“Why, Mr. Anderson?” asks Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), for what seems the umpteenth time. “Why get up?” Why, indeed? Repeatedly battered and penetrated and tossed about, Neo (Keanu Reeves) always gets up. And his tenacity — so coolly trenchcoated and martial-artsed — surely frustrates the self-multiplying program Smith. And now, in Matrix Revolutions, which the Wachowski brothers promise is the last movie (if not the last video game or dvd-full-of-extras), you’re reminded just why he does get up, time after time. He does it, says the messiah, because it’s his choice.
Ah yes. Choice — whether a function of illusion, faith, or actual free will — is the philosophical maguffin that runs throughout the franchise. You choose to purchase the Matrix continuing spew of merchandise, just as you choose to appreciate Revolutions‘ effects in lieu of character development or novelty. And you choose to recall, no doubt, that the previous half-film, Reloaded, left loose ends that the current film is supposed to resolve.
That irresolution took a particular form — Neo’s human body on a gurney, his other self shot out into a limbo space somewhere between the slickster haven Matrix and the sweaty-body-filled Zion. This installment begins by visualizing that limbo as a white-on-white subway station, titled “Mobil Ave.” Discovered by a family of programs headed by Rama (Bernard White), who last time out sold the Oracle’s termination codes to the French-accented Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), in order to save his endearingly optimistic program-daughter, Sati (Tanveer Atwal). The way out involves a train, run by the Trainman (still sprightly and bad-toothed Bruce Spence, looking much as he did in the Road Warrior films, and as good as reason as any to sit through Revolutions, even if he’s only on screen for about five minutes total).
All this is to say that Revolutions is not efficient and surprising like The Matrix, but rather clunky and convoluted like Reloaded. The uncleverly circular plot — reportedly informed by ETM (the Enter the Matrix game) plot turns and speeches — takes Neo, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) through the same motions as before. They visit the Merovingian’s writhing-punks-in-Hel Club, providing one more glimpse of Persephone’s (Monica Bellucci) stunning breasts; Zion’s Council (again featuring Anthony Zerbe, Cornell West, and Harry Lennix’s clench-jawed Commander Lock); and, with the help of enigmatic Seraph (Collin Chou), the Oracle’s kitchen (where she’s baking cookies as well as smoking a few more cigarettes). Only now the Oracle is transformed from Gloria Foster, who died during production, to Mary Alice, whose gracious performance is much welcome, especially alongside her costars’ general woodenness.
Their dispassion might seem apt, given Revolutions‘ incessant repetition of ideas and dialogue: “I see you’re filled with doubt,” she observes of Morpheus, “clouded with uncertainty,” just before she tells him that he needs to make up his own damn mind, that is, he needs to make a choice. The question, as always, is whether that choice is his, or whether all he thinks or does is the effect of a greater system. That Morpheus is the most fervent Neo-disciple (Lock accuses him of believing in “miracles”), following wherever he’s led, doing whatever he’s bid.
While Morpheus’ earnest piety invites jokes (the Merovingian remains the most entertaining program, delighting in his adversary’s impulse to “get straight to business”), he’s almost balanced by sinewy Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), who finally shows up some 45 minutes into the action. Angry and skeptical, she trusts in her own skills above all, and, as most everyone tells her, she’s a “hell of a pilot.” “Come on, keep up!” Niobe yells at Morpheus. “I’m trying,” he wails. She steers her ship back to Zion through the impossible to navigate “mechanical line” just in time to restart yet another battle of the titan machines. The film includes frequent and ongoing videogamey battles, all loud and fiery, mostly boring, the almost-climactic one taking up many many minutes, a super-duper display of CGI extravagance with precious little interest in character.
Pinkett Smith’s Luke Skywalkery performance thus serves two purposes, neither especially helpful for the film per se: her Niobe is so gritty that other characters pale by comparison, and Niobe’s ascent to piloting greatness underlines how much Revolutions borrows from previous (and upcoming) like-minded sagas, where the right choice is the only choice and vice versa. No one is going to turn and run in such a-hero-is-called flicks.
The fact that she is Jada and not feather-haired Mark Hamill rehearses the Matrix industry’s most progressive sociopolitical agenda, namely, Zion’s primary actors are of color, save for Trinity and sometimes Neo, when viewers forget Keanu’s race-mix. The third film has it a few ways, granting sober Captain Mifune (Nathaniel Lees), buzzcut Charra (Rachel Blackman), and relentless Zee (Nona Gaye) some brief superhuman moments during the assault on Zion, then granting next-generation status to “The Kid” (Clayton Watson), as banal and white-boyish as can be.
Surely, the series has worked hard to rethink racism and race relations, within and without a slavery framework. Here, the most remarkable moment comes when Smith visits Oracle, accompanied by several of his multiple other/same selves. When he begins running on about what she knows and doesn’t know, whether his violence is preordained or his own choice, she smokes, quietly. “You are a bastard,” she says. Comes the retort: “You would know, mom.” It’s the nastiest, most unresolved bit of dialogue in the film. And that’s it. From there, he’s off to fight with his “opposite” Neo, and she’s left to think up more ways to upset the “balance” that her “opposite,” the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), endeavors to maintain. Just how this is a choice is hard to say.