This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
On a trip to the cinema at the top of this fine month, we chanced upon a poster for The Matrix Revolutions that politely informed us that it would be opening in a few days. We’d forgotten.
Quite how what was supposed to be the cinematic event of the millennium, a film so eagerly anticipated you would tell your grandkids about on cold winters nights slipped down the priorities to become ‘just another film’ is almost beyond comprehension. That the brothers Wachowski dropped the ball with Reloaded is accepted by all by the most ardent fanboys, but could they pick up the ball and score a second half touchdown with the remainder of their opus?
Sadly all they’ve done is confirm the criticism of the second film and compound it with a few new ones. The reliance on playground level pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo has certainly been reduced but it’s been replaced by some rather sprawling and messy action scenes often centring on characters we barely know and certainly don’t care about.
After the big ‘Neo in a coma’ cliff-hanger of sorts doled out at the end of Reloaded it’s quickly explained away with the Oracle (Mary Alice, replacing the sadly departed Gloria Foster) calling Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the remnant of the human survivors and telling them that he’s stuck in a limbo between the computer and real worlds which happens to be a train station run by the appropriately named Trainman (Bruce Spence). This a program used by Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) to smuggle programs around, unfortunate after he’s put a price on all of their heads for pissing him off. While Neo (Keanu Reeves) struggles with the concept of programs feeling emotional as he talks to a little girl program and her family, Trinity, Morpheus and that Seraph bloke (Sing Ngai, or Collin Chou at the weekends) invade Merovingian’s sweaty S&M bondage nightclub, wave automatic weapons in his face and demand Neo’s release. He drops his objections as quickly as a two dollar hooker drops her drawers.
This unfolds over the first half hour odds, and while it’s not as excruciating as the first hour of Reloaded it comes close, plodding along with a quietly trying to be as inoffensive and unmemorable as possible. There’s the same problem present in Reloaded, namely it’s not half as clever or interesting as it thinks it is. Again it mistakes not explaining anything properly, or even vaguely for intellectual depth when it feels more like the frantic straw grasping of a pub philosopher desperately out of his depth. I don’t know much about classical philosophical discourse but I can smell bullshit a mile off and this film reeks. The notable exception to this is the explanation for the Oracle’s change in appearance which makes the best of a bad situation and it’s a pity that the same logic couldn’t have been applied elsewhere.
As if to further push away notions of credibility the Wachoskis devolve the film immediately into a brainlessly spectacular CGI action show reel with no real wit or soul and having a strange predictability that shouldn’t be expected in a world where anything could happen. The Sentinels continue their attack on Zion, drilling through the core to be met with a squadron of heavily armed mechs that have been often called rip-offs of the Aliens power loader suits. This is a slanderous accusation, as ever the innovators the Wachowskis have take the basis of a power loader suit and added two big chain guns, thus creating an entirely original, genre redefining concept that will most likely never be attempted again. Or at least that’s what Joel Silver told me.
Meanwhile Neo’s off variously taking on an entire city of robots and then trying to get that pesky Agent Smith under control. Having played out the Neo vs. many Smiths concept they return to a more conventional one on one bout. This is a good thing. As the two participants are not professional martial artists, other techniques have to be employed to have this feel substantially different from the first Matrix fights. This is a bad thing, as the pair end up flying around in the air smacking each other around in a variety of glitchy camera angles looking for all the world like a duff Dragonball Z episode. It’s main problem this time isn’t so much the use of CGI, just that the concept wouldn’t be very good no matter how well executed. It’s compounded by the fact that we don’t care much about Neo at this point, Smith being the only truly interesting character present.
Partly it’s the actors. Hugo Weaving plays those nutty Smith brothers with an adroit psychotic menace that steals the show and all of the best lines. If it wasn’t already in the trailer it would be worth buying a ticket to hear the finest maniacal laugh that the world has ever heard. Keanu Reeves plays Neo very much the same way a lampshade would. By most accounts he’s a fine man but his acting range is pretty much limited to clueless losers. When he’s called on to be variously calm, collected, composed and confident he seems uncomfortable, and when he’s called on to be distraught and heartbroken he’s utterly laughable, ruining the dramatic impact that the film so desperately needed.
These problems are minimised somewhat by relegating the main characters to a supporting role. There’s a distinct change in focus from the first two films where we were largely concerned with Neo, Trinity and Smith to a more diffuse spectrum with Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Link’s wife (Gina Torres), that random Kid (Clayton Watson) and the captain of the Zion guard (Harry J. Lennix) getting far more face time than anyone would expect going into the film. This isn’t a terrible idea, and it makes it feel far more like a wide ranging life or death struggle between all humans and all machines. Why it fails is that no-one cares about these characters because guess what? You’ve spent the last two films building up Neo, Trinity and Smith at the expense of everyone else. The only other arguable main character, Morpheus is given little more to do than carry the guns and model a torn sweater. I’ve never quite understood why in a society that can develop anti-gravity flying ships and build cities deep underground can’t manage to darn a jumper properly, unless ripped and grimy clothing is fashionable in the far future.
As a human drama it lacks soul. As a narrative tale it’s under-developed and poorly explained. As an action film it enjoys rather more success, the swarms of sentinels being gunned down in the humans desperate last ditch defence being undeniable impressive almost to the point of jaw dropping. Saying that this is the state of the CGI art is no exaggeration and it’s an impressive spectacle. Now. If computers have proven one thing in this real world it’s that they get vastly more powerful very quickly, and you may remember that not so very long ago the podrace scene of The Phantom Menace was impressive almost to the point of jaw dropping. These days it looks like an Xbox game. By pinning such a crucial portion of the film to a purely aesthetic facade means this film will in all likelihood seem as paper thin and dated three years hence as Independence Day does now.
If you were in the slim sector that loved Reloaded you’ll have no reason not to love Revolutions as well. If, like the majority of people (us included) you found the second outing a shade disappointing I doubt this will do anything to reaffirm your faith. The cop-out, sequel-inviting ending leaves an iffy taste in the mouth and will disgust some. If you haven’t watched The Animatrix yet you may be even more puzzled as to why you should care even slightly about the auxiliary characters and exactly what some of the programs are babbling about. While the cross media blitzkrieg is an interesting concept in social engineering and profiteering it’s produced sub standard experiences in both the game and these two films, innovation being spread too thinly to make any lasting impact.
This seems to have been created with the Matrix diehards in mind, and no doubt they’ll love it. For the rest of us, it is to the original Matrix as The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones are to the original Star Wars Trilogy. They have nothing like the impact as the original, although for the most part they’re enjoyable enough diversions they won’t have the same memorable influence. Revolutions isn’t a bad film, and with a better action to cod-philosophy nonsense ratio it’s a more agreeable experience than the Reloaded irritation. It seems that if you want a truly spectacular trilogy with a decent story to back it up you’ll have to wait for The King to Return in December.