The Epic Battle for Zion in ‘The Matrix Revolutions’

When I tell you that The Matrix hit a sweet spot for me as an 11-year-old obsessed with anime, I’m talking mainly about The Matrix Revolutions. Anime’s influence is all over the first two movies, but Revolutions was the one that took 2 of my favorite shows and remixed them like crazy – Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z.

I’ll get to the Dragon Ball Z bit later. As far as the dock battle that happens in Revolutions, it satisfied everything I ever wanted out of a live-action mecha movie. (Shout out to Big O, too.) This was 10 years before Guillermo del Toro would give us Pacific Rim and a few years shy from the live-action Transformers movie.

I had been fantasizing over this since Power Rangers took over my brain at the age of 5. I too participated in the morning ritual of Beast Wars. Both the Mighty Morphin and Power Rangers Turbo movies should’ve put this fantasy to bed for me but didn’t. Sometimes, you don’t realize how deep an obsession has burrowed until you see it projected in front of you, and it’s louder and far more epic than you could’ve imagined and it feels like your head is about to explode because it seems tailor-made just for you. The Matrix Revolutions was the only one of these movies I got to see in the theater.

Let me explain.

We arrive at Zion’s dock as the machines are about to breach. Prophecies have been shattered. Defenses have been configured. No more philosophizing about what may or may not happen. The end is knocking. Time to give the machines hell.

It’s Sentinels versus humans. The piece of hardware that gives the human race an edge, ironically, are analog mech-suits called APUs (Armored Personnel Unit). The grand irony in and conundrum of the conflict that will be Zion’s saving grace: humans need machines to survive, just as machines need humans as batteries.

We get a glimpse of one APU in Reloaded. Reloaded and Revolutions are essentially one story spliced in half—or, if you really wanted to get technical, Reloaded is two-thirds of the story and Revolutions is the guns blazing final third. As the Chekov saying goes, if you introduce a gun in Act One – or in this case an absolute unit of a mech suit – then you’d better damn well fire it in Act Three.

The surprising thing about the dock battle is that it features none of the main characters in the first two movies. It’s an ensemble of supporting characters getting their moment to shine. And boy do they shine! Morpheus rides with Niobe as they race to get to Zion in time with a clutch-saving EMP, but they’re only featured in the intercut of action. We’re otherwise tethered to 3 points of view: Commander Locke in HQ saying “goddammit” every few minutes, Captain Mifune with the APUs fending off the Sentinels, and Zee representing the infantry unit trying to take out the diggers.

Now, this is the main thing people have complained about in the battle sequence. That while technically impressive, it’s emotionally hollow. I disagree, but I also feel that your reading of all the Zion scenes depends whether or not you care about Zion as much as Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. The intercut action in the final half of Revolutions is, in and of itself, a trinity of perspectives: Neo and Trin on the way to the machine city, Morpheus and Niobe on the Hammer, and the besieged dock in Zion. Zion is what’s at stake, hanging in the balance. So instead of being told how precious it is, we actually get to see its stalwart defenders on the ground who – whether they believed in fate and prophecies or not – HAVE to believe they can win.

Only one of these characters at Zion’s dock can be our “hero” and that’s Captain Mifune, who’s swinging such big brass balls that him on the APU is basically his final form. He’s in the trenches, facing the onslaught of Sentinels just as Neo faced an onslaught of Smiths.

Let’s go back to Gundam Wing. One of my favorite Gundam stories was Endless Waltz. Looking back, this is hella cheesy now, but back then this stuff got me hype. Heero’s last stand had me chomping on my nails and sitting as close as I could to the TV screen. Again, it’s all cheesy, but you can see the visual language that the Wachowskis borrow from.

So when you get to Captain Mifune’s last stand in Revolutions, it is just EPIC. Nathaniel Lees’ performance is staggering. He’s a supporting character, with one scene in Reloaded and the rest in Revolutions. And yet, he feels certifiably larger than life. His main lines in the movie are a series of shouts and grunts. Those grunts paired with that killer stare come with the brute force of King Kong. My man isn’t just fighting for his life, but for all of life in Zion. When he falls, I can’t help but get emotional. Neo gets to be the hero of the trilogy, while Mifune reigns as MVP of the dock battle.

If the highway sequence is Reloaded’s show-stopping action set-piece, then the siege of Zion is Revolutions’. Just the shots alone of the Sentinels converging and coordinating are wildly imaginative. Who the hell comes up with this stuff?

The picture is very clear and bleak. All must pull their weight to survive the unrelenting Sentinels. They can’t rely on Neo to save them this time. They have to rely on each other, on themselves. And when all hope seems lost, there’s one final lifeline that comes through to keeps them going. Commander Locke sees the devastation of the losing battle when the Hammer arrives with an EMP. Captain Mifune dies, and the kid steps up to open the gates for Niobe. Zee loses her infantry partner, but manages to keep on fighting in the hopes that she’ll see Link again.

Prophecies be damned, everyone continues the thread of hope and belief and sees through to the battle’s bitter end, guns blazing. Even now, when the Hammer comes charging through the gate and ramming straight through the dock, my jaw is still on the floor in disbelief and sweet satisfaction. The Wachowskis promised a war this entire time and they gave us one — one big epic sci-fi poem of man raging against the machine. The Wachowskis pulled this off in 17 minutes. And the best part? It ain’t even the climax.

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