The Matrix was an innovative, mind-bending, and wholly original work of art, something that usually cannot be said for a science fiction film in this day and age. The ‘bullet time’ effect was parodied, or used in some form, in over 400 films, TV shows, anything in between, between 1999 and 2003.The Wachowskis did something amazing in 1999. Warner Bros., which hadn’t given them much support then, gave them broad support for the follow-ups. The path they chose, though, was faulty. Like the Pirates movies of the same time frame, The Matrix sequels were built as a massive, two-part movie that would segue directly from one into the other. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Wachowskis that the third film needed to have a proper act structure, which is one reason why it doesn’t work as well, but let’s get there later.
Firstly, Reloaded has a brilliant structure: a limited time frame for the human race to survive, a deeply personal story effecting our main character, a (supposed to be) jaw-dropping revelation that underscores what we know about the Matrix universe, and a cliff-hanger ending that leaves us awaiting the resolution. Granted, some things (the character of Bane, the over-the-top portrayal of Smith (not Hugo Weaving’s fault, though), the inexplicable coincidences that continue throughout the film) don’t necessarily work, but the film is an enjoyable experience worth your theater money. The stunning revelation that the One and the Prophecy are actually forms of control from the machine world rocks the foundation of the first film to its core, and Neo’s decision to not go along with the program truly leaves things in a ‘where no man has gone before situation,’ which I thought was awesome. However, Reloaded suffers from damage incurred by its successor.
The Wachowskis were trying to set up plot threads for two films, which means a lot of things not only don’t make sense, but shouldn’t have been included in the second film at all. The character of Bane should have been erased in an early draft, since he ultimately only serves to help turn Neo in a Christ-figure (bad idea) in Revolutions (more on that later); they should have established a conspiracy of humans who wanted peace with the machines, and were willing to betray their fellow man to get it if they wanted to mess up the humans’ defense plans, which would have been a compelling and fascinating plotline.
So, onto the real problem: Revolutions. The Wachowskis had established a rhythm in the first two films (small action, medium drama, medium action, high drama, high action, final thought), which they completely ignored in Revolutions. Worse yet, after Reloaded had more action, they missed a glorious opportunity for philosophical discussion over whether or not the machines had done the human race a favor by creating the Matrix and saving them from extinction after the war decimated the planet, why the machines created a world that allowed humanity to escape the Matrix in the first place, and finally why the machines left Zion alone for years, only to seemingly attack on a whim. Other themes they could have hit on: humanity, intelligence, religion, militarism, the list goes on, but no. Forty five minutes is devoted to a defense of Zion the audience already knows is worthless, with half an hour of hand-t0-hand combat between Neo and Smith (ironically enough containing a lot of brilliant, albeit dark, philosophy expertly delivered by Hugo Weaving). The pacing sucks, the action is overdone, and the characters, with a few exceptions, fall terribly flat. Oh yeah, good luck working out the plot if you want a full night’s rest.
So, I’m going to list some specific gripes now, bear with me.
1. No continuity of logic with the same characters
Reloaded establishes Commander Locke as a hard-ass. Revolutions makes him look like an idiot. Namely the fact that he goes from allowing the Hammer (the ship our heroes are on which has an EMP that would sacrifice the dock but allow human forces to regroup) to re-enter, t0 actively dressing down the captains on board for doing what he had hoped they would do in the first place. He also seems to have forgotten that his lover had just returned. Of course, he’d be in a bad mood because…
2. The humans have no major breaks
The thrilling moment of the Zion battle is when the first digger is defeated. Everyone cheers, hearts soar, then the second one arrives…. immediately. Part of the idea of rhythm and release, as put forth by other filmmakers, is the release of tension. It would have served a greater purpose for the second digger to be delayed, since it would have contradicted all the feelings that surround the battle: that humanity could actually win, but no, the machines just happen to have the second one arrive at the high water mark of Zion resistance. Reloaded did a good job of preventing audience exhaustion by taking time to set up the next step of the plan.
3. Neo is out of the equation way too much
Instead of having the Battle of Zion by itself, followed by the attempt to reach the machine city, the two sequences should have been re-edited to be interspliced together, with intentional reference points to show that they are, in fact, linked (which would have resolved some lingering issues with regards to Neo’s mission). The apparent defeat of the human race, coupled with Trinity and Neo’s struggle, would have made both storylines more compelling, and would compelled people to care more. It also would have added more weight to the sacrifice of Neo and Trinity. Speaking of which…
4. Neo should have been a hero, not a Christ-figure
Neo is beaten, blinded, tortured, and dies so his people can live. He is re-inserted into the Matrix in a cross-like position. It’s too much. Neo should not have been blinded, largely because the Bane character was too over-the-top, but also because it overdid it on what he has to overcome. They still could have had the golden light vision, the battle into the blue sky (which should have had Neo disabling the epic machine batteries instead of dueling bombs and sentinels, proving his later worth to the machines), and Trinity’s death, which ultimately fuels Neo into his own sacrifice. He should have been staring the machines dead in the eye, instead of the vague ‘I feel them’ bs that he has in the movie.
Finally, there’s the ending. I get that the story didn’t lend itself to a nice, wrap-up-everything type of ending, but when you think about it, a lot of people are screwed at the end. The population of Zion is stated to be 250,000, who are all trapped in a giant room without food, power, and probably proper plumbing and sewage. Millions of humans are going to be freed from the Matrix… without any assistance, meaning they’ll all drown when a human hovercraft isn’t there to rescue them. Finally, the whole point of the resistance, the war, and Neo’s arising is to destroy the Machines so that humanity can reclaim the Earth, and they fall incredibly short of that goal. As a matter of fact, it’s never stated explicitly how that’s so supposed to happen; it’s just a stated goal.
(For the record, I am not discussing fan theories and my preferred theoretical ending because it would balloon the post to 5000 words, but trust me, that’s a great discussion to have.)
The real failure of the films is that there is no final resolution on nearly any front, which begs the question of what the Wachoski
brothers siblings were thinking. I will admit that I do like all three movies, and try to watch them from time to time. I just look at Revolutions in the same way I look at Star Trek: Nemesis, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, the Star Wars prequels, and Terminator 3: a great opportunity squandered to make an awesome science fiction film that had more to it.