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Stop the Revolutions
Matrix 3 is a victim of the series’s success
The Matrix Revolutions
Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. With Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Jada Pinkett Smith, Hugo Weaving, Ian Bliss, Nona Gaye, Harold Perrineau Jr., Clayton Watson, and Mary Alice. A Warner Bros. release (129 minutes). At the Boston Common, the Fenway, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

For all its futuristic trappings, The Matrix was really a satire on contemporary life, having recognized that synthetic spectacle had overtaken reality and superseded substance. With the final film in the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions, the series has become an illustration of its own cautionary tale. What was a philosophical cyberpunk allegory dressed in action clothing has become the reverse: the action sequences, at once perfunctory and more aggressive, are now the trilogy’s raison d’être; the complex allegorical underpinnings are the window dressing.

The first two films may have touched on the philosophies of Emerson, James, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, but the guiding philosopher behind Revolutions is apparently James Cameron. As in his world, human arrogance plus advanced technology equals disaster on a mass scale, strong women are to be admired, and love conquers all. Of course, the idea of humans enslaved by machines in all three Matrix movies owes a huge debt to The Terminator, but even the visuals here borrow shamelessly from Cameron, particularly the Armored Personnel Units — the lumbering, robotic exoskeletons worn by the Zion soldiers seem inspired by the similar apparatus Sigourney Weaver uses to fight the creature at the end of Aliens.

The scale here is so grandiose, however, that even Mr. King of the World might think it a bit much. During the lengthy sequence showing the siege of Zion, a skyscraper-sized drill bores into the underground city, allowing streams of thousands of squiddies to fly through and attack. Zion soldiers fire endless rounds at them, but the relentless machines leave them shredded, even inside their APUs. It’s a sequence whose only comparison — in length, volume, scale, intensity, brutality, and filmmaking virtuosity — is the D-Day landing that opens Saving Private Ryan.

After that, Neo’s final confrontation with Agent Smith (who has by now remade the Matrix and everyone in it in his own image) seems anti-climactic. If Neo was the heart of the first two movies (with Reeves’s blankness serving his character, the self-doubting hero on whom the other characters projected their hopes and dreams), he’s barely present here, as is Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), whose love for Neo proved so crucial and miraculous in the first two films. (Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe takes over most of Trinity’s action-heroine duties.) Even mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), whose faith in Neo began to falter in The Matrix Reloaded, does little but mope and display a physique that’s apparently the result of slaking his new spiritual hunger with Krispy Kreme donuts.

Viewers who were left scratching their heads after Reloaded will still be doing so after Revolutions. Questions are answered with other questions. (Example: why is it Neo can use his powers in the physical world outside the Matrix? Because when you’re the One, your gifts derive from the Source. But what’s the Source? Uh, we’ll get back to you on that.) One senses that writers/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski left things cryptic not to maintain a sense of ambiguity and give graduate students something to chew on but because they were too sloppy or in too much of a hurry to figure out the answers by the time they had to deliver the finished film. Even the final, triumphant images, which mark the end of the war between people and machines, remain ambiguous, and it’s the anthropomorphic computer programs, not the humans, who get the last word.

If other filmmakers learned from the Wachowskis’ original martial-arts/cyberpunk allegory only how to shoot really cool wire-fu stunts, Revolutions suggests that the brothers themselves have learned little else from their own success. Given the primacy of digital effects, it’s no wonder they ceded much of the filming of Revolutions to machines, but did they have to let the machines write the movie too?

Issue Date: November 7 - 13, 2003
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