“The Matrix Revolutions” Closes the Trilogy at the Edge of Hell

The Matrix Revolutions Neo (Keanu Reeves) making his last stand in "The Matrix Revolutions." (Warner Bros,)

(Every month, we at The Spool select a Filmmaker of the Month, honoring the life and works of influential auteurs with a singular voice, for good or ill. Since June is Pride Month, we’re taking a deep dive into the works of Lana and Lilly Wachowski, two of the most prominent – and fascinating – transgender filmmakers around. Read the rest of our Filmmaker of the Month coverage of the Wachowskis here.)

Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix, which turned twenty in March, is an undisputed science fiction classic. Its sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, are less beloved. For many years, they served as shorthand for “disappointing, unsuccessful sequels to a classic.” On some level, it’s fair to call Reloaded and Revolutions disappointing. The Wachowskis and their creative collaborators conceived of them as but one part of a massive transmedia story. It was an admirably ambitious idea, one that would be refined and deployed more successfully by creative folks in subsequent years.

As the first of its kind though, the Matrix sequel project had holes. To get the full story of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and company, audiences also need to watch (at minimum) the CGI short film Final Flight of the Osiris and the notoriously rushed video game Enter the Matrix. A sizable part of Reloaded’s story is told in those spinoffs – so much so that a good chunk of the second and third act feel like they’re missing. And the opening of Revolutions turns, in part, on a major piece of the story that was introduced in a part of Enter the Matrix that it is entirely possible for players to miss.

At their weakest, Reloaded and Revolutions play like run-on sentences made of swiss cheese. But at their strongest, they are daring, gorgeous, thoughtful science fiction – an epic tale that turns on powerful, intimate moments.

The Matrix Reloaded upends the first film’s all-powerful savior story to tell a more complex, thorny and uncertain story about the nature of control, power and purpose. It’s a movie with an all-time great car chase whose most thrilling scene consists entirely of two men talking. The Matrix Revolutions takes that upended status quo and uses it to craft a tale of near-Armageddon. Neo, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and their peers embark on separate journeys towards and through Hell. The odds against them are so great that doom, to borrow trilogy arch-villain Smith (Hugo Weaving)’s favorite word, seems inevitable. Yet still, they push forward. Yet still, they refuse to give in. Narratively, this makes Revolutions propulsive, even throughout its most frustrating sequence – the lengthy Battle of Zion. Textually, this continues Reloaded’s work in deconstructing the human/machine good/evil inevitable war binary. And visually, this leads to some of the most stunning imagery in the trilogy, be the moments captured grand or humble.

At their weakest, Reloaded and Revolutions play like run-on sentences made of swiss cheese. But at their strongest, they are daring, gorgeous, thoughtful science fiction – an epic tale that turns on powerful, intimate moments.

The first Matrix’s visuals focus on awakening. Reloaded’s visuals simultaneously focus on life and on the diversion of expected paths. Revolutions’ visual focus is, by design, far vaster than its predecessors. For their story of the end of the Matrix and the human/machine conflict as they had spanned for centuries, the Wachowskis and their collaborators paint with the inferno and with transcendence.

The Battle of Zion and Smith’s assault bring human- and machine-kind to the desperate brink, a point from which no return seems possible until Neo makes contact with the machine god Deus ex Machina (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) at the beginning of Revolutions’ last act. Thus, the Wachowskis repeatedly invoke images of Hell and the apocalypse. Morpheus and Trinity descend into the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson)’s lair (literally named Club Hel) to rescue Neo, aided and guided by the benevolent program Seraph (Collin Chou) – whose white coat amidst a sea of black leather and perpetual cool work alongside his name and a disparaging comment by a goon to suggest the presence of a guardian angel.

In Zion, the Sentinels’ assault on the dock reduces it to an inferno fueled by blood and screams. The battle ultimately ends in a pyrrhic victory when one of the last human hovercrafts – the Mjolnir/Hammer – detonates its EMP and shatters the Sentinel wave. Between the Mjolnir’s name, the Sentinels’ serpentine attack patterns and the fact that even in victory the docks are lost, the Wachowskis summon the specter of Ragnarök. The copy of Smith possessing the human Bane (Ian Bliss) appears enraged and on fire through Neo’s machine sight. And Smith’s total possession of the Matrix reduces it to a dead void filled only with hatred and rage.

As a counterbalance to all the doom above, the Wachowskis also craft moments of astonishing beauty and grace. On her and a blinded Neo’s final approach to the machine city, Trinity breaks through the all-consuming darkness of the cloud cover and becomes the first person to see the sun in centuries, getting to bathe in its warmth for a moment before their hovercraft plummets back to Earth. Thanks to his machine vision and his increasing awareness of the machines’ personhood, Neo perceives their city not as a horrifying metal monstrosity, but as a radiant world teeming with life.

When Neo’s sacrifice enables Deus ex Machina to destroy Smith, he appears in the Matrix’s code as a burst of shining, golden light. In Zion, the departure of the Sentinels leaves Morpheus and company astonished, taking in the unexpected quiet and stillness after hours of terrifying chaos. And in the Matrix, which has been rebooted free of the destructive cycle that had trapped human and machine for so long, the young program Sati (Tanveer K. Atwall) creates a sunrise unlike any seen in the Matrix beforehand. She, Seraph and the Oracle (Mary Alice) take in the new dawn and the new world.

The Matrix Revolutions is an incredibly striking film, pointedly so. Its gorgeous images are not just excellent filmmaking in and of themselves but serve to reinforce the potent ideas the Wachowskis are working with. The result is indelible, images with weight. Images that cannot be forgotten.

The Matrix Revolutions Trailer:

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