6) Morpheus vs Agent Johnson
(I wonder if he’s related to either of the other Agents Johnson?)
- Morpheus, who’s been critically under-served in this movie as far as action scenes go. He’s still a major resistance figure and captain of the Nebuchadnezzar, but this movie has a sly reveal that rather than more or less representing the entire resistance (as the audience had assumed), he’s a respected & powerful yet controversial figure, viewed by many other humans as a reckless ideologue. Played by Laurence Fishburne.
- Armed with: a gun, but it gets knocked away early. A katana sword he lifted from the Merovingian’s place comes in handy about halfway through.
- Agent Johnson, one of the three upgraded Agents we saw earlier in the movie. Efficient & menacing, but nowhere near Weaving’s iconic antagonist. Played by Daniel Bernhardt.
- Armed with: again, presumably he has a firearm, but he doesn’t use it.
The Setup: With Neo stranded in a distant mountain range after staying to fight with the Merovingian’s freak squad, it’s up to Morpheus & Trinity to get the Keymaker to safety via a busy freeway. After finally dispatching the ghostly Twins who’d been pursuing them, the heroes still have to contend with Agents, who have spotted them and are quite keen on “deleting” the exiled Keymaker.
Through various action-movie shenanigans, Morpheus and the Keymaker have found themselves on top of a moving tractor-trailer attached to a semi-truck. Before they can get a moment to breathe, however, they’re joined by Agent Johnson. Morpheus sees no option except for a direct confrontation.
The Fight: Well, Morpheus certainly does a lot better here than he did against an Agent last time around, even if he’s still clearly inferior ( “only human”), fighting a losing battle while still not getting really brutalized. It makes sense, of course: given the context of the fight, Johnson doesn’t need to beat Morpheus into submission as Smith did, he merely needs to knock him out of the “ring.”
That environment– on top of a narrow trailer speeding down a crowded freeway– actually does a lot of the heavy lifting for the fight’s excitement, because the Agent can’t really be hurt, Morpheus doesn’t get pwned as bad as before, and, frankly, Lawrence Fishburne doesn’t come off too well in this scene. He’s an excellent actor and kicked ass superbly in the original film, but his fighting here looks awkward and ungainly, less like a true kung fu warrior than an overweight 40-year-old playing one. Reports claim that along with the other actors (including Jada Pinkett-Smith, who fights even less), Fishburne underwent about eight months of additional martial arts training for the sequels; I’d call that a waste because this brief fight is by far the most kung fu-ing that Morpheus does, and it’s quite underwhelming.
It’s not without its merit, or memorable moments. Some excitement is wrung out of Morpheus nearly taking a fall several times (though the sight of him teetering on the edge is sometimes inadvertently comical), and once again our hero tries out some inventive moves to surprise his superior foe.
Probably the most fun part is when Morpheus, knocked face down near the edge of the trailer, spies the samurai sword he’d previously stabbed into the vehicle’s side in order to make a stepping stone, and some adrenaline surges into the fight when the audience sees that he’s found a way to even the odds. It’s not as raucous a moment as the similar introduction of a katana in Pulp Fiction, but it’s neat. Weirdly (or fittingly if you buy into the theory that this movie is into deliberately disappointing its audience), the discovery of the sword is much more exciting than actually putting it to use: aside from a surprise move that slices the Agent’s tie (“that was a Father’s Day gift!”) and later his cheek, the katana ends up not being much help at all, let alone a game-changer. Morpheus loses it pretty quickly and gets fully knocked off the truck soon after.
Fortunately he’s saved by the timely arrival of Niobe (the aforementioned Mrs. Pinkett-Smith), another resistance captain and Morpheus’ ex-girlfriend, who had been tracking the group on the freeway and “catches” him on the hood of her car. Johnson thinks Morpheus is done for, which allows Morpheus and Niobe the perfect opportunity to get into position for a sneak attack. “Go kick his ass!” Jada approvingly growls; disappointingly, she doesn’t add “tell him my husband said ‘Welcome to Earth!'” but hey, we can’t have everything.
Morpheus’ surprise jump kick knocks Agent Johnson (or more appropriately, his unfortunate human host) onto the asphalt. A dubious victory, perhaps, but the best one he could hope for under the circumstances. Besides, it was only a temporary win, as Morph and the Keymaker are still in a vulnerable position and surrounded by Agents (and many more potential Agents) behind the wheels of two-ton death machines. It’s only thanks to the in-the-nick-of-time arrival of Neo that the pair finally escape from their predicament. Remember all those old Superfriends cartoons where the writers kept thinking up goofy reasons to separate Superman from the other heroes so he couldn’t be around to solve every problem instantly?
As mentioned, it’s underwhelming, but serviceable. The choreography is inventive even if sometimes awkwardly executed, and Don Davis’ music (a repeat/reprise of his previous “fight against the Agents” tune) is also adequate. Not much to truly hate or love, so it’s a shame that while there’s still a good chunk of this movie left, this is the last true fight it has. There’s some light skirmishing in the hallway of “back doors” against The Smiths and a few fragments of Trinity getting beat up by an Agent, but they’re too brief and scattered to really dive into. Also, I’m tired.
Coming Attractions: The evolution of a legend.