starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving
written and directed by Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski
by Walter Chaw Where The Matrix Reloaded works best as a kitschy send-up of West Side Story, The Matrix Revolutions is the funniest, most overblown re-telling of The Old Testament since The Ten Commandments. It should have been called "Revelations," truth be told, and indeed a sly wink to covenants and the Apocalypse comprises its final scenes. The film comes complete with martyred saints, crucified saviours, and enough murder and fireworks to keep Philistines attentive during the extended lore sequences, less boring here than in the last instalment, though those looking for mortal doses of faux philosophical pretension will find their goblets full to brimming. What saves this chapter, as it did the previous, is the idea that the arrogance required to pull off something this ponderous, this glowering and self-important, is in fact a valuable thing in a mainstream movie climate more interested in the comfortable affirmation of formula. Though it's likely that box office history will interpret the last two parts of The Matrix unkindly, it's all too possible that the trilogy may come to be seen as something like a classic of ambitious, hysterical overreaching. And why not? That's exactly what it is.
For the uninitiated, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a trenchcoat-clad messiah who discovered four hours of film ago that the world he was living in was an evil computer program called "the matrix" and that the "real" world was a barren, post-apocalyptic Geiger-scape overrun by sentient, squid-like machines called "sentinels." Humans were batteries to be harvested by the machines, and a small band of freedom fighters led by the fond-of-pontificating Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, typecast as the god of sleep) and the love interest Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who appears to have been named "Trinity" so the slower members of the audience can get up to speed with the Bible stuff, seek to escape extermination by their mechanized overlords. The second movie introduced us to the last tribe of humanity (and if you want to discuss the Mormon implications of this film and "Battlestar Gallactica", by all means), Zion, which seethed in what appeared to be an industrial mosh pit in a constant state of Road Warrior funk. (The Mad Max shout-out not in vain, Revolutions introduces us to Gyro Captain Bruce Spence as a wasted character called "The Trainman," not nearly so inventive as Reloaded's "The Keymaker.")
In Revolutions, the ecstatic clubbing is kept to a minimum while the action is either medium cool without justification (an upside-down gunfight is neat, but to no good purpose) or so CGI-heavy and confused that it resembles a really hard level of "Galaga." Still, there's a moment that makes all the glad-handed ersatz intellectualism of the piece worth it, in which Neo confronts The Shadow in a place one part carbonite chamber from The Empire Strikes Back, one part Leviathan sequence from Hellraiser 2. It evokes the kind of melancholy thrill of outmatched heroes engaged in impossible causes that every sequence in Zion (under siege by a swarm of robot interlopers) fails to evoke. The thing most difficult to reconcile about the picture is just how close it gets--ear-splitting pyrotechnics and all--to actually being good, and how close it comes on the other side to being a glorified Tron, right down to the anthropomorphized accounting software and a confrontation with a godhead mainframe.
Too much of Revolutions is obsessed with the issue of faith, of artfully punctured heroes and Keanu Reeves doing the Christ pose. "Unsubtle" the kindest way to describe the picture, it's hard to deny the visual logic of this piece, which delivers--after an unpromising first hour--a cacophonous, surprisingly courageous conclusion to the trilogy. So it's a marginal failure, but there's something compelling about a work this ostentatious; The Matrix Revolutions is drunk on itself and the possibilities of cinema to present allegory in grandiloquent gestures and crushing self-importance. When the smallest moments--Neo quietly walking a fiery path through the Inferno (following Purgatory and Paradise), Trinity exhaling "beautiful" at a glimpse of the sun through the eternal smog--turn out to be the strongest, the cold truth at the heart of the matter is that what the Matrix films take almost seven hours to tell, Alex Proyas's Dark City told in less than two, and with more poetry besides.