Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘The Matrix Revolutions’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

It doesn’t matter if you took the red pill or the blue pill. One thing is inarguable. When The Wachowskis introduced us to the concept and world of The Matrix, they made a revolutionary film. But, over two decades later, I wonder, was it for better or worse? To find the answer to this question, I’ll follow the white rabbit down the hole and onto its new path with The Matrix Resurrections (2021), which is slated for release on December 22nd, 2021. But, before we get there we must examine the cinematic conclusion of this franchise as we knew it, The Matrix Revolutions (2003).

In every fandom, there comes the point when a division forms. It can either lead to being good-spirited and exciting or it can sometimes lend to the toxicity in fandoms we often see on the Internet these days. Thankfully, The Matrix franchise never fell prey to this phenomenon that often plagues devoted audiences. I’ve never heard anyone argue that The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and the movie in review here are superior to the original film. On the contrary, The Matrix (1999) has remained the tried-and-true classic. 

Both Reloaded and Revolutions were greeted overall with lukewarm receptions upon their respective releases nearly two decades ago. In the interceding years, though, the opinions of these sequels among the fanbase have remained varied, with some viewers outright disowning them. The most interesting thing to me about the sequels is that The Matrix Revolutions is much more well-regarded now than it was then. Back in 2003, audiences (myself included) found the second film in the series to be the most exciting of the follow-ups. On the other hand, the third movie was panned by many for being a little dull and not featuring enough screen time in The Matrix itself. Now, while I never bashed this third (and at the time conclusive) entry, I certainly harbored criticisms against it. But upon rewatching the sequels, my opinions are in flux.

The Matrix Revolutions picks up mere hours after the cliffhanger of its immediate predecessor. Both The Matrix and The Real World are on the perilous brink of extinction, with Neo (Keanu Reeves) stuck in a sort of Purgatory between them. There’s seemingly no way out for our hero as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity must save The One from Limbo. His safety is important as Neo is the only answer to stopping Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) from a complete takeover of both worlds. To make matters worse, the trifecta of unplugged freedom fighters must make it back to The Real World. There, the machines have waged an all-out war on Zion, and without every possible human and hovercraft, the humans may well lose to artificial intelligence once and for all!

Folks, I have to admit, in rewatching this entire trilogy for this column, Revolutions was by far the most surprising of them all. Before sitting down with them again, I thought for sure that this third film would still feel quite dull in comparison to both chapters that precede it. Much to surprise, though, I had the exact opposite experience with these sequels. Frankly, I’m still kind of surprised I feel this way, but The Matrix Revolutions is a notable improvement over the second film. Where The Matrix Reloaded is bogged down by its deconstructionism, Revolutions is a nice clean narrative with two distinct storylines that barrel towards a conclusion.

Not only is the narrative in this film more concise, but I feel all the technical aspects of Revolutions are better executed than those of its fellow sequel. The only area where Reloaded bests this week’s movie is the famous Highway Chase set piece. I think this is because The Matrix Revolutions feels more in line with the original film, both technically and tonally. So much so that it’s almost shocking to me that these sequels were shot concurrently. Thankfully, this fantastic cast is again allowed to give actual performances instead of the stilted ones we were treated to the last time around. That said, Fishburne is once again severely underserved as Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) overtakes his function as a character.

In addition to a return-to-form with the acting in this film, I was flat out thrilled to see that director of photography Bill Pope’s (The Spirit) lighting finds a perfect balance between the visual style of the first movie and Reloaded. No longer were my eyes pierced by the washed-out look of the previous picture. Despite all these improvements, The Matrix Revolutions is still a Franchise Implosion, albeit just by a hair for one simple reason. The Wachowskis tied these sequels so tightly together that they simply cannot function or even truly be evaluated independently. To the point where I came to an opinion that’s likely to be broadly unpopular.

After rewatching the sequels that make The Matrix into a trilogy, one thing is clear. The concept of this whole trilogy would have worked a helluva lot better if Reloaded and Revelations had been condensed into one three-hour narrative. Sure, there would not have been as much deconstruction, but the story simply would have worked better. Don’t get me wrong, I respect what The Wachowskis did with the sequels, but I can’t say I enjoy them alongside the 1999 original. All that being said, The Matrix Revolutions does offer a satisfying conclusion that leaves enough room for the unexpected follow-up, The Matrix Resurrections, which hits the silver screen in a few weeks.

 

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)  is available on all home video formats & to stream on HBO Max.

Next time, we’ll return to The Source with The Matrix Resurrections (2021) will be released simultaneously in theaters & HBO Max on December 22!

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