Friday, September 09, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Matrix Revolutions (2003)


"Karma's a word. Like "love". A way of saying 'what I am here to do.' I do not resent my karma - I'm grateful for it."

- The Matrix Revolutions (2003)



Ending a trilogy well is not at all an easy task.

Final installments in cinematic trilogies are, in fact, notoriously rough going. Consider Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Godfather III (1990), for example.  In cases such as these, it's fair to state that it is much easier to forge a beginning than a satisfying ending.

There’s also the opposite instance of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I suppose, which earned a Best Picture Oscar.  Yet there remain a number of critics (myself included) who consider that trilogy-ender wildly over-praised and overlong, and certainly not the finest of the three pictures in the series. 

So why do trilogy-enders tend to fail in terms of audience and critical appreciation? 

In large percentage, I suspect, because of deeply-held expectations. Viewers carry along much emotional and time investment when it comes to ending a trilogy; and also weigh-in a great deal of narrative 'history' in determination of how well a ''final" chapter succeeds.  Opinions about how a tale might end have already been, perhaps unconsciously, forged by the advent of a third film.  A trilogy-ender must, by necessity, satisfy those expectations, and yet not in an obvious, routine, or predicable way.

Unfortunately, the Wachowski Bros.' The Matrix Revolutions doesn’t escape unscathed from this “trilogy” curse.

In fact, it is undeniably the weakest film in The Matrix trilogy, in part because it devotes so much screen-time wrapping up the details of existing story lines rather than exploring more deeply the philosophical terrain excavated by the earlier movies.

To an unexpected extent, The Matrix Revolutions is also scuttled by an unfortunate but necessary re-casting in a central role, and by a storyline which, essentially, drops the two most interesting characters – Neo and Trinity – for an egregiously long spell. 

On the first front, Gloria Foster portrayed The Oracle in the first two Matrix pictures, but passed away before her scenes could be completed for The Matrix Revolutions.  Mary Alice replaces Foster and does an absolutely fine job in the role.  And yet Foster's more laconic and familiar presence is sorely missed here, despite the crafty manner in which the shift in The Oracle's appearance is explained. 

Again, I'm not picking on Mary Alice, or claiming that the filmmakers were wrong to re-cast the role.  Clearly, they had no other choice.  And yet still, this time around I miss the human connection to Foster's indelible, dynamic character.  Foster's Oracle was tough as well as charming.  Alice's interpretation seems "straighter," if you will, without some of the flamboyant affectation that made Foster light up the screen in each of her memorable scenes.

Regarding the second matter, Neo and Trinity are sidelined from the film for a long spell as war comes to Zion, and Neo makes a pilgrimage to the Machine City, a kind of wondrous, mechanical version of Baum's Oz. 

While Neo and Trinity are away, the film showcases an intense, large-scale battle to hold Zion, and the sequence is dominated by incredible special effects.  In essence, this show-stopping special effects triumph depicts the Machine/Man war that the Terminator films always seemed to promise but never truly delivered.  These visual effects are indeed awe-inspiring yet, and the battle also does a nice job of showcasing two minor human characters as they fight, moment-to-moment, overwhelming odds. In so many ways, it is this battle that it the very centerpiece of the film.

Yet -- and forgive me for saying so -- this isn't really why we go to see a Matrix movie. 

We go to see Neo, Trinity and Morpheus in action...inside the Matrix, preferably.  And to one degree or another, all three of those characters are essentially side-lined while second tier characters (Niobe, Zee, Mifune, Lock) fight the war, positioned in the driver's seats.  This narrative structure seems a miscalculation because it asks us to relate to characters we don't as easily identify with, and because it takes us out of the Matrix for such a long time.

The Matrix Revolutions boasts some other notable problems too.  For the first time in the franchise, the audience is already well-ahead of the characters here, at least in terms of critical thinking.  There's one absolutely agonizing, poorly-directed, poorly-acted scene during The Matrix Revolutions in which Neo -- with all his new found abilities -- fails to recognize Smith in the body of a human, Bane. 

Heck, you don't even need those special psionic/metaphysical capabilities to recognize Smith because the actor portraying Bane, Ian Bliss, does a masterful, almost supernatural imitation of Weaving's distinctive speech patterns.  Listening to Bane speak, it is impossible not to recognize him as Smith virtually instantly.  And it's not like Neo's attention isn't focused or something.

That Neo fails for so long to recognize Smith in his new, human guise  does not speak well for the hero's intelligence or even his sense of intuition.  Again, this scene represents one of the few instances in the entire trilogy during which we have time to grow bored with the film making, performances and writing.  I'm not generally a critic of Keanu Reeves' acting style.  I believe he's a good actor who can either be used very well in a film (Speed, The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded), or used poorly (Bram Stoker's Dracula).  Generally, the mix is right in The Matrix films, but Neo's Revolutions plays into the perception by many audiences that Reeves comes across as a dolt.  And The One can't -- and shouldn't -- be a dolt.

Such flaws established, The Matrix Revolutions does add at least one new element of philosophy to the series mix, namely in the explicit debate regarding karma. 

We learned in The Matrix Reloaded that Neo is actually the sixth "One" -- part of a chain -- and that his actions in this life will impact future lives and future selves.  That's the essence of karma, in the Buddhist sense, and if Reloaded concerned the idea of making "free" choices in what seemed a deterministic universe, Revolutions focuses squarely the impact of our choices on our lives, our world, and our  bigger destiny.  Rightly, Revolutions is about causality, how results, sometimes unintended, follow choices.  This is the film -- the ending -- that must concern such results.

The Matrix Revolutions isn't exactly "the bad one," as so many critics have claimed regarding the trilogy, but the film's balance does seem off, for the first time in trilogy history.  There's far too much focus on hover crafts weaving about in impossibly complicated sewer systems, much like the Millennium Falcon in an asteroid belt, and the battle sequences -- though incredibly impressive -- suck momentum away from Neo and Trinity's tragic love story. 

Finally, the ending "detente" between machine and man, while assiduously layered into the trilogy (especially in the middle film), somehow fails to satisfy on a dramatic level.  We leave the film wanting more; wanting to see the defeat of the machines.

One way or another, I'm getting on this train

Neo (Keanu Reeves) has become trapped in the domain of The Train Man (Bruce Spence), a subway station with no end and no beginning. 

"This place is nowhere.  It is between our world and your world," he is informed  by a kindly program, Rama Kandra (Bernard White). 

While trapped, Neo learns that such programs  have not only learned to reproduce, but to "love," an act responsible for the child program, Sati (Tanveer Atwal).  He is shocked to realize that machines have developed the equivalent of human emotions.

Outside the way station, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Seraph (Collin Chau) confront the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) to free Neo. Once released,  Neo takes a hover-craft with Trinity to reach the Machine City, a path that Neo has seen laid out for him in visions, while Morpheus and Captain Niobe attempt to return to Zion to defend it from Machine attack.

Meanwhile, in the Matrix, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) assimilates the entire population, turning one and all into mirror images of himself.  Amongst the lost are The Oracle (Mary Alice) and young Sati.

Once he arrives at the Machine City, Neo attempts to negotiate a truce between the machines and Zion, but the machines have a task for him: He must destroy Agent Smith once and for all, before Smith's corrupting influence can be allowed to pollute the "real" world.

It is remarkable how similar the pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity


Karma is all about the way that actions lead to results, and is also one of five categories of "causation" in Eastern beliefs. 

Karma suggests that actions spring from intention, and karma also drives samsara (the flow of life, essentially) for each being; the process of life, death and re-birth.

The Matrix Revolutions gazes deeply at the idea of karma in terms of its lead characters. Though Neo optedto save Trinity rather than the Matrix and Zion in Reloaded, he gathers additional information about the Machines and Programs in this film, and then  re-establishes his foretold destiny as established by the Architect/Oracle.   He chooses the path the Architect sought for him, but not in the way the Architect desired.

Namely, having lost his mortal love at Trinity's death, Neo arranges a peace between the machines and the humans.  And after defeating Smith, Neo also "re-boots" the world for the dawn of the Sixth and next Matrix.  It is true that things happen slightly differently this time around on the wheel of fate, but the end results are the same:  Zion continues.  The Machine City Continues.  And the Matrix continues

By saving every element in the world (machine, man and program), Neo creates a "sunny" future for Earth, as the film's final, idyllic shots reveal.  This peace may be fragile, but it exists, and so when Neo returns in some future life, his karma will be positive.   He is "The One," and Neo learns in this film that being "The One" means not simply representing human beings.  On the contrary, he is the savior/messiah for the Programs and Machines as well.

When the Oracle is asked by Sati if she will ever see Neo again, The Oracle answers in the affirmative ("I suspect so. Someday.") because in the cycle of birth/death/rebirth, Neo's actions have been wholly positive.  To put it another way, "our" Neo --  through self-sacrifice and heroism -- has created karma in this world, but it won't be until his next life that he actually gets to experience it and feel it.  That's how karma works.  We make karma in this life at the same time as we deal with karma from a past life.

Smith's karma also plays a role in his defeat in The Matrix Revolutions.  Smith "outgrew" his role as an agent in The Matrix when Neo (at the end of the first film), became one with him -- suffused him -- and then, essentially, blew him up. 

This infusion of the One's power,led Smith to grow exponentially in strength until he was the dominant force inside the Matrix; a force he used for negativity and evil.  In The Matrix Reloaded, these events come full circle as Smith totally absorbs and suffuses Neo, providing the protagonist the opportunity to corrupt the Smith-ian status quo, and similarly overturn it.  This act is a reversal of what we saw in The Matrix, and the Oracle reminds us, trenchantly, that Smith is Neo's "opposite."  Their karmas are also opposite.

It's also worth pointing out that Trinity reaches her pre-ordained destiny in this film. She dies young, at Neo's side, after willingly giving her life for him over and over again.  Neo may have rescued her before, but he was only delaying her fate, not changing it.  Trinity's selection was always to die for Neo.  That was her "karma," and it too paved the way for a future of peace.  If Trinity is to be re-born at some point, one would also anticipate her karma  in that iteration would be positive.

Each Matrix film has utilized some aspect of Buddhist philosophy to a substantial degree, and it's rewarding that The Matrix Revolutions -- on the event of the series' ending -- should focus on the big idea of our actions creating meaning; and the epic sweep of life, death and eventual rebirth.  "Change is always a dangerous game," according to the film, but in forging change, the film's heroic characters, particularly Neo and Trinity, build a new and better world.  Not the best world, mind you, but a better one.  They end the war.

The question that roils me to this day, however, is this one: Is this change enough?  The machines are still growing human slaves in those fields.  And millions of human souls are still locked in the Matrix, essentially a "lie" about reality.  The film ends with this paradigm as the status quo. 

Yes, Zion is free, but what are the rules of this new peace?  Must the humans of Zion stop attempting to free the minds of the enslaved?  And will the machines truly leave Zion alone, in defiance of history and five previous attempts to overwhelm it?

Again, the idea of detente (not defeat) is built into the Matrix films, and I do understand that. 

In Revolutions, fore instance, we learn that programs can be loving fathers and husbands, and also broach such concepts as self-sacrifice.  Such qualities make them not an enemy to humans, essentially, but a competitor. 

This is a noble, uplifting idea --- peace between biologicals and mechanicals -- but again, slavery is involved in the equation. Is it right to go on living happily in Zion knowing that your brethren are enslaved, exploited as "living batteries?" 

The Oracle glosses over this idea at the end of the film by noting that anyone who "chooses" to leave the Matrix may now do so.   But don't we already know, from Reloaded that the Matrix works in the first place because there is a choice involved, and that the slaves implicitly have accepted their slavery in The Matrix?   In other words, the System is designed to overcome choice, so how can the Oracle blithely state that the slaves have a "choice" about leaving?

Something about this truce just doesn't sit right.  Slavery is a moral evil, no matter the degree of "choice" apparently provided by the master. I don't believe for a minute that Morpheus would simply "retire," knowing that machines are still growing human beings for use as batteries.  The whole point of the war, it seems is freedom for all.  Not just the lucky thousands already dwelling in Zion.

In terms of drama, I believe the resolution of this film is extremely disappointing.  We have been told that this is a war of survival against the machines, and then -- at the last minute -- it isn't.  The machines offer a truce to Zion, Zion accepts, and life continues.  The change wrought by Neo -- beyond the welcome destruction of Smith, of course -- appears mostly cosmetic, not in the real nature of things or systems  It's no wonder that Morpheus asks "is this real?"   As viewers we wonder the same thing, and wonder how the truce can last (in the same manner that the Architect ponders this question).

I hope you feel I have not been too hard on The Matrix Revolutions.  Some elements of the film are downright gorgeous.  The Machine City, for instance, is an incredible vision of what a robot utopia might look like, and splendidly, terrifyingly-realized.  The battle to hold Zion, as I indicated near the top of my review, is a stunning vision, and one of a scope almost beyond our capacity to imagine.  I also appreciated the visuals of a thoroughly corrupted, rainswept Matrix, transformed into grisly embodiment of Smith's degraded, egomaniacal id.  Neo's funeral in the Mechanical City -- very much like a Viking funeral -- represents an unforgettable visual as well.

These are all sights worth seeing, and the message about karma -- about how our choices impact our future -- is certainly valuable and in keeping with the franchise's noble history.  But there's still a feeling, when The Matrix Revolutions ends, that -- if you'll pardon the expression -- the "hopey, changey" thing isn't really going to cut it; not when there are still two sides of such diametrically opposed interest involved. Ultimately, either the machines will win, or the humans will win.  The planet doesn't seem big enough for both.  Maybe what we're left to ponder, then, simply is that Neo has given the world a new beginning. 

And the world sometimes needs a new beginning...

The Matrix Revolutions is not the conclusion to the franchise everybody hoped for, but it remains an important part of what is, arguably, the most ambitious trilogy in cinema history, as I hope my reviews over the last few weeks have indicated. 

The Matrix movies are ones about reality itself, and about how -- through Buddhist philosophy, mainly -- we countenance, interpret, shape and accept that reality.  It has been eleven years since the first film was made, nine since the last, and yet the trilogy remain girded with stunning ideas and brilliant visuals.  That's why I prefer these films to, for example, the Lord of the Rings movies.

It's one thing to create an epic story  regarding  the clash between good vs. evil.  It's quite another to  look at the forces underlying that battle.  Forces such free will, karma, phenomenology, and so on.   It's the difference between brilliantly showcasing the specifics of a war, and attempting to explain why human beings go to war in the first place.  One film cycle is about  (admittedly impressive) surface values, and one is about the meaning of life itself in addition to those superficial traits.

Frankly, I could watch The Matrix again next week and write an entirely new review of the film, one that doesn't even gaze at the same concepts I enunciated in my review of two weeks ago.  Not many blockbuster action films so brawnily open themselves up to that  level of criticism, analysis, and debate. 

Like the system featured in the films themselves, this is a trilogy that seems to renew itself on each and every viewing.  In that way, it becomes more than the sum of its lesser (Revolutions) parts.

12 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:36 PM

    Another nice review.

    This was also my least favorite of the three and I thought that half the action scenes should have been replaced with something else.
    Anyway, I know that you being a godless atheist had something to do with you not picking up on (or just ignoring) all the obvious Christian metaphors in the film. Just kidding – no I’m not. The Karma stuff is there and very interesting, but that’s really older than Buddhism. Lots of great thought came from both India and China long before Siddhartha had his virgin birth. The film really is a hodgepodge of religious ideology; from the oracles (yin-yang) earrings (Taoism from China) to the aspects of Karma you mention (Hinduism from India). Of course the mixing of these things brings us the synthesis of Zen Buddhism much later, just as the mixing of Judaism and Buddhism bring us Christianity 500 years after that, bringing new philosophies to Judaism (looking inward for God) and a few of the stories as well (virgin birth etc.).
    The obvious Christian metaphor is when Neo allows himself to be killed by taking on the agent’s essence (evil – or even “sin” in Christian mythological terms) and only then, by acting as a cosmic karmic cleaner dies with it inside him. He is able to wipe the slate clean. And of course the image of him laid out there like he is on a cross, and the cross of light behind him, and the big deep voice saying “IT IS DONE” all refuse to make this a subtle Christian metaphor. It is kind of right there in your face. Now the Taoist stuff is interesting here too. First the oracle “GOD” (written right there on her fridge) is sucked up into Smith and basically becomes Smith, or to look at it this way, he is sucked up into her and Smith becomes her. Either way it’s the classic Hegelian Thesis, Antithesis = Synthesis. And enough of her is still inside Smith’s Avatar that she is able to repeat her message about all things coming to an end etc. This lets Neo know that he must commit suicide ala Socrates and or Jesus. Other stuff that suggest that the writers of the film gave up on the Buddhist stuff and impressed the Christian stuff instead (perhaps because of frustration of spoon feeding ideas of liberation which are counterproductive), was at the end when the little guy was going around saying “he saved us, he saved us” and they start talking about his return. Neo was telling that Kid last movie that he saved his own damn self, just as the Buddha was trying to tell all of us when saying we have to figure it out our selves. Why do you think there is that Buddhist saying? “That if you see the Buddha on the road – kill him.”
    Now I don’t think that that the Buddhist philosophy and the Christian philosophy are all that different from the mystics’ perspective. I mean just as Buddhists would argue that life in corporeal form is undesirable and the goal is to get release from it, Jesus also told his closest followers to take up their crosses and follow him. Both focus quite a bit on the body, which becomes like a battle ground of ideas. (Modern context –Lana Wachowski.) I mean Jesus and early Christians were born into a world where both early Buddhists missionaries and the Greek philosophers had their humanist-centric ideas already in play. (cont.)

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  2. Anonymous2:38 PM

    cont.

    I like what you had to say about Neo not recognizing Smith inside Bane; I too felt that was a bit odd – almost intentional. Whereas he does recognize the oracle inside Smith in the Matrix where he (neo) is like a god. It is almost as if the Neo in his real or corporeal form is a dolt, slow, dimwitted (HUMAN). Add to this all those things that Smith said about being inside Bane’s body and it makes sense that Smith couldn’t wait to be released from it. But what is it about the body that is unique, that the other place does not have? Love? Nope, we know from Rama in the train station that programs experience love. – What about sex? Hmm, maybe that’s it, the very Yang to the (escape the corporeal) Yin of Christianity and Buddhism. But why? – for pleasure? - to simply reproduce? But why? Because we cannot help ourselves? But the point of Buddhism and arguably Christianity is that we must do just that – help ourselves. Think about it – Jesus really thought the end was near and that people were ready to go, but instead they fetishize him, build yet another institution or social system surrounding him, and solidify our positions in another level of the matrix for 2000 years.
    When you state: “But there's still a feeling, when The Matrix Revolutions ends, that -- if you'll pardon the expression -- the "hopey, changey" thing isn't really going to cut it; not when there are still two sides of such diametrically opposed interest involved.”
    I think you hit on the point where the film sells itself out; remember within the Buddhist philosophy the ultimate goal is not rebirth by continuing the cycle of samsara; the goal is to escape it all together and enter the great nothingness. But we have too many attachments for that to be realized.


    -r

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    1. Anonymous7:35 PM

      Um really, that Bane scene (let's not stand on ceremony here! sorry, couldn't resist) - it's pretty obvious from his look that he suspects what's going, but just refuses to buy it until no doubt is left.
      He's like "yeah... sounds like him, talks like him, but come on, no way!" the whole time, and when Bane finally quotes himself from the previous movie his face expression is clearly that of "oooohhh so it's really true then... how?!" rather than of sudden realization.

      Yea, Bane does say "I admit it's hard to think in this shell", but it's pretty obvious regardless.
      If anything's implausible, it's how baffled Neo seems at the revelation - Bane's ship was the last one to arrive in Reloaded, and he knew of Smith's copying abilities. Doesn't seem all that unbelievable does it? But then again, it's probably just another plot hole - no one noticed Bane acting weirdly all this time before, or him being attacked by the agent before jacking out, so that's just following the tradition lol :)

      In fact I'm wondering if Bane's Smith impression was only supposed to be like a "surrepitious wink" towards the audience rather than something actually happening? You know, like Batman probably has his whole face covered so no one recognizes him, but they show it that way for the audience?
      Probably just asking us to suspend our disbelief, although I don't know - I wonder if would've been cooler to see him "act normally" for the others and then turn into Smith mode when the others had left... but eh, whatever.

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  3. NAILED IT! John, you've successfully covered REVOLUTIONS strengths and the weaknesses that mark it a step down from the first two in the trilogy. As I mentioned before, the Wachowski Brothers brought about three unexpected and unanticipated films for each of their installments. With each one, audiences immediately began to conjure up where it would all go. And the conjecture shot up to truly distorted levels with the discussion boards following RELOADED.

    I also believe the comments by 'r' are insightful regarding the tension of the Christian and Buddhists philosophies presented in the trilogy. Interestingly, I probably got more involved in REVOLUTIONS in this screening than before. Again, it returns to Neo and Trinity. For me, they remain at the core in the overall story. Removing the pair and making them side players for way too long in the film is the W. Bros. largest misstep, at least for me.

    As great and spectacular as the battle scenes are, it's them I miss when they're off-screen. I swear, for as little time as she gets in the three films overall, the greatest impact in the entirely trilogy belongs to Trinity, IMO. Carrie-Anne Moss doesn't get enough credit here. And she still delivers the best line in the whole damn movie when dealing with the pompous Merovingian:

    "Time's up. What's it gonna be, Merv?"

    Cold shot! It undercuts the prick with 7 choice words that brings a needed smile to the audience for its cool and seriousness that's all the while in keeping with this character. As well, I think not many of us would truly want to be Neo, no matter how heroic. Especially, for the number travails and hardships he must go through in the storyline, let alone the path to scourging and martyrdom (the Christ allegory once again) he must undertake if it's to all work out in the end. Yet, more than a few of us would, if we'd have Trinity by our side.

    (to be continued…)

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  4. Part 2:

    That's why it's somewhat of a bittersweet pill to swallow when the trilogy wraps up at its close. Neo and Trinity's last journey is a brutal one (and I'm feel too close to these two when reaching this point). Two scenes in particular stand out:
    • after Neo realizes his journey must go through the machine city (one he'll not return from) - his scene with Trinity as tells him she's going with him is quite moving. Their admitted fear for what they'll set about (there's a touch of Jesus and the Garden of Gethsemane here, if JC would have had a mate, that is) is quite touching
    • Trinity's death scene - I don't need to say anything here, right? [and it certainly had my daughter a little upset]

    Again, REVOLUTIONS, like RELOADED, suffered for offering diffuse and dense ideas that left many scratching their heads to understand and interpret. Still, I'd rather watch films that are too smart than dumbed down (like we received too often in the last few years). I agree with you this set of motion pictures are cinematic, thought-provoking, and continue to spark various explanations and meanings. I'll take this over Michael Bay's sci-fi flicks any damn day of the week in whatever iteration of THE MATRIX we're all in ;-).

    I also understand your feelings toward REVOLUTIONS ending. However, I've come to a conclusion that there is more hope there. I realize the "diametrically opposed" sides seem so apart (even at the conclusion), but consider this. The machines were given birth by humans, and if you review THE ANIMATRIX, are not so much the villain in this struggle. Additionally, we share a vital commonality: we are each electrical. Ours is just bio-chemical, hence the reason they survive through us. And if you postulate that even more, the biochemical electricity is powering both life-forms in the story. We are more interdependent than we give credit for. Yes, it is an uneasy truce, with an 800-pound morally wrong gorilla in the room… slavery. Much like the colonies right after the American Revolution. Maybe that was the hope and promise the W. Bros. were shooting for? Something to think about.

    This turned out to be a great series, John. Kudos to you and your wonderful reviews, thoughts, and impressions (and for hosting it all on your blog), my friend. Thanks for this.

    p.s., I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has a problem with LOTR: Return of the King, or its five false endings and length (don't get me started on the 'extended' cut, either) ;-).

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  5. "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I suppose, which earned a Best Picture Oscar. Yet there remain a number of critics (myself included) who consider that trilogy-ender wildly over-praised and overlong, and certainly not the finest of the three pictures in the series. "

    Thanks heavens I'm not alone in thinking that.

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  6. I have a poor memory, and I haven't seen the movie recently, so I may be wrong about some of this. Also I plan to ramble.

    I like the ending to the Matrix series, partially because it wasn't the one I expected. It seems to end on a creepy, depressing, false note, but I think that's deliberate. I think it's kind of a guerrilla "whole point of the series".

    Throughout the films we're being led toward this big finale in which Neo will usher in a new eon of freedom and peace. The only question that's offered to the audience to consider is whether or not Neo will be able to do it. But the ending pulls the rug out from under us: Neo succeeds, he wins peace, a new era begins, and it looks great--but it doesn't really matter.

    Revolutions practically always seem to lead back to the very thing that caused them, don't they? Maybe a couple very minor changes carry over into the next version of the cycle, but people tend to revert to old ways after some time passes. I don't claim to know what the intent of the Wachowskis was, but that seemed like the "punchline" to the series to me. While that's not as optimistic as "the humans win", I think it's a valuable Big Idea worth recognizing.

    But that's not to say the moral of the movies is "everything's pointless and inevitable". If there is a lesson to be learned, it's that you can't just save the world with a single magical act; the world requires constant saving. You can't just fix it. There's a ton of inertia (karma) to mankind that takes enormous, constant effort to deal with. It reminds me (somewhat skew-wise) of the Angel quote: "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do." A true revolution is not a single event, it is a way of life. But "Revolutions" are a dime a dozen. The movie didn't really get into that, but that's what I was thinking about on the drive home from the theater. :)

    I can't tell whether I made any sense there.

    Thanks, as always, for your excellent insights, and for liking Speed Racer, which is awesome.

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  7. Hi everyone,

    Excellent reflections here on The Matrix Revolutions, the final piece in The Matrix puzzle.

    Rick, or "r" -- I am glad you brought up the Christian overtones/symbolism aspect of the film. As usual when I write a review, I select what qualities of a film to discuss, and what to leave undiscussed. Here, I wanted to continue the Buddhist angle I began on The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, but your points about the Christian symbolism is well-taken, and certainly present in the film. In a way, you prove my point for me: I could write a review of this film again in a week, and cover an entirely different topic. And I have no doubt that one day I shall return to the Matrix films, again.

    Excellent comment, as usual, my friend!

    best,
    John
    (more to come)

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  8. Le0pard13:

    I loved your excellent two-part comment, and I feel very much the same way as you about The Matrix Revolutions. There's a lot of good stuff there, but ultimately the film seems to lose track of Neo and Trinity -- of the emotional story -- and something just falls flat.

    Trinity's death scene always affects me, and I understand it had the same impact on your daughter. I certainly understand that. She's a great character in these films: a warrior, a hero, a leader, and more. With all the talk of Neo as "the One," it is his connection to Trinity that marks him most deeply as human, and therefore recognizable to us in the audience.

    Thank you for all of your excellent commentary on these Matrix films. You have helped to make this retrospective a great success, I think.

    All my best,
    John

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  9. Gustavo:

    I'm not a big fan of the last Lord of the Rings movie, or of the whole movement, in general. The movies reveal Peter Jackson's great flaw as a filmmaker: his lack of discipline. He has great talents, no doubt, but they are always mitigated by his lack of discipline in terms of storytelling. We just don't need those five endings, or three hour extended editions of movies that are too long.

    His movies always remind me how even a great filmmaker can go wrong without a judicious editor, or someone to tell him when too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

    All my best,
    John

    (more to come...)

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  10. Renophaston:

    Your comment is superb, sir, and it reminds me once more why I enjoy the blog format so much. It seems to me you have come up with an alternate reading of The Matrix Revolutions that makes me see and interpret the film in a new and more positive light.

    I love your formulation:

    "Revolutions practically always seem to lead back to the very thing that caused them, don't they? Maybe a couple very minor changes carry over into the next version of the cycle, but people tend to revert to old ways after some time passes. I don't claim to know what the intent of the Wachowskis was, but that seemed like the "punchline" to the series to me. While that's not as optimistic as "the humans win", I think it's a valuable Big Idea worth recognizing."

    I think you may have provided the "key" to reading this film best, actually. Everything you state in that paragraph is true (and hell, even helps to explain why liberals feel disappointed with Obama, too, for good measure).

    But I think your idea is borne out in the film. Our expectations have to shift. We have to realize -- in your words -- "you can't just save the world with a single magical act; the world requires constant saving. You can't just fix it."

    That is a big idea indeed, and perhaps in failing to give it its due, I didn't get to the heart of Matrix Revolutions as deeply as I could have. Great interpretation!

    And oh my, yes, I love Speed Racer (2008). That's a great film, critics be damned (and yes, it's a better film than Return of the King too!)

    best,
    John

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  11. It's been too long since I saw the series, overall, and this is just dim in my memory. Actually, the battle for Zion is the strongest point in my recall, and Captain Niobe was the strongest character.

    All the five main characters---Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Oracle, Smith---are fairly irrelevant. Yeah, sure, Smith might be all-powerful and warped the Matrix to his own image, but in doing so, he isn't as good...as strong...of a character as he was in the earlier films.

    I actually have the opposite perspective on LOTR 3: I loved that film and have seen it a few times. I think it is actually STRONGER that Matrix 3. I barely recall any of the five main characters in Revolutions...I know they were in the film. My recollections of them are best from the first film. That is telling to me. Heck, even with the flaws of Return of the Jedi, the characters are easily memorable (but that is just as likely as because I've watched all three original SW trilogy parts a good dozen times or more). Return of the King has more main characters than Matrix Revolutions: Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Faramir (essentially replacing Boromir from the Fellowship), and Gollum, and they are all quite essential to the film and to virtually every scene. They might have all wandered different paths to get to this point, but they are all still relevant. Perhaps the over-familiarity of Jedi has dulled its status as a supreme trilogy-ender (tying up threads, but opening up a new can of worms with revelations about Leia...), but we see all the threads taken care of in Return of the King: The One Ring and Sauron and The Witch-King of the Nazgul and Gollum are all destroyed, Aragorn restores the kingship to Gondor and the relations between Gondor and Rohan are restored, Frodo and Gandalf and Elrond complete their appointed tasks, Arwen finds her destiny and Faramir emerges from the shadow of his brother, Merry and Pippin and Sam emerge from their youthful selves as mature adults capable of leading productive lives back home in the Shire, and Legolas and Gimli have formed an incredible friendship against the backdrop of the thousands of years of horrible relations between their people. While everything is wrapped up neatly (too neatly for some people, I suppose), it is done convincingly and solidly. The Free Peoples of Middle-Earth are free. The forces of evil are destroyed.

    But the Matrix still exists, still enslaves all those battery-source humans. The Matrix is the top of the food chain, existing vampire-like in the twilight of the nuked surface of the world. You'd think the Matrix was smart enough to build hydro-electric dams to cover their power needs, maybe create a solar-power satellite network which would clearly be within its capacity. (scratches head) Oh, well, the Wachowskis did, at least, create the best THINKING film series ever.

    Great review as usual, John!

    Gordon Long

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