Review of The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
This hacker review concludes the original Matrix trilogy. You may want to start with my hacker reviews of The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded.
Spoiler Alert: Don't read this if you want to watch The Matrix Revolutions spoiler-free.
Hacker Realism: ⭐️ ⭐️
Hacker Importance for the Plot: ⭐️ ⭐️
Hacks: ⭐️ ⭐️
The third movie was released the same year as the second and concluded the saga (at the time). When we left off in Matrix Reloaded , Neo had told Morpheus that the prophecy was a lie and the One was never supposed to end the war. Sentinels had blown up Nebuchadnezzar but Neo used some newfound force to destroy them only to collapse. The last we saw was the traitor Bane lie on a bed next to Neo, also in a coma.
This review largely skips the battle of Zion which is major part of the movie but uninteresting from a hacker perspective.
At the start of the movie, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) asks to search the Matrix for Neo (Keanu Reeves) even though Neo lies in a coma on the ship he's on. The operator who is asked to search questions the use since Neo is not plugged in. (Rememver they jack in through a plug in the back of their necks.) Morpehus insists.
Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) sits by Neo's side and is told that Neo's neural patterns don't look like someone in a coma, rather like someone who is in the Matrix.
Neo wakes up at a white train station. A little girl is there and tells Neo her dad thinks he's is lost. She and her family are going to the Matrix with the help of the Trainman (Bruce Spence).
The Seraph (Collin Chou) calls from the Matrix and tells Morpheus the Oracle wants to see them asap. Seraph takes Trinity and Morpheus to the Oracle (Mary Alice). She says she's made a choice that may cost her a lot. She has chose to help them guide Neo.
The Oracle explains that Neo is trapped between the Matrix and the real world, or the machine world as she calls it. The link between the worlds is controlled by the Trainman who smuggles programs in and out of the Matrix. The Trainman works for the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) who has put a bounty on Morpheus et al's heads after they stole the Keymaker from him.
The Oracle asks Seraph to help Trinity and Morpheus find Neo.
Merovingian is a trafficker in information and as I concluded in my previous review, he seems to be part of the Matrix's memory or storage. If the Trainman works for Merovingian and can move programs in and out, it sounds to me like the Trainman handles input/output, or I/O, for persistent storage. It is unclear why he has to smuggle the programs though, but he could be a compromised I/O unit.
Going all the way back to the first movie, we know that the pill Neo takes to leave the Matrix is part of a program. We also know that they use carrier signals to travel between the Matrix and the real world, answering a phone to exit the Matrix.
So how can Neo connect to the Matrix without being plugged in, and how can he be trapped?
Maybe he has acquired the capability to leave a copy of himself, a slice of his own software, in the Matrix? We know Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is copying himself. If Neo were able to exist and think in both worlds at the same time, he would need a synchronization mechanism. But he's in a coma in the real world so maybe only one copy of him can "execute" at a time. Getting stuck at the train station could be the copy being stuck in I/O and not let through to the Matrix.
A Deal To Get Out
A train arrives at the white station where Neo is to pick up the little girl and her family. When Neo tries to get onboard, Trainman prevents him and says that down here he makes the rules. Trainman leaves Neo trapped and will consult his boss on what to do with him.
Seraph, Trinity, and Morpheus find Trainman who flees head over heals. They decide to enter Merovingian's club by force to try to make a deal.
Merovingian tells Seraph: "Since you, my little Judas, have brought them here, I can only surmise that the fortuneteller has found another shell?"
Merovingian wants the eyes of the Oracle in exchange for Neo. Trinity makes a surprise move and starts a raging fight. She catches a lost gun in the air and lands it point blank against Merovingian's forehead. A deal is made and Trinity is allowed to get Neo from the station where he's trapped.
Neo goes to see the Oracle. She tells him that his power comes from the source and that's where he must go. She also tells him that Agent Smith is his negative opposite and that Smith will soon have the power to destroy the Matrix and beyond.
After Neo has left, Agent Smith comes for the Oracle and subsumes her. He now has her powers.
It seems Merovingian is pulling a direct hacker term here – a shell. A shell is a command prompt where you can control a computer via textual commands. Hackers typically strive to get a root shell on the systems they hack, meaning a command prompt with the highest possible privileges.
Smith being the negative mirror image of Neo fits with the earlier copying of behavior from Neo to Smith. Smith's increased powers mirror Neo's increased powers. In computer terms, this could be a piece of software escalating its privileges within a system and the software's good and bad parts thus gain power equally.
What Neo Sees
The traitor Bane wakes up from his coma in the real world. He is questioned but remembers nothing. His voice sounds like Agent Smith. Once he realizes he may be compromised, he kills a crew member and goes rogue.
Neo decides he needs access to a ship to go to the machine city. Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) offers him her ship. Trinity insists she's going with him.
Systems on Neo and Trinity's ship shut down. Trinity checks it out and finds Bane hiding on their ship. He's going to kill them both. Bane neutralizes Trinity and dumps her through a manhole to the lower deck.
Neo realizes Bane is a manifestation of Smith in the real world. They fight. Smith manages to pull an electric cable and shove it in Neo's face, frying his eyes. Neo goes blind.
Just as Smith is about to finish off, Neo starts seeing with his mind instead of his eyes, ducks, and kills Bane/Smith.
Since Smith is the other side of Neo, I interpret Neo's loss of his eyes as the gambit he has to make to beat Bane.
In software terms, this might be cutting off a chunk of functionality that contains both good and bad parts, as a last resort to get rid of the bad parts. In a cyber defense situation, it would be the equivalent of shutting down servers that provide useful services but that may also have been compromised and are helping the attacker. In a kinetic war situation, it's kind of like a scorched-earth policy.
It's important to remember that Smith faces the same dilemma here – Neo is his other side and he's fighting himself.
The Machine City
Trinity drives the ship with Neo blind. They get to the enormous farm fields of humans in cocoons and Neo feels the human presence. He instructs Trinity to follow the three power lines that go into the distance to their right.
As they fly closer, the machines deploy defense bots in huge numbers. Neo says they need to go up into the clouds. Up there there's lightning and the sentinels get electrocuted but Neo and Trinity's ship looses power too. For a brief moment, they reach above the menacing, dark clouds and see the upper atmosphere of what seems to be Earth. Then down again until they crash-land in the machine city.
Trinity is mortally wounded in the crash but has enough time to say a heartfelt goodbye.
Neo pulls himself together and climbs out of the ship to see the vast city landscape. He sees it with his mind as flows of light and power.
The leader of the machines — a huge spiky sphere — comes to face the intruder.
Neo: I only ask to say what I've come to say. After that, do what you want, and I won't try to stop you.
Neo: The program Smith has grown beyond your control. Soon he will spread through this city as he has spread through the Matrix. You cannot stop him. But I can.
Machine: We don't need you! We need nothing!
Neo: If that's true, then I've made a mistake, and you should kill me now.
Machine: What do you want?
Machine: And if you fail?
Neo: I won't.
My understanding of the situation here is that Smith's power has grown just as Neo's. They keep a delicate balance in the Architect's equations. All the previous iterations with Neo and the destruction of Zion have removed the anomaly once it got large enough. But because of Neo's choices, this time the anomaly has grown dangerously large. If the balance is tilted just a little bit, it could destroy everything.
A catastrophic failure in computer terms can be a so called bricked device (you can never use it again) or erasure of all storage (a complete data reset).
The Last Fight
The huge machine sphere jacks the port into the back of Neo's neck and sends him to the Matrix. He arrives at a rainy gauntlet with lanes of Agent Smith copies on each side. Neo looks up and finds more Smiths in the windows of high rise buildings around him.
Smith has taken over the whole Matrix and made every human in there into a copy of himself. A lone Smith peels off the crowd and steps into the middle lane to face Neo. He has the foresight of the Oracle and already knows he will beat Neo. That's why he is willing to fight one-on-one.
They fight in an ever escalating way until Neo lies in a huge hole in the ground and Smith goes in for the kill. Smith has foreseen this exact scene and strives to play his part perfectly, reciting "Everything that has a beginning, has an end, Neo."
The quote scares him and Neo rises once again. "You were right, Smith. You were always right. It was inevitable."
Smith does his signature move and inserts his hand into Neo to make him a copy of himself. Neo indeed becomes Smith.
Neo in the real world is still connected through the cable the big sphere provided. The uber machine connects to Smith through Neo and all Smith copies burst into pieces.
Neo is brought away by the machines, the Matrix is restored, and peace with Zion is established.
Neo offers the machines to zero out the anomaly by sacrificing himself and thus deal equal harm to his evil twin Smith. They accept the offer and promise to leave Zion alone. That's the resolution to the full story arc of the trilogy.
In computer terms this relates to a virus infection. It has always been unclear to me what so called anti virus programs are supposed to do. Do they prevent infection? Disinfect? Quarantine? Or just detect, i.e. tell you your system is infected and you should buy a new one?
I think what Neo offers here is to delete his whole program which includes Smith. It's like deleting the whole virus-infected piece of software because there is no way to disinfect or quarantine. It all needs to go.
The third movie does resolve the war between machines and humankind which is satisfying. It also wraps up Agent Smith's story. But the Matrix is not very prominent in this movie and the lengthy attack on Zion makes it much more of a regular sci-fi action blaster.
The team also feels dispersed with Neo doing his thing, some defending Zion, and some working with the Oracle and Seraph. The first movie has much more team interaction which I prefer.
This text was originally published in the June 2022 issue of the Hacker Chronicles newsletter. Subscribe below!
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