Before we start let me rest assured that I am not talking about John Matrix, Arnie’s character from Commando, no here I am going to talk about the trilogy of films in which we were introduced to effects that we now take for granted.
I am very much aware of the fact that these films are over a decade old now but recently I had a opportunity to sit down and watch them again.
The original film seems as though it was intended to be a stand-alone film but like Back to the Future was left us with such a open-ended finale that it was inevitable that it would receive sequels. Especially considering that the film was a massive box office success. Like Back to the Future Part II and Part III the second two Matrix films were filmed back to back and then effectively sliced in half mid-way through.
The three films will be looked at in this section as well as the animated shorts called the Animatrix, which featured events taking place both before and after the events of the first film.
Let’s do it then…let’s hack into the Matrix...
By the way the Animatrix was a series of short animated movies done in different animation styles that does bridge the gap between the original film and the sequels. Now I have seen the Animatrix but it is not going to be part of the reviews you'll find below which include:
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
In case there is anyone of you out there that doesn’t know, here’s the background of The Matrix…it was made in 1999 and is a science-fiction action film starring Keanu Reeves, Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss. It was a film that went on to be the first of a trilogy. All three films were written and directed by Larry (now Lana) and Andy Wachowski and revolve around the struggle of rebel hackers who want to free humans trapped within an artificial reality world known as the Matrix.
I want you to do something for me, cast your minds back to 1999 when ground breaking special effects, and bullet-time were not something that you saw everywhere you turn. This was one of the forefronts of the kind of special effects that we now take for granted which demonstrated not only a good story, interesting characters and one of the best action sequences put on film but also what could be done with modern technology.
Without further ado let’s jack in to the Matrix…
Thomas A Anderson (Reeves) lives a very isolated life working as a computer programmer for a software company by day but at night he is a hacker who goes under the alias Neo. He is trying to find a man named Morpheus (Fishburne) to answer a question that has been plaguing him: What is the Matrix? He meets a woman named Trinity (Moss) that tell him that she can lead him to Morpheus…which she does.
After receiving a call from Morpheus and being captured by three men in suits lead by Agent Smith (Weaving) Neo is finally able to meet Morpheus. Neo is told that he has a chance to delve deeper into the rabbit hole to answer the question, but if he decides to follow the truth, then there will be no turning back as he cannot return to his former life. Neo agrees and awakes in a strange pod. He is dumped into a lake and starts to drown when a light picks him up and carries him to safety where he once again meets Morpheus.
Neo learns that the Matrix is a computer-generated world controlled by a race of intelligent machines that have enslaved the human race and are using them as batteries to power their city and themselves. As someone who was freed from the Matrix, Neo can have information downloaded into his head, and is told by Morpheus about a prophecy. The gist is that when the Matrix was first built there was a man born inside who could change the Matrix itself, alter it to his whims, and after he died the Oracle predicted his return. When the One does return he will ultimately lead the human race to victory over the machines...Morpheus believes that he has found the one in Neo, but Neo is not so sure.
Okay now I understand that this is a film that is over a decade old, it was a film that I enjoyed when it first came out and re-watched it recently and as my weekly review was looming I decided I would take another look at this science-fiction classic.
Back in 1999 the idea of slowing time down to show things that are normally moving very fast happening very slowly hadn’t been thought up yet, and it was here that such effects began. If nothing else The Matrix gave the world ‘bullet-time’ and uses this revolutionary piece of computer generated imagery to great effect. Seeing people dodge around a bullet that has been slowed down to a crawl is spectacular and as of 1999 had not been seen before. The majority of the characters were once inside the Matrix and have been freed. The freed rebels can return to the Matrix and are able to bend the rules in the artificial world built by the machines, as a result they can jump impossible distances, can have any information needed downloaded directly into their brains. On the outside world the rebels control a number of hovercraft and when inside the Matrix they are connected to their ships by phones to their Operators who give them support whilst they are jacked into the computer generated scenario.
The jury is still out on whether Keanu Reeves can act or not, however, he is surrounded by men and women that fit their roles like gloves. Both Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne are expertly cast as the sinister Agent Smith and Morpheus respectively. Carrie-Anne Moss is also on fine form as the beautiful and deadly Trinity who harbours her own secrets regarding the One.
Basically The Matrix is a special effects bonanza, and sees some of the most spectacular fight scenes in movie history. The reason they work so well is because of the idea that new information, including martial arts knowledge, can simply be downloaded into people’s brains as and when they need it. The lobby shoot out scene is easily one of the best choreographed sequences that has ever been brought to the screen. In most films characters receive years of off screen training on how to fly planes/helicopters or whatever, yet here the rebels request the information they require and it is downloaded into their minds which is a very clever idea.
Anyone who has seen Dark City (made in 1998) will recognise the similarities between the two stories, with the lesser known Dark City almost acting as a prequel to events of The Matrix. Hell it is possible that The Matrix straight up rips off Dark City. Perhaps the reason that The Matrix did so well compared to the box office bomb that Dark City was is because here we are dealing with the idea of smart machines, a post-apocalyptic world in which the human race has been enslaved by an Artificial Intelligence that we created in the first place rather than a race of aliens that kidnapped a city full of people.
Before slowing time down was everywhere The Matrix showed the audience a new way of seeing things moving quickly moving slowly. Such effects were revolutionary and regardless of whether people like or dislike the film itself it cannot be denied that The Matrix lifted the bar for all science fiction films and showed audiences what state-of-the-art special effects can really do.
Yes there is tonnes of religious subtext to the film, Neo is the new Messiah, the character’s names have appeared in various mythologies and like the story of Jesus Christ there is a character within Morpheus’ crew who will betray the others. Pay attention to the religious stuff if you want, or simply glaze over it in order to enjoy the rest of the film.
The question of whether this film has aged well must now be addressed, and truthfully it has to be said that some of the effects have dated, however, they are still very impressive. A huge amount of effort obviously went into the making of this film and it really shows just what can be done with a massive budget along with talented special effects people.
You remember that trailers can give away important plot points and so I will always hate the people who made us believe The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was going to be setting up a Sinister Six idea or ruined the twist that John Connor had been transformed into a machine in Terminator Genisys. Yet here there was such an obvious line for the trailer that wasn’t used…it was the one I used for the title of this section…a small niggle I know but surely if there was any line that was ripe to be used as the plug for the film it would have been that.
The first and the best of The Matrix Trilogy that is still incredibly impressive, and if there was some reason why you have not seen this in the last seventeen years then obviously you are clearly deviant and must be on some government watch list. It is a real accomplishment and whilst it did give us bullet-time which it has to be said has been a bit of a mixed blessing it was revolutionary at the time so it still receives a Thumbs Up.
8/10 – The Matrix is still a great film with dazzling special effects and one of the best shooting sequences ever filmed. Laurence Fishburne is a particular highlight as Morpheus with Hugo Weaving stealing every scene he’s in as the soft spoken, polite and utterly ruthless sentient program Agent Smith.
Following the success of The Matrix, sequels were inevitable and in the case of The Matrix the two sequels were made back to back with the first being The Matrix Reloaded followed by The Matrix Revolutions. The majority of the first film’s cast returned for the sequels, the most notable exception being Marcus Chong who does not return as Tank, this was due to salary conflicts with the Wachowski brothers.
After the first film grossed over $463,517,383 and with the sequel-bait/cliff hanger ending was there anyone who left the theatre in 1999 and thought to themselves “yep, that’ll be the last time we enter the Matrix”, if there was then hopefully those individuals enjoyed their first outing from the cave they’d been living in. To say that a sequel to The Matrix was questionable was like asking if the sun was going to rise the following morning…not surprisingly in 2003 two sequels were released six months apart and saw the return of fan favourites as well as expanding on the real world that was only glimpsed in the first film.
Here we go again then…what has the One been up to…??
Six months have passed between the events of the first film and Neo’s transformation into the One, the last human city Zion is under threat from an army of 250,000 sentinels (machines designed to hunt down and destroy humans and their ships) that are digging from the surface straight down to the city. If they succeed they will destroy the last stronghold the rebels have, however, there is a prophecy which states that the One will lead to the end of the war but Neo is struggling to understand how exactly he is supposed to do that. Within the Matrix he is effectively a God but outside he is just another man that cannot do much against an army of machines…or can he…??
During a meeting Neo (Reeves) senses something unusual and heads upstairs to confront three new ‘upgraded’ agents. He defeats them swiftly and heads off to find the Oracle, seeking guidance now that he has become the One, but he is unable to find her. He is lost without her guidance and is forced to leave the Matrix without finding her or the answers that he is seeking.
Returning to Zion, Morpheus (Fishburne) is arrested for disobeying orders and Neo and Trinity (Moss) share an intimate night together. But Neo is haunted by a vision in which he sees Trinity is falling to her death, he wakes up before he sees her die, but does not know what to do or how to save her.
They receive word that the Oracle wishes to see Neo, and they are allowed to leave Zion despite plans to engage the sentinels. Returning to the Matrix, Neo is confronted by Smith (Weaving) who somehow survived his destruction at Neo’s hand and has now figured out a way to copy himself.
Neo and the others work to fulfil the prophecy and end the war before Zion is attacked and destroyed by the army of sentinels whilst staying ahead of the multiplying Smiths that are steadily consuming the Matrix itself and everyone within it.
Welcome back to the Matrix…so after the groundbreaking special effects of the first film what does this one do??
That is the question and one we will get to later…
As I said the special effects seen in The Matrix in 1999 lead to an explosion in bullet-time effects with almost every film having some kind of slowing down effect from Jet Li’s The One to Daredevil and countless others everyone was using bullet-time or a variation of it. As a result the dazzling effects that were seen in The Matrix look rather routine in the sequel, it was because of this that the Wachowski brothers clearly decided to up the bar yet again to deliver even more spectacular effects, and the results are, if nothing else, mixed.
In the original film we spent most of our time inside the Matrix or in the Construct with not a huge amount of time spent in the real world, this might have been because the real world was pretty grim, and maybe the idea of being freed from an artificial world just to end up being hunted, being cold, eating the same mush everyday and with nothing to look forward to but the end of a war that might not happen. In this film we seem to spend half of our time in the real world, in which we see Zion, and the other half inside the Matrix itself.
The first film focussed on the rebels trying to free the minds of those still connected to the Matrix, this film (and Revolutions) focuses on the plight of the rebels. There is a lot going on with Neo and the others running here and there, with their time being split half and half between being in the real world and the artificial world of the Matrix. Zion is under threat and Agent Smith is copying himself all over the place.
…Er…wasn’t the human race trapped within an artificially created dream world that the rebels were trying to save…here the rebels and the One are fighting to protect their last human city…Reloaded therefore seems to have missed the point of the original film.
The film comes to a rather confusing finale in which Neo meets the creator of the Matrix, a programme called the Architect, during the scene the Architect uses a lot of long words to basically give Neo a simply choice: Neo can reset the system like all the other Ones before him, or he can choose to continue to fight with the other rebels and die along with them. The other Ones chose to restart the system whereas Neo chose to continue to fight with the others and die with them.
There can be no doubt that the effects are once again every impressive and the fight sequences are once more extremely well done. The freeway chase and the music score that accompanies it is especially impressive. In fact the entire soundtrack is really kick ass and since I think this is the first time I have mentioned the soundtrack to a film you should recognise how cool it is if I am mentioning it at all. The way some of the sequences were choreographed is undeniably good and a lot of the fighting looks more like a ballet that a bone crunching battle.
Yes the fight sequences are good, yes the action is impressive, yes indeed the special effects look the part to create a human city buried deep underground…but…it is all for naught because we are now just watching rebels fighting a superior force which it has to be said is nothing new.
Remember that scene in the first film when Neo is searching for Morpheus and a newspaper report said he evaded Police at Heathrow Airport?? Well for those retarded members of my audience let me remind (or inform) you that Heathrow is in the United Kingdom making it seem as though the Matrix features different countries or more than one city. However, here the Matrix seems to just be one massive city so unless Heathrow is a part of that city how did Morpheus evade authorities if the Matrix is only one place?? How has no one inside the Matrix figured out that there is something weird about their world if it is comprised of a single immense city, the first film made it appear as though the Matrix was effectively a copy of human twenty-first century society and technology so how have we ended up in this one location??
Now I am on the complaints train if Morpheus was just one of many captains then why was he the focus of the Agents in the first film?? Surely they could have apprehended any other captains to get the codes of Zion’s mainframe, it isn’t as though Morpheus is the only captain that ventures into the Matrix…and why are there only three Agents in a city big enough to encompass everyone in the human race??
The sentinels seem a little less threatening this time around, when they locate a rebel ship they stay out of EMP range and simply chuck a bomb onto the ship that latches onto the hull before detonating. Can the machines not think of anything a little more advanced than simply lobbing a bomb at an enemy ship?? In the next film we also learn that these hovercraft have machine guns that can destroy sentinels so why does nobody actually use those weapons to destroy these bombs whilst they are still out of range??
I could go on and on listing the short-comings of this film but the simple fact is that whilst Reloaded is not as good as the first film it is a decent sequel boasting the very impressive freeway chase sequence, however, it lacks the dazzling effects pioneered by the original film which due to everyone using bullet-time effects makes this a more routine affair.
In retrospect there is a lot that doesn’t make sense in this film that serves to undermine some of the original film’s key plots and themes. I have to say though that despite the flaws I do like this film and so it is still getting a Thumbs Up despite the fact that it is not as good as the original…and could have not existed in the first place as the original didn’t need sequels.
7/10 – The Matrix Reloaded is a decent sequel that features impressive fight sequences and more special effects that you can shake a stick at. It is annoying that some of the established lore of the original film has been brushed aside here in favour of telling a more traditional rebels Vs machines story.
Made back to back with The Matrix Reloaded, Revolutions is the final chapter in The Matrix trilogy, and picks up right from where the previous film left off. It was released after a six month gap between the cliff hanger left at the end of Reloaded. As it was filmed at the same time as Reloaded not surprisingly the entire cast featured in the previous film reprise their roles one last time.
Leaving the cliff hanger at the end of Reloaded this film continues the story arc and sees Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and co as they battle to save the human race from the machines trying to destroy Zion and Agent Smith who is replicating rapidly and consuming the Matrix.
Let us resume then…
Following the defeat of five sentinels, Neo (Reeves) is in a coma, or what appears to be a coma, in fact he has somehow managed to jack into the Matrix and is trapped in a limbo place in between the Matrix and the real world. Trinity (Moss) and Morpheus (Fishburne) race to rescue him before he is forced to rot in the non-place forever.
Meanwhile the rebels’ ships have been defeated by the army of sentinels that are still closing in on Zion. The city is preparing for the battle. The attacking force is too great and the military personnel know that if the machines breach the walls of the city itself then they are going to lose.
Elsewhere Smith is infecting the Matrix at an unprecedented level; he has become a virus, and is too powerful for the machines to stop.
After being rescued from his coma by Morpheus and Trinity, Neo decides that he must take one of the rebel ships to go to the Machine City to try and stop Smith with the help of the machines themselves. Neo, joined by Trinity take off towards the Machine City, whilst Morpheus and the remaining rebels race back to Zion with the other ship to do what they can before the city is destroyed.
Like I have said more than once basically The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions are one long film that was cut in half, each chapter is around 2 hours long, and before the Lord of the Rings trilogy came along films were not supposed be more than 3-odd hours long, at least that is the assumption otherwise why would the film have been split in half?? If I am being cynical I could say that this was a shameless means of cashing-in on the success of the franchise because I don’t know of anyone who would have seen Reloaded and not have been waiting with bated breath for the conclusion of the trilogy.
I’ll get more onto the length of the film in a bit but first let us take a look at this instalment on its own…
In the first film the majority took place within the Matrix, the second split half-and-half, and this time around the rebels spend very little time in the Matrix. Instead Morpheus, Trinity and even Neo spend most of their time racing back to Zion or travelling to the Machine City, but basically racing somewhere or other.
The special effects, especially when thousands of sentinels are swarming around Zion, are still very impressive. The Wachowskis have clearly gone all out with recruiting the best special effects people that money could buy and it really shows. The thousands of sentinels drifting around Zion is awe inspiring and beautiful, the menace that they represent, and seeing them doing nothing but wait until they are commanded to kill the inhabitants of the city is harrowing.
The special effects and the cast are all top notch so that earns the film high marks…with Hugo Weaving still a delight to watch…
The problem with this film (and the previous one) basically revolves around spending too much time focussing on what is happening with Zion. The battle itself is spectacular and blends humans and special effects seamlessly. People are killed by the sentinels proving how ruthlessly efficient the machines are. Once again the special effects take front seat, the sentinels chasing one of the rebel ships, slowing ripping it apart as it races through narrow tunnels on its way back to Zion is dazzling to watch but those who have tuned in to see all three Matrix films are going to be used to seeing this kind of thing by now. The action comes thick and fast. But when all is said and done after about an hour of the battle for Zion (screen time) and the rebel ship racing back, it turns out that Zion is still pretty much fucked and Neo still needs to rescue them.
The final battle between Neo and Agent Smith is as spectacular as fans of The Matrix trilogy will have come to expect. The ending is a little weak, and the religious overtones are laid on thick and fast as the film reaches its conclusion.
Personally I think the biggest problem with splitting a film like this in half is it gave fans six months to think about what they had seen in Reloaded and what it meant. Specifically how Neo was able to destroy the sentinels in the real world. Some of the theories that I discussed with friends of my skin sack were truly inspired, one of which was the idea that there were multiple versions of the Matrix, and the “real world” is actually another level within the Matrix itself. Consequently there are no free humans, the human race has been enslaved, and Neo is the only one who can act in both the original Matrix and the real-world Matrix. How cool was that idea?? Plus that was just one theory, I wondered if Neo was simply going to return to Zion and destroy every sentinel attacking before jacking into the Matrix to destroy Smith. Personally one of the things that I really wanted to see was Neo teaming up with the Agents within the Matrix, but sadly that doesn’t happen.
In the end we get a fairly routine final chapter and after an hour or so of dazzling special effects we are left with what we already knew, Neo has to save the world.
I think that what really should have happened was that the majority of the Zion stuff was cut and we had one sequel that delved into the story of the One with the fate of the human race and Zion being a subplot. With Lord of the Rings having special edition versions that are around five hours long then the uncut version of the second Matrix film which featured the full Zion story and that battle could have been a DVD not a cinema release…still I guess retrospect is a wonderful thing.
Despite the flaws The Matrix Revolutions is still a decent film and worth watching, however, what is more than a little irritating is that both Reloaded and Revolutions could have been so much better if they had been ruthlessly cut down leaving just the stuff that involves Neo and not everything else going on.
Essentially this is a weak ending to The Matrix trilogy, and does leave the audience to wonder if things would have been better if the original film had just been left alone, and two confusing, average sequels had not been made.
Before I cast my final verdict and say which direction my Thumb is pointing I have to be fair and say whether I enjoyed this film or not and the truth is that yes, I enjoyed it. It could have been better this is true, but it was a good film. It gets a Thumbs Up because whilst the ending is a little weak the final battle between Smith and Neo is truly awesome.
6.5/10 – The Matrix Revolutions boasts great special effects sadly this film and its predecessor could have been so much better. If you are a fan of The Matrix then you will have seen this final chapter and who knows perhaps this won’t be the last time that we jack into the Matrix.