This third chapter of The Matrix trilogy takes up where The Matrix Reloaded ended. The free people of Zion brace themselves for the imminent invasion of the machine hordes. Neo must figure out how to use his newly-discovered powers to try to save Zion on his own by visiting the Machine City. Meanwhile, the people and programs inside The Matrix are rapidly being taken over by the madly egotistical Smith, who seeks to recreate his world in his own image.
Overall Impressions (Spoiler-Free)
I liked but was not wowed by The Matrix Reloaded. That movie has grown on me considerably since I saw it opening night six months ago; things that bothered me initially I no longer mind (the pacing) or even enjoy (the rave sequence). My reactions had a lot to do with my mood the night I saw it, I think.
So what was my mood going into see The Matrix Revolutions? Grumpy. Grumpy that I'd been laid off the previous Friday after having been promised two more weeks of work. Grumpy over an unemployment benefits snafu that came to light that morning. Grumpy that Warner Brothers had seen fit to debut the movie at 9 a.m. Wednesday EST (6 a.m. in California) instead of midnight Tuesday.
I was very grumpy over that last bit. For those of us who crave the opening showing experience, 6 a.m.-9 a.m. just plain bites. First of all, who in the Matrix's main fan group is gonna be up that early unless they have to go to classes or a day job? So they'll need to go to work instead of to the movies with your sorry unemployed ass. Furthermore, the Matrix series is something to be seen at night. The dark, gritty world in those movies just doesn't go with leaving the theater to bright sunlight and twittering birds.
But Revolutions did what Reloaded could not: it grabbed me from the first scene and made me forget all about my bad mood. I was elated as I left the theater, and felt like smacking the frat boys who were grumbling "Man, that sucked, I want my money back!"
The action sequences are great. The set design and look of the movie is awesom. The writing is pretty sharp most places, and the acting's all solid.
I especially enjoyed performances by some of the supporting actors. Mary Alice had to take over for Gloria Foster as The Oracle because Foster sadly died between movies. Alice does an especially good job of matching Foster's speech patterns. I wasn't especially impressed with Ian Bliss' performance as Bane in Reloaded, but in Revolutions he does a dead-on impersonation of Smith to create a flawless impression that he is indeed posessed by the agent. Nathaniel Lees just plain kicks ass as Mifune, and Lambert Wilson was fun to watch as The Merovingian. Hugo Weaving was excellent as always as the increasingly-maniacal Smith; it takes a very good actor to chew that much scenery without it coming across as painful overacting.
The attack on Zion is nothing short of breathtaking; the use of CGI in this movie is much better than in Reloaded. I didn't notice any spots where the CGI failed to convince me and kicked me out of the story.
Revolutions rocks. What it does not do is to wrap everything up and tie it with a neat little bow and hand it to you. Many, many questions raised by Reloaded do not get answered here -- you, the viewer, have to sort it out on your own. Which I think is very cool.
Revolutions is rather like Fight Club in that regard -- the plot arc established in Reloaded is concluded in a logical manner, but a burden of intelligent interpretation is put on the viewer that I guess a lot of people don't want or expect to have to shoulder when they go see an action flick.
The movie is, ultimately, an allegory about faith, and the titular "revolutions" refers as much to the movement of ancient cycles than it does to a people fighting for their freedom. The religious symbolism gets pretty strong towards the end, and I imagine a lot of viewers either won't get it or won't want to get it. There's some pretty cool stuff floating around under Revolutions' fast, pretty exterior. You just have to be willing to see that it's there.
And finally, the movie ends with things wide open for a "natural" set of sequels -- The Animatrix proved that there are far more stories to be told in this world than can be captured by a trilogy of feature films.
Other Thoughts (Major Spoilers Follow)
The burden-of-interpretation has plagued professional reviewers, too. I've noticed some complaining about plot holes that aren't.
The first supposed plot hole happens in the sequence where the Smith clones confront The Oracle. Seraph tries to escape with Sati; intead of using a passkey to open a back door, he mundanely tries various apartments and finally kicks open a locked door to try to hide in an abandoned room. Why doesn't he have or use a passkey? He had them in Reloaded, after all, and one presumes he'd still have a key or two even though the Keymaker is gone. The answer is pretty simple: for security reasons, it would make sense for the Oracle to reside in a place that doesn't have back doors.
Another reviewer complained about the humans not throwing an EM bomb into the Machine City. One presumes they tried that long ago and failed; the only reason that Neo and Trinity are able to reach the city at all is because practically all the 250+ million sentinels have been sent to attack Zion. The humans have a finite number of ships, and replacing them takes a long time. Any other assault on the city at any other time would have been overwhelmed miles before they got close enough to do any real damage.
Others have complained about the ending; the peace Neo earns by ridding The Matrix of Smith's cancerous presence is tenuous, at best. The people trapped in the Matrix have been freed of Smith, but they're still enslaved. Realistically, though, that's how wars often go, and besides, even an intact Zion couldn't hold all the awakened sleepers. There's just not enough food and space to go around, and many would resent being awakened from a fairly normal world into a hardscrabble dystopia. Better to keep alive as many of the people who willingly chose freedom as possible, and let Zion live to fight another day when the peace inevitably breaks.
On a fan level, there are a few things that may leave you unsatisfied. You get less Morpheus and Trinity than you did in the past; the major characters must go to the sidelines as minor characters take the fore in the storytelling. And some aren't there at all; I was looking forward to seeing The Twins in action again, but I didn't realize until the movie was over that they were missing. And speaking of "twins", the lovely Monica Bellucci has little more than a cameo in this one.
So, what about the battle between Walter and myself concerning the nature of The Matrix and the scorched-Earth world of Zion? (In a nutshell, I and others felt that the "real" world was another layer of virtual reality; please see the other node for our rationale) Well, it could go either way.
I think that the movie is likely to be more satisfying if you go in thinking that the world of Zion is actually another layer of VR; The Oracle repeately implies there's more for Neo to learn about the world an himself than he learns within the storyline of Revolutions. The VR hypothesis makes Neo's mysteriously waking up in the Trainman's limbo much more believable (though, of course, The Matrix series has worked best on a metaphorical level all along: it's a world where the soulless drones that control the world parasitically feed on the energy of dreamers).
Working from the Zion-as-VR standpoint also makes Trinity's death easier to take -- she might be "dead" in the same way that Smith was "dead" at the end of the first movie. From a fan standpoint, seeing Trinity die stinks, but from a plot standpoint, she has to die in order to free Neo to do what he must. When she dies, he loses everything -- and is consequently free to do anything. Her death burns away his human frailties -- but also what's left of his humanity.
The role reversal of the programs and Morpheus' crew is something I've also enjoyed.
Morpheus' recruits have focused on understanding the code of The Matrix and doing their jobs to the exclusion of everything else; they live cheerless, minimalist lives aboard their ships, and when they're in The Matrix, they kill without fear or pity or concern with anything but their mission. As Tank said in the first movie as he marvelled at Neo's ability to train long and hard: "He's a machine."
Meanwhile, the ageless programs of The Matrix have long had to focus on passing as humans. And in their boredom, they've entertained themselves with the trivia and luxuries of humanity. The Oracle loves her candy, cigarettes, and chocolate chip cookies. The Merovingian occupies himself with French cuisine, wine, and sexual intrigue.
The role reversal of the humans and the sentient programs was emphasized first in Reloaded in the scene where Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity approach the Merovingian in the restaurant. Morpheus' crew are stiff, impassive, mechanical, focused only on their work; The Merovingian's crew are laughing, lustful, distracted. The Matrix has forced the best humans to become indistinguishable from machines and the best programs to become indistinguishable from humans.
Neo's merging with the machine world is nearly complete at the end of movie. Neo has been blinded in his battle with Bane and must rely on his spiritual senses to "see" the world around him. To Trinity and the rest of us, the Machine City looks like a Lovecraftian mechanical nightmare; to Neo, it's a beautiful, otherworldly city of delicate lights. His transformation is completed when he makes his Faustian deal with the Deux Ex Machina who rules the city. When he goes back into The Matrix to face Smith, Neo has transcended his humanity and left it behind. He no longer fights for humanity because he fears the future or the death of a loved one -- he fights because it's his choice.
Revolutions opened with $24.4 million on its Wednesday debut; The Matrix Reloaded opened with $42.5M on its first day. While I do think first-day box office was hurt by opening the film at the same time worldwide (which translated to an early morning debut in the U.S. and took the steam out of a lot of people trying to see the movie on the first day as opposed to waiting 'til later), it's possible this installment won't do as well as the other two movies because many were dissatisfied with Reloaded and thus had lessened interest in seeing the trilogy's conclusion. Which is a real shame, because the Wachowskis have redeemed themselves here. After five weeks, Revolutions has earned $136 million domestically; while that's a respectable haul, it's not even close to Reloaded's $281.5 million and is unlikely to rise to meet the $171 million of the first movie.
Running time: 129 minutes
Directors/Writers: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Score: Don Davis, with a lot of help from Juno Reactor
Mary Alice: The Oracle
Tanveer Atwal: Sati
Helmut Bakaitis: The Architect
Francine Bell: Councillor Grace
Monica Bellucci: Persephone
Rachel Blackman: Charra
Ian Bliss: Bane
Collin Chou (Sing Ngai): Seraph
Essie Davis: Maggie
Laurence Fishburne: Morpheus
Nona Gaye: Zee
Lachy Hulme: Sparks
Chris Kirby: Mauser
Peter Lamb: Colt
Nathaniel Lees: Mifune
Harry Lennix: Lock
Robert Mammone: AK
Carrie-Anne Moss: Trinity
Tharini Mudalair: Kamala
Robyn Nevin: Councillor Dillard
Genevieve O'Reilly: Officer Wirtz
Harold Perrineau: Link
Jada Pinkett Smith: Niobe
Keanu Reeves: Neo
Kevin M. Richardson: Deus Ex Machina
David Roberts: Roland
Bruce Spence: Trainman
Clayton Watson: Kid
Hugo Weaving: Agent Smith
Cornel West: Councillor West
Bernard White: Rama-Kandra
Lambert Wilson: Merovingian
Anthony Wong: Ghost
Anthony Zerbe: Councillor Hamann