The Matrix Revolutions
Director : The Wachowski Brothers
Screenplay : The Wachowski Brothers
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Mary Alice (The Oracle), Helmut Bakaitis (The Architect), Harry J. Lennix (Lock)
Released just six months after The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions has been labeled a failure, both at the U.S. box office (where its opening weekend numbers were about half of Reloaded’s) and in the esteem of most critics. The grumbling has been growing ever since many found themselves at a loss to comprehend Reloaded’s admittedly awkward shuffle between bravura CGI action sequences and long scenes of dialogue in which everything is explained and further confused at the same time. On the plus side, Revolutions is much better at finding its tonal footing—there is a greater concentration on action and less on explication. It’s almost as if writer/director brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski decided to unload all the needed information in Reloaded so you could sit back and watch the Revolutions unspool.
Amazingly enough, one of the chief criticisms of this final installment of the trilogy is that it doesn’t have enough ideas. The argument is that the Wachowski Brothers never really intended The Matrix as a trilogy as they have contended, but rather churned out two sequels to feed the marketing machine. Whether that is true or not, to fault the Wachowskis for a dearth of ideas is the height of lunacy. If anything, The Matrix Revolutions, as with the previous two films, have too many ideas stuffed into its collective consciousness. One need only spend a few minutes on any Internet forum regarding this film to see how it has inspired animated discussions on philosophy, cyberspace, history, science, narrative—you name it. Some critics grumble about the pseudo-profundity of The Matrix films, but the simple fact is that they have encouraged more discussion among viewers—even those who didn’t like them—than most films in recent memory. Whatever their flaws, these are science fiction stories with ideas, something that is all too rare these days.
The Matrix Revolutions picks up right where Reloaded left off, as if they were a single movie that was cleaved in two. The film’s hero, Neo (Keanu Reeves), a human who is thought by many to be “The One,” a messiah figure capable of freeing the human race from its literal enslavement by a race of marauding machines that use them as batteries, is caught in a netherland between the Matrix and the machine world. Other human resistance fights, most notably Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Neo’s most ardent believer, and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), his lover, are intent on getting him back so that he can complete his mission.
Meanwhile, the human city of Zion, buried miles underground and home to some 250,000 people who have broken free of the Matrix’s computer-generated delusion, is under attack by the machines, who will crack through in a matter of hours. The Wachowskis structure the film as a series of extended cross-cuts among narrative threads, all of which have grave implications for the human race: While the citizens of Zion prepare for all-out war with the machines, the pilot Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) races to get her ship back to Zion in time and Neo and Trinity head for the heart of the machine city. Why does Neo have to go to the machine city, the very heart of the beast, so to speak? He doesn’t exactly know, but he feels that is what he must do, so he does. And, of course, the nefarious Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), a rogue program bent on destroying Neo, is still around and still multiplying, so much so that he is beginning to threaten the machines’ control of him.
The mysticism of The Matrix Revolutions is considerably downplayed in comparison to the previous two films, but it feeds off the ideas they have already planted. Freed of the need for lengthy explication (at least most of the time), the Wachowskis can focus on the visceral, and they load Revolutions with CGI-created mayhem of epic proportions. The battle between the humans of Zion and the invading sentinel machines, which look like mechanical octopi and fly like airborne bacteria, is a marvel of sustained action. It’s loud and repetitive, but it’s one of the best meldings of computer-generated imagery and live action that I’ve ever seen. The scope of the battle is enormous, with the humans riding in what look like giant mechanical extensions of their bodies, equipped with huge machine guns that fire thousands of rounds a minute. The sentinels swam inside by what looks like the millions, at one point so dense in numbers that appear to be a swirling funnel cloud. Of course, if you stop and think about any of this for a second, you’ll realize the silly futility of the battle, as well as wonder if it doesn’t undermine the film’s dichotomy of human versus machine that the humans are so dependent on their own machines to do battle with the machines that have enslaved them.
If The Matrix Revolutions has a real weakness, it is the same one that marred the previous films: the flatness of the characters and the shallowness of their relationships. While Reloaded made some genuine, if not entirely successful, attempts to flesh out the two-dimensional characters introduced in the first film, it seems like Revolutions takes a step back. Unlike other blockbuster Hollywood films like Titanic (1997) or the original Star Wars trilogy, it is hard to generate a great deal of emotional attachment to Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the others. We understand intellectually that their respective missions carry great weight, but it never registers emotionally while the film unspools. The closest the film gets to true emotion is an unexpected death scene; in it’s own clichéd way, the scene works, if only because of its brevity.
Others may be disappointed that The Matrix Revolutions doesn’t offer anything radically new in terms of special effects technologies. In fact, the Wachowskis seem to have backed off a bit from their signature slow motion fluidity, relying more on straight-up action and tight editing. Perhaps because of that, they make better use of Agent Smith this time around; while he has multiplied into the thousands, perhaps millions, the focus is on his sinister singularity because his copies enhance the background mise-en-scene, rather than take direct part in most of the action (in other words, no more silly scenes of Neo battling 100 Agent Smiths, ala Reloaded, but rather a climactic one-on-one confrontation).
With all the hype that surrounded the release of The Matrix sequels, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that people have walked away disappointed. More was promised than could ever be delivered, even if the flaws had been fixed. With some temporal distance, I think The Matrix Revolutions will be recognized as a fitting end to the trilogy and, more importantly, brave in the way it bucks Hollywood traditions by offering a surprisingly ambiguous conclusion that is more about the Wachowskis’ insistence on complexity than the urge to leave a door open for a fourth movie. The cynics will think just the opposite, but one has to admire the Wachowskis for following the inherent logic of their messianic allegory and refusing to supply pat answers for such a complicated scenario. Like it or not, people will be debating the meaning of this film for years.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick