When the second half of the 2-part MATRIX sequel begins, our hero Neo and antagonist Agent Smith are both displaced from their regular realities. Smith has somehow transferred his computer-program-consciousness into the organic human body of Bane, only survivor of the destroyed Nebuchadnezzar, now in the sick bay of the Hammer next to comatose Neo, whose mind is trapped in a purgatorial subway station in a virtual world separate from The Matrix.
Yeah, the sequels get complicated. We learn that programs inside The Matrix are regularly deleted, but some try to escape that fate. The subway is a black market means of smuggling exile programs in and out of the Matrix or the Machine City (01?) mainframe. This is all overseen by the Merovingian, with the subway itself operated by his employee The Trainman, a scary dude played by Bruce Spence, a.k.a. the Gyro Captain in THE ROAD WARRIOR and Jedediah in MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME.
(Spence is the king of giant franchises because in addition to THE MATRIX and MAD MAX he’s in LORD OF THE RINGS [RETURN OF THE KING extended edition], STAR WARS [REVENGE OF THE SITH], and PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN [DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES]. Plus you could throw in an Ace Ventura, a Munsters, a Lestat, an Inspector Gadget, a Chronicles of Narnia and a Children of the Corn if you want to be a completist about it.)
It’s here at the Mobil Ave subway station that we and Neo meet Rama-Kandra (Bernard White, THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT, THE SCORPION KING) and Kamala (Tharini Mudaliar), exiled programs trying to smuggle their daughter Sati (Tanveer K. Atwal) to safety, since she was created out of love and could be deleted for not having a “purpose.” It’s not lost on Neo that these are digital creations who believe in love and karma. They’re also humane enough to let him carry their luggage to act casual getting onto the train, even though why would that work and then it’s unclear if they get their suitcase back when it doesn’t. The Trainman leaves Neo stranded, and when he tries to walk through the tunnel he just ends up at the same place over and over again.
But his people aren’t about to leave him stranded. Morpheus, Trinity and Seraph face down Merovingian at some S&M place called Club Hel and force him to let Neo go. We often talk about the sincerity of the Wachowskis, and I think this is an example. Usually fetish stuff in a movie is just put in there to be freaky, but I suspect one or more of the siblings are actually into this shit. I don’t know. Just a hunch.
I do not get this from the actual movie, but according to reference materials the patrons of Club Hel intentionally resemble different types of vampires, werewolves and other monsters because they’re meant to be, like the twins in RELOADED, programs that glitched out and had unnatural abilities which would be reason for deletion (and the inspiration for legends about such monsters). So if I may bring up the Wachowskis’ history writing for Clive Barker comics one last time, the imagery resembles HELLRAISER but the concept is more NIGHTBREED – a digital Midian. (But also this reminds me of the BLADE movies. Which is always good.)
Once he’s freed, Neo goes to talk to the Oracle, who he notices looks different (Gloria Foster had died, so she’s now played by Mary Alice [BEAT STREET, A PERFECT WORLD]) and also now understands is a program and therefore part of the Matrix, so he doesn’t know if he should trust her. But he chooses to.
Meanwhile, there are even more Agent Smiths than there were to fight Neo in RELOADED because he’s going around absorbing other programs. When he does this to the Oracle he now has her psychic powers (and, I’m guessing, her cookie recipe).
I must admit that I’ve never really gotten down with the thing about Smith taking over Bane (Ian Bliss, MAN-THING). Partly because I just don’t get how that works, but also because the character is not really established as very interesting or important until he becomes a host body. Until I saw RELOADED a bunch of times I always thought, “Who is that again?” when they ended ominously on his face. But on this viewing, at least, I really appreciated that Bliss does a pretty good Agent Smith imitation. Still, I never find this one of the more compelling or memorable parts of the sequels.
While the captains discuss strategies for defending Zion from the drilling Sentinels, Neo convinces them to let him take one ship for what most of them believe is a crazy plan to go to the Machine City. I like this because it feels so mythological; he’s already escaped from the underworld with new wisdom, now he’s on a dangerous journey, he becomes blinded (losing the eyes he’s been using for less than a year!) but gains a new sense (seeing the glow of machines?) and when he speaks to a giant baby face made of machines representing, I guess, the collective intelligence of the Machine City, it’s like he’s facing a god or a Titan.
In fact, in researching the review I learned that the machine character is called Deus Ex Machina – a meta joke about its purpose in the story, but also literally a “god out of the machine.”
When it comes to the battle at Zion, REVOLUTIONS is a much more straight ahead blockbuster than RELOADED. We spend alot of time on complex and well put together battle sequences cutting between the mechs, various hovercraft crews, and volunteers on the ground with rocket launchers, battling the squids. All this is comparable to many of the STAR WARS movies, or to AVATAR. And the effects have aged well – there are many models used, and the wriggly movements of the Sentinels (in gigantic numbers) were an envelope-pushing effect that was not at all an overreach like some might say of the digital human characters. They hold up.
As with RELOADED, one of the things I suspect people had a problem with in REVOLUTIONS is one of the things I think makes the movie special: the fact that Neo negotiates, instead of destroying the machines.
It’s very courageous what he does. They could easily kill him, but he convinces them to listen to him first. He tells them that Agent Smith has evolved beyond any previous versions of Agent Smith, and may be successful in his plan to conquer both the human world and The Matrix. And he argues that he himself, the One, with his off-the-charts powers, is the 1 to balance that 0, the only one who can stop Smith. The Machines are persuaded, so they plug Neo into The Matrix to fight Smith, and stop all of the Sentinels at Zion. And when it’s all over they turn around leave. So we don’t get an exploding Death Star moment, a V-Day celebration. The Machines get to live and we get to live. And people will be allowed to leave the Matrix if they want to. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress. More living beings getting to have the lives and destinies of their choosing.
Oh, and yeah, Trinity and Neo both sacrifice themselves to create this peace. But the Oracle implies that Neo will be back somehow. (And oh shit, it looks like both of them will be back in THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS next Wednesday!)
I’ve always admired that this big sci-fi war trilogy would end with a sort of shaky compromise instead of a rah-rah military victory that we pretend solves everything. It just feels more true to life, more in the MATRIX spirit of doing things differently, and also more fair to the machines and programs, who we have learned over the series and in THE ANIMATRIX have a right to live.
But I’m making it sound like some anti-climactic pulling the football away ending, and I don’t think that’s the case. The mech battle is cool (moreso before AVATAR came along) but the real climax is Neo’s final duel against Smith, in a dark rainy street, between rows of Smith clones lined up by the hundreds. The structure of The Matrix seems to be crumbling and glitching out left and right, and both of them have become powerful beyond anything they’ve ever imagined. Of the numerous movies in the years since that climax with an FX-enhanced battle between super powered characters, not many come to mind as doing it this well. But I suppose it helps that this is a culmination of three movies, of a showdown and a rematch. We’ve watched their skills and their rivalry grow as each have become aware of or changed their understanding of the titular virtual world. And now it deteriorates around them as their awesome powers clash, the entire human and machine populations awaiting the outcome. Simultaneously epic and intimate.
(Also all of this beautiful rain may have given Woo-ping ideas and/or relevant experience for the opening scene of THE GRANDMASTER.)
I’ve never really been able to imagine what happens next in this world. I guess there was an online video game with some answers, which may or may not be totally ignored in RESURRECTIONS. It was only when we talked about it on the 00’s Zone podcast that I realized how optimistic I’m willing to be about it. I thought of the scene right before Trinity’s death, when she steers the ship to avoid an onslaught of machines, and they fly up above the clouds and we see that there actually is a sky up there. All that time in the Matrix wearing sunglasses and this is the only time in Trinity’s life she got to feel real sunlight on her face.
It’s a beautiful moment that shows that this horrible status quo might not have to last forever. While the war’s off, maybe there could be some way to clear those skies, bring back solar power, phase out human power, make it so you have to opt-in to be in the Matrix. I’m sure everybody knowing it’s the Matrix and they can learn to do crazy shit would create all kinds of problems, but so does anything. The point is to not give up on trying to make a better world. We want everybody to be free, to be who they want to be, and to not have to fight. Exceptions made for kung fu.