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Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Directors: Wachowski brothers

review by Steven Hampton
Spoiler alert!
With Neo (Keanu Reeves) in a coma, a fearsome swarm of octapod Sentinel machines closing in on the unplugged-people's underground sanctuary of Zion, and broad hints that the 'virus' of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has found its way out of the matrix and into the mind of Bane (Ian Bliss), humanity's future on Earth looks decidedly bleak. What's more, when Neo eventually does awaken, after being rescued by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) from the matrix-limbo subway platform ruled by the Trainman (Bruce Spence, the Gyro Captain in Mad Max), he admits to not having any idea what he can do about the impending crisis.
   There's some tiredly unimaginative plot-hole filler before messianic Neo decides it's his duty to go visit Machine City and sue for peace, leaving the besieged citizens of Zion very much at the mercy of hostile mecha forces trailing giant tunnelling machines (thoughtlessly resembling 'the Mole' of TV puppet show Thunderbirds) breaking into concrete caverns, to fall headlong into the city. The defenders of Zion drive waldo-exoskeletons, not unlike the 'forklift loader' of Aliens (1986) - with built-in machineguns, to combat the invading horde of Sentinels. (I wonder if the machines were named after famous mutant-hunting robots of the X-Men comics?) Meanwhile, mystic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne; perpetually tired) teams up with old flame Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith; aiming for feisty, but looking merely petulant) for a desperate mission to helm the only available hovercraft with an EMP weapon, back home to save Zion...
   What makes a good sequel, or, more importantly, a great trilogy of films? Obviously, adding fresh subtexts and extra dimensions to the basic themes and content of earlier instalments is essential. In terms of plot and character development, it's not really very clever to give audiences just 'more of the same' when everyone's hoping for something a little different or special. George A. Romero gave us three zombie movies - each one a unique product of the decade it was made in. While not strictly narrative sequels, Hammer's Quatermass trilogy pitted their rocket scientist hero against various alien threats, each one astonishingly different from the others. Exploring 'folklore' themes of the lone antihero, George Miller's acclaimed Mad Max trilogy approached a romanticised rebel story-arc with a view to modern myth-building for the cinema, despite all those films having futuristic, nomadic or post-holocaust scenarios, and each was artistically and commercially successful in its own right. The length of time between original movie and sequel has no bearing on its quality, or its lack of worth. Peter Hyams' hugely entertaining 2010, a sequel to Kubrick's classic 2001, was produced two years after Arthur C. Clarke's sequel-novel, but 16 years after the original Space Odyssey. Conversely, with respect to striking disparity in value, John Carpenter's 15-years-later sequel, Escape From L.A. (1996), was dismal indeed compared to his energetic and amusing Escape From New York (1981). So if time delay is no guarantee of a superior movie, or equality of entertainment, what about progressive escalation of scale? How does that slot into the 'sequelitis' equation, can it ever counterbalance the law of diminishing returns?
   George Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy (recently re-titled, Episodes IV to VI) suggests it cannot, in spite of the commonly held view that The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is better than Star Wars (1977), while the expensive Return Of The Jedi (1983) merely repeated key elements from both of its predecessors. But, perhaps Spielberg's Indiana Jones trilogy proves that an exceptionally good finale can be just as enjoyable as the first? As with the first Star Wars picture, The Matrix (1999) was a shrewdly conceived SF action adventure which, let's be honest, didn't require any sequels at all. Made back-to-back with immediate predecessor The Matrix Reloaded, the ultimately shallow Matrix Revolutions easily lives up to that 'escalation of scale' rule, yet it's as if the studio's commitment of big money to this project called for the intriguing science fictional subject matter of the first movie (philosophical questions about the nature of reality, etc) to be simplified for both of the sequels. This lamentable 'dumbing down' of content in megabuck sequels, and the frequent box office success of such productions, says nearly as much about the expectations and entertainment demands of today's cinema audiences as it does about the input-controlling management style of (probably obsessive) studio executives holding the purse strings.
   With its heart and mind abandoned, all that's left to like about Matrix Revolutions are glamorous displays of film design and digital effects. Writers and directors Andy and Larry Wachowski repeat the mistake that overprotective producer Lucas made with Jedi; they have simply revised favourite bits from the previous two films (the memorable lobby scene, and fortune-cookie blathering by old granny Oracle - from Matrix; another endless chase sequence for the supporting characters while Neo fights against humanity's machine enemies alone - just like in Reloaded). And, although it is pleasing to see newly enhanced (though hardly improved) versions of such impressive moments or movements (the operatic musical or balletic qualities of Hollywood's action cinema should not be overlooked) again, a grinding sense of disappointment is inevitable when the filmmakers reject all the possibilities of genuine creativity (why do these heroes see only crude win or lose 'solutions' to their battle against the machines?) in favour of the depressingly self-reverential naiveté evident in super-powered fisticuffs during a torrential rainstorm.
Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!
Matrix Revolutions: Neo's final throw-down...
Monica Bellucci - wasted as Club Hell eye candy...
Matrix Revolutions: all icing, no cake?
Overcompensating for their lack of imagination with sheer visual excess (of course, any Superman remake will have its work cut out for it if the filmmakers hope to surpass or even match the vividly comicbook style fighting scenes depicted here), the admirably thought-provoking complexities of The Matrix are cruelly betrayed by the Wachowskis' blundering into biblical analogies, and a quite pointlessly 'enigmatic' closure. Adding insult to injury, Revolutions wastes valuable screen time on the boring relationships between supporting characters (obviously tokens present only to widen market appeal to ethnic demographic), so we get more fretting by anxious young parents Link (Harold Perrineau) and Cas (Gina Torres, of Cleopatra 2525, and Firefly), and the belated mentor-and-student sequence for hardened pragmatist Commander Lock (Harry Lennix), and enthusiastic yet terrified infantry recruit, the Kid (Clayton Watson) - for more on this obscure character, see The Animatrix.
   The supposed shock of courageous Trinity's death en route with Neo to the colossal Machine City (why didn't the un-plugged humans launch a suborbital EMP missile against that?) simply negates the heroic 'superhuman' actions of Neo in Reloaded, where he brings her back from the dead. And, as if it wasn't dangerous enough for Neo to enter the machines' control hive all alone, the directors have him do it after being almost blinded in the showdown with stowaway Bane. This last might be intended as a metaphor for Neo overcoming his fears, and echoes a disturbing scene in The Matrix where he lost the power of speech when the original Agent Smith sealed Neo's mouth with a web of flesh. But, here, it only smacks of overkill and the easy availability of a CG solution, as the sightless Neo unexpectedly (for the character, anyway, not the audience) instantly gains psychic inner vision enabling him to 'see' the machines' energy thanks to an impressionistic display of light and shadow that looks interesting - but is unexciting, mindless, and squanders further technical resources.
   I do hope the Wachowskis learn from the critical failure of their pretentious trilogy (I'm sure there is no chance whatsoever of the studios realising their mistakes), and perhaps they will return to the low-budget quirkiness of their first movie Bound (1996). For all the amoral hype of its 'dolly dykes' premise and shamelessly erotic appeal, that debut flick was wickedly amusing; whereas the overly ambitious Revolutions is another example of how large sums of money consistently result in small-minded entertainments.
Matrix Revolutions

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