The revolution in The Matrix Revolutions is more like a devolution—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t go expecting the secret of the universe. What began last century as a heady mind trip winds up, perhaps, an exercise in spectacular mayhem.
The originality of the original Matrix was that it induced migraines with metaphysics rather than mayhem. Brilliantly oxymoronic, The Matrix was an intellectual action film in which the most memorable violence unfolded in the enhanced slow motion dubbed “bullet-time.” Moreover, The Matrix successfully conflated two late ’90s cycles: It belongs with those movies that drew on video-game logic and those more paranoid ones that, looking at history through McLuhan’s rearview mirror, imagined the new cybertotality as a form of television.
What made The Matrix so hot? It was programmatically multiculti, as well as one of the first Hollywood movies to creatively assimilate Hong Kong cinema; it glorified dotcom genius; and back in the world of 1999, it was a technical wonder. Indeed, given the complexity with which the Wachowski brothers combined old-fashioned “live action” photography and newfangled CGI imagery, actors and stunt doubles, actual locations and studio sets, it might be said that their tale of heroic hackers Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) battling a computer-driven virtual reality was the most naturalistic animated movie in history. Hence the piquancy of the freedom fighter Morpheus’s guruistic offer: “I’m trying to free your mind.”
Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) isn’t much in evidence in Revolutions, except as a sidekick to the ascendant Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Nor is his red pill of class analysis. Opening very much in medias res, the movie takes as its first mystery the fact that Neo remains trapped inside the Matrix (or somewhere) even though he’s not jacked in. The second mystery purports to explain the replacement Oracle (Mary Alice, now that Gloria Foster has passed away). A minor mystery is the Hollywood patois that creeps into the dialogue. “It’s the big bupkes—nada,” one Zionian says to another by way of expressing “nothing.” A related mystery is the continuing presence of Cornel West, delivering lines like “But what hope can a single vessel have against the entire defense system?”
What hope indeed? Delving into the underground to rescue Neo, Trinity must first battle the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his consort Persephone (Monica Bellucci) in their Eurotrash disco of death. Fans will not be deprived of Trinity’s bird kick, Persephone’s perfectly spherical breasts, or Merv’s snidely villainous “quel bon surprise!” Paraphrasing the Wicked Witch of the West, he demands that Trinity bring him the eye of the Oracle. “I don’t have time for this shit,” she replies as everyone pulls out their guns and Persephone explains that “if [Trinity] has to kill every one of us, she will—she’s in love.” Truly, for most of its first hour, The Matrix Revolutions spends an inordinate amount of time parsing the meaning of words like love and karma and wondering whether the new Oracle knows she knows what’s about to happen or knows not that she knows (not) and does it make any difference.
In short, the movie is something of a bull session until Zion’s defenders strap themselves into their galumphing robo-battle machines and begin to rock and roll with the invading mindless metallic insect horde. There’s a hint of Burroughsian grandeur to this cyborg-against-cyborg ballet mécanique and, at this point too, my notes began to resemble an undergraduate Burroughs imitation: BX cable squid spaghetti static electricity! Machine-gun machine-hell Armageddon!! Infernal orange and blue orgone-light tentacle vortex!!! This battle, which seems to last the better part of an hour, is absolutely gorgeous, even before Niobe’s spaceship barrels into the force field of total abstraction.
Structurally a foretaste of the Lord of the Rings closer, the action alternates between the defense of Gondor (here Zion) and the drama of Sam and Frodo (a/k/a Neo and Trinity) heading for Mount Doom or, in this case, blasting through a fireball flood over a blasted heath of scrap-heap machine-defecation lava terrain toward the blue-steel death-city heart of darkness. So is this the Desert of the Real? Or would that be the muddy crater where Neo and the sauronic Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) crash-land after their mid-air lightning-bolt slugfest in rainy, greenish skyscraper canyons of a reconfigured Matrix? Who cares—the graphics are sensational.
Each cosmetic wound is a work of art. Carnage in The Matrix Revolutions is even more shamelessly aestheticized than in Kill Bill. Not that there is no content. The Matrix Revolutions also features the greatest love, the most negative nihilism, and the least explicable cosmology, as well as a giant sky-face, the promise of a sparkly Valhalla, and a rainbow redemption that not only allows joy to revisit the sweaty catacombs of Zion but leaves the door ajar for yet more Matrix movies. The colleague who disparagingly referred to The Matrix Revolutions as a latter-day biblical epic is right, of course—but not if you choose to ignore its ponderous, even inane, theology.
No less than the rankest demagogue, The Matrix Revolutions insists on the primacy of faith over knowledge. Once it locks and loads, however, the triumphant visuals short-circuit anything resembling abstract thought.
J. Hoberman’s review of The Matrix Reloaded
“Reloaded Questions: Hacking the Matrix Master Code” by Jane Dark