The Matrix: Revolutions (Review)

Contains spoilers.

 

I would by lying if I said that I approached this film with anticipation or optimism.  The third and final installment of The Matrix Trilogy, I expected Revolutions to be just as mind-numbingly bad as its predecessors.  The Matrix was a well made film with some solid concepts, but had very tedious and drawn-out fight sequences; Reloaded was just a mess – so I was not hopeful.  However, I am willing to concede that I was wrong in my predictions for Revolutions.  It’s a film very much in two halves.

The first half appeared to be continuing the pattern of the first two films.  It trudged on with the repetitive action and irritatingly vague riddles in the same vein as the others.  By the point they were sharing incomprehensible statements with ‘The Frenchman’ I was losing the will to watch; by Neo’s conversation with The Oracle (“you know why” ad infinitum) it was more the will to live.  The acting was wooden all round – Hugo Weaving excepted, of course, and one or two others – every sentence delivered in a monotone drone through expressionless eyes, or no eyes at all when they wear those infuriating sunglasses.  In the first half there is no sense of threat.  These machines are digging down, still, and the characters just wander about being dull.  Then, Neo decided to pilot a hovercraft to the surface.  Why?  Because he’s The One – don’t question The One.  The characters tell him he is being ridiculous, and with good reason, but irrational faith in The One wins out and he is allowed to go.  It just didn’t make sense to me.  The only explanation is that “Neo is The One and therefore knows what to do; The Oracle’s veiled riddles told him what he needed to know.”  That’s the sort of plot point which would work in a novel, where you are exposed to the character’s thoughts and ideas, but just falls flat in a film.  Finally, the first half just seems to lack any narrative structure – I remember thinking it felt like it was written by 10 different writers, none of whom had spoken to each other about where the story was going.

Yet… Something changes, half way into the film.  It’s roundabout where the battle for Zion begins – that 20 minute long or so, huge onslaught between the humans and the machines.  Finally, an action scene with actual consequence and interest!  It’s hard to assess why everything from this point on works so much better.  I did consider it might be that the action takes place outside of the Matrix, so there is a real threat, and real things at stake.  But it’s been established that people are in danger within the Matrix… I suppose the characters no longer act like overconfident martial arts trainees and they become more human, more relatable, when thrown into situations which stresses their physical limitations.  One criticism I had for the battle was that the geography of Zion hasn’t been well explained.  Where was this dome in relation to the civilians?  How much threat were they under?  But that’s not a major problem, for once.

The film continues to improve from this point onwards.  The machine city on the surface was well-realised – and then my favourite moment in the entire trilogy, when Neo and Trinity fly above the cloud layer and see the sun and sky for the first time in their lives.  “Beautiful,” is all Trinity can say.  It’s a wonderful touch.  Neo’s confrontation with the machine authority is really, really good, and I enjoyed the design of the machines; they’re so alien, so… organic yet metallic at the same time.  Even the final fight scene between Neo and Smith didn’t irk me for once, because it actually had reason, it actually had purpose, it had been built up to and developed.  And the writing!  It has completely turned around.  Take this speech, gloriously spoken by Weaving, as Neo looks close to defeat:

“Do you believe you’re fighting for something?  For more than your survival?  Can you tell me what it is?  Do you even know?  Is for freedom, or truth?  Perhaps peace?  Could it be for love?  Illusions, Mr Anderson.  Vagaries of perception.  Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose.  And all of them as artificial as The Matrix itself.  Although, only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love.”

Of course Smith would be a scientific materialist.  The philosophy finally works.  His role as a virus within the machine world is really clever, too.  I read an analysis of the trilogy in which it argues that Neo and Smith contrast, Neo being ‘The One’ [only just noticed that’s an anagram of his name] and Smith being ‘The Many’.  I didn’t pick up on that.  This is now, finally, come incredible writing, and confirms my belief that this story would be better told as a novel.  In fact, I think this is the main reason I have been ambivalent towards the trilogy.  The ideas are sound, the philosophy is fascinating – if often badly executed – but it’s too often ruined by the film trying to be a conventional blockbuster.  I’m not saying action films can’t have depth, or films focusing on philosophy can’t have action, but… far too often, here, one is sacrificed for the other, with the result that neither really feels satisfying.  Again, in a novel, that would be less of an issue.

I concede that The Wachowskis are masterful directors.  I knew this already from Cloud Atlas, and here it is confirmed.  The Battle for Zion is one of the best directed battle scenes I have ever watched, even if it did drag slightly.  I read a comment praising the final fight between Neo and Smith for its ‘effortless’ animation of water, and I have to agree.  The only thing which bugged me was the flashing which often occured; first during Neo’s fight with the Smith-possessed human, and secondly during the constant lightning flashes.  My terror of lightning aside, I found it really hard to watch and almost began to develop a headache.  Were they trying to induce epileptic fits?   But yeah, on the whole I was very impressed.

Overall, The Matrix: Revolutions – and, indeed, the entire trilogy – is highly varied.  First half: terrible; second half: actually pretty good.  I really enjoyed the bits which worked, and can almost forgive the bits which didn’t.  I’m a little worried that I have been too harsh – I think I’m finally seeing what everyone else sees in the films.  But I stand by all of the comments I’ve made.  These have been very interesting to review!

Final Rating: 6.5/10

The Matrix (Review)

Contains spoilers.

The Matrix (1999) is one of those cult films which enjoys massive popularity and is frequently parodied or referenced to the extent that even if, like me, you are slow on getting around to watching it, you will know the basic premise and concepts of the film.  The images I had in mind were of immersive, frantic worlds based on green numbers and revolutionary action sequences involving that ‘slow motion floaty-through-the-air thing. (My interest in film making is a bit amateur…)  Directed by the Wachowski Siblings, I had very high expectations.

The film starts off with an action sequence as Trinity, armed with seeming superpowers, escapes from mysterious authorities.  This establishes the action-orientated tone of the film which, for the time being, I enjoyed.  The narrative then cuts to Neo in an initially confusing sequence of events as he becomes embroiled in what appears to be various conspiracies.  I particularly enjoyed the scene where, on the phone to the elusive Morphius, Neo must escape from his high-rise office block only to submit himself to the authorities.  However these sequences are detriment to the idea that Neo’s life takes place within a virtual reality.  When the final reveal comes it lacks the impact it could have had if Neo’s life in the false reality had been sufficiently developed.  That said, the reveal alone was expertly handled, in a gloriously horrific scene where Neo wakes in a luminescent bath of fluids, his body punctured with metal tubes, suspended in a darkened cavern surveyed by superior technology.  I felt physically uncomfortable and terrified watching this, making it one of the most successful scenes of the film and quite possibly my favourite.

The central concept behind the film, that humanity and artificial intelligence went to war and humanity lost, becoming enslaved as a use for fuel for the machines, is fascinating and chilling.  It also bears striking similarities to a script I wrote three years ago, which is quite unnerving.  The concept is both ‘shown’ and ‘told’ to the viewer in a narrated sequence which works effectively.

It’s at this point, however, that the film declined.  The plot seemed to dissolve in favour of mindless action scenes.  It developed a bizarre obsession with Eastern martial arts as a means of fighting the AI forces policing the reality.  And guns.  Lots of guns.  Too many guns.  Although I liked the idea of ‘downloading’ these abilities to the characters, even if I’m not entirely convinced it made any sense.  Slipping in and out of the virtual reality and the action which ensued did create tension, although more could have been made of the concept.  It’s difficult to explain, but I felt the false world was not clearly defined.  Perhaps that’s intentional, but having seen similar ideas done (Doctor Who’s Silence in the Library and the film Inception, to name a couple) The Matrix’s world pales in terms of development.

After the convoluted and, ultimately, pointless Oracle, and the more effective betrayal from Cypher as he kills half of the resistance team in a genuinely shocking series of events, the film becomes, basically, a shoot-out.  The team leader, Morphius, has been kidnapped and Neo decided to launch a full-on assault of The Matrix to rescue him.  It’s clearly a suicide mission and, for that reason, nobody has ever tried anything like it before, which Neo somehow takes as proof he’ll be successful.  I know the action scenes are one of the main selling points of the film and I’ll concede that they are brilliantly executed – there’s just far too many of them!  My only memories of 20 minutes of the film consist of shooting, punching, escaping in a helicopter, more shooting, more punching, various action shots, running, shooting, etc. etc…

The climax of the film is a final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith, during which Neo is killed.  At this point, I was hooked once again.  Did they really have the bravery to kill off the protagonist, I wondered.  Was this the natural extension of the film’s bleakness? No.  Which is fine, if there’s been a good reason behind it.  Instead, due to some nonsensical prophecy from the Oracle, Neo is “the one” and can somehow defy death.  Okay.  The words deus ex machina spring to mind – readers of recent reviews will know this is a technique I absolutely loathe.  And a romantic subplot is thrown in from out of nowhere, just ’cause.

The film was very well directed, however, and it is from the direction that I can understand from where the film has derived such praise.  I abandoned my desire to pursue a film-making career a couple of years ago, so I couldn’t go into exactly why The Matrix was a revolutionary movie at the time, but I think the fact the effects still stand up well today, 14 years on, in this age of CGI mania, is a testament to the direction.  The Wachowskis do really well to create the bleak tone – is ‘grimy’ the right word?  Or ‘gritty’.  It’s not to my personal taste – along with the excess of guns and sunglasses, which have ruined many a film for me – but I can see it’s done with success.

The acting was, overall, pretty good.  Hugo Weaving’s excellent performance as Agent Smith is the only role which particularly stood out to me, and perhaps Jon Pantoliano as Cypher, but there were no lacklustre performances either.

The Matrix makes up the first film in a trilogy, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge it alone.  Yet, having watched a trailer for the second film, The Matrix: Reloaded, which involves more shooting, more punching, more running about and beating up poor Smith, I feel no desire to watch it.  And I generally feel compelled to finish any story I’ve begun.  I’ll certainly watch it if the opportunity is thrust upon me, but I feel no desire to seek it out myself.  Overall, although there is a lot enjoy in The Matrix and much to marvel at, I was, on the whole, disappointed.  Maybe my expectations were just too high.

Final Rating: 7/10