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from Film Forum, 11/06/03

Film critic David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls The Matrix Revolutions "an overstuffed maelstrom of noise and violence, a sound and fury signifying nothing."

DiCerto's review was the one of the first in a series of nay-saying reviews that were posted early on the Internet. He continues, "Though the Wachowskis rein in the existential banter in this third go-round, the stylized carnage remains at full throttle. And while the franchise continues to push the envelope of technical wizardry, it's in inverse proportion to narrative and character development."

Insufficient narrative? Poor character development? With all that filmmakers Larry and Andy Wachowski have to wrap up in this, the conclusion of their trilogy, you would think it would be time for some aggressive storytelling and some answers.

After all, The Matrix Reloaded—the middle chapter of this sci-fi trilogy that was released earlier this year—left us with several cliffhangers. The messianic hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) has discovered not only that the machines enslaving humanity were ruled by a wicked "Architect," but he has also begun to suspect that he might not be humanity's prophesied savior at all. Worse, Neo's been knocked into a sort of coma, drifting somewhere between the Matrix and the "real" machine-dominated world. His lover Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) is anxious. The faith of his most devoted supporter Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) has suffered a devastating blow. And the malevolent "program" called Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has discovered a way to infect the "real world" by taking over the body of Neo's colleague Bane (Ian Bliss); now Smith seems likely to cause problems for both reality and the Matrix. All the while, powerful squid-like machines called Sentinels drill through the earth, closing in on the city of Zion where the resistance is mustering what strength they can for a final stand against the enemy.

Regardless of the battle's outcome, many critics believe it is the audience that loses. Mainstream critics are lining up to debate whether this closing chapter is a success or failure. And Christian media critics are in disagreement as well.

Movieguide's critic is glad to see the movie "returns to its basic salvation story, reflecting on the influence of, and the longing for, a messianic savior. The movie supports strong values such as truth, love, hope, faith, and peace." But that is not enough. "Regrettably, Neo is a deeply flawed messianic figure who is not only not divine but who also has deeply sinful traits as seen in the previous movies, unlike the true Messiah Jesus Christ. The myth is presented with much apparent philosophical and theological confusion. Pop philosophy barnacles weigh the story down, instead of lifting it up, and include references to existential, blind faith and an all-too-human messiah, as well as very pointed profanities."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) calls it "an entertaining movie with thrill-a-minute action, creative visual effects and a wild and interesting ride."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables), who found the second film "weighted down and a bit pretentious, lost in its own patchwork quilt of philosophical and spiritual conceits," says the narrative in the third film is "far stronger and much more interesting to watch." He also praises the special effects. And he concludes, "Revolutions revisits four main themes, all of which are elements of life that God emphasizes as being particularly important: The energizing power of love; the activating power of faith or believing; the strengthening power of hope; and the God-given right of choice."

Speaking as a moviegoer rather underwhelmed by The Matrix and thoroughly bored by The Matrix Reloaded, I'm quite surprised to find myself rather impressed with Revolutions. The first two were overloaded with ponderous talk and characters that showed little depth or emotion. Plus, all of the speechifying, confused spirituality, and hodge-podge philosophy seemed to be leading to an altogether baffling conclusion.

But Revolutions defied all of my expectations. Suddenly the characters seem like human beings with depth and emotion, a sense of passion for protecting what is good, and a willingness to suffer great loss for what they believe in. And while the spirituality of the series is still rather complicated and ambiguous, throwing around an encyclopedia of religious imagery and vocabulary, the narrative is drawn closer and closer to the affirmation that humanity needs a savior willing to put his life on the line in order to bridge the gap between the fallen world of the flesh and the redemption available from the Divine.

The cast, given bigger challenges than before, acquit themselves admirably. As the malevolent Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) who has been the series' most entertaining element since it began, outdoes himself, making the most of every slimy line, going over the top at last to become one of the great villains of movie history. Spectacular animation, dazzling cinematography, visceral action scenes that feel like human beings in a struggle rather than a video game, and a soundtrack that abandons the series' signature heavy metal for something more traditionally epic—all of these things contribute to an altogether superior science-fiction film experience.

Viewers should be warned: These characters cuss intensely and often behave in less-than-admirable ways. The film earns its hard R-rating, and it is far too intense for young viewers. But this movie is clearly the work of seekers who, while they may not affirm Christ as the answer, are finally admitting through this narrative that they never had the answers, and their story becomes one of longing for the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Columnist Terry Mattingly takes a more negative view of the Matrix phenomenon. Last week, he wrote disdainfully about the way the series has been celebrated in spite of its shoddy craftsmanship and the behavior of its originators. "It matters little that [the filmmakers] veered into Star Wars limbo in Reloaded, sinking into a swamp of linguistics and logic while striving to explain the visual mysteries of The Matrix. Few acolytes blinked when Larry Wachowski left his wife, hooked up with a dominatrix and, newspapers reported, began taking hormones to prepare for a sex-change operation. Millions will flock to theaters anyway."

And regarding the hope that the trilogy will come together as a meaningful whole, Mattingly writes: "Anyone seeking one coherent set of answers has got the wrong trilogy."

from Film Forum, 11/13/03

Christian press critics continued chewing on the latest and last episode in the Matrix trilogy this week. And, unlike those who gave The Matrix Revolutions limited praise in last week's Film Forum, this week's reviews are almost all quite dismissive of the effort. But regardless of the overwhelmingly negative response to the film in the mainstream press, the film broke box office records this week, more than $204 million between Wednesday and Sunday, the most ever made by a film in its first five days.

"Revolutions is better than many of the summer's action blockbusters," says J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth), who offers the most positive review of the bunch. "The acting is good across the board … and the movie attempts to offer a commentary on our world and will certainly provoke some discussion. The movie's potentially Christian allegory will inspire many a late-night argument. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn't inspire much else." At the same site, Trae Cadenhead calls it "conclusive yet unsatisfying."

Andrew Coffin (World) says, "The philosophical depths at which the first film hinted turn out to be as artificial and overblown as the special effects that have defined the series. But audiences are unlikely to care much after wasting two hours with this derivative, repetitive, mess of a film."

"[It] gets right a lot of what its predecessor got wrong," writes Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films). "But The Matrix Revolutions hardly makes a convincing existentialist tract. For that matter, it hardly makes a convincing conclusion to the Matrix trilogy. I would rather think of [it] not as the conclusion of a trilogy per se, but as part a of misguided two-part sequel to an original, groundbreaking film."

"Who'd have thought that when it was all said and done, The Matrix would turn out to be about love?" asks Steven Isaac (Plugged In). "Revolutions leaves moviegoers with the indelible impression that love conquers all." But he concludes, "Don't let flimsy allusions to theological truth inspire you to see this chaotically violent head trip."

"The film never pays off," writes D. J. Williams (Christian Spotlight). "Though there is no doubt that Revolutions is a spectacular achievement in action films, as the end of an epic trilogy it is found significantly lacking. Though I'm sure the ending makes perfect sense to the Wachowskis … they forgot to tell the rest of us exactly what it means—leading to a conclusion that leaves viewers feeling cheated."

p>Steve Lansingh (The Film Forum) says, "The Matrix was a film that helped enrich my conception of a human being living with saviorhood looming over him. But by the time we get to Revolutions, Neo stoically heads off on his preordained path with virtually no emotion; the script told him what to do and so he's doing it. The Wachowski brothers seem to be involved mainly in universe-building, in expanding the palette of places and people in their fiction. Their main story—the one about overcoming our human resistance to belief, to prophecy and destiny—fades away."

My full review is at Looking Closer.

For an interesting, and humorous, comparison of the three Matrix films, look at the compare/contrast chart posted at Metaphilm.

from Film Forum, 11/20/03

The Matrix Revolutions continued to catch flack from Christian film critics. Frederica Matthewes-Green (Our Sunday Visitor) says, "I find myself in one accord with the sentiment spoken in awe-filled tones during the concluding moments of the film: 'It doesn't make any sense.' All Matrix Revolutions has going for it is immense special effects."

Peter T. Chattway (Canadian Christianity) is similarly displeased. "No doubt some Christians will get excited over the cruciform pose that Neo strikes in one of the film's more climactic moments, or the fact that he and Trinity fly a ship called the Logos, but the film lacks any real substance to support these allusions. The story is over, and nothing has been resolved. Pity the youth pastors who must now make sense of all this."

from Film Forum, 04/22/04

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) presents a summation of the Matrix trilogy this week—just after the video release of the third film, Matrix Revolutions. Greydanus argues, "The Matrix isn't really a Christian allegory, any more than it is a gnostic fable. However interesting the film's Christian references may be from a critical perspective, The Matrix offers little in the way of genuinely edifying or uplifting moral or spiritual significance, at least as regards the Christian parallels."

And he concludes, "Viewed as a trilogy, the Matrix story-arc ironically lacks something common to both gnosticism and Christianity: transcendence, connection to ultimate reality or absolute truth above and beyond the finitude of the created order."

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download Movie Discussion Guide related to this movie is available at ChristianityTodayMoviesStore.com. Use this guide after the movie to help you and your small group better connect your faith to pop culture.