The general consensus seems to be that while the first Matrix film “rocked”, the sequels “sucked”, to use the vernacular.
I went back and watched the original Matrix film again to try to figure out just how it differs from the sequels. On the surface, the most obvious difference is the smaller scale of the action and more of a film-noir atmosphere. Still, most of the major themes of the sequels are already in place: choice, free will, purpose, etc.
The biggest difference between the first film and its sequels is the viewpoint from which the story is told.
In The Matrix, we can readily identify with Neo. He is more or less an Everyman (or Everybattery). We share his disorientation and confusion and of course nothing can ever top the shock of the revelations about the nature of his reality.
In short, the first film is told from a viewpoint within the matrix, looking out. The sequels, on the other hand, can only be told from a viewpoint outside the matrix, exemplified by Zion. As for Neo… well it’s hard to identify with a superhuman messianic figure whose only weakness is self-doubt.
From this standpoint, Neo’s earlier ignorance in his dreamworld existence almost seems like a paradise lost.
That’s certainly the way many fans see it. For them, the first film, with its ambiguity and seemingly limitless possibilites, is like a garden of Eden. The sequels, on the other hand, told from the grim reality of the “real” world seem like a harsh Land of Nod (in its biblical, rather than colloquial, sense).
The truth is, many fans of the original film prefer the programmed reality of the matrix to the grey reality of Zion. It’s from this Zion-centric viewpoint that the sequels are told.
But once you accept this change of viewpoint, and acknowledge that the sequels can never compare to the first film on the same terms, then it’s possible to enjoy them for their own sake.
If anything, the sequels fall down when they try too hard to regain the glories of the first film. They shine when they distance themselves from the “what is real?” conundrum of the first film and concentrate on the issues of fate, causality and, most importantly of all, loads of really cool robots.
My advice to anyone going to see The Matrix Revolutions is not to see it as a Matrix film. Instead, accept it on its own terms: a monumental live action anime film.
My greatest disappointment with The Matrix Revolutions would be its lack of philosophical mumbo-jumbo. One of the reasons I enjoyed Reloaded so much was its unabashed mumbo-jumbo slathered on thick as butter. In Revolutions, entire plot points from Reloaded are dismissed with barely a wave of the hand.
Ah, well. That means more time for guns and robots so I can’t really complain.