The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Written & Directed by Lana and Lily Wachowski
And so the Matrix films came to a close (for a time) with this third picture. Revolutions was filmed back to back with Reloaded, taking a cue from Peter Jackson’s recent Lord of the Rings marathon shoot. However, there’s a distinct split in the feel of the two movies. Reloaded was packed to the brim with spectacle inside the Matrix, while Revolutions spends very little time in that world compared to the other two movies. Revolutions rushes towards its climax, leaving some questions left hanging. It also chooses to spend a lot of time with characters we don’t know that well. In the end, it took the wind out of the sails that the first movie had built up so well and would leave the series a semi-cult classic.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds himself trapped between the Matrix and the real world. This is represented by a train station where he meets a family of programs transitioning into the simulated world. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) force their way into saving Neo, and it’s just in time. The Machines have arrived at the gates of Zion and are tearing their way in. The humans are doing their best to stave them off, but divine intervention would be appreciated. Meanwhile, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has begun overtaking the entirety of the Matrix, absorbing every person and program into his collective consciousness. This includes The Oracle, which has given him superhuman abilities, and Bane, a human in the real world. Now is when Neo will prove whether he is humanity’s savior or another mistake.
One of my biggest grievances with this film is how sidelined Morpheus is. This should be his big moment, the prophet who championed the coming of The One, and now he doesn’t really appear to have anything to do. Instead, about a third of the way into the movie, he just becomes another background human character barring a few moments with Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith). For most of this film series, Morpheus was a significant character, right there next to Neo and Trinity, and I can’t help but feel that the Wachowskis didn’t know what to do with him in the third act. So he’s just sort of there, and it sucks.
I also don’t like how much time is devoted to peripheral characters we barely glimpsed in the second film during the Battle of Zion. The movie is trying hard to get us to tear up when the old man dies fighting away in his mech and when the young kid hops in and goes solo against the hordes. I can see the manga/anime tropes at work, but because I don’t care about these people, it’s all a bunch of noise and images. When I first saw Revolutions in the theater, I literally fell asleep during the second half of the picture because there was so much stuff I felt utterly disconnected from. While The Matrix film series certainly added a fresh new voice to movies, it was also the beginning of Hollywood choosing to just ramp up the explosions and stuff to a thousand.
The Wachowskis are cramming so much into these two and a half hours that you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. The result is that many intriguing ideas and plot threads get sidelined or wrapped up way too quickly. The most frustrating of these is the Neo/Smith rivalry. I like to think I know what was going on between these two, the more significant meaning of their connection but I still feel baffled most of the time. I get a sense that Smith was intended to be an anti-christ like figure to Neo’s messiah, but the why and what of it is lost to me. The big final Neo/Smith fight in the Matrix doesn’t have the stakes clearly laid out, so what we get are some wildly over-the-top Dragonball-esque sky fighting and then Smith just being outwitted.
Ultimately, The Matrix Revolutions lost all the philosophical weight the other films spent so much time going over. The second film was overly ambitious in building out the world established in the first. Then the third movie saddles us with very generic large-scale battles and barely any time in the one place that’s the most exciting thing about these movies. It starts out with some promise. I was very intrigued by the idea of self-aware programs creating families and living peaceful lives. It adds complexity to the Humans vs. Machines conflict and should force viewers to question what outcome they genuinely believe should happen. But the living programs concept gets sidelined by the need to wrap up the Zion storyline and bring closure to Neo’s character arc. Nothing feels satisfying, and so you’re just left frustrated, thinking about all the potential that seems to have been squandered. It’s a film series with lots of extraordinary moments and stunning visual effects but not one that leaves you caught up in a deeply engaging story. Here’s hoping Resurrections attempts to remedy that.