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Silly, 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. Not wholly original, but pretty cool overall, yet studio know-it-alls created a load of friction for the movie and its maker. Hardly surprisingly, 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'd witness more Polish brothers, Andy and Larry Wachowski, both also hotshots, traipsing onto the Warner lot with a 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, Warners 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. The first movie's tasty mystique is now fairly well-blown, its once-fresh stylistic chops appropriated into every sort of motion picture except perhaps feminine hygiene product commercials (send ad royalties right here when that happens). Then last spring, the religiously anticipated follow-up, The Matrix Reloaded, inspired glee and dismay in equal measure with its ripping action sequences and blathering "We sorta went to college" plot. Studio coffers swelled to bursting while strange new characters spoke in riddles, and plenty of curious heads were scratched.

What remains in Revolutions is to depict 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 simple-minded, 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, their biggest success here is to whet our epic appetite for The Return of the King.

To be frank, I'm not entirely convinced that the screening I attended revealed the actual movie that Warners plans to sell to the public. What I beheld was complete and certainly functional, with whopping herds of digitally animated robot squids to keep things hopping, but narratively so remarkably unremarkable that it often felt like a gagless gag-reel, waiting for SNL hopefuls to come bumbling through, yammering nonsense from behind bling-bling shades and kicking each other in slow motion. The story line's recently added rebel Kid (Clayton Watson) is so obviously positioned for further franchise exploitation that he's nearly a joke. But just so you're clear on this perspective, I also think that the "Zion rave" from Reloaded ranks among the most unpardonably stupid sequences in cinema history. If you dug that -- poor misguided puppy -- you may also enjoy Revolutions' even dumber "S&M club" sequence, which could inspire more laughter only if it included Leslie Nielsen in nipple clamps.

As for the story, it's exactly what you probably expect, more or less. Morpheus (Laurence 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 trapped in a subway tunnel purgatory created by the haggard Trainman (Bruce Spence), who's 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, 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 Van Dyke beard. Enough said there.

The rest of the movie concerns the underground city of Zion's 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 Marine chick purloined from same.

Is it worth seeing this third and supposedly final chapter? Like you wouldn't. Yeah, 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 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

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