Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Matrix Revolutions

When you get down to brass tacks, after watching The Matrix Revolutions (2003), after reading all the explanations online for what it all means, I realize the main failing of the series' finale is its shift in what it's all about. Oh sure, there's still plenty of stilted dialogue, flat performances, padding, and pretentious philosophical ramblings, but this entry almost feels like it belongs to another series.

The Matrix presented us with the notion that reality as we know it is a computer-generated simulation, created by machines to keep humans in line while they harvest energy from us. The Matrix Reloaded revealed that the prophecy of the One, the savior of the human race who would free us from the clutches of the machines, was itself a program, a cycle of destruction and reconstruction already repeated five times. Plus, the second movie ended with Neo (Keanu Reeves) demonstrating his powers outside of the Matrix, suggesting that even the real world of Zion was possibly another illusion.

What do they all these threads have in common? Control. Keeping people in line. Systems of oppression our heroes are rebelling against. It's very fitting the soundtrack of The Matrix contains music by Rage Against the Machine because that's exactly what this has been about. Humans are not programs; they have choice and will fight for it.

In this regard, The Matrix Revolutions doesn't seem to be consistent thematically with its predecessors. True, we get the great, epic, high-pitched battle for Zion between the plucky human defenders and the aggressive, ruthless machines, and to be fair, it is a pretty cool battle as the humans man armored mechs to blast away at the invaders, but the resolution of the series does not see humanity triumphing over its inhuman oppressors but sees the humans reaching a mutual understanding with their AI enemies to deal with the rogue Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).

The whole enterprise can't help but be viewed as a letdown. Spoilers ahead. Even though the humans and machines stop fighting and there's dialogue about how the humans who want out of the Matrix will be released, not much seems to have changed from the first movie to the end. The machines are still vastly superior in strength and numbers, and should they ever change their minds, there's not much the humans can do about it. This feels less like peace and victory and more like the humans are deciding to remain subservient and dominated. The world above is still in tatters, the city of Zion is in ruins, and the Matrix still exists. This is freedom?

To be fair, there are moments in the earlier movies that suggested the series might be headed in this live-and-let-live cooperation. The Animatrix documented how humanity was complicit in its own demise, treating the robots and machines cruelly and driving them into rebellion, and The Matrix Reloaded had the conversation between Neo and the Zion Councilman about how dependent on each other humans and machines are. But to bring this to the forefront of a franchise that started off so dark, cool, edgy, and rebellious seems... soft. The fearsome machines and programs are just as mopey and sentimental as we are.

Structurally, The Matrix Revolutions is a mess. We spend so much time away from the characters we've been following - and when the likes of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) are around, they don't do much - that the movie never picks up steam. Agent Smith has become a caricature of what made him so threatening in the original, and when he and Neo duke it out for the last time, I have no idea why it plays out the way it does, even with Smith helpfully offering some (non)exposition throughout the fight.

Now, what does work about The Matrix Revolutions? The Battle for Zion is impressive and worth checking out. It's a huge scale fight, an epic clash with millions of swarming robots against a handful of desperate humans. Between the giant drills, the Sentinels forming giant shapes out of thousands of robots to smash into defenses, and the pretty sweet battle armor the humans use, I'm hard pressed to think of anything else like it. I also like when Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) journey to Machine City in a last-ditch gambit. The Machine's world is a dark, creepy place, expanding on the visions of the human harvest fields from the first movies. It's like an expanded, more elaborate version of Skynet from the Terminator movies.

So, those are the Matrix movies. They start off strong but end with a whimper. I can't fault the Wachowskis for being ambitious or coming up with some crazy, far-out ideas and visuals. They certainly packed all the movies with those elements along with some nifty action scenes that hadn't really been done before. Dramatically, they needed more focus and less filler, and yet, I can't bring myself to actively dislike them. I'm frustrated because they're nowhere near as good as they could have been, but I do think there's just enough inspiration and vision in them that I have a soft spot for them. I'm only human.

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