Wednesday, November 5, 2003

The Matrix Revolutions / *** (2003)

To see the latest (and probably last) "Matrix" installment right on the heels of its sensational predecessor, "The Matrix Reloaded," is to see a solid and exciting finale to the sci-fi series that jump-started a new era of technological and psychological ingenuity. Viewing the movie itself as a completely separate entity, however, the result represents efforts that are far inferior to those that came before. That's because "The Matrix Revolutions" plays less like an actual movie and more like a detached climax; it lacks the ideas that were instituted earlier in the series because it's too busy wrapping up loose ends left over from the second chapter in the trilogy, which made its way onto theater screens earlier this year. No, this is not the brilliant marriage of action and concept we saw with the first two installments in this franchise. But it is, at its core, an entertaining and engrossing action vehicle, and though it tries little in the way of new plot devices, it does manage to keep the eyes intrigued for two hours of solid and well-photographed action sequences.

The movie's beginning picks right up from the ending of the previous. Neo (Keanu Reeves), having confronted the almighty architect of the Matrix and opting to take the hard way out of the war between humans and machines, is trapped somewhere between the computer world and his own, in a virtual prison that appears as a subway station. Zion's savior (still referred to as "The One") is being detained there by a villainous rebel known as the Train Man, a snaggle-toothed wacko who is actually a puppet for the revenge-seeking Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) from the last series endeavor. Using the knowledge of his capture, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) track the Frenchman to a bondage club in order to strike a deal for Neo's release, and despite the villainous smooth-talker's antics, the hero is eventually released back into his own realm.

What follows is pretty much the standard stuff we expected to see after the last film reached its end—Zion, the last surviving human city that is buried at the center of the Earth, is now at serious risk of invasion. In fact, it will only be a few short hours before the city's dome is breached and the fearsome stampede of sentinels comes barreling down to massacre the surviving human population. While Morpheus and his ex, the calculating but courageous Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) begin to work their way back to the city in order to help its limited defenses as long as possible, Neo and Trinity opt to travel to the surface, against the better wishes of their superiors but at the vague suggestion of the Oracle (Mary Alice), who has recently undergone physical changes in order to keep herself safe from the now-destructive natures inside the Matrix (if truth be known, though, this is actually because the first actress to play the Oracle, Gloria Foster, died shortly after completing filming for "The Matrix Reloaded").

Both Neo and Trinity's goal at the surface is one that few, if any, have attempted before them: if something, somehow, can be done to the machines within their own core compound (in this case a vast and towering techno-metropolis), then maybe it is feasible for humans to persevere in this war without having to attempt to destroy the millions of machines standing in their way. In order to even try, however, they at first have to deal with Bane (Ian Bliss), a surviving stowaway of the ship that just happens to be harboring one of Neo's most notorious enemies deep inside his mind.

The movie is deliriously wild with its visuals this time around; the signature bullet-time animation technique, which was revolutionized back when the first film came out, is severely downplayed here in favor of other types of approaches, like a fiery view of the machine world through Neo's battered subconscious and a complex excursion through Zion's outer levels as both humans and sentinels engage in a rage-infested battle. In terms of atmosphere, "Revolutions" looks and feels like the climax it has been promoted as; when characters are engaging in shoot-outs or participating in stylized physical fights, there is an air within them that provokes this sensation, as if we would know they are the last major fights in this story even if we didn't know this was the last picture in the trilogy.

By the same token, however, even the epic battle scenes tend to get overdone. Acting as if they have to include every last possible visual effects shot they can before closing the book on this story, Andy and Larry Wachowski pack their film with so much action and so much adrenaline, it's almost impossible to take a breath during the 128-minute running time. To a certain degree, we can understand (and appreciate) that approach: after all, this is the very last chance they're gonna get to show off the unseen wonders of their machine-ridden movie world. But why, oh why, couldn't they show off just a few last narrative sparks instead of just completely resorting to battles and explosions? Questions about the Matrix, even after all the time we have spent analyzing and discussing it, remain unanswered here. Are they significant enough to warrant future sequels, as some have suggested? Of course not. But the fact that they still exist is a little disheartening, especially considering how little time "The Matrix Resolutions" takes in order to think about itself.

Still, I walked away from the result not saddened or disappointed, but genuinely pleased. Why? Because "Revolutions" doesn't pretend to be anything more than a fast and loud blockbuster to begin with—it knows right from the beginning that it simply wants to exercise the eyes until the very last frame. As is, the movie is completely in awe of its own stellar conviction—scenes of confrontation, realization and climax are fueled by the ambitious devotion of their filmmakers, and being a spectator to it all is just as exciting and enthralling as you could hope for. By the end, it's not such a bad thing that "The Matrix Revolutions" is entirely about special effects and loud explosions. The reward has always been there—this last chapter simply adds the cherry to the cake.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Cast & Crew info:
Keanu Reeves: Neo
Laurence Fishburne: Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss: Trinity
Hugo Weaving: Agent Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith: Niobe
Mary Alice: The Oracle

Produced by Bruce Berman, Grant Hill, Joel Silver, Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski; Directed and written by Andy and Larry Wachowski

Action/Sci-Fi (US); Rated R for sci-fi violence and brief sexual content; Running Time - 128 Minutes

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