The Matrix Revolutions (2003, The Wachowskis)

I understand there are reasons for The Matrix Revolutions. If that one rumor is true, it’s basically Keanu Reeves didn’t want to do sequels forever, and the Wachowskis wanted to do a long-running franchise. Old Internet gossip (oddly more reliably than some later Internet gossip, but still… Internet gossip). And then the costume changes… the Columbine shooting didn’t help with trench coats as a fashion statement. Oh, and then instead of the movies being all about freeing people trapped in their Matrix lives—so if you’re a cop, you’re working for the machine, and the good guys will have to take you out—that action kills a real person. Who, if they were a good person who took the red pill, wouldn’t be a cop. But it’s a person. It’s after 9/11. Cheering killing mindless human-faced zombies… not so easy.

So you make them all programs like TRON. Only they’re sometimes super horny and sweaty.

I get it.

Also, Gloria Foster dying and having to be replaced between the last movie and this movie, even though Revolutions takes place immediately following the last one, Reloaded. I grok it.

It’s also still godawful movie-making.

What happens to Larry Fishburne in the franchise where he was a very big deal in the first movie? He’s barely in it. Demoted to hanging out with the cast introduced in the last movie and having nothing to do with the main plotline he’s around. Though it’s not much better for “lead” Reeves and romantic interest but also action sidekick Carrie-Anne Moss. They’re nowhere near the film’s biggest action set piece. Fishburne doesn’t get to participate in the action (because he’s not a CGI flying, techno-Lovecraftian flying thing, or a machine-gunning version of the Aliens power loader) in the big set-piece. Still, he’s at least ostensibly vital to it.

He’s not because the script instead wants to be about how Harry Lennix is a joyless hard-ass who doesn’t think Reeves will turn out to be Matrix Jesus and save the day. Fishburne’s most significant scene in the movie is his debriefing. The human survivor council has some questions. This time there’s a Black lady (Francine Bell) who gets not just a close-up but also to talk. There are also the pointless old white people—bad seventies sci-fi guy Anthony Zerbe and “why didn’t you stunt cast this part” Robyn Nevin—plus Black man Cornel West doing a cameo. The movie’s just Fishburne getting less and less to do.

Well, except maybe Moss. Moss, who started the franchise with less screen time than the boys but still just as important (and then more important for some other reasons), basically gets put into a freezer. She’s the damsel in distress. Even though she’s the one who hijacks the initial plot.

The movie opens with Reeves still in a coma since Reloaded ended three minutes before and a new captain (David Leonard) leading the B plot. Leonard should have been in Reloaded and may have been in Reloaded, but I’m not checking. I don’t remember him from it, so he mustn’t have had more than two lines because, at three lines, you realize how bad his performance will be. And it just gets worse and worse.

Ditto Ian Bliss, who appeared last time as a counter-revolutionary and potential traitor to the humans. He’s got the film’s most important scene… maybe second important, but it depends. Most important or second most important. And he sucks. He’s comically bad. He’s supposed to be mimicking one of the other actors in the movie, and it’s painfully obvious he’s doing it, but none of the characters notice, so they’re all taken by surprise later on. It makes all the good guys seem like they’re not actually attentive enough to pull off saving the world.

Anyway.

Reeves is in his coma, but not really; he’s in the Matrix, where he learns the programs can love, which changes everything. If they can love, they’re people too. It’s an interesting idea—the value of life extending to artificial life—and probably the only one in the entire movie? Matrix Revolutions doesn’t even try with the philosophical nonsense of the last one. Instead, there’s a bang bang, boom boom solution to things in this one.

Moss and Fishburne have to go save Reeves, returning to visit last movie’s bad guy, Lambert Wilson. The previous film started with the machines due at humanity’s last refuge in thirty-six hours to wipe them out. This movie begins with those same machines due in twelve hours. So when Wilson says, “Didn’t think I’d be a returning villain so soon?” to our heroes… it’s been like three hours since they’ve seen each other. And Wilson’s got an entirely new gang of sidekicks, who are going to do a big fight scene, and then Moss and Fishburne will have to work for him and on and on and on. Until Moss cuts the bullshit and the cliffhanger resolve is all over.

Then it’s just setting up Moss and Reeves to go to the never-before mentioned Machine City, where all the programs live, presumably, under the watchful eye of the MCP—because he’s going to convince them he’s their savior too. Fishburne, Pinkett Smith, Leonard, and still charmlessly in the movie Harold Perrineau are going to the human city to try to stop the first wave of the invasion. They’ve got the only weapon left on the planet to do it. We didn’t see the destruction of the others; Revolutions covers it in a poorly acted exposition dump. Because it’s a bad movie.

The big set-piece is the humans trying to fend off the invading metal octopus monsters while Pinkett Smith tries to make the Kessel Run less than twelve parsecs. There’s a really shitty subtext about it because Lennix, Pinkett Smith’s boyfriend, doesn’t just not think she can do it, he didn’t listen to her when she undoubtedly told him about the times she did it. I get the Fishburne, Lennix, and Pinkett Smith love triangle thing doesn’t really work out because Lennix is risibly bad, and Fishburne and Pinkett Smith repulse each other like magnets in the chemistry department… but why not fix it? Maybe there was a deadline. It’s always good to kill your darlings with a rushed finale; everyone says so.

Again, anyway.

The big battle scene is terrible. This time out, Bill Pope’s photography is slightly better than the second movie, but it’s still unbelievable he’s had other jobs, including doing the excellently photographed original. It’s a mawkish scene, all about macho battlefield stuff while playing with bad eighties toys done in not terrible CGI. Not good CGI, not well-lighted CGI, but not terrible CGI. Not well-directed future war action either. But. The CGI exhibits competence at some base levels. It’s long, it’s boring, and there’s this weird subplot with Nona Gaye and her female sidekick, who very much don’t have macho war movie bonding going on. The movie intentionally gives it to The Not-Feral Kid (Clayton Watson) to do a lousy job with it while Gaye gets action but squat as far as character. Gaye’s bad, but Watson’s much, much worse. It’s just another crappy part of the movie.

Speaking of Not-Feral Kids… there’s a genuinely awful cameo from Bruce Spence. It seems like a Road Warrior reference, making it the only time the Wachowskis fully extend the homage, but Spence is so terrible they really shouldn’t have done it. Revolutions is even worse than the last one. It’s an achievement in missing the target time after time.

And, so, finally, let’s talk Hugo Weaving. The first movie’s break-out performance. The first sequel’s pointless addition amid pointless additions. He’s now the anti-Reeves, wanting to take over the Matrix for himself by turning everyone in the Matrix—presumably humans (we never see it because dead civilians after all) and programs alike. Reeves will have to do a flying kung fu battle with him to save the world.

The flying kung fu battle’s better than you’d expect, given the rest of the movie, but Weaving’s performance isn’t just easily the worst in the film; it’s cartoonish in a way it’s unbelievable Weaving wasn’t trying to make it bad. Like he was out to sabotage the movie. It’s unspeakably bad. And utterly pointless.

The nicest thing to say about the Matrix Revolutions is Reeves, Moss, and Fishburne never embarrass themselves. Reeves and Moss get some saccharine sludge for material, and Fishburne’s got to act opposite Lennix and Leonard, but they make it through professionally. Ditto Mary Alice (replacing Foster), Lambert, Bernard White as a very special program, Gina Torres, and Collin Chou (maybe). Everyone else is bad and worse. And there’s no end to the worse.

Rupert Reid’s particularly annoying as Lennix’s sidekick, not just because he should’ve been there last time, but also because he manages to be even less charismatic than Lennix. You don’t want a performance less charismatic than Lennix’s. It’s a dangerous place.

Bad music from Don Davis.

Not bad editing from Zach Staenberg; he’s doing the best he can with insipid material.

In addition to being an insipid mishmash of action and sci-fi movie nods, kiddie pool depth philosophy, and bad acting, Revolutions is also a really boring version of that movie. Revolutions is bad, disappointing, and bored with itself.

The only bigger “Why?” than “Why watch Matrix Revolutions” is, “Why make Matrix Revolutions.”

At least be honest and call it The Matrix Contractual Obligations.

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