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(2003) (Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne) (R)

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Sci-fi: Various human freedom fighters prepare to make one last stand against their former, machine-based oppressors while their leader contends with an increasingly powerful and dangerous agent who's escaped the Matrix with the intent of killing him.
In a world where machines derive their power from unconscious human slaves who exist in a fabricated reality that seems normal to them, a rebellious set of escaped humans are preparing to make one last stand against the machines and their robotic sentinels.

Various members of the group, including Morpheus (LAURENCE FISHBURNE) and Trinity (CARRIE-ANNE MOSS), want to know how their chosen leader, Neo (KEANU REEVES), managed to enter the fabricated Matrix without being directly plugged into it. At the same time, they're wary of Bane (IAN BLISS), a crewmember who ended up simultaneously unconscious with Neo.

Looking for answers, Morpheus and Trinity meet with the all-knowing Oracle (MARY ALICE) who sends them, along with her bodyguard, Seraph (COLLIN CHOU), to find Neo's imagined self who's trapped in a purgatory of sorts where the Trainman (BRUCE SPENCE) won't let him reenter the Matrix. It turns out the powerful Merovingian (LAMBERT WILSON) has cast Neo there for all eternity.

The others end up freeing him, however, and soon prepare for the pending onslaught of robotic sentinels. As Captain Mifune (NATHANIEL LEES) prepares the ground forces that include Zee (NONA GAYE), The Kid (CLAYTON WATSON) and many others, and Morpheus, his former lover, Niobe (JADA PINKETT SMITH), Trinity and Link (HAROLD PERRINEAU) take to the air, Neo sets out to uncover the secrets behind the Matrix.

While doing so, he must also contend with Agent Smith (HUGO WEAVING), the anthropomorphic physical representation of the machine world who has similarly managed to escape the Matrix, wants his revenge on "The One," and is growing more powerful every day.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Following the advent of the industrial age where machines began to replace human labor, sci-fi writers started examining that very issue in their work. Whether it was mankind's self-destruction using such tools or their demise at the hands of robots and androids, etc., the genre addressed the concern of whether the notion and/or use of machines was a good thing and what toll it would have on humanity.

The 1999 film "The Matrix" put an interesting and heady spin on that concept. With its first 2003 sequel, "The Matrix Reloaded," however, the series threatened to become mechanical itself - in terms of construction and what created it -- like the thread it showcased.

Now, with the second 2003 sequel, "The Matrix Revolutions," the transformation is complete. Whereas the first film was all about the human story of characters trying to break free from the machines (with some special effects thrown in as icing), this last installment of the trilogy is more about the effects at the expense of character and story.

Sure, the brotherly filmmaking team of Andy and Larry Wachowski (who also helmed "Bound") wrap up the various plot threads and there are plenty of scenes sans effects. Yet, the story, much as was the case in "Reloaded," is filled with too much self-important mumbo jumbo that comes across as faux profundity.

One need only listen to just about any sample of dialogue from the film and you'll see my point. Cinema geeks and those who've turned Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and Zion into a cinematic religion of sorts will probably salivate over and/or groove on all of the solemn and riddle-like lines. Everyone else, however, will likely tire quickly of the contrived and trite dialogue that becomes as redundant as the special effects.

While this offering has plenty of the latter, and they do look good from a technical standpoint, one can't help shake the feeling (and truth) that they're effects just for effects' sake. Rather than complementing or furthering the story, they're simply present to impress (and thus appear on a grand, "Lord of the Rings" sort of scale).

Unfortunately, they don't possess the groundbreaking, gee-whiz quality of the first film or the over-the-top delirious extravaganza of the second (that included the wild freeway chase scene and another featuring Neo battling scores of Agent Smiths). Thus, they come off feeling like filler that's been used to pad the conclusion of a trilogy that's run out of story and already blown its sci-fi and effects wad.

Considering it was simultaneously filmed with "Reloaded," "Revolutions" feels tired, recycled and redundant as it shares many of the same faults that made the second installment a disappointing sequel for those who loved the original.

There are long and boring stretches of supposedly revelatory and significant drama that grind the film's momentum to a halt without adding anything of significance. Observant viewers will too easily see the film's few surprises (that take the main characters an odd amount of time to notice). In addition, the film doesn't satisfactorily answer or justify all of the questions and pontificating that was brought up in the second picture.

Performances are pretty much in line with those in the second film. Reeves ("Hardball," "Sweet November") once again runs the risk of parodying himself with the dully profound dialogue and solemn earnestness he tries to exude. Carrie-Anne Moss ("Chocolat," "Memento") and Laurence Fishburne ("Mystic River," "Biker Boyz") have even less to do this time around, while Mary Alice ("Sunshine State," "Catfish in Black Bean Sauce") - who replaces the late Gloria Foster - gets more than her fair share as the nebulous oracle.

The more interesting and flamboyant characters played by Hugo Weaving (the "Lord of the Rings" films) and Lambert Wilson ("Jet Set," "The Blood of Others") are shortchanged, particularly when one excludes the elongated but boring and anticlimactic final fight scene. Jada Pinkett Smith ("Ali," "Bamboozled") and Nona Gaye ("The Matrix Reloaded," "Ali"), however, take up some of that slack as strong female warriors, while Bruce Spence (of "The Road Warrior" fame) is briefly present (and with another set of positively awful-looking teeth).

Proof positive that machines (in this case, those that spit out all of the effects) will never fully take the place of the human touch (the rarely engaging or interesting story this time around), this is undoubtedly the least satisfying entry in the Matrix trilogy.

About the only good thing about it is that it (hopefully) means this will be the last we'll see of Neo and company for a long time. Making one long for a viewing of the original to see what all of the fuss was once about, "The Matrix Revolutions" rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 3, 2003 / Posted November 5, 2003

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