The Matrix Revolutions Review

by Stephen Rowley (cinephobiaNOSPAM AT yahoo DOT com)
November 11th, 2003

The Matrix Revolutions
Review by Stephen Rowley

I didn't enjoy The Matrix Reloaded as much as the original, but I think one of the principal pleasures was mulling over the questions it raised but did not answer. The months between the two films have led to in-depth debate about the implications of Reloaded.

What is the significance of the Merovingian?

Where is all this talk about choice and free will leading?

What is the Oracle's real agenda?

What is the relationship between the Oracle and the Architect?
What is the Architect talking about?

How can Smith copy himself into Bane when Bane is outside the matrix?
How can Neo control the Sentinels when (apparently) outside the matrix?

Have Neo and the others really left the matrix at film's conclusion?
How can something as elaborate as Zion be repeatedly re-built in the fashion the Architect talks of it exists in the real world?

Do the above questions lead us to assume that Zion doesn't really exist, and is just another level of matrix, as the Architect hints?
The Matrix Reloaded could, I thought, be forgiven for raising all these questions because it had to be seen as the first part of a two part movie. As I wrote at the time, the challenge for the concluding film, The Matrix Revolutions, was to answer these questions in a satisfying way. Unfortunately, it simply fails to do so. The questions above are either not answered, or are addressed in only glib or veiled ways.

In amongst the cheated, bewildered-sounding negative reviews, there have been positive reviews (particularly on the internet), and these have praised Revolutions' return to character based narrative. It's true that Revolutions is more focussed on the plight of its characters, and it's in some ways more involving because there is more of a sense that something is at stake. In Zion, we follow Morpheus and the gaggle of supporting humans introduced in Reloaded as they battle to save the underground city from an army of invading sentinels. Meanwhile, Neo and Trinity make their own journey to confront the machines on their home turf in the hope of averting the invasion.
Unfortunately, neither of these story threads is particularly successful. For one thing, the story overwhelmingly unfolds in the real world, and this immediately robs the film of the matrix-based action that made the first two entries in the trilogy so exciting. The real world sequences of the films have always been fairly undistinguished, with almost every aspect of the production design being very familiar from other science fictions films, right down to the metallic blue lighting. In The Matrix that worked, since the almost cliched sci-fi look could be used as a jumping off point for the trips into the matrix, which was where the Wachowski brothers presented us something we hadn't seen before. This time, we are stuck for the long middle portion of the film firmly within the real world, watching people right out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome use weaponry straight out of Aliens to shoot at invading creatures straight out of, well, yes, Alien. Sure, the action is done on a vast scale, with thousands of sentinels swarming through a massive chamber. Yet in this age of computer effects nothing is easier to produce than a teeming multitude. The horde of computer generated enemies is the cliche of recent big-budget filmmaking, whether it is hundreds of thousands of bugs in Starship Troopers, hundreds of thousands of battle-droids in Attack of the Clones, or hundreds of thousands of orcs in The Two Towers. While the sequence is intermittently exciting, it suffers from this familiarity, since a principal virtue of the trilogy so far had been the Wachowskis' ability to do something different and imaginative with computer technology. The sequence isn't even particularly well filmed: the Wachowski's normal talent for staging action fails them as they often cut to close-up, rushed, overly mobile shots that simply disorient the audience.

The film stays with this sequence without cutting away to Neo and Trinity: it provides more focus on the battle, but it leaves the film's hero off-screen for a long time during the heart of the movie. When we do rejoin them, their journey leads up to the film's other major set-piece, the battle between Neo and Agent Smith. Smith is very enjoyable throughout this movie, regaining a lot of the humour that had been lost from the character in Reloaded: he is probably the best thing in this film. Yet the confrontation between Neo and Smith is disappointing, largely forsaking the martial arts of the earlier films for a variation on the conclusion to Superman 2 as the two characters fly around and knock each other into buildings. This sequence tries desperately for grandeur, yet the Wachowskis don't really have any new tricks up their sleeves or, for that matter, any apparent notion of how to end the battle. The mystifying conclusion to this fight is just one of the many odd little moments in this film that suggests the Wachowskis don't know where they're going. Some of this can be attributed to poor scripting, but there are also odd hanging plot threads and poor continuity that suggest some heavy cutting for pace. What, for example, happens to Seraph and the little girl before Smith confronts the Oracle? And why, after Neo has been saved from limbo early in the film, is he "unhooked" from a conventional matrix connection as he awakens, when we had already established that he was in the sick bay, not connected to a computer? I assume the latter is because he had regained consciousness, then re-entered the matrix to speak to the Oracle, but there is no such scene in the movie.
Ultimately, though, such questions matter little compared to the bigger questions that the film leaves unanswered. Reloaded was frustrating to watch, but fun to think about afterwards: Revolutions makes more sense as you watch it, but is infuriating to look back on. Reloaded turned everything on its head late in the piece when Neo met the architect, and the Wachowskis do something similar here. Yet they do so without adequately addressing any of the intriguing questions Reloaded raised. I wouldn't have minded some ambiguity, but there's simply no closure in Revolutions. It's a massive cop-out, which unfortunately diminishes both sequels.

(C) 2003 Stephen Rowley
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