Transformers 2 & The Matrix 1… A Curious Similarity.
At the end of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, the human protagonist, Sam, lies unconscious on the field of battle. The woman who is wrapped up with him in the inner-sanctum of the adventure drama of the narrative bends over him and incants the magic words that had been awkwardly avoided earlier, “I love you, Sam. You can’t die.”
This is a fairly common episode in action films, however, the method of resurrection-by-statement-of-love is particularly reminiscent of closing scenario of The Matrix (original). In that film, Neo, lies unconscious on the field of battle and the woman wrapped in the inner-sanctum of the adventure drama of the narrative bends over him and proclaims that the “oracle” told her she would “fall in love with the One”. She loves Neo, which means he is the one, which means, obviously, he cannot die at the end of the movie.
Neo returns to life and discovers his powers. In Transformers 2, while Sam is lying dead, he has a vision where he mysteriously receives his own prophecy from some dead old-school Autobots. This prophecy suggests that Sam, like Neo, possesses a mystical gift that qualifies him to be a leader.
For Neo, this means that he is the “One” and has the ability to control the matrix. For Sam, the prophecy means that he has the power to return the “matrix of leadership” to Optimus Prime and bring him back to life (in a double parallel here. It seems that Prime is a Gollum or familiar or physical counterpart to Sam’s spirit of leadership.)
Let’s back up a bit. First of all, the “matrix of leadership” was part of the story of the original Transformers: The Movie. In that film, the matrix was a power to be used during the Autobot’s darkest hour and could only be wielded by the true leader of the group. In this regard, the newest film installment of the action figure sales vehicle remains true to its origins. The matrix of leadership is still, well, the matrix of leadership.
The coincidence of names in common between The Matrix film and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not what leads to the conclusion that these films are eerily similar. Perhaps the criticism would be taken too far if we make the suggestion that Transformers 2 is an extremely expensive take-off of The Matrix. For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at how the films match up.
Parallel characters abound. The leads, male and female, match well. The men are young, innocent, and endowed with a mystically divined identity, skills of leadership by example, and marked by an initial unwillingness to believe in their own abilities.
The women are tough, gritty fighters who have suffered in the past but are ready to be remade alongside the awakened chosen one. They are lithe and ruggedly pretty and they are initially unwilling to admit to their deep affections for the chosen one. Though they both thoroughly act out their love, they wait to admit it until it is “too late” and the chosen one has died.
The confession of love, however, brings back the chosen one to life and he then saves his world from sure destruction by accepting his own power.
The supporting characters also show some definite similarities, each film boasting a character who is old and hold a great respect and faith for the prophecies passed down to him.
Then there are the stylistic similarities, which perhaps are most surprising. The Matrix carved a niche of originality in film making through a creative use of slow motion and camera effects that allowed humans to appear to float. Additionally, The Matrix borrowed some Asian Kung Fu tricks that showed the characters shooting at one another while doing crazy slow-motion flips and simultaneously engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Amazingly, this exact thing happens in Transformers 2!
A battle near the beginning of the film pits the Autobots against the Decepticons and shows them shooting ballistic objects in slow motion while doing crazy acrobatic flips.
At one point in the film, one of the twin “black” Autobots who serves as comic relief in the film sarcastically refers to a minor character as “Neo”. This direct reference to The Matrix makes one aware that the writers of Transformers 2 had The Matrix in mind while working out the sequel to Transformers 1.
As it happens, from the mention of Neo’s name onward in Transformers 2, the narrative relationship between the two films becomes increasingly obvious. Sam is directly challenged to rescue his fallen friend, just like Neo, and does so out of loyalty and belief in himself.
When Mikeala asks Sam the question about “what if the plan doesn’t work”, he responds, as Neo did to the same question, “it will work”. Then the follow up question, “how do you know?”
Sam and Neo both respond that they believe. It is their belief in the plan that guarantees its success. The chosen one verges on waking into his true role.
Tragically, Sam and Neo are cut down just as they are beginning to realize their potential. And, we’ve covered the rest.
The actors in Transformers 2 are LaBeouf and Fox. They are fine. The special effects are good.
The film’s ultimate failing is the same as that of The Matrix and the film’s virtues are also the same. The story doesn’t quite make sense and the themes trump the action to such an extent that you have to turn away and groan at their obvious overplay.
Both films succeed in opening up new special effects vistas while setting back the craft of story-telling by a quarter-step or so.