I know Kung-Fu: A look at the duels in the Matrix Saga – Part 5

Last week, we took a look at the two duels featured in ‘The Animatrix,’ and today we’ll look at the only two duels in the final film of the Matrix franchise, ‘The Matrix Revolutions.” But as the old saying goes, quality is better than quantity, and in my opinion, these two duels are among the best in the series.

Neo vs Smith in Real Life

Emotional Context: Neo fights to keep Smith from killing both him and Trinity before they can reach the Machine City and end the war between man and machine.

Analysis: After the spectacle of tightly-choreographed duels in ‘Reloaded’, ‘Enter’ and ‘The Animatrix,’ the first duel in ‘Revolutions’ is surprisingly brutal: Neo or Smith, unable to use their otherwordly abiliites, try to kill each other with whatever they can get their hands on, whether it be their fists, the walls, or power cables. This brutality leads to Smith’s face being coated in blood, poor Neo having his eyes burned out, and ending with Smith’s head being bashed into bloody chunks.

What sets this duel apart from any other in the series is its brutality and horror atmosphere: Neo and Trinity are trapped inside a tiny hovercraft in the abandoned sewer tunnels of humanity’s old cities, miles from help. They’re initially outmatched and outsmarted by Smith, and if they fail to stop him, both humanity and the machines are doomed. And when the fighting begins, there’s no fancy martial arts and no elegant, dance-like fight choreography: Neo can’t fly, stop bullets, effortlessly jump around, or tirelessly fight off hundreds of opponents. Smith can’t dodge bullets, punch through concrete, or otherwise use any of the powers he normally has. Both are evenly matched,  and fancy moves are thrown aside in favor of banging faces against walls, throwing punches as hard as possible, and trying to choke Smith to death, followed by Neo getting an eyeful (haha) of exposed power cables. It’s a visceral example of how brutal fights can be more memorable than fancy ones.

Yet, for how dark and grim this duel is, it smartly lightens the mood by having Neo – having sacrificed his eyes – gain the ability to see the energy put out by machines, allowing him to kill Smith… and even crack a joke to Trinity about how she’ll need to drive, ending an otherwise deadly serious fight with some much-welcomed levity.

The Super Burly Brawl

Emotional Context: Neo faces Smith one final time to stop him from destroying both humanity and the machines.

Analysis: And so, after four years, we finally come to the final confrontation of the Matrix series, the final showdown between Neo and Smith that would decide the fate of Earth and everyone – mechanical or organic – who lived upon it. And like any climax, ‘Revolutions’ holds nothing back in giving us a spectacle worthy for the ages, featuring:

*A fight that will decide whether good or evil will prevail

*A battle at night in the rain

*A fight that spans multiple locations

*Superpowers

*Gigantic sonic booms.

In terms of sheer spectacle, the Super Burly Brawl has no equal in the Matrix saga, both in fighting, and emotional weight: Neo’s fighting to stop Smith from destroying everyone and everything. If he fails, then not only will every single human on earth die, but so will every single machine. That gives every moment where he falters or stumbles dramatic weight, because the consequences of failure are so high. Yet, even as the fight gives us awesome, god-like beings fighting (to one of the most incredible fight scores I’ve ever heard), it does something so many of these series-ending fights rarely do: it has the good guy fail. In what may be the biggest twists in the series, Neo loses the climactic fight. All of his powers, all of his skills, all of the gifts he’s been given as The One aren’t enough to save him.

When I first saw ‘Revolutions,’ I loved seeing Smith and Neo beating the tar of out of each other. But when Neo fell from the sky, and was subsequently beaten into the mud, I was shocked. That wasn’t supposed to happen! Neo’s the good guy, the savior of humanity! He couldn’t lose! I was gripped, trying to figure out on how on earth Neo could still win; after all, lots of protagonists get beaten to a pulp, yet still manage to achieve victory at the last second. But not here. Neo’s beaten so badly that he can barely stand, and then lets himself be absorbed and killed. I was stunned… and then (like so many other fans) spent the next few weeks trying to figure out what happened when all those Smiths exploded.

What makes the final battle of the Matrix saga so good is that it delivers not only spectacle, and emotional weight, but also subverts expectations by having Neo lose, gripping audiences as they try to figure how how he can turn things around in his favor. Then it subverts them even further by having Neo sacrifice himself to let the machines delete Smith through him, showing that a protagonist that lose a battle, but win a war in the process. There’s more than one way to victory, and it isn’t always the path of beating an opponent to a bloody pulp.

And so, with Neo’s sacrifice, we’ve finally finished looking at all the duels in the Matrix saga… Well, almost. Come back next week, where we’ll take a look at one last duel in the series, which may be the most satisfying… and one of the most unique.

What we can learn from ‘Limbo with Lyrics’

NOTE: The music video for this song features a child drawn in a stylistic manner repeatedly dying violent deaths.

When it came out in 2010, ‘Limbo’ quickly became one of the most famous independent video games ever created, quickly putting developer Playdead on the map. With it’s beautifully dark art style, bleak aesthetics, brutal violence, and haunting soundtrack, ‘Limbo’ is a masterpiece of grim video games… so, naturally, parodies starting coming our way, including this rather amusing song.

There’s only one lesson to learn from this video, but it’s a good one:

Be cautious when doing making light of real-life horrors

If you haven’t played ‘Limbo’, here are two videos to show you what kind of game it is:

When I initially started this article, I was going to write about how the use of an upbeat tune and comedic sound effects makes for comedy gold when contrasted with very dark media (which it does very well). After all, such a mix has worked before:

However, I then realized that while that combination of lighthearted fun and horrific suffering is funny for fictional stories, it doesn’t work as well when used in real life: A fun Reggie song about concentration camps in Nazi Germany would be rather… tasteless. So would a happy jazz tune about atrocities committed by ISIS to innocent people. It’s easy and fun to parody Jason Vorhees, Darth Vader, and the Alien and Predator, but when it comes to poking fun at torture, genocide, or the mutilation and murder of ordinary people, we walk a very dangerous line between making a point and being tasteless.

Now, nothing is off limits when it comes to comedy. Writers should be free to do dark comedy if they wish, on whatever subject they wish. But discretion is important: Doing a parody song about how millions can’t pay their bills, afford insulin, or even a place to live can be funny because it critiques society and makes a point. Doing a Reggie song about children having limbs hacked off because their parents couldn’t make daily quotas on a rubber plantation probably won’t have the same effect.

When audiences watch or read comedy, they want to laugh and get away from the horrors of the world, if only for a few minutes or even a few seconds. As writers, we have to be careful how we use horror to make them laugh. If we use the horrors of a fictional world, we have more leeway because those horrors don’t really exist. But if we use the evil that surrounds us in everyday life, we must be careful of the point we’re trying to make… unless we’re talking about people who push shopping carts in grocery stores at half a mile an hour and block isles so that no one can get past them. They’re fair game.

What we can learn from ‘Honest University Commercial’

Today’s video should hit pretty close to home for anyone who’s ever gone to college. While a college degree has long been held as the key to financial and personal success, they’ve been getting more expensive as time goes on, to the point where your great-great-great grandchildren will have to tell their grandchildren that they’ll have to work to pay off your debt. Okay, maybe not, but there’s no denying that college can be a major source of sticker shock. Making matters worse is how many of these universities and colleges produce fancy commercials to make it seem like attending their hallowed halls was a guaranteed path to success, instead of a one-way ticket to catastrophic debt and no guarantees of a job that can even pay the bills.

But what if these for-profit colleges were unashamedly honest about themselves? That’s where the hilarious (or heartbreaking) Honest University Commercial comes in, with three great lessons for writers:

Consider having a shady organization cheerfully promote their vices

We expect commercials – already little more than capitalist propaganda – to be as clean, friendly, and idealized as possible, their producers doing everything they can to convince you to buy their product or service. We, as readers and viewers, expect fictional companies to do the same.

But what if they didn’t?

In our own writing, and if the situation fits (i.e. you’re doing a comedy), try having an evil or shady organization doing a commercial to promote themselves, and not bothering to hide how shady and evil they are, even relishing in pointing out how greedy or corrupt their institution is. That’s what ‘Honest University Commercial’ does so well. We’re used to seeing ‘good’ institutions doing so, or even having evil companies putting on a good face, but when they don’t bother, it’s more memorable, and will stick with our audience. For another great example, look no further than one of the all-time classics, ‘Big Bill Hell’s’ (warning: Video is NOT safe for work).

Consider having people be relentlessly cheerful about their problems

What happens when things aren’t going your way? You get upset. You get angry. You complain. It’s only natural, and no one would begrudge you for needing to vent. But if you were cheerful and upbeat about how life is awful, you’re going to get a lot of baffled looks. You’re not supposed to be happy about getting into crushing debt for the rest of your life, about losing your loved ones, or having an unsustainable lifestyle (unless you’re a spiritual masochist, but we won’t go into that), which makes such a reaction stand out.

For writers (especially comedy writers), having characters be relentlessly cheerful about their problems can be a comedy goldmine because audiences don’t expect them to be that happy. After the initial humor wears off, they’ll want to learn if the unfortunate soul is delusional, crazy, a masochist, or someone who’s about to snap and go on a blood-drenched rampage. Consider poor Stanley Johnson:

Someone who’s happy when anyone else would be miserable makes audiences suspicious because there’s so many things that could be going on behind that stepford smile, giving writers plenty of material to work with. (personally, I think it’s only a matter of time before poor Mr. Johnson straps some chainsaws to that lawnmower, dons a hockey mask, and sets out to take his revenge on capitalism.) 

Consider using humor to make a point about absurdities in everyday life

Humor is great for more than just a quick laugh: the very best humor makes us reflect on life and it’s more absurd situations. ‘Honest University Commercial’ is merciless in pointing out how our higher-learning institutions are more focused on making money and how expensive it is to get a degree than they are about giving their students practical skills and not wasting time on subjects they have no interest in or will ever use (damn you, physical anthropology!). It’s funny, but also thought-provoking and sad at the same time.

There’s no shame in going for humor that’s meant only to make our audiences laugh and feel good for a few moments, but making them laugh while thinking and realizing a deeper meaning will leave a longer, more lasting impact.

The Takeaway

When doing a comedy, consider having an evil or shady organization promote themselves and not caring about broadcasting that they’re evil or shady (or both). For people who are affected by that organization (or the harsh realities of life in general), consider having them be relentlessly cheerful about their problems and difficulties, while using the absurdity of it all to point out how absurd real life can be.

Favorite moments: ‘Who’s that pokemon?’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video

Why it’s great

This ancient video (well, ancient by internet standards) was a big hit back in 2007; I remember first seeing it in college and laughing out loud. While it doesn’t have that same effect over a decade later, it’s still really funny. But like Korn’s corn powers, there’s nothing out of the ordinary: Someone who’s very passionate about Pokemon incorrectly guesses which creature is on screen and throws a fit. What makes it funny, though, is the contrast of content: We have something cheerful and upbeat that mixes with vulgarity and anger, which can be good for a laugh if you don’t mind profanity, AKA, the Sugar Apocalypse.

What can we take from this? Contrasts of super cheerful and super vulgar can be great fun, but in moderate doses: too much profanity and vulgarity, and the charm can fade. Too little and it won’t have as much effect. And if that vulgarity descends into carnage and bloodshed… well, you might have gone a little too far. But then, why not have the cute side decide to fight back, and while still being cute? You can have a rainbow-colored bloodbath, which can be equally hilarious.