I spent the better part of Sunday watching all three Matrix movies
The Matrix (1999)
Freelance hacker “Neo” discovers that the world is not what it seems but, in fact, an illusion; a virtual reality that keeps people in the real world asleep while they’re generating energy for their robot overlords.
This is definitely the best of the bunch and not only for its original story and mindblowing effects, but also for the fact that it’s well acted and not overly long. Quite simply, everything works.
On a philosophical level, the dilemmas presented translate well across the gulf of screen, and are elegantly woven into the story; is ignorance bliss? Or would you take the red pill?
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
After having discovered that he is “The One”, Neo helps free thousands of minds from The Matrix. The machines have noticed and are preparing a counter-attack against Zion, the last human city. As Neo encounters Agent Smith—now a reborn “rogue program”—Neo must confront other rogue programs such as The Oracle and The Merovingian in order to find out how he can stop the machines from destroying Zion.
Where the first one was a “deep” action-romp, this one is just an action-romp. Fortunately it does deliver on the action. Story-wise, it feels like there’s a lot going on, yet we still have no clue why the protagonists are doing what they’re doing.
On a philosophical level, it seems like the Wachowskis have actually upped the ante even if it doesn’t communicate. “Reloaded” refers to the fact that The Matrix is not the only level of control the machines use to subdue the humans, but to the fact that Zion has already been destroyed five times before. Each time by Neos choice; he gets to choose whether Zion is reloaded or humanity is destroyed. Then, he gets to pick a number of people who gets to re-build Zion, thus repeating the cycle that is man vs. machine. This fact deepens the whole “are you really awake” metaphor from the first one, and adds to it the balances of power: we need the machines to survive and the machines need us. Unfortunately, the balance of action and talk is oddly skewed, only really delivering on the former.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The machines are digging towards Zion and preparations for war are underway. Meanwhile, Neo is caught in a place in between The Matrix and the real world; a waking dream-state induced by discovering previously hidden powers that range beyond the virtual world. As the war between man and machine nears, Neo struggles to end the war, acknowledging that the rogue program, Agent Smith has grown out of even machine control.
Perhaps the deepest of the three, Revolutions is also the weakest in communicating any of that depth. It wasn’t until I saw it the third time, with philosopher commentary, that I got an idea of what the Wachowskis were trying to say. As it turns out, they’re trying to boldly state that man vs. machine is not always a victory to one or the other. We need the machines, just as they need us. Furthermore, I read into the over-arching Reloaded/Revolutions story arch, the most iconoclastic statement that religion is a product of human misery and that all religious symbolism and stories stem from very real human weaknesses; weaknesses that are bound to repeat themselves forever and ever. Start over, revolution, start over, revolution. And so on.
I’ve thought long and hard about why 2 and 3 are so much worse than the first one. Certainly good philosophy is there, then again perhaps that’s the problem. For a while I thought, if you removed all Zion scenes and cut both movies down to a single 90 minute feature, the result would be better for it. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps they should have taken a page from the book of Lucas and added a single, fatal weakness to the Machines; a weakness which if assaulted by a torpedo at just the right angle, would destroy all robots and end the movie. Sometimes the clichés work better than the bold alternatives. In this case, I think they might have.