[box cover]

The Matrix Revolutions

Warner Home Video

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne,
and Hugo Weaving

Written and Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

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Review by Damon Houx                    

Autopsy Report: The Matrix Revolutions

Notes and Procedures

Bringing in the New Year, the first 2003 issue of Newsweek featured a flying Keanu Reeves on the cover and threatened that it was "The Year of The Matrix." And it should have been.

After wowing audiences in 1999 with the surprise hit — and one of the top-selling DVD titles of all time — Matrix creators and brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski spent the interim devising two sequels (filmed at the same time, much like the Lord of the Rings) to complete what the brother's always swore was a well-thought-out trilogy. Their two follow-ups came out six months apart in May and November, making Newsweek's prophecy as safe a bet as one can make. And besides the two hugely expensive films being released, an abundance of ancillary material began flooding the markets hoping to generate Matrix fevah. The Animatrix came first, a collection of animated (both CGI and cel) shorts that took place in the world of the films; they featured many crossover characters and helped expand and explain the world of The Matrix all the more. In a cross-promotional effort, Dreamcatcher had the Animatrix short The Final Flight of the Orsirus attached, which was meant to boost the grosses for that abomination of a film (Dreamcatcher, that is). And there was also "Enter the Matrix," a video game released on all platforms made by Atari — of all people — that was also meant to be an expansionary story tied directly into the film by focusing on secondary characters played by Anthony Wong and Jada Pinkett-Smith. The idea was that the game (which also featured many of the stars of Reloaded and Revolutions) would fill in some of the gaps between the two new sequels. The highlight of which was surely the cut scene of Monica Bellucci making out with Mrs. Will Smith. On top of this, numerous Powerade ads tied their product into The Matrix, allowing for a cross-promotional synergy that must have seemed very proactive.

And then a funny thing happened… The Matrix Reloaded came out. Though many championed the film for its state-of-the-art special effects, its desire to take the brain-twisting philosophies of the first film further, and its racially diversified cast, it also posed a big question mark. No film has ever relied so heavily on its sequel to determine its worth. The brothers left so much of the film open-ended that Revolutions isn't as much a sequel as the second half of Reloaded. But many felt (including this critic) the middle chapter was a hot-air thrill ride that never became all that involving. Also lobbed at it is the "Star Wars prequel critique" of too many talking heads politicking and not enough of the action and thrills that made the original so watched. All of these problems, though, could be remedied if the conclusion delivered.

Dividing audiences, but too much the "summer blockbuster everyone has to see and have an opinion on" to be ignored, Reloaded grossed $158 million in its first week, though it finished out at $281 million — short of the "magic 300" (the new number of a bona-fide smash). But the voices of dissent were loud, and the front-heavy box office didn't bode well. Even more trouble looked unavoidable when Larry Wachowski was outed as a pre-operative transsexual, throwing the leather-fied look of the films into question. Fortunately, no one held this against either film. Yet the longer Reloaded stagnated, it the more any enthusiasm for it or the franchise waned; something that also happened with The Phantom Menace.

By the time Revolutions was released, the air was irrevocably out. Reviewers kind to Reloaded quickly did about-faces and slammed Revolutions like it was week-old trout; many seemed harsher than needed, perhaps as attrition for their soft reviews of Reloaded. With the tide of public opinion turned, the film grossed $138 million stateside — a figure that was less than Reloaded's opening week. Released on November 5th, Revolutions only opposition that weekend was Will Ferrell's Elf, which proved to be such effective counter-programming that it managed to out-gross the both over- and (by the time it was released) under-hyped conclusion. Though it became profitable through foreign sales and will become more so with the DVD, the film joins the dubious ranks of such titles as Hulk in that it was a moneymaking "failure" where no money was lost, but the expectations weren't met, and careers sullied to the point that the Wachowskis have become personas non grata in Tinsletown.

Anatomical Summary

Starting off moments after the conclusion of the last film, Revolutions opens with both Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the Agent Smith controlled Bane (Ian Bliss) comatose. It appears Neo is stuck in the Matrix — even though he isn't ported in — and is being held at Mobil Avenue (What happens when you scramble the world mobil? Besides ombli, boilm, moilb, and ilbom, how about limbo?) by the giggling Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), whose consort is the poorly underused Persephone (Monica Bellucci). After consulting with the Oracle (Mary Alice — finishing up for Gloria Foster, who passed away during filming), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) are joined by the Oracle's bodyguard Seraph (Sing Ngai, credited as Collin Chou) on a quest to free Neo from the Merovingian in a sequence that starts promisingly enough and goes nowhere; essentially, the three kick butt, things look to get really heady, but then the Merovingian relents. A sequence endemic of the problems with the two sequels: Merovingian and Persephone got enough screen-time in the last film to make one think they'd have more to do than their one scene in the concluding chapter (and what happened to the Alibino twins? Nothing, I guess). Oh well.

Finally rescued, Neo consults with The Oracle for the last time to find out what he has to do to end the upcoming war between Zion (the last vestige of free human minds and bodies) and the computers that have destroyed Zion seven times previous. Neo gets to the Oracle shortly before Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) does, and Smith is now copying himself over every single person in the Matrix, including the Oracle. He also has Bane in the real world, who plots to kill the more vulnerable IRL Neo.

After resting, Neo realizes his destiny: He must fly into the heart of Machine City to make a deal with "the source" for peace, to which his amour Trinity joins him. But Zion is under attack, and Morpheus takes a back seat to Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), while they try and get their functioning EMP back to help save Zion, while their home base is being flooded with killer sentinels. It looks to be Zion's last stand, leading to an all-out battle sequence between robots and Zion's poorly developed secondary characters, but the film can't finish until Neo takes on Agent Smith, so after this epic — but empty — battle sequence, the film concludes with their final stand-off in the rain (it plays like an homage to Superman 2). Shortly thereafter the film wraps up in a new benchmark low for unsatisfying conclusions to a trilogy.

External Examination

The point-blank problem with this film (a complaint that could also be leveled at Reloaded) isn't that the film isn't bad, per se, it's that what the Wachowskis ended up with seems infinitely less interesting than whatever the film could have been or set out to be. Or, that is to say, the sequels don't live up to the potential of the first film. The Matrix was a smart popcorn movie that worked for action fans and those looking for more sustenance in their junk food; with the two sequels it's hard to tell who the intended audience is meant to be. The playful humor and the kung fu action is been neutered, and what's left is most sci-fi gobbledygook mixed in with a modern reworking of a kick-ass savior; there's nothing here that's as fun, inventive, and involving as the kung fu training sequence. The Wachowskis took themselves a little too seriously, and all their allusions and references not only don't add up, but they aren't as well integrated as they were in the original (one wonders if the first film had some uncredited polishes, while the brother's were left too alone to make the sequels). And because the original was so successful it still inspires imitators (2003's Underworld is one of the most recent examples), the effects couldn't just give us bullet-time XP, but sequences that are so technically immaculate they become pornographic celebrations of the abilities of CGI without advancing the plot. Which, it must be noted, bullet-time originally did.

For all the brother's interest in turning Neo into a Christ-like savior, in the process of doing so, he's become uninvolving. In the first film there was the process of discovery (though it's something that shouldn't just be repeated in each of the three films), which was the hook. But in the sequels, his character doesn't so much develop as listen a lot. One no longer gets to participate in his journey, and one senses no growth or change from frame one of the sequels to their conclusion, though Reeves does occasionally give his character the weight of being a savior.

Much like the audience, elements from the predecessors were also cast aside. For a war over humanity, those people stuck in tubes (you know, the people the war's about) from the first film have all but been forgotten about; they make a cameo here, and the conclusion makes it sounds like maybe some good stuff might happen for some of them or something — literally, that's how vague it is. While many of the supporting players and story points set up to be important disappear in Revolutions, or are there to enact trite clichés. The worst may be base leader, Niobe boyfriend, and Morpheus contrarian Captain Lock (Harry J. Lennix), whose role it is to be the naysayer even when people do the right thing. After the fourth time he looks irritable over something Morpheus did, one stops wondering what he'll say next; you know. Which leads into…

Evidence of Injury

The biggest all around travesty (yes, travesty) of the third film is that the main characters seem lost in the larger tapestry with little or nothing to do. Worst off is Morpheus, who gets to play Uhura to Niobe's Kirk. Seriously, Morpheus has nothing to do in this movie, which is all the more shameless since his character's conclusion at the end of the second film (where his faith in the prophecy was shaken to its core) seems forgotten about. Neo is mostly stoic in the movie, and his big action comes at the conclusion when he fights Smith for the last time and has a radical trick up his sleeve, while Moss's Trinity is the most active of the bunch, yet she still feels cheated. Perhaps because it's such an over-used trick (a la George Lucas) the multiple conclusions aren't cut together (the battle for Zion is cut in with Niobe's wild ride back to Zion, but these stories are interlocked) which leaves Neo and Trinity off-screen for more than a half hour, instead focusing on bit-part players like Captain Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) and The Kid (Clayton Watson) from the Animatrix. The only character who keeps his dignity is Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith, but he too leaves the movie for large chunks and only has scant screen-time. But at least his desire to take over the world through copying is interesting.

Perhaps most dispiriting is — and it must be broached — the conclusion, which plays like an act of transgression. Two of the main characters pass in uneventful ways. Or at least it seems both died, but it's hard to tell, and there is the suggestion of resurrection for one, if not both (science fiction has always changed the rules of mortality to suit itself; so did Reloaded). In both cases it feels like cheats how they leave the story; one case is nigh laughable as someone with a multiply punctured torso keeps talking, and talking, and talking, and… talking. Those looking for the first film's balance of intelligence and popcorn thrills will find themselves in a plodding exercise of young director's given free reign to implode their own ideas all over themselves.

Evidence of Therapeutic Intervention

There's no denying Revolutions is problematic. But it's also a very expensive movie, and one can see that though the brothers may have failed themselves with their screenplay, their visual flourishes are still breathtaking. On second viewing — with flaws noted — one can sit back and enjoy the eye-candy, of which there is plenty. Spending gross amounts of money doesn't guarantee much of anything these days, but one of the pleasures of cinema is experiencing new worlds, and with this film there is that sense of seeing something you haven't exactly seen before. And, though it feels as if fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping has less to do with this film than the previous entries, the fight sequences are well shot and spectacular, while the boys' sense of framing creatively mimics the comics and anime they have expressed were influences. At times shots and dialogue seem to be exactly the clichés the boys are going after. The film is more endearing on multiple viewings than, say, Attack of the Clones.

But if there's anything that the Wachowskis did that actually is sort of great about these films, it's that they tried to paint real honest-to-goodness love into the characters. Trinity and Neo, Zee (Nona Gaye) and Lock (Harold Perreniau Jr.), are all fighting the war they're fighting because of their love for their partners. Though it doesn't always work, they were trying to do something, and it is interesting.

Actually, "interesting though it doesn't work" sums up this film to a T. With these two sequels, it's hard not to feel that the boys failed to deliver; they are capital F Failures — at least, what we know them to be — but they also are undeniably fascinating, if only for how they messed it all up. The Wachowskis have been tight-lipped; they don't grant many interviews, and they granted little for these films. Perhaps in the future (a box set is reportedly in the works) we may understand their intentions a bit better, and some puzzle pieces may fall into place. Doubtful, but not impossible. Like Morpheus, it's hard not to want to believe they really did have a master plan and that we may not understand how all of it was supposed to work. And perhaps an audience who sees these sequels as underdogs (which they've become) and unfairly shat upon may find the films (sans the hype) for the intellectual exercise in the price of messiah-dom that the boys may have been after.

Internal Examination

Warner's two-disc release of The Matrix Revolutions offers the film on Disc One, presented in the stellar anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio we've come to expect from films of this ilk (a pan-and-scan version is available separately). The first disc comes with trailers for the three films and The Animatrix.

Disc Two begins with Revolutions Recalibrated (27:02), which is exactly what one would think it is: a puff-piece featurette that reveals everyone to be enthusiastic about the film and stroking the labor it took, but featuring no input from the Wachowskis. This is supplemented by four "white rabbits" that offer featurettes covered in the Operator section of the disc. CG Revolution (15:30) devotes more time to the CGI effects, while Super Burly Brawl (6:17) is a multi-angle (three, actually) featurette on the final fight. Future Gamer: The Matrix Online (10:59) acts as an ad for "The Matrix Online." Yep, synergy.

The second page of supplements begins with Before the Revolution, which gives a play-by-play through the films and the new information created by The Animatrix. The Evolution (5:36) is a still gallery of concept art, storyboards, and final scenes. There's also a weblinks option, with Operator the final section. It contains the four mini-docs that also can be accessed through Revolutions Recalibrated: Neo Realism (12:23), about the technological advances of the film; Super Big Mini Models (8:47), about how much of the film was done with practical big miniatures; Double Agent Smith (7:11), which features all of the multiple Hugo Weavings created and layered into the final sequence; and Mind Over Matter (8:04), all about stunts and the training involved to do them.

As can be noticed by reading this supplement listing, it's a light two-disc set, and for those sick of endless double-dipping, we very well may see a box set of all three Matrix titles in the near future.

— Damon Houx

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