The Matrix Con
by Jeff Wright, November 6, 2003
I know an elaborate game of 3-Card Monte when I see it. Although, I have to admit, just like any good shill learns, sometimes the dealer can make the "mark" feel entertained while leading him back to the grifter to be taken. The shill is entertained in the process as well. Sometimes the shill himself is part of the game being played by the grifter and doesn't know it at first. In this case, the Wachowski brothers very cleverly used me and many others as unwitting shills to further an ultimately commercial endeavor. While I understand implicitly that this is true for all Hollywood endeavors it is disappointing when something with great potential to also make a point, ultimately fails to make one.
"Virtually" (yes, a double entendre) every plot line that was initially pursued is revealed as ultimately pointless or unresolved. The remaining ones introduced in the previous installments were simply dropped on the floor and left behind. The lack of logic and particularly the introduction of apparent mysticism and constant reinforcement of the Jesus myth was really disappointing. Almost all of the opportunities to make real points about life, universal love, society, technology, civilization, freedom, etc. were just squandered. For example, what was Niobe's ultimate role through two installments? To be a bad-ass, race-car driver to reach the dock in time to EMP the machines? What a waste. Or Neo, just when he obtains the replication power of program Smith (already known as most feared by the machines) combined with the program Oracle's subtle manipulative powers to take over the machines, proceeds with the choice to settle for "peace," leaving millions of humans enslaved as "coppertops?" Oooooh, but they all get to watch a great "sunrise" in the Matrix. Extremely disappointing choice.
It seems that the tactic employed here was the following. If one's storytelling strokes the brush broad enough in building the framework, throws in some deep-sounding parables and a whole bunch of metaphors, something can be made to appear both where and what it isn't. Simply stated, the viewer (mark) fills in the identity of 'his' card each time because he isn't paying close enough attention to the sleight-of-hand practiced by the grifter. The grifter gets to keep taking the mark's money because he believes, just once, his card will "turn-up."
It seems the apparent plot lines laid out ultimately proved too subtle or complex for the writers to resolve, so they just submarined them or left them open-ended. It's a shame, too, especially when they could have used the simplest technique of solidifying the themes and made them recursive at the end. (That's what "endings" are for, isn't it?) At least that would have satisfied the intellectual framework as well as provided equally imaginative eye-candy for the action and techno crowd.
I found the best summation from Roger Ebert's review I just read today: "To the degree that I was able to put aside my questions, forget logic, disregard continuity problems and immerse myself in the moment, 'The Matrix Revolutions' is a terrific action achievement." Although, for myself, I would say that the climactic fight scene between Neo and Smith was less interesting than the "burly brawl" in Reloaded. At least Neo started to learn something from the brawl.
Clever they are, those Wachowski brothers. I was entertained (to the extent I could "immerse myself in the moment"), and I think they may have introduced a new movie genre: the interactive science-fantasy, movie-RPG. Build a broad set of scenarios and let the audience fill in the blanks, so the story becomes whatever they want it to become. A great form of mental masturbation.
But let us not pretend these guys are philosophers. Maybe very well-financed and innovative plagiarists with a real love for technology. Granted, the imaginations of these two are large, but ultimately commercial. And that's OK, too. But I don't think I'll be taken in again. I was fooled by the implications of Reloaded. I learned my lesson with Revolutions: what goes around comes around. Or not. I can envision 27 more movies on this (that's 3 x 3 trilogies). Just think of the numerological implications! (Deep sarcasm intended.) They will make billions.
This critique could become quite lengthy. But, at this juncture, I hardly see it as worthwhile. The promise was squandered, the potential wasted. I just don't feel the need to apply anymore keystrokes. A friend who attended the screening with me said, "The potential was over as soon as Neo woke up in Mobil Ave" (a secure archive of the Merovingian). He was right.
I think I'll pull out some of my old Asimov books and start reading them again. The logic and philosophic ideas contained in the Foundation and Robot series vastly outweigh those I just witnessed in "Revolutions."
[For a different take on the last Matrix movie, see Ari Armstrong's review.]