I had to clear my mind. Zero out the drive with random bits. A movie might help. Went to the mall, stood outside, thought: do I really want to do this? I’ve read the reviews – well, not the reviews themselves; people drop spoilers so casually now. (I should note that I consider anything more detailed than a cast list a spoiler.) But I’d gotten the scent from the headlines and the message boards chatter: Matrix 3 was worse than 2. But I had to see it at some point. Might as well be now.

If you recall last spring’s review of #2: I thought it was a ponderous, boring mess. Sure, it had a certain buzz, but so does a beached flyblown whale carcass. The metaphysics were sophomoric, the acting stiff and pained, the action without consequence or drama. The FX, while amazing, were just a demo reel for new CGI programs. Nothing meant anything. Why should I root for Zion? The machines had built this enormous civilization for themselves, and the guys down in the Rave Hole hadn’t even figured out how to make decent shoes. Me, I’d be begging for admission to the Matrix, but not Morpheus and crew: oh, no, you’re not sending me back to the world of steak, tailored shirts, cigars and fine bourbon! I’m staying right down here in the Temple of No Particular Deity with Cornell West and that guy who used to be in Night Stalker!

I’m kidding, but not by much. See, the humans started this war. They lost. The machines enslaved them, and made the Matrix so they’d have happy dreams and turn out lots of energy. (The machines can build everything except nuclear power plants, it seems.) Supposedly the war still goes on, but I don’t know why the machines even bother with the human remnants. In M3 the machiens mass an astonishing invasion force, a million tons of angry tentacled metal. Memo to machines: the human live in a pit. In the ground. It would be easier to roll a stone over the ventilation ducts, wouldn’t it? Pump in some cholorform and fill the place with water. But nooo. The machines have to attack and destroy Zion, so the machine world will be safe from their gravest threat: three dozen heavily armed acrobats in black trenchcoats and sunglasses.

That’s how I felt before I saw the film. Zero investment. So I paid my five dollars and prepared for that unique sensation you get in modern movies: being bored while battered repeatedly in the head.

Credits. You get that familiar creepy green, that tell-tale chord on the sountrack, and then you’re back where you were with the credits in the second movie, flitting through the pixels. But this time there was something different – the viewpoint zooms in, and in, and in, and a golden fractal blooms for a second; hmmm. Then you’re out, and out, and out, and back into the movie. And it is slooooow.

For starters, anyway. Slow but not annoying; not yet. That’ll come, you figure, when we start talking about choice and destiny and belief and who is the One and all the rest of the stuff that gargled bong-water. I winced when we had Yet Another Metaphorical Character introduced - The Trainman, this time. He shuttles programs here and there, a real sensitive and charon’ kind of guy, etc. (Last time we had the Keymaster, and I kept expecting Rick Moranis to show up.) But this early scene had a certain beauty. It was set in a train station (purgatory, I suppose) and it introduced a few characters who had no Great Meaning. They weren’t essential to the plot. They had no symbolic weight. They smiled. They seemed like people, not archetypes, and right there I was reminded again what was wrong with the entire Matrix series. For all its hoohah about People, it has few individuals and very little humanity. Mannikins vs. Robots.

That’s why we love Agent Smith. He’s the only one having fun. He’s like the Tony Roberts character in a Woody Allen movie. The director wants us to fear him – but who wouldn’t want to knock back some cold ones with Agent Smith? Missster Liiilechs, I’ve missed you. Have a beeeeer. Don’t tell me the Merovingian would be fun to kick around with, because his entire persona is based on the sort of Frenchman who’d only put down his copy of Existentialisme Pour Les Idiots because it was his turn to load the little kids into the SS train cars. Morpheus was fun enough in the first film, but he turned into a mopey doughnut. Trinity went from mannish to man, ish. The Oracle is an interesting character, but Christ! Try to get a straight answer out of that woman!

Are these cookies for me, Oracle?

I think you know.

No – seriously, are you saving them for someone? Because you said you had company coming over later, and I don’t want to take them if you’d intended them for someone else, so -

You don’t know what you want to do, child. Look at you, all serious now. Lawd. But sometimes we do things we want to do, not knowing what we don’t think we shouldn't.

I - I don’t understand.

Neither do I. I wish I could tell you, Neo. I wish the script was better. But it’s not. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to look away and smoke somewhat unconvincingly.

I’m burying the lede again, aren’t I.

I loved this one. Yes. Yes, I did. Chalk it up to the same reasons I enjoyed SW: Episode 2 – low, low, low expectations, matinee time frame, need for diversion, juvenile love of spectacle, guilty indulgence in sci-fi nonsense. But it’s a better movie. It looks and feels more like the first than the second. There’s 62% less pontificating. Smith is Smithier than ever. Yes, some of the death soliloquies take a day and a half; yes, every war cliché is on parade with its pants down; yes, yes, yes. Yes there’s the council of Sonorous Robed People discussing the imminent extinction of humanity with all the passion of some suburban selectmen debating a sewer extension; yes the future of the species depending on someone manually piloting a blimp through a drinking straw at 2394 MPH instead of turning it over to the computer; yes yes yes. Yes the final scenes don’t exactly make sense - how did Neo do that? What exactly did he do? What happens now?

Doesn’t matter. The invasion of Zion was one of the most impressive visual achievements I’ve ever seen on the screen – and this was one of the set-pieces the critics sniffed at. The scenes en route to the Machine City: whoa, to quote the poet. And the final fight between Neo and Smith is every comic book I read as a kid come to life and amped up beyond anything I dreamed. I never thought I would see things like that. Having seen them, I’m grateful. Five bucks for that? Hell, I would have paid eight.

We still see the limits of technology, though. Computer graphics can make a thousand flying squid flow through a hole in a vast concrete dome; they can bring to live tanks the size of mountains, animate robot oracles whose face is made up of a million pieces of metal swarming in frantic concert.

But they can’t take 27 pounds of Laurence Fishburn.

When I’ve seen a movie I found interesting, I go back to the reviews I’d avoided. One such review was on Ain’t It Cool News, penned by AICN’s head red, Harry Knowles. Mr. Knowles is an interesting character for a variety of reasons – he lent legitimacy to the fervent fan-boy demographic, gave them a voice and some influence through the popularity of his site. He got a book out of the site; good for him. He got a TV show which runs somewhere on the planet, and is producing a movie; good for him. He has passion for movies and a voracious appetite for the genre. Bravo!

Alas, he cannot write. He is a horrid stylist; he writes like someone mashing the keyboard with bratwursts; his politics have the sophistication of a preschool crayon drawing, and his self-confidence in his insights is matched only by his inability to see how fatuous his work often sounds. Mr. Knowles is often held up as an example of New Media, one of those outsiders who’ve wrested the mike from the old tired media. Usually I support that sort of thing, but if ever there was an argument for restricting the role of Critic to the white-gloved aesthetes, the Lucius Beebes, the Jay Shermans, the guys who, y’know, have done it, with a laidy, nudge nudge, it’s Harry Knowles. His review of Matrix 3 proves that if you can’t say something coherent, just say it in purple-tinted boldface 20-point Arial:

You see, The Machines… They’re the United States and Capitalism. Ultimately they want society operating in the 9 to 5, eat your food, grab a movie, raise the kids, go to church and get back to work sort of daze. That’s the Machine way. Don’t worry about the “MEANING OF IT ALL” just do your job, be a battery and power the big society forward.

No, Harry, the machines symbolize any organized society that lacks or denies free will. If you think that’s the United States, then consider the number of times the authorities have come to your house, pried you off the sofa and put you to work in the steel mill.

It takes a special kind of idiot to think that people who go to church and raise children don’t worry about the Meaning of It All. It’s not the banality of Knowles’ remark that’s remarkable, it’s the fact that he holds himself out as someone who doesn’t do the 9 to 5, raises kids, goes to church, and goes to work in a daze. He has a completely different life - made possible entirely by Capitalism, and the United States.

Ultimately… Neo, Morpheus, “the rebel alliance” – essentially… In a lot of ways… they’re the bad guys. You see, they’re fucking everything up. The come into our “Society” blow shit up. Yes, he wrote that. And posted it. Cause problems. Get all violent and shit. Do little hit and run missions. Neo is for his people… basically, he’s Bin Laden living in a cave somewhere…

Oh, my God.

9/11 was a “little hit and run mission,” eh. Noted.

and the Machines… they’re drilling to put a stop to it all. Now, the problem is… the only person that can put a stop to “The War” on Terrorism are the terrorist.

He are, are he?

Essentially, Bin Laden has to come forward, tell his people they’ll be ok, give himself up, negotiate a cease fire and allow his life to be the symbol of peaceful co-existence between both cultures. “The Machines” and “The Humans” “The Capitalist” and “The Fundamentalist Extremists”

Get this man a seat on the Security Council. Only Nixon can go to China! Only Kirk can go to Chronos! Only Bin Laden can make peace, if he agrees to be the symbol of peaceful co-existence between Capitalism and Humans.

NOW… What is Agent Smith? Essentially, Agent Smith was Communism. If we are all the same, then there is no reason for violence. Resistance is Futile. Communism was fantastic as it represents an ideology that the Capitalist and the Extremists both hated. And it was spreading and taking over and trying to assimilate cultures and suppress belief systems. Or you could say AGENT SMITH is that Born Again Christian type that is trying to eradicate another’s belief system… and ultimately – the elimination of both either politically, humanly or functionally is a move towards peace.

You can’t make this up. You can only stand in awe. If I can untangle the wet knotted shoelaces of Knowles’ prose, he seems to be saying that we can only live in peace when everyone agrees to believe in nothing but peace. Why, if we stop insisting that people should be free to choose, and they stop insisting that everyone should choose Islamic law, we’ll all get along just fine.

Ultimately, it’s about reaching understandings by which both sides can co-exist and live. It’s about stopping the madness because it is madness. Because tearing each other apart is a waste of resources. The toil on both societies is counter-productive to co-habitation on this big green planet of ours.

What societies? The Capitalists and the Bin Ladens? What the hell is he talking about? Who’s tearing who apart? The Religious Fundamentalists and the Rebel Alliance? The Imperial Stormtroopers and the Ewoks?

Ultimately what they believe or we believe is inconsequential.

Spoken like a man with no beliefs. Or, more accurately, spoken like someone who thinks that line above demonstrates some sort of intellectual sophistication lost on people who do the whole work-kids-church thing. Trust me, Harry – what someone believes is of great consequence. And if your society believes nothing it ends up making its last stand in the Temple of No Particular Belief System with the squiddies hammering on the door, possessed of a terrible certainty: they believe you should die.

What gets you through your cold dark nights and hours of depression to that day in the sun… well it may be entirely different from mine, but what doesn’t work is governing by MESSIAHS positive or negative.

Keep in mind this is a movie review about a movie where Keanu Reeves flies around and saves the world because he is, well, the Messiah. Sort of. In any case, who’s being governed by Messiahs on this big green planet of ours? Any self-appointed Messiahs out there addressing his Parliament, pushing through a new highway bill, smiting the unbelievers, extending the minimum wage?

Then we have a society RULED as opposed to a society governed. That’s why all Messiahs must die. Why religion should stay out of governing bodies, and ultimately we should adopt a live and let live sort of way of life.

We’ll tolerate the machines enslaving our species, and they’ll tolerate our desire to live underground and hold raves. Win win.

And the fighting, well… as all good geeks that were raised with WARGAMES, the only way to win is not to play. A lesson that is hard fought and learned in this film.

Yes, they fight to learn not to fight, because what does Neo’s fighting do for the humans? Beside liberation, freedom, and an end to war? To quote a politician, I suppose that’s a good thing. But they had to fight to get it! Ashes, I tell you – these triumphs taste like ashes!

I don’t know what’s more frightening – the idea that anyone takes this boy seriously, or the idea that he’s right: an entire generation got their moral instruction from a Matthew Broderick movie about a computer named after a Burger King specialty.

I took away something else from the Matrix trilogy: it is a product of deeply confused people. They want it all. They want individualism and community; they want secularism and transcendence; they want the purity of committed love and the licentious fun of an S&M club; they want peace and the thrill of violence; they want God, but they want to design him on their own screens with their own programs by their own terms for their own needs, and having defined the divine on their own terms, they bristle when anyone suggests they have simply built a room with a mirror and flattering lighting. All three Matrix movies, seen in total, ache for a God. But they can’t quite go all the way. They’re like three movies about circular flat meat patties that can never quite bring themselves to say the word “hamburger.”

Philosophically, the Matrix movies are banal, but they’re no worse than the empty animism of George Lucas’ Force-centric cosmology. As dramas, they lag – but Wagner wasn’t thrill-a-minute, either. The moments of emotional connection are few, but they’re there, almost like Burma-Shave signs spaced out every hundred miles. Overall, they’re overrated, but overall they’re worth it - there are times when they have the same strange thrill you got as a kid when you chewed tinfoil and it hit a filling. New, strange, electric, disturbing. The first movie is still the best; the second is still the worst. Amazing sights await in the third, and little else, but we live in a world of amazing sights. To top what you’ve seen so far in your life is no small feat.

And certainly worth five dollars.

Amazon Honor SystemClick Here to PayLearn More