Those who never really bought into the “Matrix” faith in the first place will feel vindicated by “The Matrix Revolutions,” the third and, one can safely assume, the last installment in the saga of Neo and his Brethren. You can virtually see the mystique peeling away while beholding the turgid melodrama, patchy plotting, windy dialogue and, yes, spectacular combat effects of this grand finale, to the point where the One is revealed as having no clothes — or at most a fashionable black undergarment. If “Reloaded” generally disappointed, “Revolutions” deflates, leaving Warner Bros. with a big holiday attraction that will have trouble reversing the sense of diminished expectations going in and tepid word-of-mouth coming out.
From a series that started in 1999 as an unexpected phenomenon, quickly acquiring mythic status and becoming an international style and trendsetter, “The Matrix” has lost most of its freshness four years later. It’s a given that fans who piled into the first two will feel compelled to complete the set, which assures smash openings worldwide. (“Revolutions” will bow simultaneously — literally, at the same hour — on Nov. 5 in the U.S. and more than 50 other countries, including China.) “The Matrix” generated $460 million worldwide, while “Reloaded” raked in $736 million, $164 million of that in its first week Stateside. If “Revolutions” splits the difference between its two predecessors, total theatrical take for the franchise will end up at about $1.75 billion.
As it’s now easy to see, much of what intrigued about the original “Matrix,” apart from its action smarts and fashion sense, was how much information it withheld. What’s come since could be equated to a metaphysical striptease, with the removal of each piece of narrative obfuscation accorded the weight of a scriptural revelation. What converts have construed as profound has been increasingly exposed as flimsy and conventional, to the point where the whole mythology looks no more complex or intriguing than that of “Star Trek.”
Just as he was last seen at the abrupt end of “Reloaded,” Keanu Reeves’ Neo lies comatose at the outset here, an inconvenience in that the Machines are poised to stage their all-out assault on Zion, the grungy last outpost of humanity, in 20 hours. Anxious to know what to do, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), now devotedly in love with Neo, and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), with resolute belief in Neo’s Chosen One status, set out to see the Oracle (Mary Alice, taking over from the late, great Gloria Foster).
An extensively elaborated layer of “depth” discloses that Neo is stuck in a sphere between the real and machine worlds controlled by the repellent Trainman (Bruce Spence), who operates a subway system between the realms. Neo is not allowed on board, but Trinity and Morpheus are transported directly to the kinky club where the Albino twins are no longer around to work security. All the same, in the film’s first big action sequence, the good guys have to shoot their way in, gunning down a bunch of goons in balletic slo-mo as the baddies stride around upside down through the lobby before their confrontation inside with the insidious Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his glamour-puss g.f. Persephone (Monica Bellucci, who utters maybe a dozen words this time around and whose full-bloom red rose lips go unkissed by Neo or anyone else).
When Neo finally escapes limbo and visits the Oracle in her kitchen, he asks plenty of direct questions, to which he gets answers like “I see Death” and “I see the End coming.” Hell, everyone who buys a ticket knows that much, but she does add that Neo’s power extends all the way back to the Source, that Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving and his countless duplicates) is Neo’s negative twin, and that It will all be decided tonight.
So everyone prepares for the rumble to end all rumbles. While the human tribe of Zion braces for the onslaught, Neo announces that he’s going to pursue peace by venturing all the way to the Source in the Machine City, an impossible folly in the eyes of the ruling council. Giving him her ship, headstrong warrior Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), joined by Morpheus, takes up combat on another front.
The titanic Siege of Zion commences 70 minutes in, as the Machine offensive is launched by a giant drill bit penetrating the enormous concrete ceiling covering the Zion enclave. Through the opening flies the first wave of a seemingly endless supply of Sentinels, ferocious mechanized octopi with enormous destructive power. The best defense Zion can mount is anti-aircraft fire coming from individually controlled robots, but while the gunners’ aim is true, those Sentinels, along with more drill bits, just keep on coming in overwhelming numbers.
While the battle continues to rage with wearying amounts of noise, carnage and chaos, Neo and Trinity deal with a tough challenge on board their ship in the person of Bane (Ian Bliss), a Zion fighter who has been taken over by Smith. Bane manages to do grave damage to humankind’s hopes by, among other things, blinding Neo, an act that adds a new visual element to the film by allowing him to “see” things only in blazing, orange-on-black outline.
But Neo finally does make it to the Source, an Oz-like shape-changing face which is willing to entertain negotiations with Neo. But the big fly in the ointment is Smith, who has become so powerful he’s broken free of all restraints to operate independently of the Matrix.
The expected cataclysmic action is certainly delivered, although in a more generalized and generic manner than might have been hoped. But for anyone inclined to take the Wachowski Brothers seriously, as highfalutin cineastes or even as undergraduate-level philosophers, a stronger sense of dramatic resolution and cosmic synthesis wouldn’t be too much to ask for; after all, if the public is going to spend many hours wrapped up in an alternate mythology, be it one created by Aeschyulus, Wagner or Tolkien, it deserves some spiritual exaltation along with the thrills. Final images here are perhaps the cheesiest in the entire trilogy and quite lacking in weight and refined meaning.
In terms of technical execution and visual imagination, the series continues to be a marvel, although prolonged exposure makes both Zion and the Machine City darkly unappetizing environments. Key contributors to the dazzling surfaces — cinematographer Bill Pope, production designer Owen Paterson, costume designer Kym Barrett, visual effects supervisor John Gaeta, editor Zach Staenberg, composer Don Davis, sound designer Dane A. Davis and fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, prominent among them — have been amply cited before but are well deserving of deep final bows now.
Same might be said of the dedicated cast, although thesping opportunities were actually greater and more nuanced in “Reloaded” than they are here, where the emotional level is more pitched, frantic and/or desperate as Armageddon arrives.