2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Thursday, November 06, 2003
The Matrix: Revolutions

Once one gets over the awkward expositional bridge that opens The Matrix: Revolutions, as if Reloaded was accidentally concluded twenty minutes too early and the beginning of the last film of the trilogy had to be padded a bit, one will find a film considerably more satisfying than the series’ misguided middle episode. The sacrifice is that Revolutions is significantly less cool than Reloaded; good luck finding slick car chases, wielded katanas, creepy twins, bullet-time (think fist-time here) or seductive Italians in this conclusion. The scale of the world has expanded to hyperbolic terms, for better and for worse. The quarter million enemy machines threatening the human stronghold of Zion spawn a massive defensive effort that takes up so much screen time Revolutions could almost be considered more war movie than sci-fi (think Starship Troopers turned sincere), and the radical believer Captain Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) are subjugated into racing back to Zion with the last remaining defensive weapon. Uber-hacker cum savior Neo (Keanu Reeves) immerges from his coma to find out his powers from the Matrix have seeped into the real world and with Trinity’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) romantic support he must find the strength to confront both the machines and the rampant virus of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Like Neo, Smith has extended his reach into the real world and when he commands human flesh he can threaten Neo both in and out of the Matrix, making the virtual danger real.

It is in Neo’s quest that Revolutions returns back to ambiguous mysticism of the trilogy’s first, and best, film favoring heavy allusions (blindness, sacrifice) and lending the conclusion the same feeling of an accepting shrug; questions are left unanswered but things are kept general enough for it to not really matter. That isn’t to say Revolutions’s trajectory is fulfilling. Although it was clear from the start that Neo was the triolgy’s focus, the decision to jettison major characters into interchangeable visual bookmarks in action sequences ruins a cast that was particularly strong sans its lead protagonist. The string of inventive coolness for the sake of cool found in almost all of The Matrix and the best parts of Reloaded is inexplicable forgotten here; the stylized open space of the green-tinted Matrix is abandoned for claustrophobic fight locations, and the obnoxious Frenchman Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) who was just begging for a fight to the death in Reloaded gets one scene and a string of dialog with his jaw-dropping wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci) and is forgotten. (Especially missing is the importance of the eerie digital kiss between Persephone and Neo, one of Reloaded’s best non-action moments).

The fights of Revolutions, the film’s principal draw (other than offering answers), are grandiose effects marvels, but neither the gritty machine gun effort of the Zion battle nor the rain soaked showdown between Smith and Neo, done in big broad epic Superhero semiotics, carry with them the sense of awe that these all-powerful gods of the Matrix have been able to elicit in the past through intimate, extraordinary physical fights that bend the rules of time and gravity. The Zion battle is an impressive spectacle of pure scale with thousands and thousands of machines flooding into Zion like a grotesque mechanical wave, contemptuously circling above their humans in amazingly dynamic fleets of bobbing and weaving, all the while the humans spitting endless rounds of flack from bizarre, inexplicably open-faced defense machines. This middle section of Revolutions feels almost 90% CGI and suggests that the talent George Lucas has for using computer imagery for tableaux scenery the Wachowkis have for dynamic action sequences. But the brothers value the action concept over coherent visuals (just as they enjoy philosophical ideas but strain when it comes to introducing them into dialog without dragging their films to a halt). When it comes down to the nitty gritty of their action they often come up empty handed; case in point is the film’s early gunfight where the enemies leap up onto the ceiling to fight. Neat idea, but muddy blocking and poor coverage lend it, and much of the conceptually beautiful final showdown between Neo and Smith, the status of a semi-mess of fun ideas and subpar execution. What happened to the guys who shot the car chase in Reloaded?

As for the in-between stuff of Revolutions, that is, empty characters, dialogs that feel like thematic exposition 101, and pat-emotional moments of declarative love, humanity, right to endure etc. the Wachowskis are as amateur and heavy handed as usual. Since this film and Reloaded were shot back to back it should come as no surprise that the tedium of their visually vapid and blandly written dialog scenes in that film would continue over here. But here we have more action and though the dialog keeps humming irritatingly along there is significantly less “deep” mumbo-jumbo interjected into it. On one hand this leaves the entire film vacant of characters and meaningful interaction; on the other hand it keeps down the filmmakers’ thematic ambitions that have hampered every entry in the trilogy, leaving Revolutions satisfying, but not all that much. As an action film the same can be said; the film is very similar to Terminator 3 in pushing the idea that a massive budget thrown at special effects can make any movie passable since what the effects team has to offer can often surpass the talent of the filmmakers. While Reloaded was a step back from the generally exuberant creativity of The Matrix, Revolutions is a step up…from that low point. It gets the job done but neither it nor its predecessor will remain in the memory the way the first film did and generally speaking most of this trilogy is better left forgotten.