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Whoa Is Us


The Matrix Revolutions

Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA, 2003

Rating: 2.7



Posted: November 13, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

It's easy to see why all involved thought that bringing back The Matrix was such a great idea: Its mix of sleek, pioneering action cinematography and man-versus-machine conflict, with its ruminations on reality and free will, was the right film at the right time to strike a universal chord within the turn-of-the-millennium zeitgeist. (Remember all the sound and fury about the Y2K bug?) And more importantly, the film was responsible for zillions of ones and zeroes being deposited in many real-world bank accounts.

But in 20/20 hindsight, it's also easy to see why revisiting the Matrix would ultimately prove problematic. While many found the film's deliberate philosophical and spiritual overtones surprisingly profound for a mainstream Hollywood action flick, many others found the character names (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, The Oracle) and empty nods toward real-world religious signifiers (the humans live in the city of Zion) a ponderous and flimsy attempt to cloak the film in assumed relevance.

(It's worth noting here that the comic book-writing past of The Matrix's writing-directing duo of Andy and Larry Wachowski is mentioned quite often in the press, out of all proportion to the brothers' actual work in that realm; the Wachowski comics resume is largely defined by Ecto-Kid, part of Marvel's short lived "Razorline," based on concepts by Clive Barker, himself famous for portentous works that too often mistake cool-sounding names and self-consciously "edgy" concepts for depth of characterization and plot.)

So it shouldn't really be a surprise that "The Brothers," as the reclusive and now filthy-rich Wachowskis are often called, would ultimately find it difficult to maintain the just-so balance of elements that made the first Matrix a success. Especially after The Matrix Reloaded, which to many seemed bloated with lengthy talking-heads dialogue and elaborately staged set pieces that had the unfortunate, if unintentional, effect of assimilating the first film's revelatory effects (especially the much-lauded "bullet time") into the larger and more homogenous realm of high-calorie action-stunt spectacle.

Which brings us to The Matrix Revolutions, the final chapter of the cinematic trilogy. The title is notable on a couple of different levels: Revolutions continues the trilogy's slow, 180-degree turn in milieu from innovative, imaginative underground sleeper to overwhelming, effects-heavy, too-familiar blockbuster. There's very little that is revolutionary about The Matrix Revolutions, and as it turns out, it seems to have very little to do with the titular Matrix, to boot. Much of the action takes place in the "real world," where the faceless machines continue their relentless slog toward the human city of Zion.

Said humans (still fond of ratty-looking sweaters in muted earth tones) stage a defiant, and rather handsomely shot, last stand, which takes up a rather large portion of the proceedings, considering that none of the principals from the first two films are involved. These CGI battle sequences are very technically impressive, although not so impressive as to disguise the fact that we've seen such effects before, many times (especially the Ray Harryhausen clank-and-stomp of the humans' Robocop-esque mecha battle units).

Meanwhile, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) race toward the machines' city headquarters (never questioning why such ruthlessly efficient machines need to live clustered together in a city, in pointy Gothic architecture straight out of a Tim Burton nightmare), even as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Niobe (a grim Jada Pinkett-Smith) race toward Zion to give timely aid to their brethren. In short, there's a lot of plot-driven racing back and forth, which is a never a good sign that a film has anything very significant to offer in terms of depth.

But the devolution of the trilogy into rote, point-by-point plot mechanics is only half of Revolution's problem: It also indicates a story that takes itself far too seriously. The main characters never break free from their plaster casters of grim, stoic resolve (although to be fair, it'd be nearly impossible for Reeves or Moss to do so under almost any circumstances, as Reloaded's sex scene proved). The script is full of tiresome references to characters with names like The Trainman and The Merovingian (who's inexplicably built up to seem more of a menace than his brief, annoying turn in Reloaded would warrant, only to disappear completely soon afterward). Any movie featuring a leaden, post-climactic face-off between characters named The Oracle and The Architect can only be described as gaseous with its own symbolic self-importance.

About that discussion: Revolutions is ultimately undone by an astoundingly dense and anti-climactic resolution, which flies in the face of the urgency in which the supposedly life-or-death struggle between man and machine has been presented all this time. This virtual shaggy-dog ending is compounded by jarring moments (one of the humans exclaims "Jesus H. Christ!" in a key moment) and nagging, unanswered questions: If so many humans are enslaved in the Matrix, which resembles our latter-day real world, where is everyone during the climactic, Matrix-bound showdown between Neo and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving)? Does the ending's quizzical truce mean that the machines don't really need humans to feed off of? Why does the collective machine consciousness need to speak to Neo in the form of a giant baby's head called Deus Ex Machina, which seems to have watched far too much The Wizard of Oz? What's the deal with the little girl Neo meets early on, hangs at The Oracle's side throughout and generally seems to serve as the film's Ewok?

Revolutions, moreso even than the surprisingly conventional Reloaded, shows the folly in trying to pump too much significance into the necessarily limited elements of even the most intriguing movies. Better, in hindsight, that The Matrix had been left to stand alone, rather than sent to futilely chase its own tail in a continuing swirl of diminishing returns.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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