I finally got around to watching the Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) with some friends last night. We watched just the three films — no cartoons, no video-game clips, no bonus features — and I was actually quite pleased to see how consistent they all were on an aesthetic level. Even though the first film was produced independently of the other two, and on a smaller budget, the series as a whole is closer to The Lord of the Rings than, say, any three Star Wars films that you might combine, in this regard.
On the other hand, I was struck once again by the films’ dramatic inconsistency, and how unsatisfying the third film is, in the way that it loses track of the Matrix itself and becomes just one big war between two sets of machines over the fate of a bunch of supporting characters that I, for one, have never really come to care about. Neo and Trinity are wounded or out of the picture for something like a solid half-hour while the war wages in Zion, and Morpheus is pretty much just a passenger on Niobe’s ship while she rides to the rescue. And when Neo does become the focus of the story once again … well, I still don’t really know how to make sense of it all, actually. There’s blinding light here, blinding light there, blinding light everywhere, but after two viewings and some discussion with my e-pals, I’m still not sure what it all means.
And sometimes the consistency applies as much to the series’ weaknesses as to its strengths. Prior to last night, the main thing I had remembered about Trinity was her interminable death scene in the third film, where time’s a-wasting and Neo has to beat the clock and save humanity as soon as possible … but first, Trinity, despite having metal rods poking through her body in some vital places, must summon the will and the strength to talk, and talk, and talk, and thereby bid farewell to Neo before she passes away. But watching all three films together last night, I realized that Trinity had always been like this. In the first film, when she and Neo are standing by the phone booth, they don’t follow Morpheus out of the Matrix right away; no, instead, Trinity decides that now would be a good time to talk, and talk, and talk, and, oh, maybe allow that homeless man over there to be possessed by Agent Smith and thereby block Neo’s escape from the Matrix.
Still, I did like the way some motifs were repeated across the films. Remember the black cat that Neo sees when he has a moment of “deja vu”? Remember how we are told that “deja vu” is what happens when the world is “re-set” somehow? And remember how, on that occasion, the “re-setting” of the world was a bad thing? I believe it is that same kitty which approaches Sati as the world is “re-set” in a good way at the end of the third film; and once again, the “re-setting” compels the cat to re-walk several steps. Cute.
FWIW, I reviewed The Matrix, Reloaded and Revolutions for the Christian press when they first came out, and my response to the trilogy hasn’t really changed. But watching the films now, after certain other things have transpired, was interesting.
For example, after the sequels came out, I got around to reading The Da Vinci Code and learning about the Merovingian dynasty’s claim to have been descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene … so the fact that the Merovingian’s wife is played by Monica Bellucci, who went on to play Mary Magdalene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), stood out for me this time.
Meanwhile, I was struck by the scene inside the training program with the woman in the red dress, where Morpheus teaches Neo, “If you are not one of us, you are one of them.” Gosh. Spoken like a certain much-reviled American president. Or a Sith lord. But Morpheus and Neo are the heroes! Oh, but wait, they are also terrorists. Are terrorists heroes, then? Are heroes terrorists? Your answer may depend on whether you agree with those who think the sequels proved the traitor Cypher’s point — that the system has won and there is no point in fighting it, therefore any resistance to the system is futile at best or harmful at worst.
And the sight of a helicopter smashing into an office tower and blowing up has a whole different resonance now, doesn’t it?
Alas, these films did not turn out to be the timeless tale for the ages, a la the original Star Wars trilogy, that many people hoped they would be. But they are still reasonably stylish and entertaining, and an interesting snapshot of their own time.
UPDATE: One more trivia note: in the sequels, Dozer’s widow Cas is played by Gina Torres, who also played Zoë on Firefly; that short-lived series was broadcast in the months before The Matrix Reloaded came out, but I believe the films were shot first.