Monday, August 8, 2011

The Revolting Conclusion To What Could Have Been A Classic: The Matrix Revolutions!

The Good: Moments of special effects, Daring defiance of audience expectations
The Bad: Speed of special effects, Lack of character, Terrible resolution, Abandonment of themes, Bad acting
The Basics: In a disappointing conclusion to a movie franchise gone wrong, The Matrix Revolutions forces the viewer to ask what kind of dimwits are enslaved by such stupid machines?

When I left The Matrix Reloaded (reviewed here!), I had some ambivalence. When I rewatched it, I came to appreciate it more. In the interim, I had seen The Matrix Revolutions, which may have been what softened me up for Reloaded again. It's important to note that Revolutions, in addition to "revolt," also means "turn over," which seems to be a double entendre the producers intended. For every bit of ambivalence I had after The Matrix Reloaded, the first time, I had dislike of The Matrix Revolutions. Here is why the series should have ended with The Matrix . . .

Beginning moments after The Matrix Reloaded, Revolutions finds our people in fairly dire straits. Neo appears to be gone and Trinity and Morpheus are hitching a ride on another ship, while the Sentinels are nearing the subterranean city of Zion. Neo finds himself in a holding room within the Matrix, having developed the power to jack himself in without actually being attached to a computer. Rescued by Trinity and Morpheus, Neo visits the Oracle moments before she, like most of the personalities within the Matrix, is absorbed by Agent Smith. As open war wages within Zion, Neo and Trinity journey to the machine capital city, stalked by the evil Smith made incarnate until Neo can face Smith inside the Matrix for one last showdown.

Right off the bat, the single most disappointing aspect of this movie is its complete abandonment of where the series had been. What was the purpose of the first movie, The Matrix (reviewed here)? It was to get Neo out of the Matrix because humans were enslaved by machines and they needed to be freed. Even The Matrix Reloaded found some time to debate philosophy and attempted to put up the pretense that the war was about freeing the humans who were enslaved by the machines. The Matrix Revolutions makes no such pretense. In fact, the closest mention that is made about freeing the humans comes as an afterthought at the very end of the movie and in a context that implies that there will be no humans freed (i.e. the humans in the Matrix are told they will have a choice, but given the nature of the revolution in the Matrix, there is little or no reason to believe anyone in the Matrix at the conclusion of the film would actually know or suspect they were in the computer environment.

Furthermore, for a film series that prided itself on innovations in special effects, The Matrix Revolutions seems to have no real sense behind the special effects. The perfect example is in the battle for Zion. The machines bore a hole down into the earth, into Zion, through which hundreds of thousands of Sentinels emerge. While the humans start firing at the hole right away (good strategy), many Sentinels make it through (as one might expect). Why then, would the Sentinels be so stupid as to remain in streams to be picked off? How have these idiot robots stayed in power without realizing the most elemental strategy, which in this case would be to get through the small hole, then expand as much as possible. Given the limited armaments of the humans, the Sentinels should easily have overrun them by simply forming a blanket (a wave instead of a trickle) once they were inside. It's that type of lack of sensibility that makes The Matrix Revolutions quite difficult to watch. Add to that that the special effects occur at ridiculously quick speeds. It's almost impossible to tell what is going on because the Sentinels and bullets and such are moving so fast.

Beyond the battle of Zion, we are left with our protagonists. In The Matrix Revolutions, we are down to Neo and Trinity as heroes because Morpheus - who was such a powerhouse in the previous pictures - is a complete nonentity here. Morpheus has a place in the film, but it's way back in the balcony. He does not advise Neo, he is not prophetic, he's not even interesting. Had he been left out of anything after the first five minutes, the movie would have evolved without any differences.

So, how are things with Neo and Trinity? Trinity is still a strong female character and Neo is still something of a dimwit who is trying to solve things with force. However, Neo's strategy in entering the machine city does beg the audience to ask three important questions: 1. Why haven't any humans before Neo figured out that if they want to destroy the machines, all they have to do is go above the clouds?, 2. Why did the machines build such an elaborate system for getting their energy as harvesting humans when they could have simply made really big poles to push the solar panels they depended on above the clouds? and 3. If the humans had noticed the machine inability to figure out how to get above the clouds, once their subterranean cities started getting wiped out, why didn't any of them strike up the idea to start building cities above the clouds?

Apparently, the Wachowski brothers assume we are all sheep or idiots that would never conceive these things. Watching their movie, I came up with these ideas within ten seconds. Ten seconds to come up with more viable, intelligent and inspired ideas than Neo or Morpheus. Hey reader, I am the One! One would think that with the fate of the entire human race on the line, the surviving people would become inspired and creative. Apparently not; they'd rather dance around in caves. Sigh.

My point in all of this is that Neo fails to develop into more than he was in the last movie. He's still a guy trying to fight violence with violence and as a result, the film degenerates into more battle scenes. This culminates in the least inspired fight of the series, when Neo takes on Agent Smith in the ruins of the Matrix. I said at the very beginning that I always wanted to see Neo expand his perceptions to the point that in his realization that the Matrix wasn't real and its parts had no affect on him that there should come a time that he is hit unbelievably hard and he is not thrown backward. Can you dig it? If gravity and force don't have an effect on Neo in the Matrix (because he knows his body is not really there), it does not matter how hard he is hit, he should not be pushed backward. Unfortunately, the Wachowski brothers never developed their idea that far and even in the last scenes of the battle between Neo and Smith, when Smith hits Neo unimaginably hard, Neo goes flying tremendous distances.

If it seems all I am doing is harping on the special effects and the fight sequences, you are quite perceptive. The reason for that is that they make up not only the bulk, but the substance of the movie. While The Matrix belabored philosophy and training, The Matrix Revolutions is almost exclusively a stream of battles and hand to hand combats strung together. There is little reason, less thought and almost a complete lack of empathetic characters.

In the end, the only thing at all noteworthy about The Matrix Revolutions is that it defies the audiences expectations in the end. Some of them, anyway. I was expecting the series to end, but they left far too many doors open for me to be left satisfied that they might learn from their mistakes and end it here. If nothing else, even more than the prequel trilogy to Star Wars, the Matrix trilogy illustrates the importance of quitting while you are ahead. Had The Matrix ended with Neo flying off with the godlike potential he appeared to have, we never would have been subjected to the pointless sendoff that is The Matrix Revolutions. This movie is only for those who have seen the other two, though it is likely to leave those who appreciated either of its predecessors woefully disappointed.

For other special-effects driven films, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Sucker Punch
Alice In Wonderland


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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