'Matrix' sequel lacks thrill of original

Posted: Thursday, November 06, 2003

Think back to 1999, when you first saw "The Matrix."

Remember the exhilarating sense of awe and wonder you experienced, the feeling that you were watching something truly revolutionary? The clothes, the choreography, the combination of brain-twisting philosophy and thunderous techno music it was just a ceaselessly cool film. It almost allowed you to take Keanu Reeves seriously.

Now think back to six months ago, when you saw "The Matrix Reloaded."

By then, the original had been so endlessly copied and parodied, a sequel seemed redundant. It was too talky, too bloated with psychobabble and self-importance. And it had an infuriating cliffhanger ending: Neo (Reeves) lies in a coma, and since he's The One, he's the only dude who can save Zion from imminent destruction by the machines.

You'll be happy to learn that in "The Matrix Revolutions," the third (and supposedly final) installment in the trilogy, the tedious, cryptic speeches about the nature of the Matrix are gone. In their place, however, is a different kind of noise.

"The Matrix Revolutions" is an onslaught a clamorous, soulless barrage. For what feels like half the film's two hours during the epic battle between man and machine giant chunks of grinding, twisting metal attack each other. While the original "Matrix" thrilled, this one numbs.

There is no "wow" sequence here, no signature "Bullet Time" image. It's as if brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, as writers and directors, had more fun obsessing over the minutiae of their universe than any moviegoer (aside from fetishists and fanboys) will ever enjoy watching.

The production notes proudly declare, "There were probably over 1,000 pieces that went into the creation of the APU and its various elements," referring to Armored Personal Units the contraptions that the grungy Zionites climb inside to shoot down the invading sentinels, which resemble giant metallic calamari.

Well that's impressive and all, but the APUs are 14-foot-tall robotic monstrosities that completely encase the people inside them which makes it hard to connect with the people inside them, and harder to care that they're in danger.

Even "The Matrix Reloaded" had some sporadic flashes of brilliance: the 14-minute car chase, those ethereal albino twins and the occasional smarmy speech from the menacing Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). By the time part three rolls around, however, Smith has been reduced to a snarling, gnashing megalomaniac, and the future of humanity inside and outside the Matrix comes down to a fist fight between him and Neo. Equally disappointing is the film's main shootout, which takes place upside down on the ceiling of a nightclub.

"Revolutions" only comes close to inspiring when it take time to focus on people: the doomed love between Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), the renewed affection between Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, almost an afterthought here) and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), the tender friendship between a young Indian girl (Tanveer Atwal) and the Oracle (Mary Alice, filling in for Gloria Foster, who died after shooting her scenes for part two).

As always, the fight sequences are choreographed spectacularly by Yuen Wo Ping, whose stylized moves have given the "Matrix" movies, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and more recently "Kill Bill" a balletic grace.

By now, though, they have a pervading seen-that-before feeling even when the Wach-owskis literally turn the fighting on its head.

"The Matrix Revolutions," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R for sci-fi violence and brief sexual content. Running time: 129 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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