Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, September 17, 2012

Director Report Card: The Wachowskis (2003) Part 2

4. The Matrix Revolutions

No. No, it doesn’t.

“The Matrix Revolution” disappoints. The biggest reason why is because it doesn’t provide a satisfying conclusion to the story. If the Wachowski Brothers didn’t exactly undermine the central point of their series, they at least forgot what made the first film so entertaining and invigorating. Any victories the character gain feel strictly pyrrhic.

The first thing “Revolutions” does is prove "Reloaded's" cliffhanger meaningless. Neo is trapped in some wacky place outside of the Matrix… That doesn’t play into any other part of the movie. The Train Man, played by the appropriately grody Bruce "Gyro Captain" Spence, is introduced as a powerful villain. He has two scenes. Neo is rescued in less then thirty minutes and the movie continues on, never looking back. The only purpose these early scenes have is to introduce magical little girl, Sati, who doesn’t factor into much of the rest of the movie.

Well, they have another purpose. The shoot-out in the Hel Club is the last example of fun action in the whole series. Reverse gravity shoot-outs are always entertaining. It’s nice that the filmmakers let Trinity and Morpheus have one more moment of genuine ass-kickery, since they’re stuck in confined places for the rest of the movie. Carrie Anne-Moss sells the whole “I Love Neo!” thing as hard as she can, for better or worst. I don’t think we really needed a second helping of Merovingian though. Also, total missed opportunity to see Monica Bellucci in a tight leather outfit.

The conflict between Neo and Agent Smith, who has evolved into an omnicidal maniac, is the main point of the film. Just by the laws of dramatic events, this can’t happen until the end. We’ve got two hours-nine to fill and the siege of Zion to get too. We have to sit through all this other shit and a bunch of characters we don’t care about doing stuff.

The whole Bane subplot doesn’t amount to much. Smith entering the real world has terrifying implications that aren’t followed through on or even discussed much. The only purpose these scenes serve is to blind Neo. About that. We never get a satisfying explanation for why Neo’s One powers extend into the real world. The Oracle’s explanation basically boils down to “Yep, you can do that now.” The real reason Neo develops new, completely improbable powers is because the Wachowskis had to up the ante. When your character all ready has God-like powers by the end of movie one, how do you raise the stakes in the sequel? “Give him more powers” is the first answer and also the least advisable one. The filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner but their solution is uninspired and badly conceived.

As for the attack on Zion, it’s problematic. The special effects still hold up, even though this movie is nearly ten years old. (Christ, I feel old.) We take giant robots in movies for granted today, but the APUs had a real novelty at the time. The images of the Sentinels swarming into Zion, a giant black cloud of death, a dark subversions on impregnation imagery, is still breath-taking. And, hey, the Sentinels themselves are still awesome looking.

The Kid isn’t a bad character but, really, who gives a shit about this guy? The same with Zee and… What’s her face. The Other One. These aren’t the character we’re here to see. They are thinly developed in their own right. Captain Mifune is at least kind of fun but his constant war-cries are annoying. Who do you think you are, Reb Brown?

The War of Zion is visually exciting but quickly wares out its welcome. The Hammer’s run fares a little better. First off, it takes up less screen-time. Secondly, it at least features established characters. Thirdly, there are some pretty cool shots in these scenes, such as the ship flipping upside down through the tunnels or just barely missing crashing to the ground, the blue electricity spreading out over the floor.

The worst part about either story threads is that neither end up mattering. The Hammer completes its run but Zion is still screwed. Humanity is still doomed. The fate of the universe has always been in Neo’s hands. All they’ve really accomplished is preventing the machines from killing a few more people. The movie was just burning time until it can get to the important stuff. And, hey, here’s some more bullshit with the Zion Council of Elders. Captivating.

Machine City is impressive and, admittedly, Neo and Trinity’s run there is sort of exciting. The shot of her seeing the sun for the first time could have been amazing but instead settles for being kind of sweet. As for Trinity’s death… It pisses me off. He spent half of the last movie trying to stop her from dying. To kill Trinity at this point is just messing with the audience’s emotions. Once again, Anne-Moss sells her dying monologue for all its worth, even when getting her mouth around the Brothers’ awkward dialogue. Once more, it should have been amazing but has to settle for merely not-shitty.

Finally, we get to the only real reason the movie exists: Neo and Smith’s final showdown. The climatic battle is amazing and almost makes up for the rest of the film. The two opposing forces fly around, tossing each other through buildings, tearing through pavement like tissue paper. The fight brings anime to mind too, especially with all those giant shockwave created domes of rainwater, an especially neat effect. When it comes to epic nerd action, no other film has come this close to realizing it on-screen. (It makes me wish the Wachowskis really would direct the “Justice League” movie.)

Goddamn, Hugo Weaving is a good actor. He makes dialogue that would sound ridiculous coming out of any other actor’s mouth sound spine-chillingly malicious. Focusing a large portion of the film around him was a great idea. It’s a shame Keanu seems as confused as the audience. He’s out of his league at this point.

Despite the awesome lead-up, the ending is the weakest part. On first viewing, I didn’t understand what exactly happened. It’s not very clear that the machines use Neo as a conduit to send an anit-virus into Smith. The hero’s death doesn’t inspire any sadness. By this point, the audience is exhausted. With all the talk of fate and choice, it feels inevitable. Morpheus, the only surviving member of the original cast, never gets any sort of resolution. His deepest dream comes true but the film’s focus is elsewhere. The ending is so damn vague. The Matrix still exists. The Machines are still in power. There are millions of people still imprison. Zion is far from safe. What kind of victory is that?

The script tries to force an allegory about free will. How everyone has “a choice.” I’m sorry, was it too much to ask for an ending where the Machines are defeated definitely and humanity is given a chance to start anew? I guess I should admire the shot at ambiguity but, after three films, I was hoping for something a little more solid. It’s seriously not that well done. The final scene gives the audience a good idea of how these films went astray. None of the characters we actually care about are present. Instead, Miss Worthless Exposition and Col. Talks-a-lot trade barbs about something. Lame. There’s no other word for it.

The true appeal of “The Matrix” lied in its wish fulfillment, swift use of sci-fi paranoia, and general sense of style. The sequels went up in a completely different direction. Maybe the directors started to believe their own hype. Maybe they listened to the hardcore internet crazies too much. Perhaps there was no other choice. “The Matrix Revolutions” is a frustrating conclusion to the series. Between the two sequels, there was probably enough solid material for a pretty good film. The rambling, padding, and misguided narrative choices make the awesome moments harder to remember. [Grade: C]


Sean Catlett said...

Maybe I like this one slightly better... it's so close that I can't really tell.

I'll go into it more when/if I do my own Wachowski-thon. In brief, at some point the desire shifted from telling a good story to preaching nonsense. The first film had its share, to be certain, but dressed around an interesting premise and an exciting story.

The two sequels awkwardly stand out because we wait for Zion to get destroyed or to save itself, and there isn't anything else to it besides the BLAH BLAH BLAH. There's also the shift in ideology: machines are evil in the first one and must be destroyed, but by the sequels (and the Animatrix), we are informed that we created the machines and spurred their hatred for us by enslaving them -- turnabout is fair play, it is our fault. True balance, true peace, will be attained by a grand gesture from both sides united over a common enemy, we are told.

Conceptually, that could have worked I suppose. I don't think a good film can be made from what is already there, though. The problem with this, as it is presented, is that Neo could have returned to Zion and helped fight off the machines with his EMP brain while Agent Amith multiplied within the Matrix and killed all of the human stock. It comes at a great price, but the humans would have won. And because I am actually considering this as an alternative to building a shaky truce with the machines and living together, the films did not do a good job of justifying their conclusion. Or I'm a horrible monster, whichever.

Sad times. I'm sure on Shadow Earth, the sequels are great.

Bonehead XL said...

I maintain that if you cut out all the bullshit and staple the remains together, you'd probably have one decent movie. Not great, probably, but at the very least better then what we got.

The sequels definitely lost sight of what was interesting and entertaining about the first one. Rewatching "Revolutions," what struck me about it is so little the film actually takes place inside of the Matrix. That in itself seems like a good clue that something is amiss here.