Archive for Thursday, November 6, 2003

Sci-fi series self-destructs in ‘Matrix Revolutions’

(R) *

November 6, 2003

Since mathematical perfection is crucial to the whole foundation of
the "Matrix" franchise, then here are a few equations to consider:

As much of a drop-off in quality as last May's release of "The Matrix
Reloaded" was in comparison to the original film, that is how much
the new "The Matrix Revolutions" pales next to "Reloaded."

Based on this declining ratio, if a fourth "Matrix" someday
materializes then it could statistically be the worst movie ever made.

"Revolutions" is a boring, ponderous, joyless exercise in filmmaking.
The convoluted plot progresses like it's being made up on the spot.
New characters of borderline necessity (Trainman, Sati, etc.) are
introduced and dismissed at random. The much-anticipated action
scenes - though noisy and strange - are never engaging.

This all builds to the trilogy's conclusion where the eventual
outcome is decided so arbitrarily that a viewer's only reaction will
be to ask, "That's it?" (I defy anyone to explain how the main
villain is thwarted or why the machines make the momentous decision
they do. Don't even bring up the meaning of the epilogue.)

It's too bad, because 1999's original "Matrix" holds up about as well
as any sci-fi/action movie around. Although its bullet-time effects
have been copied ad infinitum, the ingenuity and momentum of this
predecessor have yet to be equaled. It's one pop-culture blockbuster
that thoroughly deserves such adoration.

From the looks of their latest effort, writer/directors Andy and
Larry Wachowski will never be able to top "The Matrix." They
certainly know how to create an intriguing cinematic world from
scratch. But they haven't proved capable of building upon the
foundation in order to keep the environment interesting.
The Wachowski team is on a fast track to eclipse George Lucas for the
title of Most Promising Filmmaker Who is Now a Complacent Hack.

It's traditional to give some kind of plot synopsis when reviewing a
film, but with "Revolutions" the story is so impenetrable that there
is little point. Let's just say it begins with Neo (Keanu Reeves) at
a train platform where he is "trapped in a place between this world
and the machine world."

Nothing jump starts an action movie like a man waiting around in a
subway station.

From there it's a fractured race among the various human survivors to
protect their underground city from invasion by the robotic rulers of
the surface. This results in numerous battles that take on the
dynamics of a video game. One extended sequence between humans caged
in mechanical armor firing at swooping "calamari" drones feels no
different than playing a 15-minute round of Centipede.

Oddly enough, the majority of the film takes place outside of the
Matrix. Look to this decision for why the movie is such a dud.

Within the alternate-reality expanse of the Matrix, the characters
have super powers, they bend the laws of physics and the whole look
of the place takes on a hyperstylized sheen. In the cavernous tunnels
of the tangible world, the colors are desaturated to the brink of
dreary. The futuristic refugee camp setting known as Zion is simply
depressing. With options like these, there is little motivation for
Neo to ever leave the confines of his digital world.

It doesn't help the picture that the large array of actors are
coached to deliver their lines in one of three ways: angry, elusive
or perplexed. Similar to the last two "Star Wars" epics, whether the
actors are A-list or D-list is irrelevant; they're all directed so
poorly that there is no persuasiveness in their performances.

Reeves looks particularly bored with the material, as if he can't
wait to fulfill his contractual obligation. (Perhaps the reason he
wears dark sunglasses throughout the flick is because it hides all
the times he's rolling his eyes at the cryptic dialogue.) The star
has never been one of the great "emoters," yet when he is forced to
cry in one farewell scene it's just plain embarrassing.

No one will argue that a tremendous amount of conceptual design and
special effects-related talent went into crafting this film. This is
a $110 million blockbuster, and every cent can be seen up on the
screen. Some of the visuals do generate substantial power, such as
the reverberating images of stone-faced Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving),
who has cloned himself into an army populous enough to fill an entire
city.

But to what end?

The final product is neither intellectually challenging (which the
first movie is) or kinetically captivating (a la the second). "The
Matrix Revolutions" is confusing and ultimately inessential.

Playing a video game isn't much fun when the rules are never explained.

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