a review by Jeffrey Overstreet
The Matrix Revolutions fails to wrap up the myriad loose ends that the trilogy’s second part, Reloaded, left flapping in the apocalyptic wind of its relentless hot air.
And yet it is an improvement on its predecessors.
The Matrix epic, as you know, is primarily about the enslavement of humanity to dehumanizing and exploitative machines.
And this set-up, which is the stuff of classic sci-fi, has inspired a world of interpretations. Are the machines supposed to represent technology, and how we are becoming too dependent on it? Do they represent capitalism? Media culture? Sin?
Who knows? Any of these interpretations can be rewarding.
And yet, with the arrival of what is allegedly the final chapter, the central dilemma remains unresolved. The machines are neither victorious nor overthrown. And we’re left with many nagging questions about the issues raised early on: What is the Matrix? Who exactly is “The One” and where does his power come from? Is it possible to win the war? Is there a difference between human being and machine? Is there a true religion?
While there are many enthusiasts who will be surprised at this chapter’s lack of resolution, what is most surprising is the movie’s avoidance of the things that earned it so many nay-sayers, including myself.
While The Matrix was decent entertainment – a curious hodge-podge of religious ideas and philosophical tangents with a few nifty special effects thrown in for good measure – it never developed engaging characters. Who wants an epic adventure about mannequins in sunglasses? The Matrix Reloaded was far worse, a bloated affair of overlong, artificial kung-fu fights, tedious and pretentious speeches, and pancake-flat dialogue.
I walked into The Matrix Revolutions fully anticipating another two hours of sci-fi sanctimony and CGI demonstrations. I was floored to discover that Revolutions is a compelling, astonishing war movie, and the most purposeful and intense installment of the trilogy.
Why? What changed? Certainly not the dialogue, which remains tepid and convoluted. And it’s not the profundity either-the Wachowskis have created such a mess of ideas that it just can’t be congealed into a meaningful whole. But on several fronts where the first two failed, this one succeeds.
First of all, this is a movie about human beings. The characters suddenly have strong emotions-even Neo (Keanu Reeves) gets mad, sheds tears, plays with guts. I even became convinced, after seeing no solid evidence in the first two films, that he and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) had actually fallen in love. There is a tenderness and a depth in their exchanges that has been lacking until now.
And the holier-than-thou, Shakespearean-soliloquy-spouting Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) is now a humbled, haunted, shell of a man, scrambling for what remnants of his faith he can salvage. Even the Oracle, a computer program, develops enough personality and passion to earn herself some kind of credit toward becoming human. (Mary Alice is a subtler, more interesting Oracle than the late Gloria Foster.)
Secondly, the film makes me care about the people who are resisting the machines. The people of the besieged underground city of Zion suddenly quit acting like lazy libertines and come to life, mounting one of the most inspiring and exhilarating last stands ever filmed.
Revolutions is, above all, a war movie. The battle to save Zion, which seems to fill half of the movie’s running time, is brutal, bloody, and convincing; it avoids the video-game look that dominated the action sequences of Reloaded. Here, computer animation and real footage are combined with galvanizing power. The apocalyptic imagery of that battle is worth looking at frame-by-frame for its masterful choreography of combatants. The squid-like battle-bots called Sentinels stream like long ribbons of wrecking balls, huge flocks of clamoring starlings, or a squadron of death angels, as they force their way into the massive caverns where the Zion dwellers have been hiding. There were more moments of awe and dread in this conflict than in any Star Wars battles. To make me care that much about these people this late in the game required some genius, and Revolutions delivers it.
Sure, the series cannot escape the problems that have become a permanent part of its style. The talk is still pedantic and heavy-handed. The characters lack back-story and history, and thus the changes they undergo are not terribly dramatic. Worse, the filmmaker Brothers squander their best ideas. Scenes inside this “wonderland” of the Matrix are limited to a clever sequence in a train station and an indulgent, ridiculous S&M club where the Merovingian savors his own personal hell.
While it is clearly the darkest, Revolutions is also the funniest of the three films. A confrontation with the Merovingian involves an amusing handgun standoff, and he gets some more wonderfully sticky dialogue. “It is remarkable how similar the pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity,” he mutters. Unfortunately, Persephone (Monica Belucci) has nothing to offer this episode but cleavage.
But the Merovingian isn’t the only enjoyable supporting player this time. Bruce Spence (who will pop up again in The Return of the King as The Mouth of Sauron) is a powerfully grisly latecomer to the cast, playing an enormous half-scarecrow, half-Rob-Zombie villain called The Train Man, but unfortunately he only has time to be introduced and then his part is done. Also, a charming trio of “programs” give us the first glimpse of a likable family unit that the series has offered.
My favorite scene is the long overdue confrontation between the Oracle and a dozen Mr. Smiths. It’s the funniest and juiciest exchange in the series.
Mr. Smith. Wow. Hugo Weaving has been the best thing in the series since it began, the only actor to bring personality to his character in all three films. I love this guy. Here, he outdoes himself, making the most of every slimy line, going over the top at last. Finally, we have a character to match the intensity of the film’s CGI. Every time Smith opens his mouth in this film, I’m grinning. If I were the Academy, I’d recognize the work he put into this role, the way he made something memorable out of every moment he was onscreen-give the man a nomination.
Add to that the fact that they found an actor capable of an uncanny Mr. Smith impression-Ian Bliss who plays Bane, the Zion citizen lying unconscious and “infected” by Smith at the end of Reloaded. I kept waiting to catch him lip-syncing to Weaving’s voice, but no… it’s just a dead-on impression.
The other cast members deserve kudos as well. Carrie-Anne Moss seems deeper, more sincere, more breakable. So does Keanu Reeves, who finally finds some real emotion and some humanity in Neo. Jada Pinkett-Smith is finally given something to do as she develops a likable snarl and actually musters some Han Solo charisma in her “go for it” piloting style. I love how she ends up bossing Morpheus around as if he’s a sullen Chewbacca.
The visual wonders of Revolutions surpass those of the Star Wars prequels and parallel the achievements of WETA Workshop in The Lord of the Rings saga. This episode escapes the dull, dispiriting blues of the first film and the sickly greens of the second. It boasts a full palette: colorful explosions, sunlight, and a fiery approximation of Neo’s new powers of sight jazz up the otherwise inky and rain-wet textures.
Revolutions is a masterpiece of sound design as well. The special effects are dizzying, and the movie abandons the heavy metal soundtrack of its predecessors, taking an Orff-esque choral chant as its epic motif. This deepens our sense that this is about something more important than ego and microchips.
Many of my colleagues are condemning the film for its lack of a resonant resolution. Indeed, we still lack satisfactory answers to many important questions posed by the films about the nature of reality, religion, faith, and love. Thus, it falls far short of the Star Wars trilogies and Tolkien’s epic in the sense of metaphor and meaning.
And yet, I was encouraged in a way by this failure. I was worried that the Wachowski’s would try to foist some false religion on us, or preach some cheap New Age slogan. Instead they seem to suddenly come to their senses and realize that they have no answers. Thus, all that remains is an array of ideological relics, like traces from several archaeological digs scattered across the same floor.
Emerging most intact from the rubble are remnants of Christianity. As they tried to subvert Christian faith by suggesting that God is just a human invention of convenience, they cut themselves off from any source of redemption outside of “the human spirit.” And the human spirit is not enough, because human beings are by nature flawed, self-interested, and diminutive in the grand scheme of Creation. Failing to come up with any tangible replacement for God, or for Christ, the Wachowski brothers resolve their film by quietly surrendering their journey, falling back on the answer so true that it has consistently popped up in the subtext of mythology since time began. The Matrix trilogy is, in the end, a Christ story, albeit an incomplete version. In fact, the cross makes a clearer appearance in Revolutions than anywhere in Jackson’s Middle-Earth films.
Too bad their exploration allows for no resurrection. This movie’s hero takes a road to the cross so people can be free in this life. But it is unfortunately implied that the film’s slogan means what it says: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.”
However, the Oracle does mention something about Neo having the power to tap into “The Source.” It makes me wonder if this may prove to be a crack in the theory of finality–if the Source might be able to redeem this world in a way neither man nor machine seems able to accomplish.
I honestly hope we haven’t left The Matrix behind. It’s just starting to get good. I only want somebody (who can tell a story) to turn loose all of its potentially profound and compelling visions. For now, we’ll have to be content with this, a closing chapter that performs better than anticipated, but still fails to take us far enough. The storytellers have yet to offer much insight on the subject of God, but hey, at least they finally discovered human beings.