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The end of the line 

Although science fiction throughout its history generally deals with such marvelous subjects as robots, space travel, time travel, the future, and our beloved old friends, the bug-eyed monsters (BEMs to the cognoscenti) of the pulp magazines, it also often toys with deeper, darker issues.

            Investigations of physics often lead to metaphysics; journeys to distant planets, solar systems, or galaxies in the four-dimensional space-time continuum of Einstein's universe necessarily invite theological speculation; the possibility of intelligent life in the universe inspires inquiry into human identity; and narratives of time travel open up the golden doors of paradox. No wonder science fiction films so often attract followers who resemble cultists, camping out for days in anticipation of special openings, attending gatherings with others of their persuasion, collecting artifacts, dressing in peculiar vestments in imitation of mythological figures, and endlessly debating fine points of meaning and implication.

            Many of the spiritual implications of science fiction date back to a distant past, but for contemporary film, the practice of the higher pretension begins with Stanley Kubrick's immensely long and immensely dull 2001: A Space Odyssey. After that film, the form acquired its present reputation as a means of philosophical inquiry. Aside from the remake of Solaris, which flopped miserably, the most recent and obvious examples of Deep Thinking in science fiction film occur in the Wachowski brothers' Matrix trilogy, now thankfully concluding with the third chapter, Matrix Revolutions.

            The gigantic box office success of the first two pictures pretty much guarantees equally large profits for this one, which may explain the reasons for the last effort's abject artistic failure. The franchise needs nothing new to draw its millions, so the filmmakers merely repeat themselves. After establishing the transcendental possibilities of the original, the Wachowski brothers simply perpetuate the series, repeating all the characters without in any way advancing either the logic or meaning of what began as an interesting concept. They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

            In Matrix Revolutions once again, that curious municipality known as Zion City faces imminent attack from all those mechanical spiders and octopuses generated from the Matrix, the giant mechanism that threatens to destroy humankind. On the other hand, in terms of the bizarre reasoning of the movie, perhaps all the characters and all their enemies exist merely as computer chips and programs, in which case, nothing really means anything after all, and nobody should give a damn anyway. The movie, however, desperately and obviously wants everyone to care, a most questionable desire in the context of an absolute absence of anything like logic or simple common sense.

            The familiar crew of dull characters with allusive but essentially meaningless names returns --- Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Persephone, Niobe, Seraph, Oracle, Merovingian, etc. --- uttering all the familiar nonsense that the writers obviously regard as Deep Thoughts about Big Ideas. Without the previous picture's endless automobile chase down a freeway, Matrix Revolutions relies on a simple dialectic, alternating between the folks in Zion discussing their plight and Neo (Keanu Reeves) wandering confused within the Matrix itself, encountering a number of strangers, and battling the endlessly self-replicating Mr. Smith (Hugo Weaving). After a number of the usual balletic confrontations, Neo apparently defeats Smitty, though it's difficult to know exactly how and why, and attains the inevitable apotheosis, which neither solves nor resolves anything, though by then most people are unlikely to care very much either way.

            The trilogy's inexplicable design remains as puzzling as everything else. In Zion, a huge, rusty industrial wasteland, the characters wear ratty sweaters of various dull hues, while in the Matrix, for unexplained reasons, they dress in the snazzy black leather, sunglasses, and in Neo's case, the clerical cassock of the previous movies. The performances continue the resolutely deadpan expression and monotone delivery of the previous flicks, a style perhaps derived from the sadly familiar acting style of the protagonist, who has demonstrated a steadfast dullness in virtually all of his other movies.

            Finally, the absorption with pseudo-religious themes and imagery summarizes the whole enterprise. In addition to all that ministerial attire, the mythological and Biblical names, the various plangent pronouncements of stale ideas, and the vaguely Buddhist echoes, the movie concludes with a sort of apocalyptic crucifixion. After all that, the trilogy should end in a blaze of glory, but the anticlimax that follows what should be the final moments returns to a sort of saccharine prattle that, alas, suggests that the Wachowskis may resume their explorations of profundity in additional movies. This is a prospect infinitely more distressing than the destruction of Zion, the end of civilization, or the return of Keanu Reeves.

The Matrix Revolutions, starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Collin Chou, Mary Alice, Tanveer K. Atwal, Nona Gaye, Helmut Bakaitis, Monica Bellucci, Bruce Spence, Bernard White, Lambert Wilson, Anthony Zerbe, Clayton Watson; written and directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Cinemark Imax, Cinemark Tinseltown, Hoyts Greece Ridge, Loews Webster, Pittsford Plaza Cinema, Regal Culver Ridge, Regal Eastview, Regal Henrietta.

You can hear George and his movie reviews on WXXI-FM 91.5 Fridays at 7:20 a.m., rerun on Saturdays at 8:50 a.m.

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