I don’t care what anyone says. Neo and Smith’s climactic fight in The Matrix Revolutions RULES.
I’m well aware Revolutions is the least liked of the trilogy. Most can stomach the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of The Matrix Reloaded because it’s a breather from the balls-to-the-wall action set pieces. Revolutions gets flack because for many, the ending chapter whimpers out. I disagree to the highest power.
In my mind Revolutions can’t lose. It’s the one that goes full anime to me. The first Matrix was inspired by Ghost in the Shell, while Reloaded alone has Trinity posing like she’s in an anime series out the gate—on top of characters phasing through objects, Morpheus wielding a katana, Neo fending off goons with staffs and sais, etc. Revolutions, if I may, gives Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z-level insanity. I was 11-years-old at the time it came out. Seeing the similarities between primetime Toonami and the spectacle I saw on the big screen made it seem like the Wachowskis were making movies for me specifically.
To fully appreciate how hard Revolutions goes in the final fight, I think we need to go back to The Matrix.
This is Neo and Agent Smith’s very first fight. Humble staging and execution, all things considered, compared to the ridiculous heights that the sequels will go. Already, the Wachowskis’ imagination is on FIRE. This a world where humans are enslaved via computer simulation, where the overarching machine programs take the form of over-serious government agents, and the only way to combat them is through the blood-sweat crucible of kung fu.
By the end of The Matrix, the Wachowskis have earned the right to play this as grandiose as they want. You don’t question a single thing about this world; you didn’t even imagine all of these concepts together in one movie. Yet this pivotal, action-packed confrontation is something we’re both anticipating and did not see coming.
The Wachowskis, quite cleverly, have already planted the seeds and the character groundwork for the ensuing fights in the sequels. Neo might be able to outsmart Agent Smith, but he cannot beat him. Because he’ll just keep coming back.
When they clash again in Reloaded, it is totally of the sequel mindset. Think the jump from Ridley Scott’s Alien to James Cameron’s Aliens. Instead of one Agent Smith, we get an army of him. In defeating Smith in The Matrix, Neo inadvertently “freed” Smith from his programming. He no longer serves the function of the machines with the intention of controlling humanity. He now serves his own ego, and he’s rapidly expanding.
Smith wanted out before. He is, so to speak, but very much still trapped like all of humanity within the simulation. Now he wants all of it to come crashing down. He’s the virus that takes over and doesn’t stop until there’s nothing left.
From a visual standpoint, the Burly Brawl makes their previous fight look like practice. The staging is so chaotic that Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving literally cannot pull this off. (This is what makes the first Matrix such an endless wonder to rewatch; that really was the actors performing the fights.) It could have been enough to have Neo fight a single Smith again, but the Wachowskis aren’t in the business of repeating themselves. Their imagination this time around has increased exponentially.
A part of me was once iffy on the clear CGI bits of the brawl, but over time the quality has only made the fight MORE surreal. They’re in the Matrix; it’s all fake anyway. So from a filmmaker standpoint, why not just go nuts with it in the digital realm of VFX? Now, I know I’ve made myself sound like I hate CGI, and that’s only partially true. I hate it when it’s the easy way out of something that could’ve otherwise been achieved practically given enough time and effort.
More than half the shots in the Burly Brawl cannot be achievable even with the best stunt crew at your disposal. Sure, they could’ve choreographed a much different and practical fight, but arguably that would’ve been the Wachowskis repeating themselves. In any case, CGI allows them to stage like crazy, magnificently. I might still have my complaints, but in the end I’ll always bow down to the creativity, and it is off the charts here. I have yet to see any fight scene in a studio tentpole even TRY to stage like this, real or CG.
Once Neo yanks that pole out of the ground to pick off Smiths by the dozens, the Wachowskis have entered a different action plane entirely.
This could’ve been enough going into Revolutions, but they out-do themselves yet again. Neo and Smith’s fight card already grew exponentially. Here, they go Super Saiyan.
Neo and Smith do not meet (at least in their respective forms) in Revolutions til the very end. This time he’s fighting Oracle-Smith, the Smith Supreme or what have you. Everything’s been built and hyped up to hell beforehand, the stakes as high as they could ever be, the odds stacked mightily against Neo. So the climactic fight absolutely earns the right to use a grandiose choir and score. It’s pompous, perhaps pretentious, but oh so epic that I can’t help but get hyped every damn time. That slow-motion run through the rain as the music and chanting blares full volume—that was cinema to me at 11-years-old. And you know what, it’s still cinema to me now.
The composition of the showdown alone is an applause break in and of itself. Rain falling down as thick as the lines of code, thunder crashing, the simulation perhaps it’s truest self that it could ever be if the point was to make all of humanity subservient. You know this is the end because you know it can’t possibly get any bigger or more dramatic than this.
It’s not only a question of what a Neo vs. Smith fight would look like after Reloaded, but what does an ending fight look like with two of the most powerful forces in the movie? Turns out it’s a lot like Goku versus Frieza.
Revolutions came out while DBZ’s Cell Saga was airing on Toonami, but Neo and Smith’s final fight to me was much closer to the Frieza Saga, especially with Namek exploding in the wake of Frieza’s wrath. Neo, thankfully, doesn’t turn Super Saiyan. He and Smith take to the skies as their abilities exceed the Matrix’s laws of nature, as their powers reach ultimate levels. They dash at full speed and full force, causing bigger and bigger balloons of collision. They go from street to building to the clouds and down to a crater, trading taunt for taunt, and equal blow for equal blow. The ending realization hits hardest.
Neo is learning a lesson in any given scene throughout the trilogy. His climactic battle with Smith is no different. It’s a hard-won lesson harkening back to their first fight in the first movie: he cannot beat Smith, he’ll just keep coming back – and that was when Smith was still tethered to the machine world.
Unplugged, Smith has grown beyond the control of the machines and he’s made it clear with what he’s done to the simulation that he’s not stopping with the human race. Neo made a deal with Deus Ex Machina to stop Smith from taking over, and jacks in at the Machine City. He doesn’t realize until the peak of their fight that there is no winning the scenario. Neo will have to lose. He has to let Smith copy himself to return Smith back to the machines’ control, doing so with a little aid from some choice words from the Oracle.
This, in the end, is why I can’t get enough of Neo and Smith’s climactic fight. Visually, it’s forever epic and exciting. But the Wachowskis don’t get lost in the effects or the grandiosity of it all. There’s always something deeper going on beneath the gloss that it feels like some sort of cheat code being able to do two things in one scene. In the first movie, Neo’s fight with Smith is about Neo’s self-discovery as The One. In Reloaded, Neo reckons with the consequences of his actions, of unbalancing the equation. And in Revolutions, it’s Neo learning punch by punch what it truly means to sacrifice one’s self for the greater good.
Character revelations shouldn’t be so damn entertaining nor so gorgeously shot. (The silhouette bit in particular is goddamn artful.) Yet the Wachowskis pulled it off, and they did it in a visual language that I recognized. My anime-riddled brain heard that shit loud and clear.