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The Matrix Revolutions, written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, 2003, 130 min.

Against all hope, and with the first movie perhaps benefiting from some nostalgia, the second and third Matrix movies have gotten worse and worse; The Matrix Revolutions in particular is the worst of the trilogy. The expectations for this movie were probably impossible to fulfill; many different scifi projects have teased us with mysteries and cryptic developments, only to fail spectacularly in resolution. See The X-Files for Exhibit A: all build-up, no culmination. As I look back on my reviews of the previous two Matrix movies (The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded), I noticed that I was depending on the sequels to explain everything, even in the first movie when it wasnít clear if there was going to be any follow-ups. The Matrix Reloaded was obviously the first part of a larger story and may have been forgiven some flaws for that reason. In return, however, the expectations for the third movie were amped that much higher. As Iíll discuss in my review, the first movie had already painted the series into a corner, and in the absence of some serious consideration on what to do next, Reloaded and Revolutions had nowhere to go but down.

The Matrix Revolutions begins a few minutes after Reloaded left off: the underground human city of Zion will soon be under attack by thousands of machine-sent Sentinels, our hero Neo is unconscious after a strange attack, and the other humans arenít quite sure what to do. The movie jumps to Neoís point of view and we find out that he is in a kind of limbo, some sort of annex to the Matrix, and he has to find a way out. But he needs help, and when Trinity and a few others figure this out, they go to a confrontation with the Merovingian and demand aid. Later, Neo goes to the Oracle for some answers, while everyone else heads back to Zion to help in the fight.

Once the sentinels have broken into Zion, a massive battle ensues. This fight in the dock is a standout action sequence, hampered by the same flaws as similar ďexcitingĒ sequences in Reloaded. Why are these things happening? Isnít there a bigger story that we were promised? Weíre also following new characters, some not well-developed. Niobe, one of the better secondary characters, pilots a ship back to the dock in another exciting sequence, but the nature of this flight further contributes to our sense of the Matrix as a glorified computer game. Videogames give you the control of the action, while a movie of a videogame is boring and pointless. Without that personal involvement, the flash and bang of the special effects are soon wasted.

What is Neo doing in the meantime? Never mind that for a minute: what about Trinity and Morpheus? These two are arguably the more interesting characters from the first movie, and they are spectacularly ill-served by this outing. Trinity has literally nothing to do, while Morpheus seems uncomfortable, often standing in a group of people. Later, he co-pilots a ship with Niobe (who does the heavy lifting dramatically) and Trinity co-pilots a ship with Neo. Trinityís fate at this point is galling. Such a strong character seems destined for bigger things.

The secondary characters generally have good roles. One of the inhabitants of Zion is Zee, a woman whose husband is out on a dangerous mission; instead of passively waiting for her man to come home, she takes an active role in the defence of Zion. This storyline could have been handled much worse. Niobe is a kick-ass pilot who gives a shot of life to the movie when it desperately needs it. Others in Zion arenít quite so fortunate in their character development, like two of the other defenders of Zion, a young boy and a grizzled commander, all their lines straight from the list of clichés to avoid.

For me, the biggest question of the trilogy: what to do with Neo? Structurally, the first Matrix movie begins to resemble 2001. Both movies ended with a character that had passed beyond our understanding, Neo as an avatar who understood how to manipulate virtual reality, and Dave as a "star baby" with unspecified powers over space and time. And both characters returned but without much of a role or any sense of their new powers. In the case of 2001, the first movie is vastly superior to the sequels, and far more memorable; the unknowableness of the star baby is largely the point. In The Matrix Revolutions, what is Neo doing? He never seems to know, and he never has a solid plan. Our expectations were perhaps raised without good reason, as very few stories have ever known what to do with a powerful character. Another parallel might be Dune, in which Frank Herbert tells the story of a boy named Paul Atreides who becomes the all-powerful ruler of the universe; in the subsequent books, Herbert used Paul as a cautionary tale about charismatic heroes. Are Reloaded and Revolutions supposed to stand as similar deconstructions of their protagonist? The evidence for that is mostly lacking, at best mixed. The notions about Neo and his world are tied together tightly, in a spiral of flaws and inconsistencies. Specifically: the revelations in this movie should indicate that the Zion "reality" is only another Matrix, as people have been guessing all along. But later in the story Neo can blow up the ships in reality/Matrix2 but he canít heal Trinity like he did earlier? I think a lot of frustration with the second and third entries in the series has been this refusal or inability to drastically up the ante, and to do so consistently. If anyone knew how to do this, they'd be making even more money than the Wachowskis, so maybe it was all too much to ask.

To conclude, with a few spoiler warnings. The ideas of the trilogy now come to this: humans are still in their deluded state, free humans are still living in Zion, the machines are still in control, and some sort of new alliance or equilibrium has come to pass among the software programs that rule the Matrix. Neo has used his powers to annihilate a rogue program. At one level, itís a bait-and-switch of the most abstract kind, a kind of abstrusely satisfying conclusion to a story that hit the guts as much as the brain. The lingering philosophical effects of watching the first movie was not the appeal on the first go-through; The Matrix worked as an action movie, with the unique function of having something to think about later. Reloaded and Revolutions foreground all the wrong material, and paradoxically, have nothing left for the brain to ponder.

Sequel Note: Reloaded and Revolutions are officially the last movies in the franchise, although other types of material have not been ruled out and some of that has already been released. Animatrix is a collection of anime-inspired short videos set in the Matrix universe, mainly in the time period of the first and second movies. Some of these are quite stunning! Enter the Matrix is a computer game that follows the Animatrix video "Final Flight of the Osiris": in the story of the Osiris, a doomed ship finds the massive force of sentinels that is on its way to Zion. In Enter the Matrix, Niobe and her shipmates have to enter a dangerous part of the Matrix and pick up a drop: the news of the approach of these sentinels. The storyline is closely integrated with the other material, but as a game, it's more of a sub-Max Payne (ironic, considering Max Payne's rip-off of bullet time from the original Matrix movie), less polished and less fun to play. So far, the Matrix-related material has been mixed in quality.


Last modified: January 18, 2004

Copyright © 2004 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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