and half a dozen men. In a spacious foyer conveniently decorated with a couple dozen weapons, of course.
Neo volunteers to hold off the bad guys while Trinity & Morpheus run the other way with the Keymaker, a decision I always questioned. Instead of Neo staying behind to fight out a protracted but ultimately easy battle against these Rodeo Drive rejects, why not have Neo fly off with the Keymaker (after all, Neo is their strongest asset and the Keymaker’s help is paramount) while Morpheus and Trinity struggle desperately in a frantic 2-on-6 battle? Don’t know how it would have affected the following freeway sequence, but ah, what might have been.
Speaking of which, you know who gets left out of this battle entirely? These guys:
They arrive with the rest of Merovingian’s gang, but are immediately dispatched to float after the Keymaker. Presumably some sort of ghost programs, the Twins have one of the most fascinating powers out of anybody in the movie: they can “phase” back and forth out of intangibility. Although as a superpower it’s hardly original, it definitely would have been a game-changer for this series’ fight scenes (and was teased as such in the trailers)– a way to give Neo trouble that didn’t involve “slightly stronger enemies” or just “lots of enemies.” Instead the Wachowskis opted to pretty much leave these guys out of fight scenes altogether: they trade a couple blows with Morpheus in the garage and have some shenanigans with a razor blade inside a cramped automobile, but the majority of this pair’s screen time is spent on a car chase, of all things. Hey, we all like a good car chase, but using a power like this in a car chase is like putting Wolverine in your movie and making his primary weapon be a gun. Matrix Reloaded wastes so much potential I can never decide if it does so recklessly or willfully.
Anyway, once Neo’s alone the Merovingian has his goons open fire. Which doesn’t work because, once again, Neo has the ability to telekinetically stop bullets. Not punches, kicks, swords, or anything else– just bullets.
With that failing, they all try to take him on physically. Which they also fail at, only slower.
The Fight: Whereas the previous setpiece was chaotic, this one’s actually more dynamic, graceful even. While still as (not literally) bloodless as the rest of the film’s punchifying, there’s a certain smoothness to the movement that the Burly Brawl lacks. (A smoothness reflected in Don Davis’ music, of course.)
Neo and everyone else starts out unarmed, but the goons start picking up weapons pretty quickly. Neo holds out as long as he can trying to go on his own (pride?), but taking a nasty a cut on his hand after using it to block a sword (the moment creates a nice little pause in the action) is more than enough inspiration to follow his new friends’ example.
The gang explores the chateau space here in a way that would make Bruce Dickinson proud. Everyone’s constantly dancing around each other, going back & forth between the two floors (sometimes by stairs, sometimes by jumping), getting knocked into things or even hitting each other inadvertently. As always, the camerawork of the Wachowskis and cinematographer Bill Pope is more than dynamic enough to match, with no shortage of stylistic and well-staged shots. Except for the two goons who die early on, nobody gets stuck with one single weapon, as the implements are constantly getting broken, knocked aside, thrown or just plain left in corpses.
It’s not entirely perfect. Cain, the one goon we actually recognize due to his prior scene with Persephone (and who had a larger role in the contemporary, glitch-filled companion video game Enter The Matrix), doesn’t just exit the fight scene early on but does so puzzlingly: Neo knocks him through a stone statue in slow-mo, and after he hits the ground you don’t see him again. The injury doesn’t look fatal, especially considering the punishment Cain’s buddies absorb here and how a few minutes ago we heard Persephone talk about how incredibly hard to kill he is. A later death, caused by a baddie getting stuck with a trident Neo dodged, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. And one guy gets a sword slice to the back of his neck that doesn’t seem to do more than bother him.
Still, that kind of sloppiness is the exception rather than the norm; the majority of the fight is meticulously staged and filled with a number of small, clever moments.
Neo pinning the weirdly androgynous henchperson to the wall, his fun little pose after summoning two sais from either end of the room (the hero’s single act of non-bullet-stopping telekinesis), the way the hero controls the movement around the space and turns his opponents’ weapons against each other. Probably the best moment is the last, when Neo faces off against the final goon, Eskrima against long club, and uses his sticks to throw the opponent’s weapon into the air. While it’s up there, Neo kicks the guy (girl?) down onto the ground, catches the falling club, and smashes it in his/her face (said smashing is directly preceded by a funny yet muted “oh crap” look).
The final, static shot of Neo standing victorious amongst the mess he made is a nice little beat as well.
In a way, the chateau fight is less ambitious than the Burly Brawl, but in others it’s more so. The environment (multiple floors) is a more interesting one, and the presence of everyone using short-range weapons is a new element for Matrix fight scenes. The unique weapons combined with the six unique characters presents a much different logistical hurdle than did a hundred identically-dressed Hugo Weavings.
As with that previous brawl, the excitement is technical rather than dramatic; at no point do we really sense Neo is in danger (either of getting hurt or of losing); sure, it takes him a while to kill all these guys, but just because it takes me a while to finally hit a fly with a flyswatter doesn’t make us evenly-matched. There are also the aforementioned nagging issues, and of course the wasted potential, but you can only fault a movie so much for what it doesn’t do. This fight genuinely was experimental for the franchise, and escapes the typical sequel-itis problem of “the same thing, only more so.” Effort counts.
Recommended Links: The entry on this fight (as well as the entry for the last one) over at the Matrix Wiki have been very helpful in reminding me of details even my extensive notes didn’t cover.
Coming Attractions: “Morpheus is fightin’ a boring guy!”