The Best 45 Minute Movies Ever Made: Matrix Revolutions

There can be only Neo.

By Andy Vetromile
Good vs. Evil. Light vs. Dark. Virtue vs. Vice. Ebert vs. Roeper.

Well, okay, not all of these would make for great cinema. I mean, virtue vs. vice? Who wants to see the embodiment of patience take on an avatar of smoking? Maybe throw temperance in on the virtue side and let prostitution team up with vice, make it a no-holds-barred steel-cage tag-team deathmatch fight to the finish, and you can probably sell it to pay-per-view TV for $29.95, Sunday, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!

But Ebert vs. Roeper, now there’s a contest. Sure, Roeper’s young, he’s hungry, he’s got the eye of the tiger. But Ebert’s been around the block a time or two. He took on hawk-nosed Siskel for years, and with all the weight he’s lost you just know he’s aching for a fight. He’s waiting for someone to underestimate his physique so he can lure them close, then use those ballerina-like movements to drop his opponent like a Friday the 13th sequel.

Alas, such a fantasy pairing is not meant to be. Roeper isn’t about to sabotage his career, so he’s going to keep nodding agreeably at everything Ebert says and smiling that puppy-dog smile even as Ebert savages Spider-Man and gives the thumbs-up to Breakin’ All the Rules. And I think we all see where a full-scale, unsanctioned donnybrook between two over-priced movie critics is just like a hobbit winning an Oscar.

Hollywood has some amazing blind spots. Everyone complains about genre films. They’re crass, they’re vulgar, they’re all sizzle and no steak.

Yeah, and we flock to them like pigeons after a Nutter-Butter.

Filmmakers hate to admit what everyone already knows: that the big blockbusters, the special-effects laden, monster-budgeted, monument-destroying, space-faring, action-packed behemoths that occupy the middle three months of the year like a high-school senior sitting on your chest dangling phlegm in your face are what pay for everything else at the theatre. Without your Star Treks and Terminators and Harry Potters, you won’t have your Merchant Ivories and Kenneth Branaghs and Emma Thompsons (they’re all going to be busy doing your Harry Potters).

Even when it comes to movies whose subject matter, whose honesty and depth and commitment to the material is unquestioned, makes them forces with which to be reckoned, you still have to wait your turn. Never mind that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the best of the three, they’re gonna make Peter Jackson wait until the third film is out before they give him the little gold statue. Why? Because they’re really awarding the trilogy, not the third movie. They’re going to hold back on saying “Amen” to a sci-fi, fantasy, or horror flick as long as they can do it without Tolkien fans storming the castle walls (honestly, these people have been watching too many movies).

But at the very least, the floodgates have opened. Okay, something of an exaggeration – maybe we won’t be seeing Oscars for the Fantastic Four flick next year, but someone has managed to make the first real chip at the dam, an occurrence that is pretty rare. You got your Titanic, your LotR (I’m not counting nods like The Sixth Sense), aaand…what? Frederic March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? That was 1931, for cryin’ out loud? So we’ve got our foot in the door, and that means if we’re going to be good neighbors we have to reciprocate. That means not putting out Matrix sequels.

Not again, anyway. Horse, barn, open door, introductions all around.

Matrix Revolutions is like a strange photo-negative of the sort of film we ought to be putting out. Few people are as wowed as I am that a movie so effects-heavy as The Matrix could have a good, real story, but I’m not all that surprised that sequels came out, and even less surprised that they aren’t very good. I mean, I’m not in the Brothers’ heads, but I find it hard to believe they had any kind of real story after the first.

Mind you, I’m not one of those people who go on about the science. Clearly the science they’re using is whacked (or maybe that’s what they want you to believe, and you fell for it…sucker). So they’re using us for batteries. Is it really that hard to say “Okay” and move on with your life? Did you show up for a lecture or to see Carrie-Anne Moss in skintight latex beat the living stew out of Stark from Farscape? That guy had it coming.

No, the lecture they saved for the next two movies, wherein they try to shoehorn some sort of philosophy into the data stream, and they do a fairly unconvincing job of it. All right, I’m getting tired of qualifying what I say every few sentences, but here we are again. Maybe the whole idea is there, on the screen, waiting for someone to accept and understand it and rejoice. But we’re not going to be able to keep all that information in our heads and still be able to enjoy the film, so one or the other has to go, and Carrie-Anne Moss looks good even when she’s wearing that torn and beaten sweater, so philosophy be damned.

Perhaps the Wachowskis have something to say, something they wanted to say in the first film and they just can’t get it all out at once. That’s fine. But they tried a little too hard, and the movies suffer. It looks to me like they didn’t know the first film would take off, so they didn’t prepare for following their ideas up in the next two installments. Would that they hadn’t tried so hard.

So we have two parts to this film…one good and one bad, which is not the good vs. evil match-up I was hoping for. How can you not sit in awe of the Battle for Zion? Hell, why isn’t that part a video game? Or maybe it is. Hate to show more of my ignorance than is absolutely necessary, but every screenshot I see is someone in an FPS moving in bullet-time in a subway.

I’d pay to save Zion. I’d front the money to get into one of those sweet walkers (teased in the second film, but not used until the third – that’s marketing). I’d love to cross the walkways, firing on hordes of squid and slagging them by the dozens as I and my team try to hold out for the backup ships and their EMPs. You’ll notice there aren’t a lot of cuts away from that fight during the movie. They know that’s their set-piece, the moment around which the rest of the film revolves. Neo’s still gotta save everything, but everything not involved in saving Zion is so…not interesting. The fight with the Merovingian is anemic, warmed-over Reloaded at best (after the endless Merv-fight in #2, was there really any fighting left to do? Who the hell still works for that guy?), and Neo and Smith seem to be the only ones who understand a word they say to each other, but in the middle? Zounds. That’s cinematic history, at least as far as epic spectacle goes.

There needs to be more. I don’t want these films dumbed down for a mass audience, but I also don’t want to watch two-plus hours of what’s only pleasing to the filmmaker. If you want to share your vision, what you see on the insides of your eyelids when you sleep at night, I’m game, but make sure it’s accessible, for heaven’s sake. Flash and eye candy is great, and probably what puts butts in the seats when we see it on the TV at home (“Honey, get your coat…this movie starts in a month and we’re going to be first in line”). But if we want to keep gaining respect in this industry on more than a winking level, where we all know who’s filling the coffers but none of us is waiting by the mailbox for our Academy invite, we need to remember that The Matrix, almost literally, defined style…and we should reciprocate with even a little substance.

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