Free will hunting 

A review of The Matrix Revolutions

click to enlarge Take that, Mr. Smith. Neo (Keanu Reeves) delivers a punch in  The Matrix Revolutions.
  • Take that, Mr. Smith. Neo (Keanu Reeves) delivers a punch in The Matrix Revolutions.

The Matrix Revolutions (R)
Warner Brothers

You must give this to the Wachowskis, if nothing else: They managed to turn existential philosophy and religious mysticism into a multimillion-dollar blockbuster movie franchise.

The sibling creators of The Matrix took a lot of heat this summer when the feverishly anticipated The Matrix Reloaded appeared and spent the time between its jaw-dropping action sequences on conversations Arthur Schopenhauer and Sren Kierkegaard might have shared over a doobie on the porch.

Even with the visual bar raised for an epic car chase and the "Burly Brawl" between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), there was no way Reloaded could approximate the original Matrix's shock of the new. When viewers didn't get that jolt, they were left grumbling over having to sit through plenty of interstitial navel-gazing.

The Matrix Reloaded demanded an awful lot of patience as it set 'em up for The Matrix Revolutions to knock 'em down. And the startling thing about Revolutions is that it almost justifies Reloaded's split personality. They've made a spectacle out of something profound -- which either makes it a biblical epic for the Common Gateway Interface era, or the most expensive cheese sauce ever concocted to mask the taste of something that's supposed to be good for you.

When we left the story in May in classic cliffhanger fashion, the earth-ruling machines of the distant future were about to tunnel through to the underground human rebel city of Zion. Neo was comatose after saving his crewmates from approaching robot Sentinels in inexplicable fashion, and Agent Smith was busy duplicating himself throughout the virtual reality universe of The Matrix, like a smug computer virus in designer shades.

Revolutions picks up with Neo stranded between the "real" world and The Matrix, leading Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to spend valuable time trying to rescue "The One." Meanwhile, a quarter of a million Sentinels are closing in on Zion, and the Oracle (Mary Alice, replacing the late Gloria Foster) continues helping humans through the careful parceling out of fortune cookie wisdom.

At least that would be the cynical way of looking at it. Revolutions does, indeed, include more highfalutin musings -- though not nearly as many as Reloaded dished out -- but the ideas begin to coalesce into something more than the jumbled exposition of The Architect. At its core, the Matrix trilogy becomes nothing less than a monumental exploration of the nature of free will vs. determinism. The evolution of Neo from human to god to self-doubting messiah begins to register in a way it couldn't quite accomplish in Reloaded. When you have a moment to think about it, The Matrix Revolutions actually gives you something to think about.

Not that there are many such moments. Where Reloaded spent a lot of time simply coming up with more elaborate variations on "bullet time" fight sequences, Revolutions makes its centerpiece the assault on Zion. And while it doesn't achieve the grandeur of The Two Towers' Helm's Deep sequence -- a ridiculously high standard if ever there were one -- it's still a fairly awesome piece of screen warfare. The Wachowskis snap their editing of the sequence between locations with remarkable confidence, creating something huge that's never unwieldy. The climactic Neo/Smith showdown may ultimately be more satisfying in its clash-of-the-titans dynamic, but as pure action filmmaking, the Zion attack reminds viewers why The Matrix mattered to begin with.

The Wachowskis still can't make their characters matter all that much, and the multiple couplings seem like a perfunctory attempt to give Revolutions a heart to match its brain and brawn. Yes, they still sacrifice some frisky energy in favor of pretense and portentousness, but there's something unexpectedly invigorating about watching a big-ticket action film that causes you to ponder whether Jesus Christ's sacrifice only mattered because he could have rejected his role. Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard -- between puffs -- might have been proud.

Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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