One of the best parts about the great Cambodia Lockdown of 2021 is revisiting older movies you haven’t seen in a while. We finally got to rewatch The Matrix Revolutions which came out in 2003, four years after the original and only 6 months after the middle film The Matrix Reloaded. While it’s easy to revisit the Matrix every few years, I don’t think I’ve ever made time to watch the final two films of the series. I could only remember how much people utterly hated these films.
For me, the popular feeling about a movie franchise can affect the history of it inside my head. It becomes easy to just hate it too, and move onto other things to watch. Before Revolution’s November 2003 release, we’d already felt the collective sting of 2 maligned Star Wars prequels, a botched Blade threequel, and a terribly confusing sequel to Desperado titled Once Upon a Time In Mexico. That sounds like a strong case of 21st century sequelitis, but I must have spent half of every week being disappointed inside a movie theatre that year.
It’s hard to remember years later what I expected Revolutions or what I thought about it at the time. I can say that returning to the Matrix series with more experienced eyes has helped to showcase deeper layers I was incapable of seeing at the time. It also drew out franchise memories of transmedia game and movie tie ins, real life mobile phone deals, and a symphony of marketing that broadens the entire identity of the film. So while it is not perfect, The Matrix Revolutions is a masterpiece of audacity and ambition, but also of acting and storytelling.
Plus Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars, so… whatever, haters.
The Audacity #1: The story is tied in deeply with the Enter the Matrix video game and the Animatrix film
I barely remembered it had even happened until I saw Jada Pinkett’s character, Niobe, pop in to say that she had been told something important by the Oracle. I knew this hadn’t happened in The Matrix Reloaded, and got a sudden kick in the brain reminding me of exactly where it did occur. It was in the video game realeased alongside the second film titled, Enter the Matrix. The one I waited 2 hours in a video store for someone to return a copy so I could rent it just to see that hour of additional hour of footage they filmed for the game.
Enter the Matrix was a fine on its own. It had plenty of shooting, running, and jump kicking through the simulated, simulated world, but what was really interesting about it was how you did things that would actually make a difference to the plot of the most anticipated movie in the world. That is insane to do that. We’ve had video game tie ins since ET, but none had been quite so audacious with their offerings. They didn’t have to do that.
Moreover, the game allows you choosing to play as one of two characters. Either you can play as the Asian First Mate, or Black Female Captain — Ghost or Niobe with her breathtaking digitized bantu knots. It’s been nearly 20 years and not only do you barely get a choice to play as black female even when you can make your own character, you don’t even get afrocentric hair types as an option. For reference, Monster Hunter Rise came out a month ago, and the most afro-centric hair you can gift upon your character is a caesar or bald. We’ve somehow gone backwards.
The idea that the events of the transmedia game and anime were created to come out in between two massive Matrix sequels in the same year is nothing short of remarkable. Characters you meet in The Matrix Reloaded get far more face time in the game as if that’s what they were created to do all along. Niobe, the Keymaker, Persephone, and the Oracle are all there chewing scenery in the game and adding the stakes and backstory for the events in Revolutions.
If you were a fan of the things that helped birth the Wachowskis style, they saw to it you’d have all new versions of those things it to expand your love of the world they’d made. Your mileage may vary with much of it, but in 2003, we were gifted a smorgasbord of jacked in content and the promise that gamers would be “inheriting the storyline” as The Matrix Online prepared to launch.
The Audacity #2: The Acting is good, actually
Thank you, Hugo Weaving.
His portrayal as the madcap agent of chaos, Agent Smith is one of the most engaging things about the entire trilogy. Flipping between a merciless program out to kill a rival to an almost overly human version of the same being completely obsessed with devouring the entire matrix, is a master class. Great lines, fun to watch, and constantly changing, Agent Smith is messy from beginning to end. And while we all know how awesome the great Hugo Weaving is, I need to tip my hat to the actor in the film with an even harder job.
Ian Bliss, played Bane or the guy who was possessed by Agent Smith in the real world. Bliss is also Australian, so maybe that is what helped him get Weaving’s affect down so well. During the fight with Neo at the end of the movie, I had to be asked if it was actually Weaving in a prosthetic. It’s not. It’s pure Bliss. The voice, the mannerisms, the joy in wanton murder. You guys were great together.
In addition to them, there were a lot of great performances from actors who don’t otherwise get much work. Everyone in the Morpheus love triangle, Mary Alice as the Oracle and Nona Gaye as Zee coming in to the franchise late after the sudden deaths of actors Gloria Forster and pop singer Aaliyah. Much love to Tanveer K. Atwal as the little girl Sati, Rachel Blackman as bald headed, rocket launching infantry woman, Charra, and of course, much love to academic and writer Cornell West who made me cock my head to the side as soon as I saw him. He wasn’t great, but he was there!
This movie is absolutely wet with melodrama. I’m curious how big of a role it had in making people feeling raw about it film. For instance, Trinity didn’t need a 5 minute death scene with bars sticking out of her stomach, talking about the first time they met or whatever. We all saw that in the first movie so it’s a bit much. Let Neo go do his job, and save everyone please.
The parts of the film I didn’t have time for back in 2003, was anything happening at Zion. I wasn’t into it at all; not the war, the machines, not “the Kid.” I didn’t care so strongly, I had actually forgotten which characters died which did not. With this viewing however, I was able to connect to humanity’s last stand against the machines. It felt like a campaign in a war film. In a world of prophecies, programs that make babies somehow, and digitized superpowers, the “realness” of the fighting that took me out of the film 20 years ago now make for an engaging contrast of what violence means in this world.
There are no heroes, just people doing the best they can with what they have. I could feel the heaviness of this battle as we watch friends and lovers meet bitter ends for over half an hour. It’s brutal, but it matters because it connects to the film’s theme that Neo hits us with at the end when asked “why does he persist?”
“Because I choose to.”
Audacity #3: Do every single thing that matters
We’re lucky to live in red pilled world where the Wachowski sisters became directors. I can only imagine what the meetings were like with producer types that aren’t really interested in the same things visionary directors are. “Remember Bound, the crime movie where Jennifer Tilly had a girlfriend? Let’s give those directors 60 million dollars for their philosophical action movie franchise that idea pulls from anime as much as Baudrillard.” How do you get a studio to sign over a hundred millions to you twice. Obviously the answer is “make the Matrix.” Looking at the Matrix sequels from a more wisened pair of eyes helps me to see the full scope being presented. The Wachowskis got their shot to make their thing their way, and did as much trend bucking as possible, completely refusing to play it safe.
There’s an racist old joke about The Jetsons:
GUY #1: “Hey… you ever notice how there’s no Black people on the Jetsons”
GUY #2: “Haha no. Is that true.”
GUY #1: “Yup! Ain’t the future grand!”
It’s mean spirited, but it deftly points out that for most of popular culture, there have not been many Black people in the future. Not many people of color at all. Whether it’s dystopian or utopian, we were an afterthought for most of it. The Matrix forces the entire culture to deal with that and see an inclusive alternative. It was willing to force people to play Jada Pinkett-Smith in a video game, listen to the words of a Black elders, get our white looking protagonists out of the way so the regular humans could also save the day.
In the first film, our multi-racial Asian protagonist finds himself on an adventure of self discovery with a Black mentor and his multi racial crew, of digital pirates including a member named Switch who was written to be one gender in the matrix and another in the real world. It was Warner Bros that decided to shut that down because they didn’t think the audience was ready for it. Now, we’ll never know what would have happened if they had.
In the second and third movies, we get to take this trip to a multi-racial future filled with desire and love for one another. We get to see many important views of Zion and its population before machines try to ravage it. It’s been maligned heavily since it happened, but The Matrix Reloaded has that rave scene that Trinity and Neo skip to umm… push love into each other. While it seemed so silly, there’s an entire heaving sea of beautiful, colorful people dancing and loving life. It’s not entirely care free, because the nothing ever is, but it’s home and it matters, and the Wachowskis chose to show us that in their film.
The Matrix Revolutions shows us the other side of this future. A world of struggle where people still find ways to band together even when they do not agree. They still have to work together and play their roles. They have to depend on each other not just to survive, but to thrive, and then hold the line to protect it. That is a future worth fighting for; the one that makes room for everyone to be a part of it.
I see the future the Wachowskis see, both in their simulated world and the one we all share and I recognize so much more than I saw as a kid. Computer generated superpowers are fun, but when they don’t mean anything, what good are they? For all the things the Matrix did wrong, they so much so right. I see it now feel a powerful inspiration to make worlds that make room for us just like they did. They shot for the moon then and continue to today in subsequent projects. It makes me excited to do that too.
I let the news of a 4th Matrix movie shoot by me with little fan fare, because I didn't remember. I let history do me a disservice. But after revisiting The Matrix Revolutions, I couldn't be more excited about the prospect. A chance to see a new take on an old future being delivered by (at least one) its creators that have already proven their ability to see more than what many of us could at the time. These might just be stories, but stories matter. Representation matters. But most importantly, meaning matters.