YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION.
The Wachowskis promise that all our questions will be answered in The Matrix Revolutions.
by Patrick Lee
IT'S THE QUESTION THAT DRIVES US.
Can The Matrix be saved?
The Matrix Reloaded, the second movie in Larry and Andy Wachowski's epic SF trilogy, scooped up a hovercraft-full of money after it opened in May: $278.5 million domestically, making it the second-highest-grossing film of 2003.
But it disappointed many fans and critics, who found that the sequel failed to live up to its groundbreaking predecessor. Though many praised Reloaded's action and visual effects, others dissed the sequel's ponderous philosophizing and stiff performances. "The directors pay their audiences the unlikely compliment of taking them seriously," wrote the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell. "Unfortunately they take themselves too seriously. What the first Matrix had going for it was surprise, a freshness that would be imposssible to match."
Now, the third installment - The Matrix Revolutions - looms on the battle-scarred horizon, opening Nov. 5. Can it restore the luster to the franchise, while bringing the cliffhanging story to a satifsfying conclusion? As Trinty (Carrie-Anne Moss) told Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the first movie, "The answer is out there."
As Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan observes, "While the first Matrix was enhanced by the classic drama of the making of the hero Neo from humble clay, and the third one will presumably have the drive of a powerful can-humanity-be-saved conclusion, middles are almost by definition less compelling and trickier to make involving."
Of course, the film's makers have no doubt that they've got a winner on their hands. "The third act, which is Revolutions, is monumental," says producer Joel Silver. "It's huge. It's bigger than it could ever possibly be. It ends the way it ends."
Adds Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus): "The Wachowskis describe the themes of the trilogy in this way. The first movie is about birth. The second movie is about life. And the third movie's about death. So anything's possible."
One thing's certain. A lot of stuff will blow up. Silver's already gone on record touting Revolutions' main set piece, a 14-minute, $40 million battle scene between humans and machines. "That 14-minute sequence...is the most complicated sequence ever put on film, ever," he says. "And that won't start until the end of the show, and that's the last thing they're going to do. So [the Wachowski brothers] know what they're going to do, but they gotta get through it."
Building up to that, audiences will make the acquantance of a new Oracle, played by veteran actress Mary Alice, stepping in for Gloria Foster, who died unexpectedly after completing her part in Reloaded. Seraph, the white-clad rogue program played by Collin Chou, has a bigger role. And the emotional vampire Persephone (Monica Belluci) has an important message for Neo as he seeks to escape the Matrix and save Zion.
Ultimately, fans will find out the answers to questions left unresolved at the end of Reloaded:
- What's the deal with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who appeared to download himself into the body of a Zion dweller?
- What's the deal with Neo's being able to stop those machine sentinels in the Real World?
- Does Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) get busy with Morpheus?
- What the heck does the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) mean when he says, "Hope - it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?"
- Does anyone in Zion ever wash a shirt?
"How is it that one navigates the Matrix to figure out how to stop a real event in the Real World?" asks visual effects supervisor John Gaeta. "The story inevitably has to spill outside of the Matrix. There has to be a physical ending."
Gaeta adds, "In Revolutions, we spill quite chaotically out into the Real World, which is a completely epic type of event unto itself, where you now are faced with the real underlying problem of the competition of the two last species on Earth: man or machine. That whole film is really...an order of magnitude beyond any of the creature films that I've ever seen or worked on."
In the next film, much of the action takes place in the environmentally ravaged Real World, where the Machine Army was previously seen boring into the earth and closing in on the last human city of Zion. Zion's defenders, in their amored hovercraft, failed in a desperate attempt to engage the army before it reached the outer perimeter of the city, and Morpheus' craft, the Nebuchadnezzar, was destroyed. After saving Trinity in the Matrix, Neo emerged, but lapsed into a coma after mysteriosly disabling a pack of attacking machines. Morpheus and Trinity will find themselves aboard a new hovercraft, the Hammer.
In Revolutions, the story will expand beyond the underground settlement of Zion and delve deeper into the tunnels and sewers of old Earth, Gaeta said. "There's a lot of events that are taking place now between the surface and Zion - a lot of activity," he says. "A lot of different ships. And you start branching off. ...and then, of course, we go on to the surface of Earth, and we see a lot more about what that's all about, and that's pretty...shocking, horrific, fascinating."
Ultimately, Revolutions will take us to the home of the machines, the Machine City called "01" that was foreshadowed in the Animatrix short film "Second Renaissance." "Well, of course," Gaeta says. "They have to live somewhere, right?"
Indeed, Reeves says that he filmed his last scene in the movie on that set last year. "It was a scene that takes place in Revolutions, and it's a scene with Neo, and it's a scene in the Machine City. I guess there were about 250 to 300 people who came into the soundstage. It was a close-up, and it was [laughs] a lot of takes, and it was a very unique feeling to come to the completion of Reloaded." Fishburne's character discovers that everything he's believed for two movies may not be true. "Well, yeah," he says. "Surely there's another shift for him in the third movie that involves being even more vulnerable, I think." He adds: "There's fighting. I get to do some pretty cool stuff. I have a gunfight."
But with all the Real World battles, audiences will still enter the Matrix itself before everything works out. "Obviously they're intertwined, you know, as one threads to the other and threads back to the first one," Gaeta says.
And expect more of the landmark visual effects that have characterized the previous two Matrix films. "There's a lot of computer graphics in Revolutions," Gaeta says. "I mean, there's a lot of all-CG shots. ...Revolutions is just sort of the crescendo of the whole mission that Neo is on. ...I said The Matrix tends to be super-electronica unique, and then Revolutions is far more fantastic. Even though it's the Real World, it's like ...much more fantastic and grand."
But will there be more philosophy? Interspersed among Reloaded's truck crashes and burly brawls were tongue-twisting, and times exasperating declamations about the nature of reality by the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), the Architect and the Oracle. "You didn't come here to make a choice," Foster's Oracle told Neo cryptically. "You've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it."
"I don't understand it in the sense that I can take you all the way to the end to a finite position and [say], 'Here's your answer, there's one person who knows the whole thing," Reeves admits. "Maybe Larry and Andrew do. I know they certainly feel they do. But I don't think there are things that have an end in these pieces. The analogy I use is that it is like a Moebius strip. There are more launch points. There are more things that I feel if you do take something from it, if you want to talk about cause and effect and its relationship to fate, the aspects of those kinds of things, it's fun and intriguing and something that I think is beneficial to think about."
Fishburne has a more pragmatic approach. "I don't think very much about [the philosophy]," he says. "I'm not a philospher. I don't pretend to be a philosopher."
Cue the explosions.