Thursday, November 06, 2003

Some thoughts on "The Matrix Revolutions"

This is the sort of movie that DVD was invented for; it elicits the urge to jump back and forth between various scenes so you're sure you're on the right wavelength. With that disclaimer aside, I liked this movie. It's a much more coherent adventure than the second installment. This time around, the hand-to-hand action scenes are quick and effective -- not the distended pageants of the first two (however much superficial fun they might have provided).

"Revolutions" features some of the best art direction and visual effects yet, including a convincingly sinister glimpse of one of the sprawling, AI-dominated cities. Viewers may be surprised to find that Keanu Reeves' Neo is almost a minor character, with the bulk of the plot centered around the subterranean city of Zion, which is under siege by tentacled cybernetic vermin.

With Zion's inhabitants in the throes of a Giger-esque fever-dream, the philosophical threads that surfaced in "Reloaded" become part of the narrative background. This is probably a good thing; one of the perils of a movie like this is existential overkill. In "Reloaded," the storyline jumped helter-skelter from metaphysics to car chases to kung-fu brawls and back again at a seizure-inducing speed that utterly prohibited getting to know any of the characters, let alone caring about their plight. "Revolutions" remedies this somewhat.

We discover that Agent Smith, in an orgy of digital cloning, now threatens the continued existence of the Matrix; hence, he poses a threat to the malign AI that constructed the Matrix in the first place to keep its human livestock placated. This is the movie's most promising premise. It's also its most perplexing. ("Wait -- hand me that remote . . .") Even though his appearances are few and far between, Smith is the rightful star of "Revolutions". Hugo Weaving exudes a mechanically child-like wrath that captures the exponentiating insanity of his world; if a computer virus could speak, I imagine it would sound something like Weaving at the film's climax, when Smith faces up to his own unheeding autism.

"Revolutions" is replete with cool camera work, a few rewarding eyeball kicks (i.e., a subway billboard advertises "Tasty Wheat," the product that inspired a memorable philosophical monologue in the first film) and at least one new idea: that informational goods can be illegally trafficked within the Matrix's pragmatic boundaries, provided you have the right connections.

The ending is ambiguous (what did you expect?) and possibly a shade too sunny for a trilogy that's repeatedly taken its visual cues from the grit and shadows of "Blade Runner" and "Neuromancer." Regardless, "Revolutions" left me with a desire to see the latter two films again, which is perhaps exactly what it was supposed to do.

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