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The Matrix Revolutions   C-

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Directors: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Writers: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Helmut Bakaitis, Mary Alice, Monica Bellucci, Harry J. Lennix, Ian Bliss, Nathaniel Lees.

Review by Rob Vaux
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
--T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
We're an hour into The Matrix Revolutions before anything of significance happens. One. Hour. Until then, it gives us nothing but hot air, recycled plot points, and sci-fi variants of old World War II clichés. It's a stunning testament to mediocrity, the sort of B-movie drivel that any hack with a studio budget can produce. Certainly not the work of wunderkinds Andy and Larry Wachowski, and certainly not the climax to one of the most promising franchises in modern memory. Yet not only does it waste our time with padded and essentially meaningless piffle, it never recovers with anything the slightest bit new or different. The shocking lack of substance throws water across all our expectations, leaving a sad and empty feeling in its wake. In point of fact, The Matrix Revolutions blows.

The second Matrix ended with a lot of unanswered questions, but also some tantalizing possibilities. There were philosophical conceits that might have turned the entire series on its ear, lingering beneath breathtaking imagery and outstanding action sequences. If it bordered on confusing at times, at least the promise of a grand finale kept our hopes alive. Revolutions methodically strips away all of that, leaving the worst elements of the trilogy steaming on the screen. The bots are bigger, the explosions are louder, the fetish gear is kinkier, but underneath, it's nothing but white noise.

We open exactly where the last film left off, with cyberpunk messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves) in a coma and his machine nemeses burrowing towards the last remaining human city. Deep questions lurk beneath that beatific poker face. Is he truly the One, and if so, what is his purpose? Can he free the human minds chained in an artificial reality and stop the evil Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) from assimilating them all into oblivion? Are the machines simply putting it all on for his benefit, hiding yet another universe behind the curtain? But before we can blink, the Wachowskis sweep them all away, rendering those long stretches of ponderous pop-Zen dialogue utterly irrelevant. Considering that the buildup took two movies to extrapolate, the ease with which they dismiss it all is galling. Free will and predestination, artificial biology, the cyclical nature of the universe... no, it's just robots vs. kung fu and if you thought there was anything else going on, you're sadly mistaken.

And how depressingly ordinary those robots have become. Though we're treated to some impressive images (such as the machines' vast metropolis and a fierce battle between the inhuman Sentinels and flesh-and-blood soldiers in souped-up combat chassis), they lack any nuance that hasn't been previously seen. The fight scenes, too, are limp and perfunctory, playing to previous expectations rather than trying something fresh. As the action builds, easy answers become the order of the day and the Wachowskis struggle against rapidly thinning material to fill the allotted time. There's some awkward grappling with notions of death, and how beginnings and endings are somehow connected, but Revolutions never really confronts the issues; it just pays them lip service and then goes on to the next ho-hum set piece. It's Weaving who finds the best of it; he's long been the class act of the cast and he gives us a few small, precious reminders of how good all of this was supposed to be. When Agent Smith glares down at us and utters that chilling laugh, we can feel signs of the heartbeat that the rest of the film has missed. Strange that the most artificial character should be the one thing worthy of interest.

Perhaps in the end, The Matrix was simply too exhausted to get this far; perhaps the ideas were drained by the colossal multimedia blitz of the second film, and were never capable of supporting a third. You could have reduced Revolutions to 30 minutes and tacked it onto Reloaded; it would have saved us all a lot of time and perhaps salvaged our good graces. But why settle for a decent follow-up when you can bloat it out and get another round of first-weekend grosses? Great ideas can't stand up to the almighty dollar, and The Matrix Revolutions gives no indication that it ever had anything else on its mind. It succeeds only in diminishing its predecessors' legacy, and turning a cinematic landmark into nothing more than business as usual. What a waste.

Review published 11.07.2003.

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