`Matrix Revolutions' makes it a little easier to believe

November 05, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The Matrix Revolutions blends feather-brained, starry-eyed camp and rock-'em-sock-'em spectacle - so it's at least more entertaining than the second Matrix film, which hung in the air like a noxious cloud.

What's almost endearing about this final chapter in the Matrix trilogy is its dime-store romanticism. We learn that underneath the philosophic folderol, the Matrix franchise has a motto akin to the 1973 New York Mets' "You Gotta Believe" and identical to the City of Baltimore's one-word, clean-up-the-streets slogan "Believe."

When the pedal hits the tons of metal contained in The Matrix Revolutions, the warrior citizens of Zion take humanity's last stand against swarms of killing devices from Machine City. And survival depends on whether men and women believe in each other and in their potential savior, Neo (Keanu Reeves). You begin to hear "believe" as often as you do "forgive me" in an Ingmar Berman movie.

Can Neo win peace between man and machine by journeying with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to Machine City and coming face to face with the Oz-like figure known, yes, as Deus Ex Machina?

If you're a super-skipper and agnostic like Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), and you offer to lend Neo your vehicle even though you don't think he's "the One," you'd better be able to say, "I believe in him."

Can Niobe navigate a ship past vicious invading Sentinels through a shaft never intended for transportation? If you're an underage enlistee wondering whether to cut open a gate for her, you gotta have heart and hope. "Neo, I believe," the lad cries out at the critical moment.

Of course, for a while you fear an avalanche of abstruse chatter, as in The Matrix Reloaded. That tiresome French hedonist the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) can't simply state "you take something from me, you pay the price" - he must first explain the concept of actions having consequences.

At the start, in limbo, Neo hears about karma from a computer program in human form and learns that programs have feelings, too. (The limbo set - a snow-white subway stop - leads to the movie's one intentional piece of hilarity.)

After Trinity repays Neo for saving her in The Matrix Reloaded, he visits the Oracle for guidance (Mary Alice takes over for the late Gloria Foster). In an ever-inflating gas-bag of a scene, the Oracle explains that men and machines are caught in a perilous balance; she comforts Reeves' poor, mixed-up Messiah with the nearly tautological notion that no one can see beyond choices they cannot understand.

Ultimately, Neo reverts to Existentialism 101: When evil Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), the rogue program who throws the man-machine equation out of whack, asks why Neo persists in his quest, Neo blurts out, "Because I choose to."

Much of The Matrix Revolutions is simple, unadulterated corn. You get vows of love between people you barely know - including Neo and Trinity, who are made for each other mostly by the costume designer. You get every page in the war-film writer's handbook, from well-worn phrases ("time will tell") to formulaic devices (the eager 16-year-old who wins over the grizzled officer). About the only cliche missing is, "It's quiet out there." By and large, there is no quiet.

Still, this corn is more organic than the pseudo-intellectual enigmas in The Matrix Reloaded. You almost always know who to root for here, and if you briefly forget, Laurence Fishburne's glowering Morpheus will remind you.

The writing-directing Wachowski Brothers (Larry and Andy) come up with cunning killing devices and put them into hypnotic patterns. Our lead defenders fight in APUs (Armored Personal Units): Zion's own extreme machines, which place soldiers at the open heart of mammoth gun-slinging robots. Even better are the enormous evil gadgets: Diggers that cut into Zion's protective dome, the flying squid-like Sentinels that mass inside, and crab- or lobster-like metallic critters in Machine City. It's an inventive crass menagerie. Think of Finding Nemo without the water and the wit.

The Wachowskis often use their four eyes to great advantage - the battlefield and Machine City images have swirling depths that draw you in. Yet those are the only depths of any kind on display. And for every visual coup, like Neo's infra-gold vision, there's a disappointment or a misfire. The climactic brawl between Neo and Agent Smith is technically adroit, conceptually hollow. Basically, it plays for keeps what Barry Levinson played for laughs in Diner when Timothy Daly threatened, "I'll hit you so hard, I'll kill your whole family." The message here is, "I'll hit you so hard, I'll kill your whole species."

The Matrix Revolutions may be kitschy fun if you don't take it too seriously. But nothing spelled out here or in the previous film is as potent as everything kept hidden in The Matrix. As a whole, this trilogy pays a backhanded salute to the power of suggestion.

The Matrix Revolutions

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Jada Pinkett Smith

Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R

Time 129 minutes

Sun Score **

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