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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

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…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It’s not every day you see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents – by himself.

Gemini Man (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ang Lee seems hellbent on sloughing down a technological cul-de-sac to the point of creative obscurity, in much the same way Robert Zemeckis enmired himself in the mirage of motion capture for a decade. Lee previously experimented with higher frame rates on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, to the general aversion of those who saw it in its intended form – 48, 60 or 120 fps have generally gone down like a bag of cold sick, just ask Peter Jackson – and the complete indifference of most of the remaining audience, for whom the material held little lustre. Now he pretty much repeats that trick with Gemini Man. At best, it’s merely an “okay” film – not quite the bomb its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests – which, (as I saw it) stripped of its distracting frame rate and 3D, reveals itself as just about serviceable but afflicted by several insurmountable drawbacks.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

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.

You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The Avengers Season 6 Ranked – Worst to Best
The final run, and an oft-maligned one. It’s doubtful anyone could have filled Emma Peel’s kinky boots, but it didn’t help Linda Thorson that Tara King was frequently earmarked to moon over Steed while very evidentlynot being the equal Emma and Cathy were; the generation gap was never less than unflatteringly evident. Nevertheless, despite this imbalance, and the early hiccups of the John Bryce-produced episodes, Season Six arguably offers a superior selection of episodes to its predecessor, in which everyone became perhaps a little too relaxed.