"The Matrix Revolutions" is well named. It continues to go around and around and around. Sometimes, it's better to quit when you're ahead.
If you've been with the series since the beginning, you'll remember that "The Matrix" (1999) was an enjoyable sci-fi experience because it introduced the world to some mind-boggling special effects, and it had at its core an interesting, although not entirely original, premise. The film's makers, Andy and Larry Wachowski, informed us in the first movie that we were all living in a dream. Machines had taken over the world, and each of us "humans" was really a prisoner curled up in a little pod being fed a program that simulated our existence. These ideas were not unprecedented. The view of life as a dream had been around since the ancient Greeks, and the idea of machines taking over the world had intrigued moviemakers before--in the twenties with "Metropolis," in the fifties with "Forbidden Planet," and, of course, in the eighties with "The Terminator," among others. But the concepts had never been elaborated so thoroughly or so graphically until "The Matrix."
You'll also remember that in the first film a small group of human resistance fighters were doing all they could to thwart the machines while waiting for a savior, who turned up in the person of a computer hacker named Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), later called Neo, presumably the new deliverer of Mankind. The plot of "The Matrix" unfolded slowly, finally revealing the predicament the world was in and implying that Neo would save the day. It was fun. And it probably should have ended right there. But where would the profits have been in that? Sequels are a time-honored Hollywood tradition.
So, we got "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Matrix Revolutions," made back to back and released in 2003. It was a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Frankly, though, one movie would have been enough, since there really wasn't enough material to spread out effectively over two complete films.
"Reloaded" started out several months after the first movie left off, the machines marching against the last remaining human city, Zion. Added was the script's exploration of free will versus fate, a point pursued only to a minor extent and which I had hoped would be amplified in the final segment, because the way it was handled in number two had simply left things muddled. Alas, it is not to be. "Revolutions" only expands upon the action-adventure aspects of the previous movies.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed "Reloaded" for its extended visual style, meaning that its sets and special effects were more complex and more fascinating than ever to look at. The second film was less innovative than the first film, true, but it was still enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, this third episode, "Revolutions," does little new in terms of storyline or visual-effects. It is basically just more of the same, with nothing surprising, nothing any longer mind-boggling, and nothing most viewers couldn't guess would happen going in.
The usual supporting cast members are back in "Revolutions": Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, now relegated to the background; Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity, Neo's continuing love interest; Mary Alice as the Oracle, inscrutable as before; Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, a resistance fighter; Harold Perrineau as Link, a ship's operator; Anthony Zerbe as Councillor Hamann, a political leader of the resistance; Helmut Bakaitis as the Architect, the creator, the godlike father of the Matrix ("What do you think I am? Human?"); and, most important, Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith, more powerful and more evil than ever.
As the movie begins, there are only some twenty hours left until the machines reach the human citadel of Zion, and it's up to Neo to rescue the human race. He must go to the Emerald City, speak to the Wizard, and free the land of the Wicked Witch of the West. Or something like that. If you're the sort of person who enjoys finding pieces of "The Wizard of Oz" in Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," you'll have a field day with this picture.
As "Revolutions" starts, Neo is trapped between the real world and the Matrix, and only the Frenchman can help transport him between the two planes. Next, a whole lot of stuff happens inexplicably, just because it looks good. We meet some program people, for instance, who turn out to be more human than most humans. But practically nothing is made of it.
In fact, the whole movie comes more than ever to resemble a video game, with one encounter after another, each bigger and more eccentric than the ones it left behind, each with increasingly more-exaggerated special effects. The movie is overlong at 129 minutes, but if you take out all of the punching, kicking, shooting, somersaulting, jabbering, and intense staring, it's about two minutes, probably long enough. And don't forget the old war-movie clichés and red herrings, which don't help, either.
People in the film continue to indulge in the same manner of fortune-cookie philosophy they began spouting in the film before, like the Oracle saying, "No one can see beyond a choice they don't understand." This kind of pseudo-mystical dialogue permeates "Revolutions" for no other reason, I suspect, than to make the movie appear more profound than it really is. Apparently, the filmmakers expended their repertoire of abstruse ideas in the first film and had to resort to nonsense in the second and third segments. The "Architect." The "Source." The "One." Whatever happened to the magic and mystery of the first installment? They've been replaced by more diffuse language, more extravagant computer graphic imagery, and more mundane explanations. Arthur C. Clarke did not improve upon "2001" by over-explaining things in "2010." Neither do the Wachowskis improve upon "The Matrix" by taking us behind the curtain of Oz. More is not necessarily better.
I was willing to give "Reloaded" the benefit of the doubt because, as I said, I enjoyed its look. But "Revolutions" adds nothing fresh to the formula. The big battle sequence, which comprises maybe half the film with its conflict between squid-like machine Sentinels and Mech-Warrior human weaponry, is glorious for about ten minutes but then seems to go on forever. Moreover, while some of the CGI is terrific (the aforementioned Sentinels especially), too much of it appears disappointingly ordinary rather than approaching anything like fantasy realism. The laser fire, for instance, seems to me no better than the laser blasts in the original "Star Wars" over a quarter of a century before.
Then, after an admittedly clever confrontation with Smith, the movie ends. Sort of. Yet it doesn't really end. As any computer user knows, what can be deleted can be undeleted. The ending leaves open the possibility of further sequels. Heaven help us.
Since "Revolutions" and "Reloaded" were filmed at about the same time, we would expect them to look pretty much alike, and they do. For film as dark as these are, the colors and definition are quite good. The dominant colors are again shades of green, so there aren't a lot of opportunities for the most natural of hues except at the very end of the movie. But the image, for what it is, comes off well, with almost no grain in the background and almost no sign of other digital artifacts. The only minor annoyances are some few moiré effects, but they seemed less in evidence this time than in "Reloaded." The screen displays a wide, 2.17:1 ratio anamorphic image that is necessary to encompass as much as is going on in the story. In all, I'd say the picture is probably about as close to the original print as one could hope for. Fans of the series may be disappointed with the plot going nowhere, but I doubt that anybody would be disappointed with the video.
The audio is again big, sweeping, dramatic, and rewarding in its way. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics provide all the frequency range, bass, dynamic response, and front-channel stereo spread we're used to in a modern, special-effects laden, science-fiction epic. But like its predecessor, it's in the surround channels that the audio proves itself, with carefully placed background noises all around us, sometimes hardly noticeable except subliminally, to make the overall environment more vivid and lifelike. As with "Reloaded," I enjoyed the crowd noises, the footsteps, the breathing, the creaks and moans of the machinery, as well as the more obvious action-scene accompaniment, which is even more dominant this time around.
We get the same sort of extras in this two-disc set that we got in "Reloaded," meaning there's a ton of material but it doesn't amount to much. Disc one contains the widescreen presentation of the film; the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack; English and French spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. In addition, there are thirty-three scene selections and various trailers, but there are no audio commentaries to go with the film. Maybe it's for the best. I can't imagine much of this film needs to be explained any further.
Disc two begins with its major bonus item, a twenty-seven minute documentary, "Revolutions Recalibrated," which takes us behind the scenes of this (supposedly) final chapter in the "Matrix" saga. Next, there is "CG Revolution," a fifteen-minute exploration of how they made the CGI special effects, creatures, and environments. After that is "Super Burly Brawl," a multi-angle demonstration of the final Neo-Smith showdown with three video streams: storyboards, behind-the-scenes, and the final scene all running in sync. Then, there is "Future Gamer: The Matrix Online," a look at multiplayer game created by the Wachowski Brothers; and the item I found most useful, "Before the Revolution," a timeline of the development occurring in the Matrix story among the "Matrix" trilogy, the "Animatrix," and "Enter the Matrix." Following that is "3-D Evolution," which includes concept art, storyboards, pre-visualizations, and realizations for several elements in the movie.
Finally, disc two includes a section called "Operator" that contains four items: (1) "Neo Realism: The Evolution of Bullet Time," more on special effects; (2) "Super Big Mini Models," filming the world of models and miniatures; (3) "Double Agent Smith," a look at what it took to make the final scene, including the work to replicate Hugo Weaving with body doubles, lifelike mannequins, head casts, and costumes; and (4) "Mind Over Matter: The Physicality of The Matrix," a look the dramatic stunts of The Matrix. For promotional purposes, the disc also includes Web links to the official "Matrix" Web site and "The Matrix Online" test site.
It isn't that "Matrix Revolutions" is a bad movie; it isn't. It's that "Revolutions" is a disappointing movie, given all that has come before it and all that it could have been. I suspect many "Matrix" fans like me were looking forward to some kind of smart, startling, imaginative climax, something that would make us all say, "Wow! Cool! I never expected that!" But it doesn't happen. Instead, we get a wholly prosaic, commonplace ending, with the prospect of ever more chapters in the offing.
"Matrix Revolutions" may go out with a lot of loud bangs, but when it's over it seems more like a whimper.