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Rated 3.04 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Matter of Choice
by Jeffrey Chen

Conventional inclinations would have us disregard The Matrix Revolutions as an action-packed finale and nothing more -- but wait! Revolutions does have a point. What seemed mostly passive in the first Matrix and was alluded to in speeches in The Matrix Reloaded is more fully pronounced in the trilogy's wrap-up entry. The Matrix series, as it turns out, has always been about choice.

On the most simplistic level, the exploration of choice would center around the man-vs.-machine theme. What makes us human? Well, unlike machines, we can choose. The machines are programmed to execute and respond in invariable ways to given conditions. Humans, on the other hand, can make informed decisions. This is, naturally, very easy to see, but the analogy is somewhat shallow. Indeed, by the end of Reloaded, that shallowness was all we felt left with.

The new movie further examines the nature of choice by showing how ideals have corrupted its purity to the point where people aren't really making choices anymore. We think we are, but we're not -- an idea kicked off in Reloaded, when the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster in Reloaded, Mary Alice in Revolutions) tells Neo (Keanu Reeves) that he's already made a choice, and now he just needs to understand it. Revolutions illustrates this through a distinct absence of internal conflict. Several heroic characters in the movie seem to be making decisions -- most of which are along the lines of heroic-dangerous-deed vs. safer-yet-constructive-deed -- but, clearly, all of them already have their minds made up. In other words, people believe they have free will, but their ideals and inclinations are so strong that the purity of free will is compromised.

And using this concept is how the machines have controlled the people in the Matrix the whole time. They figured out people already had their minds made up, but as long as they believed they were exerting free will, they would contribute less to the Matrix's growing imbalance, for the Matrix becomes unstable when people realize what free will really is. Free will is infinite. Reloaded demonstrated this in the Architect scene, where, whenever the Architect makes a comment, the Neos in the screens react with a myriad different responses, but the real Neo only responds the way he expects himself to. In Revolutions, Neo continues to think choices are informed by reasons -- love, justice, whatever. Eventually, he realizes the true nature of choice -- that being human means being able to choose to do something for any reason, or, more importantly, regardless of reason.

So what is the series trying to say? I think it's something like this: in The Matrix, we were led to believe in a scenario of reality as an illusion. The idea appealed to viewers in its fantasy aspect -- in real life, though, no one truly believes this to be applicable, i.e. we do not really live in the Matrix. We are, therefore, spared this particular illusion. But what the series proclaims all along is that we've been fooled -- reality was never the illusion. Free will is the illusion. Or, more precisely, people have free will, but they don't truly exercise it. People act according to their impulses and have found ideals to justify them. (Consider Neo throughout the series: when faced with red pills vs. blue pills, left doors vs. right doors, he acts impulsively, then figures out why later). Applying this to the real world, we see ideals justifying our every action, thus, in a way, enslaving us (which is also what fuels a large part of the Oracle's predictive powers -- she knows what people are inclined to do, so she knows what they'll do before they do it). Is the series suggesting that if we understand the complicated nature of free will, it can be a form of transcendence for us? Perhaps.

Of course, all this is rather heady stuff and would probably be overbearing if The Matrix Revolutions wasn't also an action extravaganza. It returns to the form of the first movie, in which action, with urgency, sat in a chair next to the philosopher -- the two sides don't really mingle harmoniously, but at least their separation isn't as jarring as it was in Reloaded, where action sat in the chair across the room from the philosopher. In Revolution's case, the action -- which involves a Two Towers-like stand against an invasion and an old-fashioned superhero movie battle worthy of Superman -- is what viewers will most likely take away with them when they talk about what they just saw.

They'll also likely be talking about particularly memorable turns by Hugo Weaving and Ian Bliss. Weaving steals every scene as Agent Smith, Neo's series-long nemesis. In particular, his speech when he confronts the Oracle is both menacing and comic -- one of his best scenes in the series. Ian Bliss, meanwhile, plays... Hugo Weaving. He's Bane, the character Agent Smith "possesses" in the real world, and Bliss does such a good Agent Smith, you'd think Weaving was really inside his body. It's actually pretty awesome to behold.

But will audiences take with them the movie's dissertation on the nature of choice? Its attempt at bringing a discussion of free will to the masses is admirable, even if its effectiveness is hampered both by serving up action as a distraction and by presenting the philosophy in ways that are cryptic, just for the sake of being cryptic. Also, the series (and this movie in particular) has been damaged by a general clumsiness in which proclamations punctuate all the "important" moments -- statements such as, "I love him" and "I believe" serve as obvious pronouncements where strong cinematic images would suffice, and one in particular -- the utterance of the word "beautiful" -- is totally unnecessary.

However, the Wachowski Brothers at least deserve credit for daring to run with their themes. They didn't need to -- the first movie worked so well because of our ability to connect with a mythology -- much the way Star Wars worked. But The Matrix series swayed from that direction in its sequels, opting instead to finish with a seminar, served with a side of action. The Wachowskis didn't have to do it this way, but, ultimately, it was their choice.

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for sci-fi violence and brief sexual content.)

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