Saturday, June 17, 2006

There Is No Trilogy, Part 3 of 3: The Matrix Revolutions

...And so everything ends. THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS managed to confound about as many viewers as the last installment, and I think I'm kinda fuzzy on it too. But it's also an improvement in some ways, and holds up better on a second viewing. The first time around I was distracted waiting for the resolution of the cliffhanger set up in the last shot of RELOADED, which takes a while, and I also didn't quite grasp a major plot point. I'm being vague here, and though I tried to be kind of non-spoilery with my last two reviews, that ends here. After the cut, everything's fair game. So here goes.

Neo is in a coma, his mind lost somewhere in the Matrix as a side-effect of making a bunch of Sentinels go kerploosh at the climax of the last movie. Morpheus and Trinity find out that he's in the hands of the Merovingian, trapped in a subroutine that shunts programs in and out of the Matrix. After some gunplay Trinity gets the Merovingian to set him free. Neo talks to the Oracle (now being played by Mary Alice- Gloria Foster died while the sequels were being shot) and learns more about his powers; he's connected to the Source (i.e. the machine mainframe), thus he's connected to all the machines. Neo decides to go to the Machine City and attempt to negotiate a peace with the enemy, contingent on his somehow stopping Smith, who is now taking over every other being in the Matrix and beginning to destabilize it. He and Trinity set out in a hovership to try and do this very thing, with Bane (Ian Bliss), a human possessed by Smith, sneaking on board. Meanwhile Morpheus tries to return with Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and others to Zion as the machines start to invade. A giant siege ensues, as Neo and Trinity encounter certain complications on their journey...

Most of this film is driven by the momentum of the previous ones. Zion is under attack, Smith's out of control, and boy do we need answers to... a lot. We get the payoff. The battle for Zion is one of the biggest, most elaborate battle setpieces ever, with lots of minor characters making bold stands and bloody sacrifices. It's quite effective, with a gritty feel straight out of an EC war comic, and some incredible visuals. The film overall is more action-oriented than RELOADED (or the original MATRIX for that matter), and it benefits from a zippier pace. I was glad just to see the story play out, having almost nothing more to build up.

But there is one major problem here. Amidst the melodramatics and the spectacle and even the ideas, a couple of things are left ambiguous. Smith is identified as the Architect's attempt to counterbalance the equation, but when Neo goes to the machines they're eager for something to be done about him and his disruption of the Matrix. Smith apparently went rogue because of the time he fused with Neo in the first film, but if that is the case then what was his purpose before? Was he simply meant to be the most powerful of the Agents, and if so, how was that going to be the counterbalance? And if he's gone beyond his role, why does he recall the final fight happening in all previous iterations (with the only difference being at the very end)?

The other loose end shows up in the ending itself. Neo sacrifices his virtual-and-real life to override all the Smith programs and set free the people he took over, with lots of glowy religious symbolism. At the end, the Matrix still exists, but the Architect tells the Oracle that "the ones who want out" will be freed. Unfortunately this is all the explanation we get. If the machines let EVERYBODY out, then the humans can't generate power (though this wasn't very feasible to start with, and in RELOADED the Architect says they've got a contingency plan if the Matrix crashes completely.) If they let out the people that discover the reality of the Matrix and want out- there's still the possibility of too many people leaving, and though it's an improvement over Agents trying to stalk and kill anyone trying to free the sleepers, it's not quite the triumph the viewer expected. These are the sorts of details that can be reasoned out or at least hypothesized, but would it have killed the Wachowskis to add a few more minutes to clarify things? (This is actually the shortest of the three films, so the omissions are particularly baffling.) There is a feeling that they didn't quite want this to be the end- Neo sacrifices himself, but Oracle says she's sure we'll see him again, and the Matrix and the Architect are still out there, so there are hooks for spin-offs galore. Basically this is a movie with a missing denouement.

That said, it works thematically. It's tradition for an epic good-and-evil struggle to end or be resolved in some way that reflects the basic nature of "good" and "evil" as the author sees it. Smith represents control, Neo freedom, and so Smith, and the Architect, are effectively confounded by the element of choice. Neo's power comes from his link to the machines he's fighting, and just as he added a rogue, defiant element to Smith, he is able to do the same for all his copies in his self sacrifice. The religious parallels aren't exactly subtle, but there's no reason they should be. Even if the mundane details are left up in the air, as it were, it still feels like the right conclusion.

One thing here that's kind of odd- not really a flaw, or a strength, just sort of there. There's a bit of "character drift" in the trilogy as a whole. The first movie was about Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus- of Morpheus' support staff, several get their heads unplugged unceremoniously, and three others just plain get shot. (Tank- Anthony Ray Parker- survives to the end, but a salary dispute got him killed off between movies.) In the second, a bunch of new characters are introduced, as is standard, but in the third, the ensemble comes apart- Morpheus goes off to Zion and basically doesn't do much for the second half of the movie, and Trinity gets killed in a strangely protracted scene. The focus starts to shift to characters like Niobe and Kid (Clayton Watson), and the last scene doesn't feature any of the main stars. Neo gets as much screen time as ever, but there's definitely a change.

So, that's the MATRIX trilogy, and I guess it holds up. The sequels have their problems (I will not get into Trinity's death scene), but they tell a good story about a rich and complex world, with a few interesting ideas. It may boil down to "freedom is better than control", which isn't the most profound sentiment in the world, but let's face it, in the movies, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Grade: B+
Grade for the trilogy as a whole: B+

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