Rage was the dominant emotion last summer thanks to The Hulk and 28 Days Later, making it easy to overlook the eros of the leading action film The Matrix Reloaded, which featured an intimate relationship between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss). Their love provided the steady pulse underneath all the updated bullet-time effects and burly brawls. The notion of a messiah so deeply in love with another single person and not the whole of humanity is far more revolutionary than the war between mankind and the machines at the core of the storyline.
Neo and Trinity weren't the only would-be lovers caught up in the mix. Zee (Nona Gaye) and Link (Harold Perrineau Jr.) fought with a single-minded determination to be reunited before the end of the world. Ex-lovers and comrades-in-arms Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) realized a subtle evolution in their relationship despite the fact that Niobe was now with Commander Lock (Harry Lennix). Even the rogue program Persephone (Monica Belluci) sought to develop a stronger appreciation for the power of love.
On paper, love shares significant time in the spotlight of the Wolfgang Petersen epic Troy. Unfortunately, the relationship between Paris (Orlando Bloom) and Helen (Diane Kruger), which serves as the inciting incident of the 10-year Trojan War, is given little meaningful attention.
Much was made of the casting search to find the perfect Helen, but they obviously focused on the face. Even then, would Kruger be able to launch a sailboat under perfect makeup conditions, much less a heart?
The only hint of reel love arises from Hector (Eric Bana), who's torn between his sense of loyalty and duty as the crown prince and the private anguish he feels as a husband and father who realizes the tragic course of events. Hector's intimate moments are little more than a footnote in the crass reality show spectacle of Achilles (Brad Pitt) and his quest for immortality.
Screen love has a chance to rebound in Spider-Man 2. The comic book hero always struggled with juggling his everyday life and his heroic alter ego.
Sam Raimi's first adaptation of the Marvel comic vividly brought that dynamic to the forefront with the geeky Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) secretly pining for Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) even after being bitten by the mutant spider that transforms him into the superhuman Everyman. The point is made repeatedly that Parker's loved ones are his main vulnerability, thus leading to him renouncing his feelings for Mary Jane. But once she reluctantly prepares to move on, to the point of getting engaged, how long will Peter be able to suppress his true feelings for her?
An unlikely source of blockbusting love might be M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. After all, a certain degree of intimacy factored into his past hits The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, although creeping suspense and surprise endings have been the more memorable elements.
The Village takes place in a fictional Pennsylvania town in 1897 and hinges on the relationship between Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy Walker (Bryce Howard) against the backdrop of mysterious supernatural creatures bordering the close-knit community.
Loved ones in peril provide a reason for our movie heroes and heroines to strive against impossible odds. Too often, movies don't supply enough emotional details for the relationships to become real for audiences. Without credible emotions, we're unengaged at best and, more likely, left feeling exploited by sensationalized situations and titillating violence void of meaning.
When reel love achieves a heightened sense of reality, it can provide a popcorn fantasy that doesn't have to be that far out of reach. So reminisce as far back as Mary J. Blige's debut What's the 411 and keep searching for that illusive reel love, "one that will set your heart free."
SPIDER-MAN 2 is scheduled to open nationwide on June 30, and THE VILLAGE will open on July 30.