Highly original blend of the game genres of driving, fighting, and action/exploration
The first Matrix movie may not have been all that original, but the way it synthesized its many inspirations – Hong Kong action, Japanese anime, the Terminator films, and William Gibson – felt new. The second film, Matrix Reloaded, got lost in all of its convoluted exposition. The final installment of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions just goes through the motions of genre cliche. The writing-directing team of brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski (Bound) have substituted the engaging fantasy world of the first film with numbing spectacle and eye-rolling dialogue. Even worse, the whole thing has a “we’re making it up as we go along” quality.
The Matrix Revolutions picks up where Matrix Reloaded left off. (Anyone who hasn’t seen the previous film will be completely lost in this one, and anyone who has seen it will only be mostly lost, so incoherent is this mess.) Former-computer-hacker-turned-messianic-savior Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds himself mysteriously jacked into the machine-created unreality world of the Matrix despite not being physically plugged into it in the real world. His lover Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss, Memento), mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, Apocalypse Now), and Seraph (Sing Ngai, Bodyguard from Beijing), protector of the Oracle (Mary Alice), try to free Neo by taking on the Trainman (Bruce Spence, most famous for another post-apocalyptic tale, The Road Warrior) and his boss, Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). This subplot doesn’t move the main story arc forward an inch and exists only as an excuse for an action scene – but at least it’s the film’s best one. Like a similar sequence in the first Matrix, this gun battle takes place in a lobby with slow-motion bodies careening on walls and ceilings as if gravity ceased to exist. The scene eventually culminates in a parody of a Ringo Lam/John Woo standoff with a dozen individuals pointing guns at one another.
The rest of the film is devoted to the machine invasion of the last human city, Zion, and Neo’s attempt to conquer the renegade program Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings). A supervillain in a suit and tie, Smith has become a self-replicating virus threatening to take over the machine world. The Zion segment includes the kind of ridiculous drill sergeant bit that Stripes made fun of over 20 years ago, and there are also lots of uninspiring speeches trying to rally the troops by Captain Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) on the field and Commander Lock (Harry Lennix) in the war room. The APU battle bots the Zions use look like they were taken straight from the dock movers in Aliens with all the clunky vulnerabilities that implies.
The only character who shows any signs of life is Niobi (Jada Pinkett Smith, The Nutty Professor) who is determined to pilot the heavyweight hovercraft, The Hammer, through the “impossible” route of a “mechanical line.” When the battle finally comes, it’s a literal video game of CGI. Sure, the insect-like swarms of invading machine sentinels look cool (reminiscent of Starship Troopers), but without any established characters to root for in Zion, it’s an empty exercise in spectacle. In the meantime, Neo and Trinity have to battle Bane (Ian Bliss), who’s body has been taken over by Agent Smith, and deal with the defenses of the machine city. These take the form of another anime homage, the giant insect ohmu creatures from Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, except in machine form here. The climax arrives in Neo’s showdown with Agent Smith. The fight resembles the centerpiece battle in Superman II set to an overwrought choral chant by composer Don Davis.
The whole movie is encumbered with pseudo-philosophical gobbledygook. The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) of the machines balances equations while the Oracle unbalances them. Smith espouses nihilism, and Neo rebuts with existential choice. Somewhere in all this is a not-so subversive message of minorities battling The Man. The Architect and the Agents are all white men with conformist names like Smith, Brown, Jones, Johnson, and Thompson while the vast majority of the human and machine revolutionaries are black (Morpheus, Lock, the Oracle), Asian (Ghost, Seraph, and even Keanu is one quarter Chinese), or women (Trinity, Niobi, Zee). Even a family of programs – father Rama-Kandra (Bernard White), wife Kamala (Tharini Mudaliar), and daughter Sati (Tanveer Atwal) – trying to escape deletion are Indian.
What the Wachowskis never get around to dealing with is answering all the questions they’ve raised. How does Neo manipulate machines outside the Matrix? How did Smith become so powerful? Why did the Oracle’s appearance change (aside from the fact that original star Gloria Foster died during shooting)? Why didn’t the citizens of Zion shoot their fashion designer, and who left the padlock off the Nebuchadnezzar’s refrigerator leaving Morpheus to go the route of Marlon Brando? Most importantly, when did the Wachowskis run out of ideas, that they could end on a note so mawkish, it’d make George Lucas blush?