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The Matrix: Exposed

Editor's Note: is delighted to be offering stories from two distinguished new partners, The New Republic and The Weekly Standard. TNR and the Standard are the two most influential, interesting and, most important to us, fun political magazines in the country (and they both have handsome Web sites, too). Not coincidentally, they inhabit very different sides of today's ideological spectrum, with TNR headed left and the Standard going right.

This commentary from The Weekly Standard was written by Jonathan V. Last.

The initial impulse is to declare that "The Matrix: Revolutions" does for "The Matrix" what "Return of the Jedi" did for "Star Wars." That isn't, however, entirely fair. It would be more accurate to compare "Revolutions" with "Attack of the Clones." After all, while "Jedi" might have cast aspersions on the worth of the original "Star Wars," it was "Attack of the Clones" which finally bulldozed the original trilogy's legacy.

"Revolutions" eats all of the goodwill built up by "The Matrix," and then some. It isn't just bad moviemaking -- it's a bizarrely self-destructive film.

"Revolutions" picks up exactly where Reloaded left off last May, with Neo and Bane (the humanized Agent Smith) in comas and an army of machines hours away from breaching the walls of the last human city, Zion. Only Neo, it turns out, isn't actually in a coma. He's locked up in a nether region of the matrix through some sort of wi-fi connection.

It falls to Trinity and Morpheus to rescue him, which they do by way of visiting the Merovingian, the rogue French program who runs the matrix underworld. After a brief encounter, the Merovingian -- easily the most interesting and entertaining character in the series -- exits, stage left, never to be seen again. This disappearance is the first in a series of abandoned subplots, themes, and physical laws which the first two movies went to great pains to lay out.

Neo and Trinity resolve to take one ship and go to the machine city while Morpheus and his compatriots take the other ship and head back to Zion to join the fight. While this decision is being made, the now-conscious Bane, whom all parties suspect of being a dangerous traitor, has been left alone, unshackled, in a room full of scalpels, with the ship's doctor. It was at this juncture that I began quietly rooting for the machines.

There's no need to spoil the drudgery, so: There follows a 25-minute battle sequence which will surely delight fans of MechWarrior; a final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith; and an ending which doesn't so much avoid answering the big questions posed by the first two films, as pretend that said questions never existed.

The problems with "Revolutions" are manifold. On the most basic level, the film contains nothing new visually; indeed, on this score it's a step backward from "Reloaded." Another, structural, problem is that "Revolutions" has very little of the matrix.

From the beginning, these movies have tended to lose altitude during scenes set in "the real world." It isn't just that the action inside the matrix is more captivating than action in the real world -- everything is better. The wardrobe, the color palette, the dialogue, the line delivery. Inside the matrix, people talk in interesting ways and say unexpected things. In the real world they spout movie banalities like, "Damn, she's a great pilot!" "Revolutions" dips into the matrix only a few times, and grudgingly at that.

But these are quibbles. What makes "Revolutions" destructive instead of merely stupid is the way it repeatedly violates the series' internal logic. For instance:

  • Even though "Revolutions" takes place only in the span of a few hours immediately following "Reloaded," some of our characters have taken, quite suddenly, to using informal nicknames with one another, such as "Merv" and "Trin."
  • In "The Matrix" we were told that agents must obey the physical laws inherent in the matrix. Morpheus says, "Men have emptied entire clips at them and hit nothing but air, yet their strength and their speed are still based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong or as fast as you can be." Not anymore. In "Revolutions," Agent Smith can do everything Neo can.
  • In "Revolutions" we meet computer programs who feel love and appreciate karma, but later we're assured that machines always keep their word, since betrayal is a human trait.
  • Neo survives being driven into concrete so forcefully that he creates a 30-foot crater. (The wonderful site Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics will have a field day with "Revolutions.") Yet what finally fells him is a punch to the gut. There may still be some rules in the matrix governing Neo, but they appear and disappear arbitrarily.
  • When confronted with a single sentinel in "The Matrix," a frightened Trinity tells Neo that the electromagnetic pulse is mankind's only weapon against these devilish devices. In "Revolutions," simple machine guns prove quite effective and all ships seem to be equipped with them. Is this a small inconsistency? Yes, except that it makes the tension of the closing minutes in "The Matrix" a complete contrivance.
  • The same can be said for the process of jacking in and out of the matrix. In the first movie, much of the drama concerns finding safe lines to jump into and out of the matrix. This process has become such an afterthought in "Revolutions" that jacking in is done smoothly, quickly, and always off-screen.

    The list of glaring inconsistencies goes on.

    Worse still, is the way "Revolutions" abandons the larger thematic issues. The climactic moment in "Reloaded" comes when Neo meets the Architect and learns that Morpheus has his chronology wrong, that there have been several matrixes and Zions. The Architect then gives a long mathematical explanation of what Neo is:

    Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here. …

    The function of the One is now to return to the source, allowing a temporary dissemination of the code you carry, reinserting the prime program. After which you will be required to select from the matrix 23 individuals, 16 female, 7 male, to rebuild Zion. Failure to comply with this process will result in a cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix, which coupled with the extermination of Zion will ultimately result in the extinction of the entire human race.

    Pretty big news. In "Revolutions" barely a word is spoken about any of this. In the end, "Revolutions" settles down to a fairly explicit Christian allegory, but even here the Wachowski brothers are confused: Neo is a warrior and if you strip out the symbols, he resembles Muhammad as much as Christ.

    If there is anything good to be said about "Revolutions," it's that attempted intellectual extrapolation based on "The Matrix" trilogy will probably grind to a halt. After "The Matrix" was released, a fleet of books appeared, with titles like "The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real," "Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in 'The Matrix,'" and "The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in 'The Matrix.'" "Revolutions" will cause many of these authors to blush.

    Concerning "Attack of the Clones," Alexandra DuPont (the best movie critic you've never heard of; find her reviews here) wrote:

    If these last two "Star Wars" movies have taught me anything, it's that all my prior rantings about "Star Wars" needing to be mythologically and thematically coherent and profound no longer apply. Those rantings were, in retrospect, most likely the justifications of a young adult who wanted to explain why she'd liked a pulp sci-fi/fantasy series so emphatically--and who gleefully adopted as her own the "Power of Myth" mental gymnastics handed to her on a platter by Joseph Campbell and the Lucasfilm PR machine.

    "Revolutions" has provided the same valuable lesson for "The Matrix" crowd.

    Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.

    By Jonathan V. Last

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