*This piece is comprised of my 3 Matrix reviews, with an additional conclusion, which brings it up to the length of my later reviews*
Now over 20 years old, The Matrix is considered a cult classic, and re-watching it on the big screen it isn’t hard to see why. This film is a masterclass in Science Fiction from the Wachowski sisters in almost everything from story to score. Keanu Reeves’ natural sense of wonderment is a perfect fit for the out-of-his-depth Neo, and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith is a pure joy to behold. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so lets start with the plot.
Mr Thomas Anderson, also known by his online alias Neo, has been found by a man calling himself Morpheus who confronts him with a truth, that his reality is a simulation known as The Matrix designed to power AI Sentinels in the real world. We follow Neo as he trains to be “The One” while trying to survive sentinels in one reality and battling Agent Smith in the other. The attention to detail in both realities is astounding, with a gritty apocalyptic Earth in one hand and the too-perfect green hue of The Matrix in the other. This contrast is further displayed through the score and sound effects, using an electronic techno vibe for The Matrix while reality is more dark and suspenseful. The Wachowski sisters have done a beautiful job bringing not just one, but two, worlds to life.
As for the acting, I don’t think these roles could have been cast better. Morpheus spends 20 minutes being hyped up by the film, and once he finally appears he positively oozes respectability. His crew is also enjoyable to watch, as is Neo, but to me the star of the show is Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. Smith is an AI who has become smart enough to wonder why he needs to take orders. This could very well have been overplayed, but Weaving portrays the character with just the right balance of subtlety and insanity. Trinity, I find, can be a bit of a one-note character, existing only as a love interest for Neo and as a right hand woman for Morpheus. When she’s given an action scene though, she delivers the goods just as good, if not better than, her male cast members.
The one thing that stands out most to me are the special effects. After 20 years, the CGI holds up better than many other films of it’s time, even if Agent Smith’s body absorption or the bullet time effects are kind of obvious. What is most amazing though is, not how well the CGI holds up (because it’s rarely used), but the practical effects. I’m not talking sets or pyrotechnics here, I’m talking about the blue pill/red pill shot. Given the amount and quality of CGI available at the time, it would have been ridiculously easy to do the shot digitally, but they did it practically. I understand the logistics of how that shot was done, but it still blows me away every time I see it.
The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy, with the reviews for each film being poorer than the last, but that doesn’t matter here. This film, for all the plot threads it introduces like Zion and The Prophecy, stands just as well on its own. It isn’t perfect of course, its still very much a product of the 1990s, with Trinity often feeling like The Token Woman and the CGI being more noticeable now than it once was. That doesn’t distract from the film’s enjoyment though, which is the mark of a truly great film. There’s a reason its a cult classic, after all.
Given that this cult classic proved to be one of the most influential films of its age, it is perhaps no surprise that a sequel was immediately set into motion. However it would not be like most sequels in that The Matrix Reloaded and its follow up The Matrix Revolutions were filmed back to back, which is a practice that was rarely used at the time and has barely been used ever since. At the time, the only examples of this method of filming were Back to the Future Parts 2 and 3, Superman 1 and 2 and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which are wonderful films. I’ve heard it said that the only good Matrix film is the original, but I’ve never believed that. The Matrix Reloaded may not be as good as The Matrix but I still think it’s a decent film.
The plot picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as our team returns to the underground city of Zion. The city is preparing for an attack but our heroes must leave and re-enter The Matrix to find The Keymaster. The film flips between our heroes and the people of Zion but continues to focus primarily on Neo. He’s anxious because he’s had a vision of Trinity dying and Agent Smith returning, though Smith is no longer an agent of the system and has gone rogue. By the end of Reloaded, Smith has not only returned but has entered the real world, and has Neo’s Matrix abilities.
The main complaint of Reloaded seems to be that there isn’t a huge amount of plot which, leads to a film comprised almost entirely of action scenes which gradually become repetitive. I can see where this comes from, as the plot is definitely lacking in substance, although I would’t go so far as to call the action pieces repetitive. Originally, Neo was unable to keep up with the agents he was fighting but now they are perfectly matched which means the fights aren’t going to be as exciting. Where once there was fear of injury, and perhaps death, now there is not. Luckily the fight sequences are beautifully choreographed and it’s almost like watching a ballet, which isn’t something one expects from science fiction but I am more than okay with it. Special mentions go to the fight on the freeway and the so-called Burly Brawl, which are both fantastic examples of the choreography and the CGI. While the CGI isn’t flawless and can seem a bit bendy at times, it is still very impressive for a film that’s nearly 2 decades old.
Audiences also seem to take issue with The Architect, who designed The Matrix and tells Neo that he is is not the first to be The One. I will admit that I initially found his intellectual language difficult to decipher, but eventually I got my head around it. In layman’s terms, this is the sixth iteration of The Matrix and Neo is the result of an anomaly in its code. He is the sixth chosen one and the events of this trilogy has played out 5 times before, meaning that The Machines have already destroyed 5 iterations of Zion. Once you break through his technobabble and really grasp what The Architect is saying it’s a brilliant plot twist and re-integrates that sense of dread which appeared to be missing. It is setting up our heroes to fail regardless of what happens.
Lastly we come to Trinity and her romance with Neo. I wasn’t a huge fan of her in The Matrix and I’m still not, but she has grown on me slightly. She serves as an Achilles Heel for Neo which humanises him, but in Reloaded she is actively useful. During the final sequence several vital assistants of our team die and Trinity has to plug herself into The Matrix to replace them. This inevitably leads to her death, but Neo chooses to restart her heart instead of going directly to The Mainframe where he could have destroyed The Machines. In one swift moment, she goes from a one note pawn to an essential part of Neo’s growth as a character.
The Matrix Reloaded is a wonderfully made film between the CGI and the acting, but I will admit that it has one major flaw. It feels at times like it serves only as a prologue to The Matrix Revolutions. Whether this is due to how much footage was shot or how it was planned to be from the beginning I do not know, but I don’t think it works in the film’s favour. There are definitely worse examples of filler, which is what I think best describes it, and if you can make peace with that I think you might find yourself enjoying it as I did.
Technically, The Matrix Revolutions the second half of The Matrix Reloaded. It’s a continuation of the story that began there and was left on a cliffhanger. Of course, the whole trilogy has one overarching narrative about the battle between humans and machines, but the original Matrix film can stand alone. It has a solid beginning, middle and end. The Matrix Reloaded feels like it ends in the middle of its story. The Matrix Revolutions is the ending to that story, and as endings go, it was not the best received. As far as I can tell, it was thought of as repetitive and cliché. The fighting was supposedly boring and overly computer generated. They had the “audacity” to abandon The Matrix itself for the human settlement of Zion. We shall address all of this, but first a quick recap of the plot.
We follow Morpheus and the remaining humans as they defend Zion from an impending machine attack. Meanwhile Neo and Trinity (with a stowaway Agent Smith) travel to the heart of the machine city to see if it holds the key to their survival. You may have noticed that Neo comes second in that description, and that’s because he comes second in this film. Freeing humanity and protecting Zion have always been the primary objective, it just so happens that Neo is no longer directly involved with that objective. As such, it makes sense that we see less of him and more of the humans that he has been aiming to protect since the beginning. His existence isn’t what matters, it is the future of humanity that comes first. Neo is often compared to Christ Jesus, including through the film’s own lens, so it astounds me that people could miss the point entirely. Christ Jesus was sent to die so that we may live, and as a result, the same should be expected of Neo. I’ve heard it said that the “Christ symbolism” is over the top here, but it’s never exactly been subtle. You can see it as a cliché ending, but clichés become what they are for a reason- they work, and have worked for years. It also wouldn’t have been beneficial to the plot to spend more time inside The Matrix itself, because we already know exactly what is taking place there. Agent Smith absorbs every single inhabitant, including The Oracle, so we only need to see him again for the final battle. That battle may seem boring and overly CG’d to some, and that’s okay. It isn’t as exciting as any of the fights that have come before, but, from a story-telling point of view, it shouldn’t be. Neo and Agent Smith are now equally matched so there aren’t really any stakes here. Nobody has the upper hand. With that said, I wouldn’t have minded a larger-scale fight through the entirety of The Matrix instead of just one street. As for the battle of Zion, I think it still holds up, especially for a film made in the early 2000s. It’s unrealistic to expect a battle that is 100% practical effects, and I think that is more true today than it was at the time. Take a look at what movies like Avengers Endgame achieved with their CGI and the reaction they get, and explain to me how it’s fair to judge a 20 year old movie for doing the same. To their credit, they built a fully functioning mech suit and copied it into scenes several hundred times over. It’s still visually stunning to look at, and has the highest stakes of the entire trilogy.
My take on The Matrix Revolutions may seem like a small rant to some, and they’re not entirely wrong. I would not have “every film is worth something” as my tagline if I didn’t genuinely believe it and to see something as iconic as the Matrix trilogy being torn apart without a second thought is painful. It probably doesn’t help that I’m I’ve witnessed the Star Wars and MCU franchises go through it too. The Matrix trilogy, as well as many other films, is not without faults, but you can still like it in spite of them. I still feel like The Matrix Revolutions delivered a solid ending and I still have a lot of fun watching it. I hope you can too.
When it comes to the Matrix trilogy as a whole, I think that it more than withstands the test of time. The chances are that it will continue to do so because it’s timeless. Yes, it may have that distinct 1990’s feel to it, but that works withing the context of the narrative. Looking back now, it seems to be full of science fiction movie cliches but we have to remember is that The Matrix is almost entirely responsible for birthing those cliches. I say nearly, because this trilogy takes a huge amount of its inspiration and aesthetic from 1995’s The Ghost in the Shell which was an adapted from the manga of the same name. In a lot of ways, the Matrix trilogy is The Ghost in the Shell but remade for a western audience, meaning if you liked one, you are almost sure to like the other. It was a fairly niche market at the time, and I don’t think anybody could have predicted just how much of an impact this market would have on society. Not only is science fiction the biggest genre on the planet right now, but anime has managed to break into the mainstream. Each has maintained an even more niche market within it of course, but as a whole, these genres are acceptable in today’s society. You need look no further for proof than the 2017 American remake of The Ghost in the Shell and the upcoming Matrix 4. I hope that, with this in mind, people may revisit this trilogy and appreciate it for the cultural phenomenon that it is. I certainly do.
Until Next Time…