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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985)
(SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and gleefully distr…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.