Saturday, November 15, 2003

Matrix trilogy, schmatrix schmilogy

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Friends, do you often find yourselves in a black leather trench coat, performing kung fu midair for minutes at a time? Do you wish your telephone transported you to a computer-generated dream world populated principally by other people wearing black leather trench coats? Are you plagued by those darn self-aware robots that are trying to wipe out the human race?

If so, friends, you have Matrix-fever, brought on by the “Matrix” series of movies. The symptoms of this illness include extreme dorkiness. Those deepest in the throes of “Matrix” fever have also been known to give their friends unwarranted (but weak) karate chops.

Luckily for you, the third part in the “Matrix” trilogy, “The Matrix Revolutions,” is out in theaters near you. In case you need further coaxing, take heed! Popcorn may be available.

This is a wild guess, but there’s probably a whole bunch of people (skewing toward the older, more fogeyish demographic) who have no idea what “The Matrix” is about.

The easy explanation is that “The Matrix” is, in the words of co-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, an action movie about “kung-fu versus robots.”

The longer explanation is also “kung-fu versus robots.”

The first film in the series, “The Matrix,” stars Keanu Reeves as a mouth-breathing computer hacker named Neo. You can tell right away that something’s not right with the world, because computer hackers do not look like people who regularly make People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” list.

We also meet this really macho-looking lady named Trinity (played by the macho-looking Carrie-Anne Moss) who wears shiny black leather everything. Yes, presumably also pajamas. When a bunch of cops closes in on her to arrest her for something — it’s probably the Fashion Police — she responds by speaking to them calmly and reasonably, and the charges are dropped.

No, wait — she kills them.

Any-hoo, in the middle of this scene there’s a wicked cool special effect where Trinity is going to kick a guy in the face with her black leather stiletto boot. She jumps in the air, hovers for a while as the camera spins around them, ponders the consequences of her actions, gives the guy a few minutes to write out his last will and testament, and then finally kicks him — pow!

Then later, with the aid of more special effects, Trinity is chased across the roofs of skyscrapers by these Evil Faceless Government Types in boring suits. The clothes are the key to figuring out who’s who in “The Matrix.” The good guys are dressed like vampires. The bad guys are dressed by the Men’s Wearhouse.

We also meet other characters, like Morpheus, another guy fond of black leather whose sole purpose is to say portentous stuff like “The power of your mind.” He and Trinity contact Neo and, after much hemming and hawing, tell Neo that he’s destined to save the human race from intelligent robots that have enslaved us. You see, what we perceive to be “the real world” is actually a computer-generated dream world we all share, called the Matrix. In real reality, we’re all encased in pods, and robots have taken over the world using people as a source of power.

So, for example, Fall River mayoral candidate F. George Jacome didn’t really fib about graduating from college — we all just dreamed that he did, while in reality robots are actually in charge of Fall River.

Neo tells his compatriots that he is not familiar with any such robots. “Uh-uh,” he says in a stunning monologue. “No way.”

The Good Guys wake Neo up from his Matrix dream, and upon realizing the awful truth of the robots, Keanu Reeves utters his most convincing line of dialogue in any of his films yet:

Urrrrgh!

Neo and the Good Guys decide to fight back against the robots by hacking into the Matrix to defeat the system from within. Since they’re now aware that this dream world is fake, they can change whatever they want — they can fly, shoot endless amounts of ammunition at the Bad Guys — most importantly, their hair never gets mussed, no matter how many kicks to the face they're on the business end of.

For some reason, both the good and bad guys mutually agree that kung fu is their preferred method of combat — odd, given that they can magically conjure up all the guns or thermonuclear devices they want. Kung fu. I'm just saying. Thermonuclear devices vs. karate chops. Eventually, the movie ends with the Good Guys triumphant (even though humanity is still being enslaved by the fiendish robots, which is actually not a triumph at all, if you think about it).

That’s just the first movie. Whew!

The second movie, “The Matrix Reloaded,” which came out earlier this year, is a lot like the first, except much lousier. Now there’s a whole network of people who are fighting off those pesky homicidal robots. There’s more of everything — more noise, more leather, and especially more talking.

“Urmf,” says a clearly uninterested Neo at one point.

But nobody actually says very much. “I’m losing him!” says one character. “Hold on!” says another, followed by the only adequate reply, “Noooooo!” Then some bearded guy shows up claiming to have invented the Matrix, and he unleashes this long, uninterrupted stream of bewildered yakking, and there’s no more kung fu for the rest of the picture. I mean, if you're going to stick with the kung fu vs. the thermonuclear devices, at least have the courtesy to toss a few roundhouse kicks in every few minutes to keep me from nodding off into my Pepsi.

There’s a cliffhanger at the end, except I’m still not sure where the cliff was or what got hanged.

As for the third and final film, “The Matrix Revolutions,” I’m on my way to see it. I’m still a fan despite the movie’s problems. I’ll be the guy in the front row giving his date karate kicks, his legs stretching as high as his freezing cold leather pants will allow.

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