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The humans are revolting

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The title The Matrix Revolutions inspires hope that the third film in the Matrix trilogy rebels against the bad choices of last summer's overhyped middle chapter. Reloaded saw the Matrix's intriguing sci-fi premise bog down in campy conflicts and sluggish discussions of fate and choice.

Revolutions dispatches the sillier roles quickly, pares down the metaphysical chit-chat and cranks up the action for the franchise's final act. But it remains a clunky, compromised narrative. While it succeeds as both a fireworks display of special effects and an allegory of free will, it demonstrates little regard for its characters as people.

Cyber-messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves), aided by girlfriend Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), discover that the key to ending the war between the oppressive machines and the human resistance may lie with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), a rapacious program whose self-replicating powers threaten the machine regime. As in Reloaded, Weaving's aridly smug Smith emerges as the film's saving grace -- or perhaps that should be saving malignancy. Smith's cleverly rendered ability to duplicate himself allows him to literally laugh at his own jokes, while actor Ian Bliss does a wicked Weaving impression as a human under Smith's influence.

Meanwhile, the human city of Zion musters an Alamo-like defense against swarms of robotic, tentacled intruders, which attack in spiraling torrents that leave you breathless. It builds to the kind of apocalyptic battle that you've always hoped one of the Terminator or Alien sequels might deliver, but it relies too heavily on corny situations from old World War II movies.

If Revolutions cared more about its characters, it could rise above the cliches. But though the Wachowskis chronicle the efforts to save humanity, they're oddly indifferent to human beings in particular. Revolutions places the enigmatic Oracle (Mary Alice replacing late Gloria Foster) very much at the heart of the film, and since her dialogue sounds like rejected fortune cookie copy, it's hard to invest any emotion in the story.

You can accurately say that the final Matrix film improves on its predecessor. But you can also say that Reloaded and Revolutions together could have been titled The Matrix Reneging on the Promise of the Original.

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