The end of ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ left its characters on hell of a cliffhanger, one that seemed to set the series on a path towards some cataclysmic finale. Neo had discovered he was simply the latest in a chain of anomalies built to balance the Matrix, a balancing act that would inevitably result in the destruction of Zion and the restarting of the system. He could choose to cooperate or threaten the collapse of everything and everyone, which is ultimately what he chooses. By all rights, ‘The Matrix Revolutions’ should have been a cosmic conclusion, something as mammoth as that provocative ending suggests.
It’s understandable then that critics and audiences found the film itself ultimately disappointing. Of the three films, ‘Revolutions’ is the smallest on thematic scale, ultimately boiling down to a simple war film anchored by two major action sequences. The Wachowskis had painted themselves into a corner, offering something they couldn’t conceivably deliver, whilst also grappling with the unexpected death of Gloria Foster, whose performance as the Oracle was one of the series’ most iconic. Much of ‘Revolutions’ feels like a series trying to right its course through murky waters, but like ‘Reloaded’, time has been kind to the film. Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Revolutions’ - it may lack in many areas, but what it gets right is thrilling and often thunderous.
The film can be easily divided into two narrative threads. The first deals with the assault by the machines on Zion, where the citadel is hammered by innumerable Sentinels. ‘Reloaded’ revealed Zion to be the most disappointing aspect of the matrix universe, but the scale with which the Wachowskis destroy it is enormous, almost the sci-fi equivalent of 'The Lord of the Rings'' Battle of Helm’s Deep. As well as pummelling the fatuous city to the ground, it also provides the humans with something to actually do rather than stand around, look pretty and pontificate, and the sheer impossibility of their predicament make sit easier to sympathise with them. The assault on Zion is a remarkable action puzzle that falls together beautifully, striking that tricky balance of being both visually stunning and sensorially assaulting, and while it’s devoid of the thematic weight that makes the Matrix films so special, it does demonstrate what ambitious visual filmmakers the Wachowskis are.
Concurrently to that is Neo’s journey to the source of the Matrix with Trinity, in his attempt to strike a peace with the machines. The only thing getting in his way - both in the Matrix and in the real world - is Smith, and that ultimately becomes the major conflict of the film. Almost none of ‘Revolutions’ occurs inside the Matrix, but when we reach it, it has been bastardised by Smith in his own image, making him a threat, not just to the humans, but the machines as well. Neo’s journey to his confrontation with Smith brings back much of the religious and mythological symbology explored in the first film, further turning Neo from a human figure to a higher being, and where the battle for Zion was an impressive technical feat, the final battle with Smith is a dizzying, often extraordinary set piece, beautifully and furiously realised.
The problem is, without much of the thematic weight and mystery that made ‘The Matrix’ so remarkable and made ‘Reloaded’ at least intriguing, ‘Revolutions’ just feels a tad slight. Many have criticised its romanticised ending as well, a kind of optimistic closure that at first glance feels too conventional or Hollywood. However, that perhaps shows a misunderstanding of the kind of filmmakers the Wachowskis are - as much as they’re playing with traditional narrative forms, this and their subsequent work demonstrated that they were still very much interested in playing with those forms, and the end of ‘Revolutions’ is only conventional because of how classical it is. There’s hope to these films, an ideal that peace can come out of chaos. Also, don’t forget that these films were released in the wake of 9/11, which may explain their optimism and subsequent dismissal by audiences, who perhaps found that sentiment ill-timed. Endings are hard to execute though, and ‘Revolutions’ is far from the worst ending to a modern cinematic trilogy.
What the film also reveals is that the true star of the trilogy was actually composer Don Davis. His score for the Matrix Trilogy is magnificent, an enormous and complex symphony of sound and chaos, and none of the films demonstrated that more fully than ‘Revolutions’. He brings all his thematic ideas together with almost Wagnerian scale, especially in the final fight between Neo and Smith, and so much of what we think of as the tone and texture of the Matrix Trilogy comes from his work.
It’s easy to say that ‘The Matrix’ never needed to be made into a trilogy, and perhaps there’s a point in that. ‘The Matrix’ is a near-perfect film, a remarkable and singular piece of cinema that still has the power to thrill, and it would still have done so without its follow-ups. It’s also easy to say that the Wachowskis didn’t know where they were going with ‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’, that this was never meant to be a trilogy, and there’s a lot in the films to suggest that to be the case. However, I still think there’s a hell of a lot to love about ‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’, especially considering the blockbusters that came in their wake. By comparison to the vapid and soulless CGI extravaganzas we tend to suffer through now, those films are visually and thematically ambitious, and even when they don’t succeed, they do so with passion and belief. They sparkle with dedication and invention in a way that so few films now do, and even if their belief in themselves is misplaced, they still believe in the power of what cinematic storytelling can do. It’s been a real thrill revisiting these three films for their 4K UHD release and rediscovering what a remarkable world the Wachowskis created. The Matrix Trilogy is still unlike anything else in American cinema - it dares to dream that cinema can paint on an enormous canvas while grappling with enormous questions, that action and intelligence can go hand-in-hand, that storytelling can be intimate and biblical all at once. In a way, it doesn’t really matter that ‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’ never reach the heights they aim for. Just the fact that they tried as hard as they did in the first place is enough of a reason to celebrate them.
... while it’s devoid of the thematic weight that makes the Matrix films so special, it does demonstrate what ambitious visual filmmakers the Wachowski’s are.
PICTURE & SOUND
As with the first two films, we have another superb 2160p 2.40:1 transfer sourced from a recent 4K restoration supervised by cinematographer Bill Pope. The same careful colour balance is present here, bolstered by HDR and Dolby Vision, as well as present and pleasing grain, but it’s the detail that really shines with this film. There’s so much in terms of visual information and texture, especially in the two action sequences, and they both look remarkable, the 4K resolution revealing more detail in the image than we’ve seen before. I was really looking forward to seeing how well this film looked in this format, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There’s also the expected and excellent Dolby Atmos TrueHD 7.1 track, just as crisp and rich as the previous releases. Davis’ score really shines with this added audio fidelity, and there’s a tremendous amount of depth to the sound. Like 'Reloaded', the disc defaults to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, so make sure to change before watching.
Finally, Warner Bros. has once again used the 4K remaster as the basis for the included 1080p 2.40:1 Blu-ray, and the added level of detail, along with the Atmos track, make it a huge improvement over the original Blu-ray release. As well as with the Matrix films, Warner Bros. also followed the same practice with their recent release of ‘2001’, so here’s hoping it becomes a standard for their future 4K releases of classic films.
Once again, there’s no new material included, but all the material from the previous Blu-ray release is included. As with the other films, the written introduction from the Wachowskis and the Philosophers and Critics commentaries are included on the 4K disc, as well as on the film Blu-ray disc. The In-Movie Experience is also included on the Blu-ray version.
The bulk of the material is included on the second Blu-ray disc, all in standard definition. As with the other films, there’s a lot of material, including:
- ‘Behind The Matrix’ (1:30:05), a multi-part documentary on the making of the film, though featuring a lot more in-depth material than on the companion feature on the ‘Reloaded’ set
- ‘Crew’ (25:01), a series of featurettes on the key creatives and crew working on the films
- ‘Hel’ (27:36), a series of featurettes looking at the Club Hel fight sequence (its name a nice little nod to Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’)
- ‘Super Burly Brawl’ (16:53), another set of featurettes, this time on the extraordinary climactic battle between Neo and Smith
- ‘New Blue World’ (26:07), more featurettes looking at Zion and the ships in the fleet ‘Siege’ (40:09), even more featurettes, this time looking at the machine siege on the Zion stronghold
- ‘Aftermath’ (39:49), a last set of featurettes focusing on the post-production process
As with the other releases, no trailers or TV spots are included, despite their listing on the back cover. It’s also still to be seen whether ‘The Animatrix’ will also get a 4K UHD release in the future. It’s worth being hopeful, though it never received a seperate release from the Ultimate Matrix Collection Blu-ray set. Hopefully Warner Bros. complete this excellent series of 4K Matrix releases with it in the future, perhaps along with the rest of the material from the excellent Ultimate Blu-ray set.