The Matrix Revolutions (November 5/03)
In a way, it was inevitable. The elements that made the first Matrix film so enjoyable - the surfeit of ideas and sleek action sequences - had to be eliminated for this final chapter. The Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry, though it's hard to imagine who needs that clarified by now) basically established everything in the original (and, to a lesser extent, the first sequel), leaving Revolutions with the task of tidying up all the plot threads. Complaining that this film is short on concepts and heavy on action is moot; the Wachowski brothers really had no choice, considering the myriad of open-ended storylines introduced in its predecessors. Revolutions is the payoff movie, devoted solely to wrapping things up, though the film falls painfully short when it comes to providing the answers we really want.
The Matrix Revolutions picks up right where the last one left off (meaning there's no "last time on The Matrix" series of clips, which probably would've helped), with Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his band of freedom fighters continuing the battle. But unlike the first two flicks, Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) aren't the focus of attention; characters like Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and The Oracle (Mary Alice, picking up where the late Gloria Foster left off) are afforded far more screentime than expected. That's not to say the movie is lacking in what fans have come to expect, with a long and exciting sequence involving the citizens of Zion defending their city against the invading computers (in the guise of sentinels) and a final battle between Neo and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).
For the most part, The Matrix Revolutions is tremendously entertaining - with a catch. If you've watched the first two installments and enjoyed them, you'll probably dig this one. But there's little here that will appeal to those that have been left underwhelmed by the series thus far; the movie delivers exactly what's been promised by its predecessors, but not much else. And, like The Matrix Reloaded, there's an awful lot of ponderous, pretentious dialogue to be had - though that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Wachowski brothers have proved themselves expert at balancing mysterious conversations with outrageous action sequences, a combination that's become a staple of these films.
The centerpiece of the movie, without a doubt, is the prolonged skirmish between the machines and Zion. Because we know exactly what's at stake for the characters, the sequence becomes more than just a perfunctory action break. This is a long, hard fight, and the Wachowski's do an incredible job of visualizing this portion of the film - even though the majority of it is done using computers. But unlike, say, the last 15 minutes of Hulk, the Wachowski's ensure that the use of CGI never becomes overwhelming. As a result, the entire thing remains coherent, even when there isn't a single "real" object on screen. It's a thrilling moment that unfortunately causes the film to peak with a good half hour left to go.
The much ballyhooed mano-e-mano confrontation between Neo and Smith is effective, but often borders on self-parody. The almost indescribable sight of watching these two characters fly around while fighting each other feels like a cross between a superhero movie and a particularly bizarre piece of Japanimation. Had this duel come at any other point in the franchise's history, it probably would've been laughable. But given that the Wachowski's have established the power of these two figures, it doesn't seem as though there would've been any other way for them to battle.
But as entertaining as the movie is, it doesn't quite compare to the first two. Part of what made the original such a memorable film were all those scenes featuring Neo and the gang running around armed to the teeth with black trenchcoats. Reloaded began to move away from that sort of thing, as we started spending more and more time in Zion (sleek trenchcoats were soon replaced with dirty-looking rags). Now, with Revolutions, there is (at the most) 10-minutes worth of such coolness - which does make sense, I suppose, but it's still disappointing.
And then there's the ending. Every Matrix fan has been waiting for the conclusion to this series since the release of the first film, so expectations were undoubtedly high. Though there some questions are answered and that fight between Neo and Agent Smith does have a clear victor, the movie's resolution leaves a lot to be desired. No definite answers are given regarding the fate of either the humans or the machines; the Wachowski brothers presumably expect us to decide amongst ourselves what really happened. But with so much at stake, not giving the audience absolute closure is just obnoxious (especially when you consider that there will not be further sequels, supposedly).
Having said that, there's no denying that The Matrix Revolutions is one of the more entertaining mindless action flicks to come around in a while. But when you consider how smart the first film was, it's a little disappointing that the series ends with such over-the-top mayhem.