Film Reviews

Silly Humans, The Matrix Is for Kids!

A not terribly long time ago in an uninhabitable galaxy called Burbank, a generally astute movie studio founded by four Polish siblings alienated a young hotshot filmmaker. The studio was Warner Bros., and the project was a cold, disturbing, highly stylized vision of a mechanized future called THX-1138. It wasn't wholly original, but it was pretty cool overall; still, studio know-it-alls created a load of friction for the movie and its maker. It's hardly surprising, but the kid didn't court them with his next sci-fi romp, a little yarn called Star Wars. The following year, wizened executive asses likely met boot.

Jump ahead a couple of decades and you'll witness more Polish brothers, Andy and Larry Wachowski, both also hotshots, traipsing onto the Warner lot with a very similarly themed property, camouflaged in black leather. They called their particular humanity-versus-technology dealie The Matrix. What emerged was basically a Joel Silver bang-bang picture wrapped in an unusually clever discourse on the nature of reality. Its dork-becomes-god story line blew a few minds and made a pretty penny. Suddenly Warner Bros. was back on the sci-fi map, and it was trilogy time again.

Now here we are at the purported "end" of the franchise, with The Matrix Revolutions. What remains to be depicted in the film is the final battle between Earth's hopelessly outnumbered conscious humans and the monstrous machines that have seized control. The result is visually slick, almost shockingly simpleminded, kinda redundant and only adequately satisfying. Alas, for their dramatic wrap-up, the Wachowskis' storytelling now feels less intriguing than merely dutiful. At about two brisk, tidy hours, with a huge gob of loose ends either hastily knotted or just snipped -- Key Maker? Twins? Hello? -- their biggest success here is to whet our epic appetite for The Return of the King.

As for the story, it's exactly what you'd expect, more or less. Han Solo and Princess Leia struggle to help Luke Skywalker confront his shadow side in order to…um…whoops, wrong decade. Make that Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne, flat) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, flatter) struggle to help Neo (Keanu Reeves, goes without saying) confront his shadow side in order to, you know, save the world. Since humanity isn't going to find out what happens to a supposed messiah until Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ emerges in a few months, the wondrous notion that Neo is "The One" shrouds Revolutions in rich, captivating mystery. If you're 12.

Now, bringing balance to the force, it must be said that setting your mind on "12" is a perfectly reasonable way to enjoy Revolutions. It's fun and rudimentary and hellzapoppin' to observe. Linking immediately to Reloaded, we commence with Neo -- rhyming with and increasingly resembling Captain EO -- trapped in a subway tunnel purgatory created by the haggard Trainman (Bruce Spence), a minion of the delightfully nasty Merovingian (Lambert Wilson, underused), who is still savoring the sweet pomegranates of Persephone (Monica Bellucci, resting her buns). While loitering between the illusory Matrix and the scorched earth of the real world, the ever more supernaturally endowed Neo meets an East Indian family who all turn out to be computer programs, learns that "love" and "karma" are just words, then gets busted back to life by Trinity and Co. Also returning to consciousness is a rebel crewman named Bane (Ian Bliss) who sports a diabolical Vandyke beard. Enough said there.

The rest of the movie concerns the underground city of Zion being attacked by massive drilling machines and those squidlike Sentinels, which were clearly modeled after the probe droid from The Empire Strikes Back. In turn, the nervous denizens of Zion fight back using the bulky, anthropomorphized "loaders" swiped from Aliens, complete with a bulging-biceps U.S. Marine chick purloined from same. During all this, the tribunal from Star Trek/Wars meets to pontificate while Neo realizes that he must fly to the machine city, unarmed but accompanied by the excessively dedicated Trinity, to meet his destiny amid a bunch of leftover bug-droids from Runaway. Meanwhile, the no-longer-fascinating Morpheus approves the piloting skills of Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) as their hovercraft careens through challenging postindustrial tunnels very possibly inspired by those enigmatic Wachowskis playing Vanguard 20 years ago at some Chicagoland bowling alley.

Is it worth seeing this third and supposedly final chapter? Like you wouldn't. And there's plenty that's cool about it. A lot fewer handguns, some more cool stunts via fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, plus that dank, rainy atmosphere that makes jacking into the Matrix a lot more appealing than, say, shopping in the real world. The finest scenes involve the new Oracle (Mary Alice) and the very Hollywood agent-like Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), adding touching resignation and rage to a movie that's otherwise half cartoon, half rapacious sci-fi feeding frenzy. But for a cyberpunk/anime Tron knockoff in Blade's duds following The Omega Man's path toward a Hulk-like aura of self-discovery, climaxing with a middling showdown stolen from Superman II, it's a reasonably enjoyable ride, offering a thoughtful enough sense of closure.

If you're 12.

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Gregory Weinkauf