Time to get to some unfinished business.
In many ways, The Matrix Revolutions is even weirder than its predecessor. Though filmed simultaneously with Reloaded, the third film plays and feels much differently than the second; indeed, as I remarked in discussing the previous sequel, it seems at times that Revolutions is slyly mocking Reloaded and its convoluted plotting. Reloaded is unnecessarily subversive whereas Revolutions dives headlong into cliche. Questions and elements raised in the first sequel are largely yawned at by the second. The core cast is separated for the majority of the film and their concurrent storylines are not balanced well in the editing room. Even the titular matrix itself gets less screen time than ever.
And, of course, fight scenes get short shrift. There’s a decent shootout sequence early on, though it’s a bit of a rehash, and the extended war sequence defending Zion is nothing to sneeze at. But the one true fight scene comes in the form of the climactic showdown between hero & villain. Fortunately, it’s a doozy.
Neo vs Agent Smith (final round)
- Neo, aka The One, with all the enhanced powers that entails. He’s been re-jacked into the matrix after personally entering the machine city and striking up a deal with their overlord (personified by a giant floating baby head that’s called “Deus Ex Machina” in the credits, which is cute) to face down the Smith Army in exchange for relenting in their assault on Zion. Probably not at the top of his game, what with having just watched his girlfriend die a few minutes ago. Played by everyone’s favorite, Keanu Reeves.
- Agent Smith, the rogue program gifted with the power of infinite replication via assimilation (resistance is futile); if Neo is the One, Smith is the Many. Now that he’s taken over the Oracle, he’s stronger than ever, able to fly, and has some amount of her precognition. Played by Hugo Weaving.
The Setup: Expanding ever-faster, Agent Smith has taken over enough hosts in order to fill a city– or possibly the entire population of the matrix at this point, it’s never stated. Presumably his rampant presence is what’s also messing with the coding in the matrix enough to create the really bitchin’ storm that’s raging in the background, complete with big ol’ fat rain and almost continual lightning strikes. (Artistically, of course, the rain is supposed to evoke the way the matrix’s code looks.)
Neo strides calmly down a street that is lined with thousands of Smiths, packed shoulder to shoulder. The lead Smith (the one who absorbed the Oracle) steps out of the crowd for some of that wonderful Hugo Weaving trash talk we’ve come to love. He tells Neo that “the rest of me are just going to stand back and enjoy the show, because we already know I’m the one that beats you.” Which is a clever little way to paper over how if the Smith Army REALLY wanted to defeat Neo, they’d all just dog pile him immediately and the fight would be over in eight seconds.
But that would be neither dramatic nor fun, so instead we get this showdown. The two combatants charge each other as Don Davis’ specially composed track “Neodammerung” (again: cute) revs up.
The Fight: It seems like business as usual at first. Hero & villain exchange a series of fast blows & dodges, with neither gaining a real solid win over the other. The camera work is really good here, as the Wachowskis basically use three profile shots of the dueling fates, pushing in steadily each time they alternate which side they’re shooting from– an unobtrusive yet effective way to convey the battle’s intensity.
Then there’s a big slow-motion shot as the two manage to punch each other’s faces simultaneously, resulting in both flying backwards along with an enormous shockwave (the first of like three or four such shockwaves in this fight– they really overdo it) that displaces a huge sphere of rainwater. Neo seems to get the best of this one because he lands on his feet while Smith lands on his back hard enough to push up a whole chunk of asphalt.
Smith flies up angrily and is immediately met by Neo, and they do this strange mid-air wrestling thing that never comes across as anything more than awkward.
Neo is soon thrown through the side of a building, and just barely dodges (with a jumping splits that would make Van Damme proud) when Smith swoops in for a follow-up. The pair slam into each other again and Neo takes a nasty fall, giving some time for Smith to monologue a bit more about “purpose” and how he wants to destroy everything ever. It’s all terribly nihilistic. I mean, say what you will about national socialism, dude, at least it’s an ethos.
This seems to energize rather than demoralize Neo, however– he rises with a big music cue and does the franchise’s umpteenth iteration of the “come & get it” hand gesture. They re-engage in what’s probably the best part of the battle, with some strong and spirited choreography, mixing in a healthy but not excessive amount of slow-mo. The Wachowskis show this interior part of the duel from several angles, but the most prominent is the iconic view that silhouettes the pair against the building’s windows.
Neo kicks some rogue program ass here, almost systematically shutting down Smith’s attacks and beating him back. He finishes by knocking the villain through the huge windows (Smith loses his sunglasses in the process). Neo then joins him in flight and the two continue dueling in mid-air.
The aerial stuff in this segment is a lot better than before, mostly. There are some wide shots of the two circling each other, thrusting in and backing off (the displaced water following them as they zoom along creates de facto contrails, which is neat), and some closer shots as they forego the clumsy wrestling of before in favor of some zero-gravity kung fu. Throughout we can see even more of the black & green sky, with huge lightning bolts constantly flashing.
Eventually, Smith gets far enough away that he can build up some serious speed & momentum as he rushes back to his prey, while Neo just floats there passively. Presumably he has some plan to dodge or counter Smith at the last minute, but if so it doesn’t work. After the blow creates the biggest shockwave yet, Smith grabs Neo and flies him downward at full speed, slamming them both into the ground hard enough to create an enormous impact crater.
It looks pretty rough for Neo, flopping around limply on the ground. As Smith observes his desperate struggle, he ponders why Neo continues to fight, since he clearly has no hope of survival– the only thing logically worth fighting for, in Smith’s worldview. Any other reason– freedom, justice, love– is just an intangible and artificial construct, just as fake as the matrix itself.
Again Neo is inspired rather than dispirited, because it’s then that he finally stands up and assumes a ready stance, simply telling his foe “because I choose to.” This is the crux of one of the series’ many themes, the triumph of humanism over nihilism. The things we value aren’t inherently or objectively valuable, they are valuable because we choose to make them so.
Neo blocks several blows from Smith, and comes back hard with a few of his own. The first of which is that absurd super slow-mo shot that tracks Neo’s fist and we see it distort his opponent’s face, practically one pixelized pore at a time.
Just like what the Burly Brawl did to excess, again we’re shown that Polar Express-level phony CGI and with all the slow-mo time in the world to observe its fakeness. However, there’s some advantage gained by being able to see Neo’s virtual hand cut through several individual rain drops, a feat that would have been much less doable in reality. Then again, the money shot here is that crazy contorted Weaving face, and most people would agree that the visual is more silly than dramatic, so overall the decision is a wash at best.
A few more punches bury Smith in the side of the crater, but Neo hardly has a moment to catch his breath before the villain flies out of the hole in a rage, petulantly crying out “This is my world, mine!” and beating Neo down some more.
Smith pauses, as he realizes that his prophecy is coming true and he’s almost at the moment where he “wins.” Reciting part of his vision, he inadvertently gives Neo the Oracle’s hint as to what to do, and Neo willingly accepts assimilation. Facing his newest clone, Smith seems to think he’s won, but this actually allows the machines to fill Neo’s real body with a surge of energy that explodes his matrix clone-self and, soon enough, the rest of the Smith Army. Their Smith shells explode, leaving the host bodies behind, Oracle included.
A fitting and unusual end: basically, Neo defeats his enemy by embracing him. He balances (or unbalances) the equation. Even if it does raise the question of, you know, why didn’t he just do that in the first place.
Putting the thematic & philosophical entanglements aside here, what we have here is essentially a straight-up, comic book, superhero vs supervillain fight, and on the kind of scale that had been rarely attempted at the time. The closest prior analogue would be Superman II’s climactic battle against Zod & co, and while that had its moments, the special effects of 1980 were, shall we say, not up to the task. (Or maybe Nuclear Man in Superman IV, but let’s not go there.)
The effects are a lot more up to the task here, if still imperfect. Hero & villain fight on the ground and in the air, they toss each other through buildings and deliver earth-shattering blows. The Gumby-like CGI and occasionally awkward sky-tussling don’t help, but largely the Wachowskis’ effects team and choreography deliver on selling a brawl between two godlike superheroes. Though the excitement dips toward the end, there are enough changes of pace and scenery throughout to keep the overall struggle from betting too boring.
They were really shooting for the stars on this one, and while the fight is missing some element that would make it truly great, it is highly entertaining and satisfying nonetheless.
Coming Attractions: Tobey-Man, Tobey-Man, does whatever a Tobey can….