WARNING!!! SEMI-MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
Recommend this product?
(I avoid explicitly revealing most info, but I also make a number of vague references.)
As one who loved the original Matrix, I was obviously drooling over the release of two sequels this year. After seeing Reloaded (which I thought very good as part one of two), I was awed by the action scenes and special effects, intrigued by the mechanics of the relationship between machines and men, and puzzled by exactly how everything would end up in the third film.
Revolutions is an above average film, much like The Godfather, Part III is an above average film. They both rode the coattails of their predecessors in that they took compelling characters in which people have vested interest and continued their lives through truly interesting events. But while Part III ended in an inevitable manner that fit well, Revolutions twists things in the last act, leaving viewers slightly uncomfortable with the result.
If you've seen the first two, you know what the basic plot of Revolutions is; you just don't know how it will be executed. The what is simple. The machines are trying to destroy the humans; Smith is trying to destroy Neo; the humans and Neo obviously object to those wishes. The how...aye, there's the rub. Chances are it doesn't occur as you anticipated.
The reason is that in the first two movies, and for much of the third, the primary conflict presented is that between man and machines. Then in the last thirty minutes, that emphasis shifts abruptly to Neo versus Smith. Having been set up for a showdown between man and machines for over six hours of film, the final resolution was unsatisfying, particularly because our rooting interest is with the humans. I suppose that option is highly desirable in the face of the alternative, but it still left an aftertaste that was not bitter, but was definitely unwanted.
Another core problem with Revolutions is that the continual introduction of more characters means less screen time and development for those people we care about most (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus). After their initial trek into the Matrix, Trinity and Morpheus serve mostly as vessels for the rest of the flick. Trinity to drive and Morpheus to remind everyone to believe. Particularly as the movie resolves, too many of the characters' final moments are trite and tacked on out of necessity rather than purpose. You're telling me that after being the baddest movie chick since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Trinity goes out like that? Weak. Morpheus just smiles, nods, and hugs Niobe? Seriously folks, I think he might have been a wee bit excited upon seeing his lifelong beliefs fulfilled. Neo? I'm not even completely certain of his final fate. As someone who has invested many hours in these characters, that's extremely frustrating and unsatisfying.
But at the crux of my issues with Revolutions lies a basic breakdown in narrative theory. A large part of what made Matrix so popular was the way that the Wachowskis placed the audience in Neo's shoes, revealing information to them as it was revealed to him. This sucked the viewers in and made them feel more involved in the film. In Reloaded, the audience is placed primarily in the role of Morpheus. Since Neo has realized much of his abilities, we common folk relate more to Morpheus, especially as doubt creeps in about how the system works. His unshakable creedence in Neo parallels ours. We, like Morpheus, want him to triumph, kicking machine and Smith tail along the way. In Revolutions, I don't see a character that fills that role. Link and his wife Zee fill the parts of commonfolk, but since neither is deeply developed, that doesn't work very well. Niobe is the human about whom we learn the most, and she is a strong and truly intriguing character. But we are still enlightened only to the soldier side of her, and she also eventually lapses into a predictable finish. This all adds up to a missing hook, without which getting into the film is more difficult.
Moving on to other aspects of the film...
Although the characters aren't as easy to get into, the world definitely is, thanks to an again stellar production design, especially the colors. The earthy tones of Zion; the emerald hue of the Matrix; the sterile nature of the train station; and the grim and gray reality of the earth's surface. All of these places portray a vividly imaginative yet still plausible and fascinating world that is enhanced by cinematography containing typical Wachowski flair. Placing still and moving cameras at all angles, the brothers use a style grounded in simplicity, but not afraid to have fun. It reminds me of Spielberg's work on something like The Lost World, in which every few minutes, you get a fun shot that evokes a chuckle or smile.
Although the action doesn't seem as prevalent as in either predecessor, the three primary action scenes are excellent, at least on their own merits. The fight at the Merovingian's club is fully enjoyable; the last stand in Zion is epic in nature; and Neo's battle with Agent Smith also justly draws oohs and aahs. However none of the three appear as groundbreaking as the work in the two prequels. The club fight, although with the added dimension of ceiling walkers, is a small scale version of the government lobby scene. The largely computer generated war for Zion (but I don't remember once noticing blatant CGI) is unique and impressive for its scope and combatants, but was not all that different from a typical hold-the-fort scene. The Neo v. Smith fight is the most visually arresting action sequence. Utilizing creative combinations of light and shadow along with quality effects such as slow motion amidst the pouring rain, the Wachowskis once again craft splendid eye candy using state of the art visual effects and martial arts.
The acting in Revolutions is nothing special, but neither does it detract from the film. Of equal importance is that everyone looks their part exceptionally well. The script is what is different. While each of the first two films presented a variety of information, both philosophical and expository, this one eschews that in favor of a more traditional straightforward progression of action. Even though the dialogue scenes seemed to slow down Reloaded, those passages were missed here, as they added depth to the films, separating them from most common flicks.
Here's the (elongated) bottom line: Despite my unbalanced list of deficiencies versus pluses, I honestly did enjoy this movie. However the end left me very unsatisfied, with an underwhelmed sense of "That's it?" I walked out of the original completely infatuated with what I had just seen. I left Reloaded on a special effects high, eagerly anticipating the finale. But I departed Revolutions slightly disappointed and unsatisfied.
I still think Revolutions is a film that would have been above average on its own. (In fact, I think the Wachowskis could have axed the Agent Smith stuff from the last two movies, altered the ending, and made a single more concise and satisfying movie. Then again, what do I know?) But it has the misfortune of following a great film and a great appetizer. So while it is still a must see to finish the story, Revolutions is relegated to be an enjoyable and necessary but disappointing final episode in an epic trilogy.
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