The tagline for “The Matrix Revolutions” was ‘Everything That Has a Beginning Has an End’. That was certainly true for The Matrix series which had emerged as a sudden pop culture trend full of breakthrough special effects and mind-warping ideas– only to take a sharp and sudden tumble with “The Matrix Reloaded.” By the time “The Matrix Revolutions” had been released, the series had been all but written off as dead.
“The Matrix Revolutions” didn’t do much to change that impression. The overall reviews for the movie were negative with reviewers presenting many of the same complaints as they had for “The Matrix Reloaded”. Simply put, the story was all over the place, the philosophical ideas had become a thick unpruned brush and the special effects were no longer anything special. If the first Matrix movie had been the story of an ordinary hacker and employee discovering that what he thought was the real world– was in fact a lie and teaming up with a bunch of freedom fighters to bring it down– the succeeding Matrix movies were heavy on special effects that no longer seemed anywhere as spectacular– but lacked the revelations and the storyline that would make the whole thing production interesting.
The beginning of “The Matrix Revolutions” perpetuates many of these errors, giving us Neo in a train station, stuck in the realm of the Trainman who serves the Merovingian. The Merovingian, who had been one of the more absurd elements in “The Matrix Reloaded”– returns yet again to “The Matrix Revolutions”. A ridiculous poppinjay of a villain, the Merovingian and the process of getting Neo out of the train station manages to waste nearly half an hour of the movie.
But first the train station gives us an Indian couple, who as it turns out are actually computer programs trying to smuggle their virtual daughter out because she has no function and programs without a function are destroyed. The entire premise of the Matrix movies that depicts programs as embodied humans only works when they are iconic figures, in the way that the Oracle or the Architect or Agent Smith are– it becomes ridiculous however when the programs are depicted as appearing much like us, the entire premise collapses. And the smuggled daughter is itself reminiscent of the Science Fiction novel, Metaplanetary– which had been making the rounds in manuscript form for some time.
This entire section is arguably the weakest section of the film and gives way to yet another meeting with the Oracle. After some exposition explaining the Oracle’s changed appearance, we learn that Agent Smith is the Anti-Neo and the whole thing will lead up to an apocalyptic conflict between the two for control of the Matrx and perhaps beyond it to the real world as well. The Oracle expresses this idea in the form of “an equation balancing itself”. Neo as “The One” represents a change in the equation of the Matrix– a departure from its form, but also serving to bring balance to the equation, as The Architect informed him in “The Matrix Reloaded”. The evolution of Neo as a genuine challenge to the smooth functioning of the Matrix requires the balancing of that unbalanced variable of Neo– with another variable, Agent Smith, whose expansion can no longer be restrained or controlled.
It is interesting to note that aside from the occasional scenes with the Oracle and Neo’s final battle with Agent Smith– “The Matrix Revolutions” film spends rather little time within the Matrix itself. After the original Matrix film, which was mostly set within the Matrix and “The Matrix Reloaded” which divided itself up between worlds– “The Matrix Revolutions” departs for Zion and for the resulting battles in Zion and the scenes about the Nebuchadnezzar and the Mjolnir. While this fits the movie’s premise of a humanity finally breaking free of the oppressive unreality and slavery of the Matrix– it also makes for a rather dull movie.
A large portion of the appeal of the Matrix movies lay in their transitions between ‘our world’ rendered as an unreal Matrix within which characters can have superpowers and a grimmer darker reality of the future. Once the movie’s setting moves to Zion and to the grimmer future world– it takes on a B Movie feel that struggles and fails to hold the viewer’s interest. It doesn’t help matters that the Matrix films, which used to be ground breaking, can’t think of any better stories to tell than a recitation of the classic war movie cliches– the husband coming home to his wife, the wife waiting for her husband to return, the tough old commander and the new recruit faced with a situation he was never prepared for and the last ditch resistance at the gate.
The exo-suits no doubt added a lot to the movie’s budget but diminish the drama of human fighters confronting a machine invasion. Hammer’s arrival is dramatic– but it’s the strongest scene in the movie. What follows is Neo’s and Trinity’s doomed voyage to the machine mainframe in which Neo plays through his deific symbolism by perishing to save machinedom and mankind– and the machines for an unstated reason remain willing to maintain the bargain and even release the rest of humanity from the Matrix.
Everything That Has a Beginning Has an End is true enough. But some stories end with a big, others with a whimper. “The Matrix Revolutions” ends with a sunset and conversations between machines and programs, thus continuing the pattern that had increasingly brought down the movies– of focusing on non-human characters over human ones. The Matrix series ultimately became so fascinated by its philosophy that it forgot its storytelling and became so fascinated by concepts that it forgot that concepts not rendered as story remain hollow, sterile and only of academic interest.
The Matrix which began as a thrilling action movie ended life as a surreal collection of moments that were meant to convey big ideas– but couldn’t even manage to hold the attention of the audience to do that. And that in the end was how the beginning came to its own form of an end.