May 1999--The first Matrix movie opens. Created by two relatively unknown filmmakers and with mild hype surrounding it, it astounds with the innovation of its special effects, the excitement of its action sequences, and perhaps most impressively, the potency of its dazzling sci-fi premise and philosophical vision.
May 2003--Even though sequels typically suck, Matrix fans have high hopes for Matrix Reloaded because the Wachowskis have retained creative control. Unfortunately, the tight plotting and perfectly satisfying conclusion to the Matrix left the ambitious brothers nowhere to go. For Reloaded, they flesh out their aforementioned war between people and machines--a tired premise not nearly as interesting as the more cerebral notion of the Matrix itself. They try desperately to maintain the first movie's balance of giddy action and cyberpunk intellect, but with mixed results. The kung fu and chase scenes remain pretty cool, but the pseudo-philosophical blatherings feel tacked on this time around, and the movie as a whole feels unnecessary, despite the filmmakers' insistence they were planning for this sequel even before the creation of the original film.
November 2003--This time, the Wachowskis don't even mess with philosophy. Mystifyingly, they don't mess with kung fu either--above all else, their bread and butter to this point--outside of an over-the-top superhero climax between Neo and the rogue program Smith who, for poorly explained reasons, has become a kind of demigod. Meanwhile, filling the brunt of the film, the humans in the City of Zion wage endless battles with the oncoming machines and their squadrons of sperm-looking freaks. Explosions and gunfire fill the screen for what feels like hours, streamlined with an amazingly huge glut of banal one-liners, plus the development of Trinity and Neo's "love," which is only slightly less passionless than the mating scene in the IMAX classic, Beavers.
2005 and on--The Matrix movies make up one of the most lucrative franchises in the world. Expect more video games, more special edition DVD sets, more animated spin-offs, more action figures, and God forbid, plans for a possible fourth movie. Revolutions certainly hints at one, to the elation--and surprise--of no one.