The Matrix Reloaded--the brain-fried sequel to The Matrix--raised plenty of questions earlier this year. The purported final chapter to The Matrix trilogy--The Matrix Revolutions--answers only one of these questions: what happens next? As it turns out, the answer is...nothing that even the most casual viewer of the Matrix films couldn't have guessed. The machines attack Zion (in a digitally rendered flurry), key characters make mortal sacrifices, and Yuen Wo Ping cooks up a handful of furious fistfights involving gravity defiance, tossing people through walls, and impassive kung fu. Those expecting the Wachowski Brothers to solve their own mysteries will walk away sorely disappointed.
The Matrix sequels are crammed with more chintzy illogic than I can shake a stick at, so I'll leave that to the flaming chat rooms of soon-to-be ex-Matrix fans. Suffice it to say that The Matrix Revolutions picks up cold from the end of The Matrix Reloaded, with Keanu Reeves's Neo in coma-induced limbo while freedom fighters Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) look on fretfully and ponder the inevitable: a siege on rebel stronghold Zion by the humans' machine oppressors.
The film begins by treading water, recycling scenes from the first two films, endlessly repeating pop philosophy and dimwitted epigrams about fate, karma, love, prophecy, providence, and faith. By rote, the Wachowskis trot out the Oracle (Mary Alice, replacing the late Gloria Foster) and nasty Frenchie Merovingian, but neither has anything very important to say; their pretentious and portentous dialogue scenes are excuses to stage a couple of mildly suspenseful standoffs (my favorite line? The Oracle's too-close-for comfort toss-off "I told you before..."). The all-powerful Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) provides most of what little live-action zest The Matrix Revolutions can offer, finally kicking the picture into gear with his drawling, snarling smarm.
The Matrix Revolutions is not much worse than The Matrix Reloaded. Though the previous film offered a better action-to-talk ratio (if you've ever heard Matrix-speak, you know what I mean), the final chapter makes certain improvements on its predecessor's dearth of tension. Clumsily but earnestly, The Matrix Revolutions dishes out vital real-world threats to its human characters. An extended fight scene which takes place outside the Matrix (a fleeting fancy in the earlier films) delivers a thrilling novelty, while the epic, fiery holocaust in Zion dazzles in its expensive way with busy visuals of Giger-esque Sentinels. As is their wont, the Wachowskis lather on allusions (or, if you prefer, pillage) from sources ranging from the Bible and ancient Greek tragedy to the modern mythologies of Star Wars, The Terminator, and Robocop.
Where The Matrix Revolutions stumbles unforgiveably beyond mediocrity is in its final scenes, with a ludicrously silly verbal exchange between Neo and the machines in "Machine City," followed by a shoddily (un)justified one-on-one showdown between Neo and Smith as thousands of other Smiths stand on the sidelines and watch. Operatic clanking and choral singing accompany this and most of the film's melodrama, leading to yet another Hollywood appropriation of Akira's apocalyptic mushroom clouds of energy. The resolution is obvious, colorless, and meaningless. Why would what happens in the end spell an end to the strife between man and machine, even temporarily? I couldn't tell you, and I'm not sure the Wachowskis could, either.
The Matrix remains a fresh, kinetic science-fiction actioner that captured the zeitgeist, but its sequels have effectively sullied the notion that the story contains as much deep thought as fans would care to ascribe. In capping the series, The Matrix Revolutions becomes a cheesy paean to free will and the indomitability of the human spirit. To get to those hardly original themes, audiences will need to slog through hours of padding. In short, The Matrix Revolutions is a drag.