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

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?

American Beauty (1999)
(SPOILERS) As is often the case with the Best Picture Oscar, a backlash against a deemed undeserved reward has grown steadily in the years since American Beauty’s win. The film is now often identified as symptomatic of a strain of cinematic indulgence focussing on the affluent middle classes’ first world problems. Worse, it showcases a problematic protagonist with a Lolita-fixation towards his daughter’s best friend (imagine its chances of getting made, let alone getting near the podium in the #MeToo era). Some have even suggested it “mercifully” represents a world that no longer exists (as a pre-9/11 movie), as if such hyperbole has any bearing other than as gormless clickbait; you’d have to believe its world of carefully manicured caricatures existed in the first place to swallow such a notion. American Beauty must own up to some of these charges, but they don’t prevent it from retaining a flawed allure. It’s a satirical take on Americana that, if it pulls its p…

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 …

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News "Do not air this story"?

The Insider (1999)
(SPOILERS) The Insider was the 1999 Best Picture Oscar nominee that didn’t. Do any business, that is. Which is, more often than not, a major mark against it getting the big prize. It can happen (2009, and there was a string of them from 2014-2016), but aside from brief, self-congratulatory “we care about art first” vibes, it generally does nothing for the ceremony’s profile, or the confidence of the industry that is its bread and butter. The Insider lacked the easy accessibility of the other nominees – supernatural affairs, wafer-thin melodramas or middle-class suburbanite satires. It didn’t even brandish a truly headlines-shattering nail-biter in its conspiracy-related true story, as earlier contenders All the President’s Men and JFK could boast. But none of those black marks prevented The Insider from being the cream of the year’s crop.