The Matrix Revolutions

reviewed by Steve Sailer

UPI, November 5, 2003


With "The Matrix Revolutions," the virtual reality franchise that has been the "Star Wars" of the Internet generation, has definitively crashed and burned. This raises a disturbing question about contemporary science fiction. Can concepts built upon visions of faster data processing prove as consistently satisfying as the old sci-fi stories based upon dreams of faster travel?

Last May, "The Matrix Reloaded" was the most highly anticipated movie of 2003, but the new "Matrix Revolutions" is perhaps the most dreaded.

"Reloaded" earned solid reviews, often from critics who back in 1999 didn't understand the terrific original "Matrix" and thus didn't want to appear uncool again, and it hauled in $282 million domestically and $454 million overseas. Let's face it, though, "Reloaded" was no fun at all. I scoffed, "It has only two speeds: you either get leaden philosophizing about free will or super-colossal action set pieces. It's like 'My Dinner with Andre on the Hindenburg.'"

Now that the hype hallucinations over "Reloaded" have worn off, expect the reviews of "Revolutions" to be savage.

There doesn't seem much point in trying to decide whether "Revolutions" is more or less misbegotten than "Reloaded," although they are different.

I suspect that veteran action producer Joel Silver finally stepped in this time to provide some adult supervision of the editing. The seminar-length didactic yakfests on the meaning of meaning have been trimmed down and chopped up, but that just makes the point of this vast spectacle even more incoherent and unsatisfying.

The wooden Keanu Reeves and the haggard-looking Carrie-Ann Moss have had their roles cut back (although one of these characters has a death scene longer than Madame Butterfly's), but the supporting cast is no improvement.

It's not fair to describe the Wachowski Brothers, the "frauteurs" behind the series, as exemplifying all that's wrong with Hollywood blockbusters because, while the sequels have certainly been bad, they've been bad in deeply peculiar ways.

For example, while the Wachowskis' unusual commitment to casting African-Americans in close to half of the roles should be applauded, the damage the brothers' portentous dialogue and stilted direction do to the reputations of so many black character actors must be deplored.

The frauteurs apparently intend to shatter the old stereotype that black entertainers are, well, entertaining. Instead of allowing their African-American actors to be, say, witty, sexy, and likeable, the Wachowskis have made them all as pompous and insufferable as university presidents. In fact, they give quite a few lines in "Revolutions" to an actual Ivy League academic, Cornel West, and he's no more awful than the professionals.

The only clear improvement I can see is that the kung-fu wire acrobatics that seemed so exciting in the first episode and so played out in the second have largely been replaced by a whopper of a sci-fi battle scene in which the machines drill down into the underground human refuge of Zion. The Wachowskis borrow heavily from James Cameron's "Aliens," but that's a strong source to imitate.

On the other hand, that's not what made "The Matrix" interesting. The mystery remains: why did the Wachowskis run out of good ideas so fast?

I may be over-generalizing, but the collapse of their concept might reflect a general weakness of contemporary science fiction's infatuation with computer-centered stories in which the underlying action is people typing on keyboards.

Science fiction extrapolates the hot technologies of the era. For a century, from Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Robert A. Heinlein through "Star Trek" and "Star Wars," sci-fi largely grew out of the Transportation Revolution. As the upcoming Russell Crowe film "Master and Commander" illustrates, just two hundred years ago the state of the art in transportation was the sailing ship, a technology that had evolved only marginally in centuries. Then, beginning with the steamboat in 1807, humanity's ability to move faster and farther roared ahead through the moon landing in 1969.

Classic science fiction simply assumed that we would someday journey through space and time as easily as we now traveled around the earth. This idea attracted an enormous audience because the fantastic voyage has been one of the surest crowd-pleaser in Western literature since Homer's "Odyssey."

Then, unexpectedly, we hit a speed bump, or maybe a speed wall. The Concorde is now a museum piece. Nobody has ventured beyond Earth orbit since 1972. Even the speed limits on highways are the same.

Instead, computers accelerated. The Information Revolution gave birth to the cyberpunk genre, of which the original "Matrix" has been the leading (and perhaps only) film success.

The cinematic problem is that hacking into computer networks is a sedentary activity that leads to claustrophobic movies, especially in comparison to the footloose romanticism of golden age science fiction about new ways to travel and new places to go.

Rated a soft R for sci-fi violence, moderate bad language, and brief sexual content.

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