The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Written and directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski

It was not surprising to me, given my total awe for The Matrix and even moreso its sequel, Reloaded, that I would come away from the third installment disappointed.

Reloaded was so utterly fantastic, there was almost no way the Wachowskis could have followed it up with something that would provide any bigger wow factor. They'd already created the ultimate movie— twice. So I see Revolutions as the film that needed to exist to wrap things up, and its comparatively lower thrill quotient probably has more to do with the fact that the audience has by now built up a tolerance.

As with cocaine, you ultimately encounter diminishing excitement after a few lines … and Revolutions has the unfortunate burden of following several really good bumps. Had they actually succeeded in raising the bar yet again, people would be having fatal heart attacks watching it.

So it does make sense that there would be the inevitable downturn in the Matrix series. As The Oracle says, "Whatever will be, will be." At best, it could only have been pretty good.

And for the most part, it is pretty good. I was, however, confused and in some cases disturbed by some of the directions the Wachowski Brothers have chosen to pursue here. It seems as though, having placed themselves in the impossible situation of having to follow up two of the best films ever made, they chose to dodge the issue entirely by really shaking things up.

First and foremost is the dubious replacement of Keanu Reeves as Neo with former "thirtysomething" star Timothy Busfield. This glaring change is half-heartedly explained in a short introductory scene in which Reeves (represented by outtake footage from the previous films and a couple of clips from Permanent Record) is "hacked" while in The Matrix by an evil programmer (Malcolm McDowell, who does not subsequently appear) and transformed into the red-headed and irritable Neo 2.0.

This is all a pretty lame way to get around a contract dispute with Keanu, in my opinion. It messes with the continuity of the series to suddenly switch lead actors, and frankly Busfield brings none of Keanu's cool command to the proceedings. His take on the character is to just complain about the unfairness of the Matrix world, and to get into long arguments with his foes instead of just kicking their asses.

The Oracle has also been replaced by a new actor, following the death of Gloria Foster of a speedball overdose during the filming of Reloaded. Whoopi Goldberg's inclusion seems to have more to do with courting "Star Trek" fans than anything else, as she literally reprises her role as the Enterprise's bartender Guinan, space-sombrero and all.

Goldberg is fine, although her obvious ad-libs don't fit all that well with the usually more serious Matrix tone. I'm all for injecting a little humor to release tension, but some of her scenes come across as blooper-reel footage, such as one where she keeps cracking Morpheus up by flubbing her lines. It's fun to watch, but it interrupts the flow of the movie, especially given that this scene occurs just as the Machines are reaching Zion.

Another misstep is the representation of the Machines, which look amazingly cool (they're sort of futuristic metal squid-like creatures), but should NOT have been personified by the cheesy voice-overs. It's jarring to hear the familiar voices of Bruce Willis, George Carlin, Tone-Loc, and Bonnie Bedelia shouting one-liners like "Who's in for an ass-whuppin'??!" while they take on the desperate Zionites. The Wachowskis seem to be going for some kind of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" vibe here, but it is embarrassing to have to sit through, and subverts the brilliant CGI effects.

Perhaps the low point is when Morpheus is forced into a locker by two "bully" machines, who high-five each other and leave him to try to escape. He spends most of the film rattling the locker and yelling for help which never comes. This does provide some dramatic tension, as you keep waiting for him to burst out and save the day, but he ends up stuck in the locker until the very end, and when he's finally let out by Neo 2.0, it's a sheepish moment.

On the plus side, Trinity's character is developed to a satisfying depth in Revolutions, and you get to understand a lot more about her life and motivations. A 90-minute flashback sequence details her first marriage to a verbally abusive gambling addict (reportedly this plot will be spun off into a Lifetime series called "Wholly Trinity") and her painful reconciliation with the father she never knew. Also, Carrie-Anne Moss shows more skin in Revolutions than ever before – an extended exercise sequence (followed by a steamy shower scene) provides some real thrills. When she unzipped the leather suit, at least half of the audience at the screening I attended began masturbating reflexively … ironically, the shower scene goes on for at least 40 minutes, leaving most people bored as they had already climaxed within the first minute. Some of the movie's most incredible shots occur in this sequence, particularly the soon-to-be-famous one of Trinity raising herself into the air in slow motion, spreading her legs, and deep-dicking herself with a loofah while the water droplets slow down to almost total stillness.

Jada Pinkett-Smith is given a much larger role in Revolutions as well, although I thought it was curious that the directors chose to use mostly clips from her computer-generated character in the videogame Enter the Matrix. Perhaps they were going for a Roger Rabbit-esque interplay between an obvious videogame character and live humans, but it doesn't work that well.

The final showdown scene between Neo 2.0 and The Architect is anticlimactic, as the fate of Zion and the Matrix is determined by a rather overlong game of Stratego, which The Archtect intitially wins before they decide to go best-of-five. I admit I got a bit fidgety here, wishing they had included a big fight scene instead.

Bafflingly, Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith character is not utilized in the movie at all, despite his plot being the biggest cliffhanger in Reloaded. I guess we'll have to wait for the FOX series "AfterMatrix" to see what becomes of him – early reports have him as a retired country doctor who decides to open up his own hospital using his clones to staff it. This could be good, and is groundbreaking in that it's the first major TV show to include only one cast member.

Overall, I can't say that The Matrix Revolutions is a bad film, but there are some real flaws to it, and it seems like the disappointment factor is unavoidable whether you're a Matrix fan or not. Even so, I'm excited to see the next one, The Matrix Rocks On (for which there is a "surprise" trailer at the end of the Revolutions credits)—Busfield's out, Jack Black's in as Neo 3.0. That's gonna be so great!

Review by Big Daddy Big Ones