by Mel Valentin
For "Matrix Revolutions," the final film in the "Matrix" trilogy, my expectations were low, lower than for any film I’ve actually paid ten dollars to see in a movie theater (as opposed to DVD or cable). Frankly, given the uniformly bad press, the negative buzz, and my negative experience with "Reloaded," I was expecting nothing less than a train wreck. It isn't as bad as some critics have argued. On a visceral level, it was modestly enjoyable. From a series standpoint, however, "The Matrix: Revolutions" was deeply disappointing, a cheerless end to a promising beginning.As The Matrix: Revolutions opens, the machines, after locating Zion, have sent a massive sentinel army to destroy Zion and its inhabitants. Zion prepares for battle. Neo (Keanu Reeves), sent by the Oracle to find and destroy the Source, has failed. Neo has been able to use his powers in the real world to stop a sentinel attack, but at great cost. He’s unconscious, in a comatose state, plugged into a part of the Matrix, a limbo between the Matrix proper and the real world. Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) set out to free Neo from his comatose state. One man, or rather one self-conscious software program, the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) may have the answers. Meanwhile, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), transformed into a computer virus in The Matrix: Reloaded, has set his plans in motion, both to destroy Neo, his nemesis, and conquer the Matrix itself.
"Deeply disappointing, a cheerless end to a promising beginning."
As expected, the special effects and action set pieces were top-notch, but the dialogue and plot development hackneyed, tired, clichéd. The plot, while a slight improvement from The Matrix: Reloaded’s dialogue-heavy approach, was still slapdash. The first half of The Matrix: Revolutions was sadly cluttered with “dead scenes,” scenes that failed to advance either the main plot (Neo saving the world) or the subplot (the spectacular battle for Zion). In fact, the Zion subplot practically overwhelms the main plot, especially since so little happens with Neo’s story until the end of the film, with Neo moving from point A to point B (from the ruins of the first underground battle to the Machine City, with barely an obstacle or complication on the way there).
First, the good (such as it is): the action set pieces, including the running gun battle inside the Merovingian’s lair, Club Hell, with the spectacular battle for Zion which takes up more than forty minutes of running time, with the human survivors battling the sentinels in diggers and loaders, and, of course, the Super Brawl, the rain-drenched battle between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) that obviously drew its inspiration from Dragonball Z, a popular children’s animated series produced in Japan. Each met my expectations, but barely. Frankly, without these multi-million dollar set pieces, there’d be no reason for The Matrix: Revolutions.
Now, on to the bad (a much longer list, as you’ll soon see). First, the Merovingian and Persephone, his consort: both are superfluous, disposable characters whose presence in The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions can be traced to the Wachowski brothers needing (and finding) a mouthpiece for their secondhand ideas about free choice and causality. Early in the film, the Merovingian utters the soon-to-be immortalized line, “Bring me the eyes of the Oracle,” which suggests a hidden relationship between the Merovingian and the Oracle. Again, the Wachowskis did nothing with this idea, resolving this conflict with gunplay, stilted, pretentious dialogue, and not much else.
Second, the Wachowski brothers introduce fascinating concepts in The Matrix: Revolutions, such as the Train Station (essentially “limbo” between the machine and human worlds), only to leave the concept unexplored or half-explored. Neo’s journey could have begun here, but instead doesn’t. The Train Station is a literal dead end, both for Neo and the audience. Why not have Neo undergo a series of challenges in order to escape from the Train Station? Instead, he does nothing, Trinity saves him. The Wachowski brothers could have left Neo in a coma for the remainder of the film, with Trinity taking his comatose body to the Machine City, and Neo fighting his way there through “limbo” and the Matrix itself.
Third, in The Matrix: Revolutions Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) has truly become a superfluous, unnecessary character. Morpheus’ “mentor” role was completed at the end of The Matrix, and at minimum, should have exited the storyline at some point in The Matrix: Reloaded, to allow Neo to rise to the challenge of leadership. Sadly, it seems the Wachowski brothers simply didn’t have the necessary critical distance to examine what role, if any, Morpheus should have played in the third film. At minimum, Morpheus should have been entrusted with leading the defense of Zion. Instead, he arrives in mid-attack, only to hang back and watch the battle from a distance. Morpheus has become so superfluous that he doesn’t even pilot the remaining hovership racing to reach Zion before the sentinel army attacks (his was damaged beyond repair at the end of The Matrix: Reloaded).
Fourth, the battle for Zion, while spectacular (thanks to the millions of dollars in the effects budget), suffered from another shortcoming in the Wachowski brothers script, their failure to properly introduce secondary characters (i.e., with background information) before the battle began, only to have those secondary characters eliminated moments later by the rampaging sentinels. Zion clearly has an army. The Wachowski brothers could have simply introduced a core group of commandos or marines, as in James Cameron’s Aliens. The commandos could have been introduced in The Matrix: Reloaded, and “saved” for the battle for Zion in the third film. The commandoes still could have been character “types” familiar from war films, but at least we would have felt more in the third film during the battle for Zion.
Fifth, my suspicions that the Wachowskis worked from a flawed, unpolished script is borne out by the high concentration of plot holes. Case in point, the defense of Zion by Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons. Zion’s defenders refuse to use the EMPs because the EMPs will knock out their weapons as well. It shouldn’t have been a problem, since their weapons and machinery could have been reactivated at a later date, while the sentinels would have fried. This plot hole could have been patched up by having an actual defense perimeter with EMP weapons far enough from Zion to knock out the sentinels and not damage Zion’s machines.
Sixth, it seems the Wachowskis lost sight of Neo’s goal, as spelled out in The Matrix. Neo’s goal was not just to save Zion itself, but all mankind as well from machine oppression. Instead, The Matrix: Revolutions ends almost where the Matrix trilogy began, with a “truce” between machines and humans, and the status quo restored. A full resolution of the central conflict between humans and machines should have ended the war conclusively. With the war won, Neo’s powers would become unnecessary, and he could return to live in Zion as a man and not a semi-divinity. From an emotional perspective, that kind of ending would have been much more satisfying.
If, in fact, the Wachowski brothers wanted to end with a truce between humans and machines, a more satisfying line of inquiry and plot would have led to a new, more troubling development about the symbiotic connection between humans and machines. Instead of the badly misconceived idea that machines enslaved humans for their capacity to store body heat (in essence, humans are revealed to be “batteries” used to power the machines), Neo could have discovered that to disconnect humans from their oppressors would have resulted in their near-instantaneous deaths. The plot turn here would be as follows: human brains are part of the machine core, part of the vast artificial intelligence that rules over men and machines. In a sense, their brains, or part of their brains, would have been harvested for distributed computing. While humans lie unconscious inside the Matrix, living their entire lives inside, the Source uses some part of each brain to increase its sentience, awareness, and intelligence. If that was the ultimate revelation, then Neo’s dilemma would have been: how to free the humans jacked into the Matrix, without killing them? Sadly, this is pure speculation, a “what if” scenario never contemplated by the Wachowski brothers when rushing to complete their script in time for production.
Seventh and last, the Wachowski brothers obviously wanted to add a tragic dimension to the Matrix trilogy by including a “downer” ending. Their attempt to bring in Christian symbolism points to another attempt at (failed) profundity. By this point, their superficial mix of Eastern and Western philosophies has grown tiresome."The Matrix: Revolutions" can be summed up in the following statement: the final chapter in a (once) much-anticipated trilogy is a triumph of empty spectacle (and pretension) over story and character. Fans, both casual and die-hard, are better off simply revisiting the original "Matrix" film, and skipping (or forgetting) the sequels. In the final analysis, "The Matrix: Reloaded" and "The Matrix: Revolutions" have turned out to be utterly superfluous.
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originally posted: 06/05/05 19:20:57