Matrix Revolutions proves disappointing

What a letdown.

In the grand tradition of highly anticipated event-movie sequels, The Matrix: Revolutions is a colossal disappointment. The second and worst Matrix film of 2003 is a ponderous, self-indulgent bore, two hours of hopelessly artificial special effects shots undergirded with the kind of banal philosophical platitudes one would expect from a self-serious high school student.

The specifics of the film are irrelevant. What is important is the unpleasant sense of chaos that characterizes every moment of Revolutions. The first film was a great action movie —- an ingenious story supplemented by a wholly unique visual aesthetic and some interesting crack philosophy. Everything about the film felt fresh, new and groundbreaking. The original Matrix was Star Wars for the 21st century; a film that raised the bar for all that followed it. Unfortunately, Revolutions is akin to The Phantom Menace —- more a test of patience and goodwill than entertainment.

Where The Matrix revved, Revolutions stalls. Where the opening chapter thrilled, the final third bores. The first film had a clear sense of story and plot, an idea of where it was going. In contrast, the trilogy’s denouement is an aimless, scatterbrained affair, seemingly made up during shooting by filmmakers who know they can get away with nearly anything and try to do just that. The first movie was a streamlined, expertly paced affair, with nary a wasted shot or line of dialogue. Conversely, the final two films reek of excess —- visually and narratively.

So what happened to the trilogy that promised to usher in a new era of intelligent action films? It is hard to say for sure. What is clear is that while the first film’s wild success was a double-edged sword, the film catapulted writers-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski into the Hollywood elite and made them millionaires many times over.

However, one can reasonably argue that the cultural phenomenon the film became raised expectations to unreal heights, destroying any chance of the two sequels living up to the hype.

With The Matrix a cultural institution instead of a simple action film, the Wachowskis probably felt pressure to create follow-ups more significant, more groundbreaking and more intelligent than the film that inspired them. Instead of making a pair of high-octane popcorn movies with a sprinkling of religious and philosophical subtext, the Matrix Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions aimed to be grand statements about the human condition and failed, leaving anxious viewers with the same empty feeling that a thousand other action movies can provide.

To be fair, the original Matrix was not the groundbreaking epic of philosophy that Internet pundits and rabid fans wanted it to be. The overarching themes —- free will, the nature of reality, and the possibility of a savior —- were always fairly obvious. Nonetheless, the film begged for further examination and repeated viewings. The Matrix became a cultural phenomenon not only because of Bullet Time and Agent Smith, but because it was a movie to watch, and then talk about, with friends.

However, it was an action movie first. The feeling one gets leaving a showing of Revolutions is of two filmmakers drunk on their own sense of accomplishment, force-feeding to the public every pseudo-intellectual observation they’ve had since college, coated with a shiny veneer of violence and mayhem for easy digestion. Although the effects are better and the set pieces more impressive, every word spoken in these nearly five hours of abject disappointment reeks of ego massage. One gets the feeling that if Warner Brothers would have allowed it, the Wachowksis would have used their shopping list as dialogue, so overwhelming is their ostentatiousness.

The resultant let down is disturbing, if not entirely unexpected. Phil Villareal of the Arizona Daily Star summed it up nicely in his generally positive review of the film: “Watching the movie is sort of like finishing up a filet mignon dinner with Pop Rocks.”

I could not agree more.