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The Matrix Revolutions

If this film had been some sort of live-action manga adaptation, it would have been under a title like Cyber Fighter Black Super Buddha Neo 3, and casual otaku everywhere would be going nuts for it. Alas, The Matrix Revolutions is not such, though it tosses around world philosophies as easily as an edition of Final Fantasy. And it may end up having its defenders, just not here. It will leave many scratching their heads, both wondering and arguing what it is all about. Some will simply shrug their shoulders and be grateful that everything that has a beginning finally has an end. Too bad it takes over two hours to get there.

Definitely stronger than Reloaded, this installment promises much and delivers a good deal. The Wachowski Brothers have gotten a better handle on pacing, and at least in the first half manage to drop some new concepts into the mix without grinding the story to a halt.

Bringing back the few bright spots of the second film, though, only ends up teasing us with ideas they don't have the time or apparent interest to explore. Neo (Keanu Reeves) comes to grips with a key to his future, in a delicately earnest scene in which a program, Rama (Bernard White), reveals that artificial life knows love, too. Certainly Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) suffers from more negative emotions and is capable of surprise, but this intriguing line of thought never really develops. It might be key to the climax, but with Reeves' iron grasp of subtext, it's hard to be sure.

The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and Persephone (Monica Belluci) return, too, but only for a moment that wastes our interest. Purposely, these constructs (or more…but still not a resolved issue) are more colorful than any other characters in the film. But that leaves us following the darkest, dullest people we possibly could.

Key revelations also seem to have occurred off-screen, in both the Enter The Matrix videogame and the admittedly excellent Animatrix. Some things get recapped, such as the explanation for The Oracle's new appearance (now played by actress Mary Alice after Gloria Foster passed away between productions). If you're not a good enough gamer to unlock all the secrets, you're largely out of luck (unless you have access to press notes…woo-HOO!)

However, for the first half of Revolutions, the Wachowski Brothers strike a good balance between the world of the Matrix and the warrior refugees from Zion. While Neo waits in limbo, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Seraph (Collin Chou) battle their way toward The Merovingian. We're never away from either too long, as well as keeping abreast of the situation in Zion. But in the second half, the narrative splits cleanly, splintering our attention. Though both sections of the story have some spectacular action, they're too dependent on each other not to occasionally cut back and forth. Instead, they play out separately, killing some of the suspense we might otherwise have had.

A shame, because for all their narrative faults, the Wachowskis really work well with imagery. The long-promised battle between man and machine over Zion has some spectacular moments, with the mechanical sentinels swarming over APUs, giant warsuits that betray the heavily influence of Japanese pop culture. But it's cool, even if some moments also borrow heavily from Aliens. When the movie works its way back around to Neo, it's also frustrating to have to proclaim that The Matrix Revolutions features the single best Superman vs. Zod fight that could possibly be imagined. Unfortunately it features Neo and Agent Smith instead.

Where the brothers still fail is in dealing with their actors. Or rather, they've made a choice much like George Lucas in his recent trilogy. Neo is so passive that Reeves has little choice but to play him as a near blank, and that's territory that the actor treads too often and too uncharismatically. (Reeves is not a terrible actor, just one who plays too seriously, as in dull, when left to his own devices.) As the love of his life, Trinity, too, has to reflect that searching calmness. In the real world, a state of zen is devoutly to be wished, perhaps, but in drama, it's just not that interesting.

As a result, the real life in the movie comes from ancillary characters. Here, Jada Pinkett-Smith as Niobe and war movie reject The Kid (Clayton Watson) breathe occasional fire - lucky to be standing next to a bunch of stiffs. And of course, Weaving steals the show once again as Smith. It may be because he's the only actor allowed to look like he enjoys himself. (There is a joyous celebration for Zion at the end, with a warm fuzzy moment that should have viewers uneasily looking around for blunt instruments with which to cudgel Ewoks. Thankfully, they're not necessary.)

But in the end, it still feels a little bloated, though complete enough to cause resentment toward this being stretched out to a trilogy. As a challenge to viewers, this whole thing also leaves a lot of threads dangling, or left between the lines. It comes together in a manner that is satisfactory, but not exactly satisfying.

Yes, it might get better over repeated viewings, and while I'm all for a film refusing to reveal all of its secrets the first time around, it still has to grab the audience enough to make them want to sit through it again. The Matrix Revolutions feels more like a pop culture obligation than a good time.


Derek McCaw

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