Skip to main content

Vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose.

The Matrix Revolutions
(2003)

(SPOILERS) Plenty of movies become hugely successful while killing off their protagonist (Gladiator only three years earlier, for example), so that’s definitely not the problem per se with The Matrix Revolutions. No, it’s principally that, despite being filmed back-to-back with The Matrix Reloaded – so ennui on the directors’ part wasn’t a factor – the film feels like the trilogy has run out of steam and inspiration.

The most egregious error on the Wachowskis’ part is the decision to double down on the activities in Zion, the real-world component of the movies having steadily grown by this point. Worse, we’re asked to invest in wafer-thin, arbitrarily introduced characters (Kid, Nathaniel Lees’ Captain Mifune) during the interminable assault on the city. In fairness, this isn’t the only area where issues are found. Within the Matrix, the rain-lashed showdown between Neo and a multitude of Smiths (chiefly the one who absorbed the Oracle, a scene that leads to the uncanniest Weaving laugh ever) looks quite nice, but it’s mostly rather uninvolving, because we’ve been here before, twice, and the stakes are accordingly less than compelling.

The strengths of the picture, in direct contrast to its predecessor, are front-loaded, and again mostly Matrix-focussed. True, the Merovingian material isn’t as delightful as in Reloaded, and there’s an upside-down shootout that suggests the Wachowskis just aren’t into the action any more (a comparison might be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where you can see that Spielberg just wasn’t feeling it, set-piece-wise). But Neo’s purgatory like wait at Mobile Ave subway station is a nice nod to the “spiritual” hierarchy of the system (if Machine City is heaven, or hell, this is a between state, ruled over by Bruce Spence’s wayward – and therefore in cahoots with the Merovingian – Trainman program). Here, the Wachowskis further indulge their tech empathy, although it’s already a fairly long line of development in the movies, from HAL to the reprogrammed T-800 to Data. Where before it was quite simple – machines bad – now programs may elicit feelings of warmth (the family waiting with Neo).

The sisters’ philosophical arrangement of the material requires that an impasse is reached, rather than an outright victory. Smith, a threat to the system (“The result of the equation trying to balance itself out”), must be subdued by a self-sacrificing Neo, himself only the latest in a line of Ones (“The power of the One extends beyond this world. It reaches from here all the way back to where it came from”). They won’t be drawn further on cosmology beyond the tech-spiritual however; the only god in this realm is the appallingly named (not on screen, thankfully) Deus Ex Machina. The movie needed an ultimate adversary, a Borg Queen if you will, but not one as unutterably banal as the sub-sub-Sauron envisaged.

As mentioned, Neo is killed off, after being rather rudely blinded. The Bain subplot is a damp squib (or should that be squid?) on every level, and if the blinding serves a purpose (Neo can now see as a machine) it still feels rather perfunctory and anti-climactic, much as Trinity’s death is a waste after her previous deliverance. The siblings’ vision is ultimately a bleak one, even if those who want to leave will be allowed to, allegedly; there is no final defeat, so humanity will remain (at least partially) enslaved, as we here and now really are, in a false light reality matrix. According to some. That isn’t why The Matrix Revolutions fails, though (and it still managed to gross $400m worldwide; it was just a whopping $300m less than The Matrix Reloaded grossed less than six months earlier). It fails first and foremost because it emphasises set pieces and characters the audience couldn’t care less about; the deaths of the leads and the impasse reached only compound the situation.

It’s a sad thing when a phenomenon’s legacy dissolves into indifference. Something not entirely dissimilar happened when Back to the Future Part II proved exactly what audiences who loved Back to the Future weren’t expecting (although audiences internationally liked it a lotmore than at home); when the amiable but very safe Part III capped the trilogy, it mustered an underwhelming third of the original’s gross. The Matrix had been a cultural phenomenon. The Phantom Menace might have been the highest earner of 1999, but it was Neo everyone talked about (when they weren't complaining about how terrible Lucas' prequel was). The sequels did some interesting things, but even if your positive about them, it’s hard to argue that the precision of storytelling on display in the first was replicated. Whatever The Matrix wasn’t (and its outright naysayers were few and far between), it wasn’t clumsy, clunky or leaden, all of which could be laid at The Matrix Revolutions’ door. Yes, we’ll always have the first one, and you can’t sully that, but how much more satisfying if the whole trilogy had been as refined and polished.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

I have done some desperate, foolish things come 3 o'clock in the morning.

Sea of Love (1989) (SPOILERS) It’s difficult to imagine Sea of Love starring Dustin Hoffman, for whom Richard Price wrote the screenplay but who bowed out over requests for multiple rewrites. Perhaps Hoffman secretly recognised what most of us don’t need telling; there’s no way he fits into an erotic thriller (I’m not sure I’d even buy him as a cop). Although, he would doubtless have had fun essaying the investigative side, involving a succession of dates on the New York singles scene as a means to ensnare a killer. Al Pacino, on the other hand, has just the necessary seedy, threadbare, desperate quality, and he’s a powerhouse in a movie that, without its performances (Ellen Barkin and John Goodman may also take bows), would be a mostly pedestrian and unremarkable entry in the then burgeoning serial killer genre. Well, I say unremarkable. The rightly most-remarked-upon aspect of the murder mystery side is how unsatisfyingly it’s resolved. Sea of Love is so scant of r