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The Matrix Revolutions **½

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Weaving steals Keanu's thunder in Revolutions

(Courtesy of The Oakland Tribune)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving. Rated R.

There are more than a few scenes in The Matrix Revolutions in which angry computer programmers and their superhuman creations remind anyone who will listen just how powerful they've become in the digitized world of the not-too-distant future. "I created this world," cries the cyber-minded Trainman, one of many bit characters who drift in and out of the movie while serving no obvious purpose. "Down here I am God!"

Andy and Larry Wachowski, the Harvard-educated directing duo who set the Matrix franchise in motion back in 1999, often seem to be saying the same thing. They make the rules; they bend the rules. More often than not, the rules make no sense.

Consider the climactic showdown between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the icy Agent Smith, whose every syllable drips with such venomous contempt that it's hard to believe it's Hugo Weaving, and not the expressionless Reeves, playing this figment of a machine's imagination. The fight is long, overblown and packed with the same kind of high-speed, bone-crushing battering that seemed so much fresher in the original Matrix. And by the time it's done, it's clear the scene was intended as nothing more than a crowd-pleasing formality, since Neo never planned to punch his way past his computer-generated nemesis in the first place.

Perhaps the fight is merely the fulfillment of a prophecy by the Oracle (this time played by Mary Alice, replacing the late Mary Foster), whose murky psychobabble is beginning to sound less and less sage and more like something borrowed from a Mad magazine parody of The Matrix. Or perhaps it's merely the inevitable conclusion to the movie's hourlong mother of all battles, which finds Neo, Morpheus (played with an air of increasing fatigue by Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and thousands of grim-looking extras defending the mysterious Zion with enough weapons of mass destruction to fry a small planet.

The action is brilliantly executed, of course. While Revolutions lacks the stylistic innovations that made The Matrix and, to a lesser extent, The Matrix Reloaded, so influential, it's still a fascinating live-action realization of a lavish video-game fantasy.

But as breathtaking as the special effects may be, Revolutions lives and dies by the sword. Reeves and Fishburne seem to have lost their zest for their roles, and it is Weaving, as usual, who steals the show during his regrettably scant screen time. (Reeves himself is present for little more than half the film, and just once in one of the movie's quieter moments, as Neo prepares to leave Trinity for his final confrontation with the machines, does he snap out of his monotone and register something akin to emotion.)

Philosophically, the Wachowskis push their Neo-as-Christ theme as far as it can go -- and possibly farther -- and the first half of Revolutions offers more of the pseudo-spiritual meanderings ("If not me, than who am I?" the would-be messiah asks early on) that bogged down Reloaded. And though the third and presumably final installment of the Matrix saga does have a heart its uncharacteristically cheery conclusion is proof of that it lacks the sharper wit of the first two.

It's hard to remember that the Matrix trilogy began as a relatively simple story with a few clever ideas, a small cast of well-imagined characters and groundbreaking effects. Revolutions, unfortunately, is a convoluted tale set on the grandest of stages, with scores of characters functioning as so much window dressing (Monica Bellucci's Persephone springs to mind) and a humorless script that mixes featherweight philosophy with the clichéd trappings of a standard action flick. It provides its fair share of eye-pleasing spectacle, but in its insistence on being important (and very, very loud) it punishes the ears and offers less than it pretends to the brain. -- Rossiter Drake

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