Rewatching The Matrix Revolutions, the reasons why it’s regarded so poorly are crystal clear. The story is disjointed, characters don’t particularly change, the action scenes feel either completely unnecessary or way too long, and the ending is terrible. Coming after the all-but-perfect original film and flawed but forgivable sequel, Revolutions is a huge letdown. It cleared up how there could even be a fourth film but now I’m definitely, unfortunately, less excited to see it.
Looking back, it’s obvious there was something off about Revolutions right from the start. The film opened a mere six months after The Matrix Reloaded which on the surface, seemed like a shocking choice from the studio and filmmakers. Usually fans have to wait years for a highly anticipated sequel but the Wachowskis wanted to push back on that. They felt, since the sequels are basically one long movie, it would be kind anti-establishment and cool to release them only two months apart. Warner Bros. pushed for a year and eventually they compromised on six months. In retrospect, even that compromised window probably hurt the film because there wasn’t a ton of time for the hype machine to build back up like it had on Reloaded.
Nevertheless, it’s obvious right from the beginning that Revolutions and Reloaded are one continuous story. This film picks up moments after Reloaded’s ending with Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Bane (Ian Bliss, who steals the whole movie) both still unconscious and the ship captains, including Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), having to get to safety. It’s revealed that Neo is now in a place in between the Matrix and the Real World, a place that can only be left with the help of a program called the Trainman (Bruce Spence). However, the Trainman is the property of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson)—who Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) betrayed in the previous movie. He does not want to help them and only when Trinity puts her life on the line are they able to rescue Neo.
With some help from a new Oracle (Mary Alice), Neo realizes he has to go to the Machine City, a place no live human has ever even been close to. So he and Trinity head one way, while Morpheus and the other captains (including Jada Pinkett-Smith as Niobe) head the other way. They’re going back to Zion and arrive just in time to fire their EMP to defeat the first wave of machines that have finally made their way into the city. But, as a result, they also disable most of the city’s defenses. With more machines coming, Zion can now only be saved if Neo can somehow complete his mission. He kind of does by brokering a peace deal where in exchange for saving Zion, he’ll defeat Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who has become such a powerful virus not even the machines can control him. Neo wins, there’s peace, and the movie ends.
When you break it down like that, the movie doesn’t sound half bad, right? The problem is there are so many issues along the way it never comes together. For example, the first act of the film centers on this drama of Neo being trapped by Trainman and the Merovingian but ultimately amounts to nothing. We don’t find out why he’s there, how he got there, it’s just an excuse to throw in a few quick action sequences with the final revelation that Trinity really loves Neo a lot. Which we knew. Soon after there’s the very long, very complex war sequence as the machines attack Zion. Which, I have to admit, is fucking awesome. Seriously. Giant robots fighting men in giant mech suits firing huge bullets as powerful women run around with rocket launchers? It’s the scene fans had been thinking about since the beginning of the franchise. What if the machines actually attacked the last human city? And in terms of action and scope, the scene more than lives up to expectations.
Here’s the issue though. As this is happening, Morpheus is on a ship coming towards the city, so he’s not part of the battle, and Neo and Trinity are on a ship going away from the city, so neither are they. All of the drama centers on characters we met for five minutes in the previous movie. So whether they live or die is really of little consequence. It takes what should have been the trilogy’s centerpiece and completely undercuts it with weak emotional through lines masked by excellent visual effects.
But wait, there’s more. On the way to the machine city, Trinity dies in a crash. This is your second lead character dying, a moment that should be hugely engrossing and impactful but it’s not. Neo is sad of course, but his mission doesn’t change and her death doesn’t help Neo complete his mission in any specific, noteworthy way. She just dies and is mostly forgotten.
As all this is happening, we’re supposed to remember that Agent Smith is continuing to replicate himself in the Matrix, and by the time Neo arrives at the machine city, it seems as if he has taken over everybody. (We don’t see this happen though. In fact, we haven’t seen the real Smith in some time which is a whole other way the climax is muddled). We’re led to believe that’s why the machines agree to let Neo try and defeat him. However, it’s never quite clear why everyone being Smiths in the Matrix is bad, or what happens to all the people that Smith has infected. The whole point of the Matrix is it’s a place to keep human minds occupied so that the machines can use their energy, right? Does it really matter if the minds are all the same or not as long as the bodies are pumping out watts? Maybe Smith infecting them kills them and therefore they are no longer energy sources? There’s some talk of Smith being able to destroy everything, which would be bad, but whatever his relationship is with the machines and the Matrix is never quite clear. As a result, Neo’s offer to defeat him seems more of a payoff for the audience than the narrative. After three movies, it’s something we want to see, but exactly why it helps Zion never makes perfect sense.
The machines take the deal though; Neo goes back into the Matrix for one last showdown with Smith, and again, I have to admit, this scene is a true showstopper. Smith vs. Neo, flying around like two black-tie supermen, beating the crap out of each other while millions of others Smiths watch along is very exciting. It’s right up there with some of the big action sequences in DC and Marvel movies that have come out since. There’s also the welcome knowledge that if Neo doesn’t win, the machines will destroy Zion, so that adds some very necessary stakes too. The fight and Neo’s ultimate victory almost save what to this point has been a flatline of a movie. But then he does win, the machines carry him off, we assume he’s dead, and everyone parties in Zion because the machines have left.
Here, in my mind, is the film’s biggest issue. We’re told the ending has solved everything, but that information isn’t conveyed in a way that makes it believable. From the audience’s perspective, there’s “peace” only in that the machines have stopped attacking the last few remaining humans. But the machines still have billions of other humans attached to the Matrix. The Architect from the previous movie does appear and says something like “they’ll all be freed,” but it’s such an afterthought you really don’t believe it. Maybe if we’d seen him making good on that promise, Neo’s victory would have felt a bit more comprehensive. And yet, then the Oracle says Neo will probably be back, which makes his sacrifice even less impactful again. When the credits roll you can’t help but scrunch up your face with a big “WTF was that?” At least the Oracle saying they might see Neo again made it a little clearer how or why there could be a fourth movie (among other things of course). But it’s a long way to go to get there.
So yeah, The Matrix Revolutions is hugely disappointing. It’s got a few excellent sequences but the emotions and logic that link them never quite come together. It honestly made me less excited for The Matrix Resurrections because this movie, and Reloaded to a lesser extent, show that as good as the original Matrix is, maybe it should have just stayed that. We’ll all find out soon enough.
All three Matrix movies are streaming on HBO Max, which is where you’ll be able to see Resurrections on December 22 too.
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