Saturday, September 6, 2008

REVIEW: The Matrix Revolutions

That guy in the upper right almost makes Morpheus look svelte.

So here we go, the last Matrix movie, at least one would hope. The end of the trilogy. The sum of everything that the filmmakers were always intending from the series' humble beginnings, or at least so the Wachowski brothers claim. The final battle between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the evil robot overlords that run the Matrix. And between Neo and the dastardly, out-of-control, frighteningly self-aware Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, still the only one having a lick of fun), who's spamming himself through the Matrix like a price alert. Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) fighting on behalf of the dreary man-god she loves, as she reminds us every 5 minutes. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) fighting his addiction to Meat-Normous breakfast sandwiches from Burger King. Anthony Zerbe (Anthony Zerbe) fighting to keep his scene from being cut. If none of this makes sense, first see the original The Matrix, and then see The Matrix Reloaded and/or my review of it. And if it still doesn't make sense, create a new forum topic on, and I'm sure all the Matrix fans will give you respectful and comprehensible answers.

"I am sorry, Keanu, but Bollywood's standards for acting quality are somewhat more exclusive."

After some idle exposition in the real world that recaps the end of the first movie, we see that Neo, comatose and in a sick bay at the end of the first movie, is somehow still plugged into the Matrix and his consciousness is in an underground subway station. There's some cute little Indian girl standing above him, and... Oh, god. It's starting again. The exposition. I... just can't take it... First, the girl, explaining to Neo why he's trapped in a subway station outside the Matrix. Then the Oracle (Mary Alice all of a sudden) explaining to Morph and Trin that Neo's in trouble. Then the girl's father, saying to Neo that they're a family of programs that are smuggling their daughter into the Matrix for a reason that the movie's willing to spend much more time explaining than I am. Jiminy Cricket, make it STOP! How many consecutive scenes do we need of people providing emotionless exposition while doing nothing else?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Pillars continues to boycott this series.

To get Neo out of purgatory in the train station, the Oracle sends her bodyguard, Seraph (Collin Chou) to help Morpheus and Trinity capture the Trainman (Bruce Spence, AKA the gyrocopter pilot from The Road Warrior, so I will not tolerate any criticism of this fine human being), who's the Merovingian's (Lambert Wilson) man in charge of smuggling things in and out of the Matrix, for whatever purpose that could possibly have. The trio of good guys chase the Trainman briefly, losing him because Morpheus now threatens a cardiac arrest with more than 15 seconds of sprinting. After we head back to the train station for more philosophical exposition from the Indian guy (Kill me now.), Seraph, Trinity, and Morpheus attack the Merovingian's hideout, Club Hel, which Wikipedia claims is the correct spelling. They first have to blast their way, without even the slightest effort at tactical positioning, through a room full of bad guys who walk on the ceiling. Why walk on the ceiling? I'm not sure what kind of an edge that gives them in a room that's about 8 feet high, but if it looks kind of weird and costs some money to pull off, it's good enough for the Wachowski brothers. Surprisingly enough, none of our heroes gets scratched or express the slightest hint of concern before dispatching the baddies. Then, instead of maybe using stealth or something, they preemptively engage in a Mexican standoff against a bunch of unarmed S&M types in the club (See? I told you they could have snuck in.). All that fighting so they could immediately surrender their guns and chat with the Merovingian, and what do you know? He doesn't want to give up Neo. You don't say. But since this is The Matrix, there's no bit of idiotic planning that can't be overcome by kicking something. After the Merovingian blathers some more about causality--Seriously, dude, is there anything else that interests you?--the good guys kick the iceberg-reflexed thugs holding them at gunpoint, put a gun to the Merovingian's head at the outset of ANOTHER Mexican stand-off, and demand that he give them Neo back. And so he does, and Neo and Trinity have a tearful reunion after being separated a whole half-hour.

That's not so much a dress as it is a cleavage levee.

Eighty minutes later, when Neo finishes talking to the Oracle about nothing we didn't already know, he trods off and Smith finally arrives to see her himself. So if he knows where she is, doesn't that mean all the bad guys know where she is? So why has it taken so long for someone to come kick granny's ass? Hugo Weaving does his damndest to be terrifying while musing (in what almost sounds like iambic pentameter) about the purposefulness of the Oracle's decision to not fight back, as if he's the bastard child of Nietzsche, Iago, and Sam I Am. After a mercifully brief chat, he turns her into a Smith, one that starts laughing maniacally. And boy, do I mean maniacally. In fact, Agent Smith's pure joy for being evil probably makes him the most sympathetic character in the movie. Neo? Trinity? Morpheus? I've heard more enthusiasm in cold reads of The Canterbury Tales in high school English. So the real choice of the movie is whether you want to turn into a Smith and have constant fun, or to go to Zion and end up as one of the three things: a stick in the mud, a brain-dead raver, or Anthony Zerbe. I know what I choossssse.

Agent Smith protests the Vietnam War.

Back in the real world, the Smith-infected Bane (Ian Bliss) has woken up, and after a brief interrogation--which should have begun with the question, "If your name's Bane, how could you NOT be evil?"--the other characters lose interest in him. And the directors lose interest in them, because it's back to Zion for a little while so that we can hear some people gripe about how outnumbered they are by the impending invaders. Then hear some minor characters griping about how they don't want to die. Then hear The Kid (Clayton Watson) gripe to Captain Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) about how he just wants to help out and fight the Krauts, er, Machines. Then we get to hear the dumb white guy captain of the one Zion ship gripe to Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) about how they can't reach Zion in time to help in the fight, and then hear Niobe counter-gripe about how she's so damned awesome that she can fly his ship through an impossible-to-navigate tunnel that'll take them straight to Zion. Remember, being a female action heroine means never having to show the slightest humility. Meanwhile, Neo realizes that his only way to stop the war is to go to Evil Machine Capital for some reason.

And now, we see the sperm enter Gloria Steinem's uterus...

So they give him a ship and let him and Trinity head off, but unbeknownst to them, Smith-Man has stowed aboard. When Smith-Man makes his move, locking Trinity below decks (instead of taking the extra .5 seconds to kill her and toss her away) and holding Neo at gunpoint, he starts going on about how it was inevitable that he would break out of the Matrix and control the whole worrrrrrlllld! Ten minutes later, Neo figures out that this guy is Agent Smith. Definitely, this is a concept at odds with all past Matrix history that we know of, but considering that Neo is supposed to be the great and wise savior of the human race, you might have thought that he'd be quicker to at least get into the right frame of mind regarding the guy who does a perfect Agent Smith impression, calls him "Missster Anderson," and goes on rambling speeches about fate. Naturally, being held at gunpoint only means we're biding time until they start fighting over the gun, but despite losing the gun, Man-Smith does seemingly get the edge when he blinds Neo with a severed electrical cord. Too bad for him that in his blindness, Neo discovers that he actually has some weird screensaver-type vision that lets him see robots--which apparently includes computerized poltergeists that possess people's body, since Smith-Man not only has Agent Smith inhabiting his mind, but a full-blown scowling Agent Smith running the length of his body! Which makes it a lot easier for Neo to smack the guy's head off, thus allowing the audience to ditch ole Neo and Trin for a while, and enjoy the great characters of The Kid, Zee, Niobe, Ghost, and Fat Morpheus for the next hour.

"Too... much... botox...Uggghhh."

Next up on the Star Wars prequel-like tour of diverse and barely-related simultaneous fight scenes is the underground city of Zion, where the evil robot army has arrived and threatens Anthony Zerbe as we know it unless the valiant Zion soldiers can stop them. The defenders strap into Starship Troopers (the book)-like robot armor suits with machine guns on their hands (held sideways, because it's much more effective to hold dual-wielded pistols sideways), so that they can mow down the squid-robots that pour out of a hole at the top of their underground dock's huge dome. If that's a confusing description, just imagine what would happen if Quentin Tarantino adapted Galaga for the big screen, and that's more or less it. Un-armored infantry guys on the ground actually use ray guns to shoot the killer robo-squids. Do you think the Wachowskis regret introducing the ray guns in the first movie? They seem to clearly prefer machine guns in this movie, which strikes me as a step down technologically, especially when the giant mechs need little guys to run around and slap new cartridges into their machines every few minutes (which happens to be The Kid's job). You'd think having a few explosives would be useful against swarms of clustered enemies. The scene's kind of entertaining at the basest possible level a modern action movie can exist at, somewhere just below Stealth and just above Jackass. It's a level where characters can roar, "Where the hell's my infantry?!? I want that god-damned machine taken down!" and yet, paradoxically, the filmmakers expect all of this to be treated as profound by the audience. At least the robots don't stop to lecture on causality before attacking, a fact that immediately promotes them to the most sympathetic characters in the movie.

"Neo, you're completely blind. Quit criticizing my driving."

Meanwhile, Zion also dispatches lesbian prison babe bazooka teams to blow up the huge drilling robots, but when the robots' clunky extermination strategy meets the humans' clunky defense strategy, the edge still goes to the robots. Things start to look really bad in Zion, despite the fact that the vast majority of evil robots just fly around in formation, bunched up so that Zion's bullets can hit them that much more easily, and take only occasional interest in attacking something. But then somebody remembers that they can use the electro-magnetic pulse bombs (which were all the rage in the first movie) to instantly annihilate the entire invasion force, albeit at the cost of also destroying most of Zion's own defense weaponry. Given how things are going--"We can't hold them! Somebody needs to send in an 'S' power-up! We can't hold them back if we don't get the spreadshot! Or a bonus life! Anything!"--calling it even and shutting down all the evil robots seems like a decent idea. One problem: nobody thought ahead to keep one of those bombs at Zion. So the only ship in the quadrant--I'm sorry, Star Trek flashback--that has an EMP bomb is the idiot white guy captain's, which Niobe is piloting.

She's taking that shortcut of her's back to Zion, but accidentally alerts the evil robots, so she's got to go through the tunnels at maximum speed while the forty other minor characters on-board man the gun turrets. Which I'm sure pads out the tie-in video game very well, but this is not exactly the most engaging cinema. Niobe's piloting isn't very exciting either: the idiot white guy captain keeps exclaiming to no one in particular how impressed he is with her piloting, but given that we have no idea how maneuverable a sewer-traversing battleship in the year 3,000 is supposed to be, I'm not really sure how good at this she actually is. All I know is that I'm seeing a computer-generated electric razor streaking through a computer-generated tunnel while spraying bullets at computer-generated Contra enemies. Compound this boredom with the fact that Morpheus, once the true hero of the series, is reduced to riding shotgun and announcing useless information that even Lieutenant Chekhov would be embarrassed to mention, and being berated by Niobe the whole time for failing to shout out his numbers fast enough.

"Whoa. I don't like these new Swedish ergonomic chairs."

The ship's about to reach Zion, but the evil robots have already shut the gate, and the humans need a mechwarrior guy to shoot some chain to open it (Dude, I'm just explaining it; I didn't write it). Captain Mifune tries to make it to the gate, but is cut down by a swarm of squid-bots along the way, probably regretting not having any protective glass or shield installed on top of the pilots' compartments on the damn mechs. But the Kid's there to save the day, finally ready to fulfill his destiny of being the spunky little kid that could, the cyberpunk Rudy that wants to play the world's biggest Gradius game instead of Notre Dame football. So he hauls Mifune's mangled ass out of the giant mech, shoots the chain, and allows Niobe's ship to crash into Zion and kill all the evil robots with an EMP. Thus concluding the sequence with the greatest dollars-to-brain cells expenditure ratio in film history.

"Oh, god. We all wore the same thing. How embarrassing!"

Neo and Trinity fly their ship above ground and make their way to the evil robots' capital city, using Neo's magical robot-destroying telekinesis power (still not remotely explained, although at least acknowledged that it's inexplicable) to take out defenses along the way. Things still get hairy enough that they need to crash full-speed into one of the robot buildings, and Trinity gets impaled by shrapnel. Now, at this point, most movies would give her a few last blood-choked words with which to say goodbye. But this is The Matrix, where actors are paid by the word, so she says goodbye with a monologue to rival anything the stuffy old sentinent programs in the Matrix have to offer, and delivered at such a slow pace that I had to check to see if my DVD player was out of RAM or something. She doesn't sound so much like she's dying as that she's strapped into a dentist's office chair and being pumped full of some very cheap anesthesia while reciting her audition scene. Thus, Carrie-Ann Moss/Trinity leaves the series the same way she entered it: emotionless, unattractively made-up, and appallingly dull when she's not launching herself across the screen in slow-motion.

This just in from Wall Street: apparently, the housing bubble has burst.

Fortunately, just as the machines are on the brink of exterminating the Zionites once and for all, Neo cuts a deal with them: he'll re-enter the Matrix, which Smith has completely taken over, and kick his ass one last time to keep him from wiping out all the robots and humans together. In exchange, the robots have to leave Zion alone and let people leave the Matrix if they want to. Personally, considering that the Planet Earth looks like the South side of Mordor right now, I'd have just demanded that they redesign the Matrix to look more like Acapulco and let everyone back in.

Stop punching yourself! Stop punching yourself! Stop punching yourself!

The machines jack Neo back into the Matrix, beginning the climactic battle and arguably the best scene since the first Matrix. It's a real shame that such a cool scene has to follow two hours of idiots spinning around on the ceiling and machine guns spraying bullets at robotic lice. Neo arrives in the Matrix strolling down in the pouring rain in the dead of night, illuminated only by constant lightning. The sidewalks and buildings are lined with millions of Smiths now that he has copied himself onto every last person in the Matrix. An impressive choral score booms; music is perhaps the only great improvement the series has made since the first film, having mostly abandoned punk and heavy metal. A single Smith, presumably the one possessing the Oracle, steps out to declare that only he will fight Neo: he's foreseen his victory over Neo, so one fighter is enough. Unfortunately for Neo, Smith's gotten a lot stronger since the hundred-Smiths fight in the previous movie, where each Smith on its own could have gotten taken down by a half-drunk Anthony Zerbe. This time around, Smith can fly and smash into Neo so hard that shockwaves expand like giant bubbles in the rain. Like most Matrix fights, the whole thing outlasts its welcome a bit, but has enough striking images and glorious Smith-ness ("Missster Andersssson, welcome back. We missssed you. Like what I've done with the place?" Truly a great line in a movie filled with awful dialogue.) that I was genuinely excited.

Oh, so THAT's why they all wear sunglasses.

Furthermore, it has a somewhat interesting ending. After a long fight, Neo ultimately allows Smith to absorb him and seemingly claim victory. However, because the machines themselves are plugging Neo into the Matrix themselves, they shoot some kind of a computer virus into him, and it spreads to Smith, blasting him out of existence and freeing all the people in the Matrix that Smith has absorbed. Granted, considering that the evil robots also control nearly every other person inside the Matrix in the same way, I'm not sure what they needed Neo for. But I'll trust that it's entirely possible there's some explanation the writers didn't want to create a long, rambling monologue to spell out, so I'll shut my fat yap and let it be.

We get to hear The Kid announce to an elated Zion that the war is over, making us wish it had lasted just long enough to do him in, and we get to see the Oracle have one last dialogue (not monologue; imagine that!) with the Architect, who is long on wind, but short on screen time, thank God, and we're done. Done! And the closing credits music is kind of cool too, in an odd, uncomfortable way. At least the last 15 or so minutes of The Matrix Revolutions depart from the original vision in that they're not acting like one of the most awful big-budget modern movies I've ever seen.

"Oh, no. You can't sign me for another sequel just when The Hobbit is scheduled to film. It's just not fair!"

I must admit that in retrospect, the plots for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions do sound good when you read an in-depth examination of them by an interested writer (such as on Wikipedia, your one-stop shop for obsessive over-analysis on the web). It's definitely not a conventional storyline, and while not necessarily insightful into the human condition--that's what a mishmash of academia will do to you--it's an interesting exercise in its own right. The problem is that there's an actual movie we need to watch, and while the philosophy and allusion would be great fun as a backdrop to a plot-focused film, the Wachowskis let it slow down one that's already padded out and poorly acted. It's a movie that's supposed to be about how and why humans keep on going, yet can't muster anything except the most shallow relationships and motivations for its actual human characters.

And that's not even mentioning the horrendous Battle of Zion sequence that's long and dumb enough to kill off all those brain cells you were devoting to the question of what the point of the Indian guy at the beginning was. Seriously, when you go from an hour of Matrix pseudo-philosophy to an hour of Smash TV, the effect is like getting smashed on the head by a hammer to offset the feeling of getting smacked in the nuts by a carpet beater. I get the feeling that the directors were largely out of ideas, on both the high-minded sci-fi and over-the-top action fronts, and tried to compensate by overdoing the hell out of both aspects of the series. I'm not entirely sure that the Wachowski's apparent struggle to make these movies work indicates any great humility, though: after all, it takes quite a mind, or pair thereof, to make a Speed Racer movie seem smug.

"Oracle, look! Our prayers have been answered!" "What is it, dear? Has Neo returned?" "No, Oracle! The movie's over!"

So here's to Agent Smith, the scowling ass of a villain, whose hatred of Keanu Reeves and tireless efforts to keep the Matrix movies focused on, y'know, the Matrix proved to be an inspiration to us all. Perhaps he'll return one day. Maybe next time your story will be told by filmmakers who know there's more to life than Nietzsche, LSD, and R-Type.

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