The conclusion of The Matrix trilogy came mere months after The Matrix Reloaded (2003) was released to mixed reviews and widespread bemusement amongst excited fans, which for many tarnished the near-perfection of The Matrix (1999). Expectations were therefore considerably lower for The Matrix Revolutions, but most people were convinced the Wachowskis wouldn’t let such an ambitious sci-fi cyberpunk epic fall flat on its face. The end-product offers even wilder highs and lows, but ultimately feels like a protracted climax that could have been woven into Reloaded for a more satisfying overall sequel.
A major problem for The Matrix follow-ups was dealing with the fact Neo (Keanu Reeves) ascended to super-human “The One” status by the end of the first movie, so Reloaded kept him busy with sheer numbers of enemies or vast distances for him to cross. Revolutions initially goes one step further, trapping Neo inside a “transition zone” between the Matrix and the machine world, where his mind-powers have no effect because he’s technically not in the Matrix realm, before sending Neo back into the real world for a long period of time.
This arguably works better, as we’re more excited for Neo’s final confrontation with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) inside dystopian Matrix he’s overrun with viral copies of himself, even if the trade-off is getting much less Matrix-flavoured action in general. There’s also the strangeness of Neo suddenly being able to see Bane (Ian Bliss), whose consciousness has been overtaken by Smith in the real world, in golden-coloured code, and destroy real-life Sentinels at will. It’s been many years since I tried to parse what all this meant, but I believe we’re suppose to think Neo has a remote connection to the Machines outside of the Matrix, so he’s able to affect them without needing to jack into the Matrix itself. And that’s fine, but in light of the fact The Matrix Resurrections (2021) is less than a week away, at time of writing, my initial theory that “reality” itself is just a layer of the Matrix seems to have been given credence decades later. We shall see…
The Matrix Revolutions essentially boils down to only a handful of memorable sequences: Neo trying to get plugged back into The Matrix from his state of purgatory in an eerie underground station, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) aiding that endeavour by threatening the life of the supercilious Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), an epic attack on the underground city of Zion by hundreds of thousands of Sentinels, a blinded Neo and Trinity flying to the Machine City to broker a peace deal with the A.I trying to destroy Zion, and the ultimate plan to defeat Agent Smith from inside The Matrix with the assistance of the Machines who’ve come to realise that errant program has become a serious problem even for their own goals. Those basic plot elements work for me, but Revolutions is over two-hours long and it takes longer than it should to get through them all. And in the process, it mostly avoids tackling the fascinating issue presented by Bane that computer programs can escape the Matrix and exist inside human minds.
Still, for sheer spectacle and early-2000s VFX, it’s hard not to gawp at the thrilling Battle of Zion, with people strapped into “APU” exoskeletons and firing thousands of rounds at swarms of Sentinels as they try to protect the Dock from enormous diggers that drop through the ceiling. The Matrix movies were at the cutting-edge of VFX, but I was surprised by how well this sequence holds up nearly two decades later. Throughout, there’s only a few slightly unconvincing “digital doubles” in the Smith vs. Neo fight, and even those shots are obscured by so much rain and darkness for it to never be an issue. It’s a shame the signature action sequences of this franchise, set inside the Matrix with all the ‘bullet-time’ and martial arts, are scaled back for the climactic movie, but the Smith vs. Neo fight did foreshadow many of the superhero brawls that blockbusters would be full of in the decades to come.
The performances in Revolutions aren’t much different to Reloaded (as this is essentially the same movie split into two), but for some reason I noticed Keanu Reeves was more wooden than I’d remembered. I think it’s because you almost accept he’s playing up his Messianic status inside The Matrix as Neo (which is where Reloaded mostly took place), but he’s primarily in the real world for Revolutions and doesn’t come across as all that different. I’d have liked to see more of a distinction between “Neo” and “Mr Anderson” here, but it’s a valid point that Neo is becoming more of a machine over the course of these movies (literally bonding with A.I in the climax to provide a link to the viral Smith), while Smith himself is an errant program becoming more human— emotionally so in the Matrix (check out his diabolic laugh once he possesses The Oracle), and physically so inside Bane’s body.
Carrie-Anne Moss does her best with her poignant final scene as Trinity, but this emotional peak of the movie — from a character standpoint — is a little muted because Reeves’ performance just isn’t as strong as a scene partner. Almost every other character doesn’t get a lot to do that registers as notable, beyond Hugo Weaving intentionally taking his performance as Smith to hitherto untapped levels of arch campness. I love his quietly seething frustration that Neo won’t give up during their final confrontation, but before that he’s either pushed off-screen by other events or made to be slightly too cartoonish for my taste. It’s a particular shame that Laurence Fishburne is so poorly served by Revolutions, stuck being a co-pilot of a ship and not having much bearing on anything. Others characters introduced in Reloaded — like Link (Harold Perrineau) and Zee (Nona Gaye) —are barely involved even during the Battle of Zion sequence. Instead, that set-piece focuses primarily on Captain Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) and ‘The Kid’ (Clayton Watson).
I’ve always defended The Matrix sequels for their sheer ambition and how the Wachowski’s used the surprise success of the original to make two sci-fi epics that tackled big ideas within the parameters of a crowd-pleasing blockbuster. The issue is that the Hero’s Journey for Neo was completed in the first movie, and extending his journey into the real-world (where people aren’t so convinced by his messianic status) made sense but isn’t as interesting. Revolutions is certainly the worst of the trilogy because it starts with such low-energy, leans into conventional sci-fi action too much, and doesn’t know what to do with half the characters it’s amassed from Reloaded. There are some saving graces with some notable sequences and performances, and I think the ending makes a lot of sense and ends the trilogy nicely… while leaving the door open for more. But it would’ve been nice to see what these two sequels could have been with a normal release pattern (so a few obvious issues could have been addressed because of the tepid response to them in Reloaded). And I’m curious if condensing the best of all the two sequel’s ideas into a three-hour Matrix 2 would have given fans a more potent hit.
USA | 2003 | 138 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • FRENCH
Cast & Crew
writers & directors: The Wachowskis.
starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne & Hugo Weaving.