The fourth installment of the Matrix trilogy has recently been announced, which makes it high time to brush the dust off the DVD set (yes, it’s that old) of the Matrix Trilogy and revisit its core components. Here is a brief history of what some consider a masterpiece, while others decry as a failed attempt to make a profoundly meaningful action film that ended up being nonsense.
The Matrix – A Classic Formula
The first film is satisfying because it blends innovation with the classic film formula – the hero’s journey. At the beginning, Neo is just looking for answers and a nefarious individual by the name of Morpheus who may have them. He soon makes contact with both Morpheus and his new enemies. After the iconic red pill scene, the protagonist’s mind (and the audience’s, for that matter) is blown by the answer to the question of what the matrix is. The audience is now fully hooked and their attention is carried well by a mix of spectacular fight scenes and well-crafted dialogue, to the conclusion where we find out that Neo is in fact the one. A perfectly traditional transformation of the protagonist into a fully-fledged hero, who mounted an unprecedented resistance to the system, without defeating quite yet. Satisfying in every way, The Matrix is a perfect platform for the next film to bring it to another level.
The Matrix Reloaded – A Contradiction to The First?
The Matrix Reloaded continues the hero’s journey in a way common to trilogies – the stakes rise, the enemy is bigger and stronger now. Zion, the only remaining human city, is soon to be besieged by machines. But the film contains an internal conflict for the citizens of Zion – not everyone believes in the one; not everyone believes that Neo is meant to save Zion; some are firmly convinced that their only chance of survival is a strategically deployed military force. The audience now observes two arcs, representing two convictions. One arc is that of military preparations, the other of finding a way to fulfil a prophecy that is meant to end the war, by means not specified. The movie seems to have everything: gun fights, slow motion, a car chase, a sex scene, vampires and Monica Bellucci. But the audience is unsatisfied by the ending, which seems to break the classic hero’s journey arc. As Neo himself admits, the prophecy was a lie and he was never meant to end the war. The stoic, but utterly hopeless generals of Zion are right after all? The prophecy is nonsense? The viewers concluded that the Wachowski’s bit off more than they could chew in their attempt to pack a cohesive story arc and a depth of meaning into a single film, especially with that cliff-hanger ending.
The Matrix Revolution – The Confusion Thickens
The Matrix Revolutions has a difficult task to manage – juggling all the arcs, plot twists and layers of meaning. The dialogues don’t help, continuing the seeming ambiguity set forward in Reloaded. And while it manages it somewhat, the biggest problem the audience has with Revolutions is the same as with Reloaded – the ending. Why does Smith die? Does Neo actually die? Why would the machines even honour their end of the deal? These questions do have answers in the film, but the ending was so poorly understood that many considered the trilogy as a cinematic failure. To see if you agree, or perhaps will see the trilogy in a new light, I highly recommend you watch it again, before the fourth instalment come out.