A stylish mix of action, philosophy and cutting-edge special effects, 1999’s The Matrix represents the rare feat of a Hollywood movie getting everything right. But while the original film dazzled the eye and sparked imagination, the follow-ups, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, generated colossal disappointment by delivering wasted opportunities, forgettable characters and lifeless action sequences.
This Friday, September 2nd, at 8P, IFC is airing The Matrix Revolutions (36% on Rotten Tomatoes!) as part of our “too rotten to miss” movies. (The less rotten installment The Matrix Reloaded kicks things off at 5P.) Why are the Matrix sequels so “rotten”? These moments could be part of the problem…
1. Every moment spent in Zion
Detractors of Reloaded and Revolutions are quick to point to the infamous Rave Scene as the de facto reason why the sequels are sub par. But we’ll do you one further: Every scene in Zion is a drag. On paper, a subterranean stronghold of humanity’s last survivors pitted against the surface-level machines sounds like a pretty darn interesting place. It isn’t. It’s drab and charmless, filled with dull characters, and yes, that Rave Scene is interminable.
2. Neo the Almighty
The original film ended with a perfect bow: After seeing the Matrix for what it is, Neo vows to save humanity and takes flight, effectively making him as powerful and invincible as Superman. From there, where can you go? Apparently, watching this invulnerable character battle foes who have no hope in defeating him — unless he’s in flesh-and-blood form in Zion, and we all know how fun that is. That leaves the only interesting setting in the franchise (the actual Matrix) as a place without peril for Neo. So to keep viewers invested, the risk has to fall on mortal characters who aren’t The One, and even that’s taken away when…
3. Neo resurrects Trinity with the greatest of ease
As if becoming a bulletproof superhero wasn’t enough, Neo swoops in and saves Trinity’s life like an all-powerful deity. What was first foreshadowed as a free fall to certain doom, Trinity’s double-Glock header out of a high rise is revealed to be all in the day’s work for Neo. He casually sweeps a bullet out of her heart, restarts it like a defibrillating Miyagi, and they embrace as if nothing had happened. And in terms of risk or consequence, truly nothing did.
4. The Burly Brawl: CGI Gets Lapped
In 1999, The Matrix set the bar for how innovative CGI could be and how well it could supplement, rather than supplant, a story. And in the four years between then and Reloaded, movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter expanded on those principles and left the bar higher than the sequels could clear. In a post-Gollum 2003, Reloaded’s special effects packed less of a punch, didn’t heighten what was already visually possible, and certainly couldn’t drive or substantiate the plot. So a fight between Neo and a hundred Agent Smiths meant absolutely zilch if it’s shoddy in both drama and technical specs.
5. Diabolical laughter and cake orgasms
The first Matrix had its lighthearted moments (the Wile E. Coyote fall and “I know kung fu” come to mind), but they fit tonally and didn’t verge into “goofy” territory. (We’ll do our best to forget the “Kansas is going bye-bye” line.) Then came the sequels. Between Hugo Weaving’s over-the-top villain (“Me, me, me.” “Me, too.”), Commander Lock’s Rambo scream and cake orgasms, the sequels were silly in all the wrong ways.
6. Muddied philosophies
Whereas the original movie deftly moved between different schools of thought and theology, the sequels threw a bunch of unconnected and uncoordinated philosophies together like a toppled rack of CliffsNotes. Causality gets an awkward demonstration by the Merovingian (the aforementioned cake orgasm), the Architect stumbles through Buddhist reincarnation without substance, and Revolutions practically foregoes all philosophical subtext (save martyrdom) in favor of a live-action Mechwarrior game. Speaking of which…
7. Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots
It all comes down to this. This is what the whole franchise was leading up to: The battle for Zion and the future of humanity. And for the grandest set piece in the entire trilogy, giant mechs shooting at whirring sentinels isn’t enough to generate a shred of interest, concern, or suspense. In the real-world, real-stakes counterpart to the Neo vs. Smithland Fight, the Wachowskis sacrificed story for spectacle and intimacy for scope, leaving the audience unfazed when Lock is killed and a teen opens a gate.
8. Trinity dies in an afterthought
Even in the first Matrix, the Neo-Trinity romance never does feel right. But the relationship completely falls flat in the second and third movies by failing to justify itself at all in terms of character and chemistry. And that’s no better illustrated than the dry and halfhearted send-off Trinity is given midway through Revolutions. Without a meaningful sense of loss, there’s more emotional resonance when the Keymaker is killed.
9. The Final Fight
Increase the Burly Brawl by thousands and yet somehow reduce the feeling of conflict, and you have the recipe for the final battle between Neo and Agent Smith(s). Hundreds of millions of dollars and countless man hours were devoted to spinning wheels before reaching an inevitable conclusion — one which could’ve happened at any point for equally arbitrary reasons. Neo is defeated and absorbed because that’s the only way Smith can be defeated. Why? Doesn’t matter. Now watch this slow-motion punch!
10. The Wachowskis can’t match our imaginations
At the very moment a sequel to the first Matrix was greenlit, our collective imagination ran wild. From multi-leveled Matrixes to time paradoxes to a complete upending of reality, fan theories pushed the boundaries of The Matrix universe to endless possibilities. Too bad the Wachowskis chose lackluster paths on the way to a wholly unsatisfying finishing line. The first movie told us to free our minds. If only the creators behind Reloaded and Revolutions took their own advice.
Kick back with The Matrix Revolutions this Friday at 8P on IFC!