Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

'Why, Mr. Anderson?'asks Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), for what seems the umpteenth time.

Matrix Revolutions

Director: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Harry Lennix, Matt McColm, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Mary Alice, Lambert Wilson, Harold Perrineau Jr., Clayton Watson
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Warner Bros.
Display Artist: Andy and Lana Wachowski
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-11-05

"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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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