Cinematic Surgery: The Matrix Revolutions
Despite its numerous flaws and baggy structure, the first of The Matrix Sequels, Reloaded, ultimately proved to be the more successful and acclaimed, a state of affairs that sadly owes more to the whole new level of disappointment provided by the hugely promising conclusion to the trilogy, Revolutions. It is quite telling that despite the huge levels of hype generated by the impending arrival of the first sequel, the six months preceding the release of the final installment were oddly quiet, leading up to a release that was treated begrudgingly rather than with excitement, echoing the progressive weariness shown towards the disastrous Star Wars Prequels. Even before it saw the light of day, Revolutions was let down by being positioned atop the most diminutive of pedestals with little in the way of a set up.
That isn’t to say that Revolutions’ ill fortune was entirely down to the poor work of its predecessor, or that its unfavorable reaction among critics and fans is explicable by the lack of good vibrations from the PR machine. While it manages to eschew the slow pace and filler of Reloaded, the second sequel botches conclusion more through a series of creative missteps and narrative mistakes, coming across as a rushed project that crucially fails to deliver payoffs to the more mystical elements of the previous film. Much like in Reloaded, these errors can be fixed without altering the plot significantly, but rather by delivering an alternate final draft to the script. Revolutions is a film that was destined to be an overwhelmingly epic endgame but failed to fulfill itself, badly in need of ironing out. Cold, hard logic was required. In short, this surgery is not terribly invasive and is more a case of treating the symptoms of a virus.
And so we jack back into the matrix hoping to deliver the film that should have been, in lieu of my last update. To recap, Neo has learned about the true nature and apparent fate of Zion but is stranded leagues from home and in a coma, lying inches away from the Smith avatar Bane. Morpheus is dead, killed in the Nebuchadnezzar’s last stand, a victim of Neo’s fateful choice to defy the words of the Architect. The matrix itself is being torn apart from within by the Smith program. Both worlds are on the brink of destruction.
In keeping with the previous two films, there is a need for a brief but effective action prologue to ease us into proceedings, and the natural place to start would be within the matrix itself. Following in the aftermath of the human excursion within the source, the agents are on the hunt for Niobe’s crew and are led to an opera house. The scenario is very similar to the opening to the first film, with police officers and SWAT teams on sight to cordon off the area. One of the cops – identified as Peters – reports that the ‘terrorists’ are inside the building, and that ‘someone else’ has already gone in, much to the chagrin of the agents. He comments that he has “never seen anything like it”. The agents take over, heading inside to find that Niobe’s crew is in a running battle with multiple Smiths.
Once Smith has spotted the agents he breaks off of his pursuit and targets them instead. In a brief exchange, Smith notes that the crew of the Logos are about to be overwhelmed in the real world anyway, and that it is the agents that he has more interest in. As she escapes by phone, Niobe has time to witness the agents being overpowered and absorbed by the Smiths. This battle is also seen by Peters and his men, who flee, now aware that something ‘wrong’ has just happened in their reality. This sequence properly sets up Niobe and her crew’s reappearance as well as giving her some purpose, provides some insights into Smith’s rampage through the matrix and delivers an action sequence that immediately pits the audience into the drama and assures them instantly that things have gone crazy. The allusions to the first film’s prologue are a measure to establish contrast. Perhaps most crucially, it also provides a Chekhov’s Gun to an important future event.
On a shot of a victorious Smith, we use a neat cut to Bane lying on the medical table and thus resume the original narrative. Trinity is with a supine Neo and discussing his situation with the Fjolnir’s doctor, including the reference to Neo’s brain activity, suggesting that he is somehow plugged into the matrix. Here we begin to address two issues with the film, major plot points that are not satisfyingly explained. Firstly, how Neo was able to be jacked in without being manually connected, and, secondly, how Smith is able to control a human outside of the matrix. A good start would be to indicate that Bane is showing similar brain activity, mystifying the doctor. When we cut to the captain of the Fjolnir discussing the situation with Link and Jason (Jason takes Morpheus’s role from the original narrative) we can throw in another hint by having one of the crew points out that there is a lot of electrical activity in the tunnels around them, again in defiance of explanation. When Link sees this activity himself, he notes that it looks ‘familiar’ but cannot identify what it is.
This brings us to Neo, trapped in the subway station. This scene will proceed as it does in the film, with one major alteration; the excision of little girl Sati. As noted in the previous article, the idea of computer programs having wives and children is too problematic to be utilized, and this scene, in particular, requires simplification. Neo’s interaction with Ramachandra stays, but that is all, he has no family. This scene also requires another change; rather than at the behest of the Merovingian, the exiles are being allowed back into the matrix by a different program, once nicknamed ‘the ferryman’. An explanation for this will be quick in coming but plays out as seen in the film with the ‘train man’ arriving and refusing Neo access to the subway, leaving him stranded.
We then begin to follow a double plot; the crew of the Fjolnir attempt to locate Niobe’s ship the Logos while Trinity elects to enter the matrix to find Neo. There is no serendipitous (and illogical) phone call from Seraph, and instead, Trinity’s course is a leap of faith. Indicating his recent character development, Jason decides to go with her, for backup as much as anything else. In this version, Trinity and Jason are approached by Seraph within the matrix, who leads them to ‘the ferryman’. This takes us into the same S&M club sequence as the original narrative. At the same time, the Fjolnir finds the Logos marooned and powerless, while Bane murders the ship’s doctor and makes his escape.
The Fjolnir crew finds Niobe and her surviving crew and she quickly learns that Trinity and co. are in the matrix. Her reaction is one of horror, and she states that they have to get out immediately. In the club showdown, the Merovingian is replaced by ‘Charon’ – the ferryman – who is a dark and creepy character, oozing arrogance and menace. He is essentially the matrix’s answer to your Windows’ recycle bin, responsible for the deletion or restoration of exiled programs. He has no interest in releasing Neo since he apparently has a purpose in mind for ‘the messiah’. Trinity, Jason, and Seraph look doomed until Niobe shows up with her own team. In the stand-off, Charon ends up at gunpoint and is uncharacteristically concerned for his life. It is here that we learn the truth.
With Smith now rampantly invading the matrix, Charon has been attempting to restore balance by sending exiled programs back into the system, but it is failing. The agents have been corrupted, effectively meaning there are no longer any enforcers to protect the programming. If Charon is ‘killed’, there will be no way to restore him and thus the matrix will be unable to purge itself. Though he had planned to give Neo to Smith in exchange for his own safety, Charon begrudgingly hands him over to Trinity on the same terms.
Though it sounds convoluted, this sequence of events does not need to be any lengthier than the scenario presented in the original narrative, and presents a number of improvements. The introduction of a new character keeps things fresh, particularly in light of the irritation generated by the Merovingian, and his role sheds some light on the workings of the matrix. It also further establishes the peril that is Smith’s invasion, explains how the gambit of simply putting a gun to the jailer’s head would work and gives more substance to Niobe’s role. Things play out as before now, with Trinity and Jason releasing Neo from his prison and heading off to see the Oracle.
A discussion between Neo and Jason takes place here, illustrating how much the latter has grown. Neo speaks with the Oracle, and again this conversation is much like that in the original narrative, albeit with some crucial changes. The Wachowskis seemed to forget the concept of ‘broadcast range’ here. As presented in the films, it is essentially network reception allowing entry to the matrix, a wireless wi-fi connection. This would suggest that the machines have built neurological uplink technology within the tunnels of their underground, making such uplinks possible. In essence, it means that the matrix is all around us even in the real world. Is it not possible, therefore, that strong enough minds (either machine or human) could make the jump between worlds? Rather than fall back on the spiritual or metaphorical, why not rely on the old adage of ‘the wizard did it’ by means of future technology? It may not be an ingenious explanation for Neo’s powers, but it is at least an explanation, one the audience can get behind, thus an improvement on the ‘he is the chosen one’ fallback or the idea that meeting the Architect somehow ‘upgraded’ Neo. While the Oracle hints around the science, we see Link and the Fjolnir crew identify the electrical activity as the same pattern created when humans enter the matrix.
In the same scene, we can also get a far more satisfying reasoning for how Smith was able to become the virus that he now is, rather than merely falling back on a symbolic ‘he’s your counterpoint’ explanation. When Neo ‘destroyed’ Smith in the original film, it created an irrevocable glitch in the system, since what happened was impossible; thus as hinted at by Smith himself, the Smith program continued to exist but was now completely unplugged from its constraints, a ghost in the machine, able to use its powers as an agent but without its pre-set limitations. In effect, the corruption of the matrix is down to Neo’s actions as ‘the one’. The invasion is his fault. Obviously, he is also the only one who can stop Smith and stop the matrix from being so corrupted that it spreads to the machine world and consequently wipes out every single human being still under bondage.
With these core elements established and explained, plus a greater sense of danger, we can get back into the thick of things. Here we use the same set up as the original narrative with slight alterations. The Fjolnir heads back to Zion by the same means as before, the death defying flight through sub-passageways, while Neo takes the Logos to the machine city (which, in accordance with The Animatrix, should be referred to as City 01 for the sake of both continuity and…hell, it’s just a cool name). This time Niobe agrees to give up her ship in memory of the late Morpheus. Neo’s journey is one of sedition and redemption as much as destiny, manifestations of his guilt over both Morpheus’s death and the chaos he has unleashed on the matrix. As the Fjolnir sets off, Bane attacks Neo and Trinity on board the Logos. This showdown is the same, excepting the fact that Neo clocks on to who Bane is much quicker (the whole “Mr. Anderson” thing should be sufficient to make this a swift ID).
During this time, we have a number of scenes and events that are solid but need a little touching up. In the matrix, Smith finds the oracle and assimilates her after destroying Seraph but this time we not get maniacal laughter, nor his “you’d know, mom” line, both of which ruined any tension this scene might have – indeed, should have – had. Instead, after absorbing the oracle Smith reels and then simply says “it is inevitable”. Neo and Trinity’s journey to the surface and City 01 has more eye candy, with ruins of human cities and evidence of past wars. In Zion, the defense of the city is a more varied visage, with other vehicles similar to battle tanks deployed along with the ‘mechs’ and rocket teams. These are just small details, but the variety makes for much more interesting and immersive viewing.
The battle itself, a long and loud affair unlike anything seen in the trilogy before, is crying out for a little color, though on paper is sound. There should, however, be more visible loss of life to establish the costliness of the defense. Eventually the Fjolnir arrives, hits the EMP and stops the first wave. After disembarking, it falls to Jason to represent the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar at the council meeting alongside Niobe and Lock. Here, we see this character finally bloom. His utter conviction in Neo sways the council, particularly Councillor Hamann who knew him when he was a skeptic. It is far more powerful to see this fervent faith from a protagonist who, just one movie earlier, thought he should have taken the blue pill.
This brings us to the climax, the epic finale. Neo and Trinity reach City 01, but Trinity is mortally wounded and has to bow out. This scene needs to be cut down, as it drags on and on with Trinity reciting line after line of dialogue despite being on the verge of death. It would be far more effective were she only given a few seconds, and using them to reassure Neo that he is doing the right thing, the thing he has to do. The toll of guilt on Neo up until this point, the sheer weight on his shoulders, is lifted by her final blessing. He still finds the Deus Ex Machina with an air of helplessness, however. Their exchange omits the machine rep blustering at Neo that it doesn’t take orders, a bafflingly emotive moment in the film, and instead gets down to brass tacks. The matrix is about to be destroyed, and with it the infection and destruction of the machines. They have only one choice; allow Neo to enter and find Smith. In exchange, the machines will declare a peace.
We immediately cut to Neo entering the matrix, which is now Smith’s playground. The two face off and fight. This plays out as in the original film, but with more clear evidence that the matrix itself is being torn apart by their titanic clash. Lines of code are visible in the raindrops; the horizon and landscape seem to glitch in ‘déjà vu’; reality ripples. But it all comes down to the same conclusion. Smith gains the upper hand, and demands to know why Neo continues to fight. “Because I choose to” Neo replies, and continues to duel even though he is defeated. Confused by events, even by my own words, Smith nonetheless falls into the trap and absorbs Neo, realizing too late that his thirst to fulfill his ‘vision’ has led him straight to his former masters. “Inevitable…” he whispers gravely as his many, many copies are destroyed from within, he along with them, and the Smith virus is finally eradicated. In Zion, the sentinels are withdrawn and the city spared, albeit with huge losses. An overwhelmed Jason sheds tears and looks skyward, thanking Neo. His arc is complete.
The core strengths of Revolutions are revealed in this final act, that of the ideas. There is some truly fascinating philosophical fodder to get through, concepts revolving around choice and destiny, whether we make decisions based on our ideas of destination or out of genuine free will. Huge set pieces such as the battle for Zion or the final Neo vs. Smith clash are often criticized but are actually competently executed and well-structured events that only seem unsatisfying when presented alongside scenes of exposition that fail to reward the viewer’s patience or present a solid explanation for the supernatural. Surrounded by stronger and more involving events, these scenes would doubtless be far more enjoyable, thrilling even, particularly in lieu of the mysticism that follows the series. Neo vs. Smith is individualism vs. logic. The battle for Zion is the physical representation of life’s astonishing self-sustenance, its refusal to die. The best of mankind is presented in fantasy. On this score, the Wachoswkis hit some high marks.
For this reason, the actual ending has to be different for a vast number of reasons. Of all the things derided in the film, the last scene is the one most worthy of scorn. It is not the glucose levels present that doom this scene; it is the simple fact that a series of films about freedom and the human condition concludes with an exchange between computer programs in a virtual reality setting. This is an unforgivable oversight. In a more starkly honest interpretation of events, none of the programs we have met in any of the films exist anymore, since they were destroyed along with Smith. The matrix is essentially now boundless and its inhabitants are no longer imprisoned. Instead of oracles and architects and little girls, let’s go for a far different vision, one a little more true.
Officer Peters and his family are barricaded inside his house, fully aware that reality presented has gone utterly haywire. They are visited by Jason and his new crew, and they explain the matrix, just as Morpheus did to Neo in the original. Peters is offered a choice between the red pill and the blue pill. He chooses the red. We then see a montage as Jason visits person after person, releasing them from the matrix. He is no longer the student; he is the master, a spiritual leader like Morpheus or Neo, a king of sorts. Over the top of this, he makes a phone call, referring to the final scene in the original. However, he isn’t speaking to the machines, he’s speaking to mankind as a whole, telling them that the lie is over and freedom beckons. It will be hard, impossible even, but their imprisonment is ended if they wish and finally the truth will out. “All we ask” he concludes “is that you choose”.
This is perhaps the biggest change, and the one most open to subjective slant, but also perhaps the most essential to ensure that the films end on an appropriate note. There is much to be read into the fact that until this necessary crossroads, all of the incisions and remedies deployed were minimal and often cosmetic. Blood flow was redirected rather than transfused, skin cream was applied rather than grafts. The potential for greatness is already there but sadly neglected or unchecked by the simple, understandable folly of indecision. If one can get past the botched execution that saw an astonishing vision fail to reach its heights, you can find that the ideas presented are enough. But given the virtuosity of the 1999 original and its vast impact, that enjoyment is still tinged with sadness. The Matrix Sequels should really, really have been much, much better.
And a simple re-imagining after the fact will never change that, no matter what choices we make.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.