July 10, 2009

The Matrix Revolutions

Welcome to the third installment of Matrix reviews, brought to you by our guest poster known as d. If you missed her reviews of The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, check them out too! Then on Monday we'll have some Matrixy links for you to enjoy.

"Now, since the real test for any choice is having to make the same choice again, knowing full well what it might cost...I guess I feel pretty good about that choice, 'cause here I am...at it again..." - the Oracle

Many people adore the first Matrix, and would very much like to forget that the sequels were ever made, if they even saw them. Others who are more action-oriented enjoy Reloaded, but saw Revolutions as too slow; both factions thought it was more of the same. Reloaded and Revolutions do share some similarities, since they were filmed simultaneously. But if I had to lump the films in any way, it is The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded that more closely resemble each other. The Matrix Revolutions is just that - revolutionary. It not only pushes the boundaries of HC, but of storytelling itself.

Most U.S. films use the protagonist as the main focal point, and don't veer too far from him or her. This isn't the case here; a good chunk of the film is split between three storylines: Neo and Trinity racing towards Machine City to stop the machines from destroying humanity; captains Niobe, Morpheus, and Roland (along with their crews) racing towards Zion to defend it against sentinel invasion, and the remaining citizens of Zion holding that same invasion at bay. The split gives the film a more ensemble feel, and allows other characters to really come into their own.

One character who leaps from wallpaper status to the forefront is Captain Mifune, played by Nathaniel Lees. I was going to declare that this was the film Skye was looking for when she lamented (in Doomsday's review) the dearth of non-ninja military characters. And while he does carry a Japanese name, his ethnicity is Samoan-Australian (so I'm not quite sure where that puts him). He barks out orders as ineloquently but heartfelt as any officer I'd seen in film. He proves himself to be one of the finest combatants on the battlefield, and he also inspires and encourages a young Zionist to be even more courageous. And not a lick of martial arts! His weapon of choice is an APU, which looks a lot like the machine Ripley uses to fight the mother alien (but with many more bells and whistles).

There's so much diversity in the first two films, I just didn't think they could put any more in, but they do! At the film's beginning, we see a very philosophical discussion between Neo and a sentient program family, who are Indians. Wow, Asians of all kinds in one film? Too unbelievable! The dialogue is a bit mind-warping and esoteric (which means of course I loved it!), and their interaction is a bit isolated, but I thought it was good nonetheless. And it doesn't end there; the daughter Sati (Tanveer K. Atwal) goes on to play a symbolically much larger role. In fact, you can tell a lot about a film by how it ends. While the story traces Neo's journey to oneness, we don't end with him looking triumphant. He's alluded to, yes, but what we see is a lush park with Sati, Seraph (Collin Chou) and the Oracle (now being played by Mary Alice) talking amongst each other. It is a vision of utopia, and it is symbolized in the union of an African-American woman, Chinese man, and Indian girl. Not only that, but the gender makeup is slanted toward the feminine, and you really see this as it's compared against the discussion between the Oracle and the Architect (of the matrix program). Also, the last shot is not of humans, but human/machine hybrids; it's another aspect that challenges what we expect in films - no black and white hats here... everyone's in shades of grey.

But let's focus a bit more on gender, shall we? The Oracle grows into a character who is not only helping the humans, but has an active goal, and will take aggressive steps to realize it. Niobe (Jada Pinkett) makes her own aggressive choices, and shows she's one of the best pilots, if not the best pilot in the entire fleet; and not only that, but Morpheus and Roland heartily acknowledge it.

One character I didn't talk about too much is Zee (Nona Gaye). In Reloaded she plays the stereotypically concerned wife who wants her husband to return home. While it seems stock, it's not a portrayal they often give to an African American female, so I appreciate that. But in Revolutions she becomes ideal! She volunteers to make ammo and enlists in the infantry. This is so out of character for her, but you can see that she's harnessing all her courage for love. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I HATE when movies only allow women to have sacrificial love for their children, biological or surrogate. It's so refreshing to see a loving relationship where the man and woman will give their lives for the other. Zee later teams up with Charra (Rachel Blackman), who appears to be career military. They have a very honest and realistic rapport with one another that you would expect during a time of crisis. And they're both responsible for temporarily disabling the digger the sentinels are using to bore their way to Zion.

I saved the best for last: Trinity! She seems much more the woman we saw from the first film. She's truly Neo's helper, but not in the Stepford wife way. Trinity's more like the holy spirit to Neo's Jesus. When a plan to rescue Neo goes south, she's the one who soldiers it through. It's not at all coincidence when Neo tries to meditate out of a situation, and it is Trinity who he first sees. Neo's call depends on him getting to Machine City, and he wouldn't be able to get there were it not for Trin (as he calls her). In this last installment their relationship is balanced between what they are to each other, and what they do for the good of humanity. In the first two films Neo discourages Trinity from acting when he believes it's too dangerous. By the third film, he finally sees that while he may be terrified of losing her, he needs her by his side. She also has some of the most emotionally charged scenes in the film.

Morpheus in The Matrix and Neo in Revolutions utter the line: "Time is always against us". And I feel that way also. Not literally - moreso than time, it's word. There are whole swaths of elements from the films that I've barely touched. But I hope I've said enough to make you curious. While I reviewed them as stand-alone pics, I think the best way to see them is consecutively. In my initial viewing I saw the first two together, and Revolutions the next day. This gives the trilogy a palpable and obvious cohesion.

I have one disclaimer: if you really just want a female lead film, this isn't it. But if you want to see what a world just shy of that looks like, a world in which gender and ethnicity determine neither your role nor your importance in society, then Revolutions (in addition to the previous 2 films) is a must-see. Another significant line spoken by the Oracle is, "Everything that has a beginning, has an end." That includes this review. And it ends in four stars.

4 Comments

Um, Nathaniel Lees is a Samoan New Zealander, not Australian. I do wonder whether his casting is part of that thing where Polynesians and Asians (and yes, I'm deliberately using the broad-brush descriptions) are sometimes seen as interchangeable, for all intents and purposes.

I mean, there are Chinese-Samoans who look more Chinese, and could convincingly play Chinese/Japanese/Korean. But I don't count Lees in that category. Of course, he could be playing a Japanese-Hawaiian person (or similar), given the salad-bowl appearance of Zion's society.

Yikes! My deepest apologies, and thank you for the correction, Trix; I turned them around in my head and didn't catch the error.

You bring up an interesting question. And I wonder if when I read some of the cool links that Skye & Grace have assembled, they'll address that definitively. It is interesting, in light of what you said, that they gave Lees a very Japanese name, yet his features would not strike many as so (I certainly couldn't say myself - but I could see him being an off-shoot of quite a few ethnicities).

My hunch is that you're on to something when you bring up the nature of Zion; perhaps this is another difference between the matrix and the real world. In the real world there's mixing (represented by Mifune), whereas things are more rigid in the matrix (as represented by the programs Seraph and the Keymaker). But in order to really say that, I'd have to go back and begin looking at even the background characters to see if they also had a more ambiguous look. Just another reason to watch it again. :)

thanks for bringing that up! d

These have been fascinating reviews and made me really want to go back and watch the last two again/at all (which I wasn't expecting).

Hi Kathleen!

Thanks, and I hope you do get to eventually see the sequels - they are so intertwined to each other, as well as the first. To me these are HC canon, much like I think many here feel about most of Joss's stuff.

If you do get to see them, and you feel like sharing your opinion ("hey they are much better than I thought" or "man! this sucks all the more now!") do share your comments.

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