The Matrix: Revolutions

Year: 2003
Studio: Warner Bros/Roadshow
Director: Larry Wachowski/Andy Wachowski
Producer: Joel Silver
Writer: Larry Wachowski/Andy Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Ian Bliss, Mary Alice, Bruce Spence, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Nona Gaye, Harold Pirrenau, Lachy Hulme
Nobody's in much doubt that Return of the King will be the biggest cinematic event of 2003, so now the entire Matrix trilogy is in full view, let the debate of 2003 begin...

You couldn't talk about Matrix; Revolutions without acknowledging the unenviable position it's in. It shares job descriptions with the casualty doctor dealing with car accident and assault victims and the new guy at McDonald's who has to clean sick off the slippery slide when the kids have eaten too much; the worst job in the world.

In hindsight, the original was an easy sell. It appeared with no hype so we got to see it for what it was, not what a marketing juggernaut wanted us to think it was. Sure, the story was an amalgam of everything from Aldous Huxley to Ghost in the Shell , but as its trashy, overenthusiastic producer Joel Silver keeps gesticulating, it raised the bar in more than one aspect of technical filmmaking.

Matrix: Reloaded had the crushing weight of expectation working against it (in no small part thanks to the fever-pitch hype). The flaws it did contain were exacerbated by the collective weight of disappointment, enough for some critics and fans to ruthlessly trash it.

Now, Revolutions has two seemingly insurmountable problems. Not only is it subject to the same exhausting advance hype, the mauling some critics and audiences gave Reloaded means we'll be a lot less forgiving this time - specially with the memory of those flaws only six months old.

Sadly, despite having to try twice as hard to live up to its own legacy and be an outstanding movie, Matrix; Revolutions has done neither.

Everything that was great about the first film was a fading light in Reloaded. In Revolutions it's a distant memory. The cool, snappy edginess it started off with has been brushed aside in the wake of an avalanche of studio money, and it's morphed into an overblown sci-fi battle spectacular. The effects and action represent Hollywood at the top of its game, but they're nothing we haven't seen before.

This time, the Wachoiwski's try to ratchet every minute up to world-beating finality, all swelling music and it-doesn't-get-any-bigger-than-this camerawork, often falling over their feet to outdo themselves. Neo fighting Smith high up in the air over the city during a storm is the same corny Superman/General Zod fight from the early 80's and ends up looking ridiculous.

In fact, it's during this sequence we see the only remaining reference to the anime that's supposedly part of the Matrix's whole inspiration. As Neo and Smith crash to the ground, we see an enormous spherical shock wave of water rise into the city - reminiscent of the Tokyo destruction sequence early on in Akira.

And it's not just the anime aesthetic that's missing. In truth, the original film laid down an entire story - the human race living inside a computer program while enslaved by a machine race - that neither Reloaded nor Revolutions have expanded on, except to promise the climactic battle between man and machine that now occurs.

Huge machines (the APVs - as if none of us will remember the power loaders from Aliens), streams of sentinels flying throughout Zion and the Machine City (even - corny sci-fi cliché alert - collecting into a giant face in front of Neo to speak) and copious amounts of gunfire more closely resemble a new Star Wars movie than the Matrix.

And between all those expensive fights and battles, there was obviously no more time to further develop the script. Even the pseudo babble on cause, effect and choice that meant you had to watch Reloaded six times is gone, boiled down to a few clichéd science fiction axioms we've heard a million times in everything from Disney movies to Baise Moi.

And when the psychology does rear its head, you'll feel that same frustration coming on again; every time the Oracle (now played by Mary Alice following the death of Gloria Foster) answers a simple question by asking an even more confusing question, you'll want to slap her.

Another problem is that almost without exception, the characters have lost their lustre. Keanu Reeves' wooden acting comes to the fore in his perpetually dazed and confused Neo, and after such charismatic performances in both other films, the characters of Morpheus and Trinity have been reduced to mostly redundant hangers-on.

There's still little explanation how the assassin guy (attached to Neo by electrodes at the end of Reloaded) comes into the picture, and in the hammiest of action movie fixtures, the eager, wide-eyed kid everybody finds so irritating saves the day at the critical moment.

Matrix Revolutions even lacks the kind of jaw-dropping, iconic sequences that (whether you loved or hated it) made Reloaded stand out - like the Burly Brawl or Freeway Chase. Even the most ambitious battle scenes from Revolutions are just eye popping CG updates of stuff we watched on the TV version of Buck Rogers 20 years ago.

So when measured up to its predecessors, Revolutions is a big disappointment. Taken on its own merits, it's not by any account a bad movie. It's just the kind of computer-composited popcorn movie that could have been done by any director-for-hire working in Hollywood today, not the elusive brothers who gave us the most intriguing underground hit of recent times.

In fact, it almost explains the Wachowski brothers' famous 'no publicity' contracts; in case they one day had to answer the critics and audiences who'll be baying for their blood around the world in the coming weeks.

And Joel Silver will look sillier than ever gushing about how 'it doesn't raise the bar because now there is no bar.' Move your feet, Joel - the bar's coming down fast, and there's a heavyset, bearded kiwi surrounded by elves and orcs coming to pick it up after you.

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