Matrix film is for Neo-phytes only

'The Matrix Revolutions" brings the hugely popular "Matrix" trilogy to a close. And whatever you think of this last installment, you must admit it constitutes a close.

That's more than you can say for the second chapter, "The Matrix Reloaded," which didn't so much end as stop in its tracks, sending spectators out of the theater with months to wait for the saga's grand finale.

That finale has arrived, and it's certainly grand enough - in high-tech visual effects, that is, not in thought-provoking depth. Like the original "Matrix," still the best of the series, it's basically an action-adventure war movie decked out with a full battery of eye-boggling fantasy images. Plus a sort of New Age philosophical sauce poured over the stew to make you think it's more substantial than it really is.

I know I'll get e-mails from "Matrix" mavens informing me the picture truly is substantial, and by comparison with the average "Star Wars" or "Terminator" installment, they're right. Along with its often imaginative style, what made the first "Matrix" movie stand out was the audacity of its premise-- that humanity has unwittingly fallen into a computer-generated virtual world devised by malignant machines, and only a mystical hero named Neo can lead the last human holdouts to reinstate real reality where bogus reality now reigns.

"Reloaded" did more by way of extending these ideas than exploring and developing them, and "Revolutions" is only a tad more ambitious, intellectually and cinematically.

Zion, the hidden city of humans, is under attack by every destructive force the machines can muster - including the ruthless Agent Smith, who cloned himself into a small army in "Reloaded" and becomes a large army in the final chapter.

Which side will win, no matter how awesome the odds? That's the big question. And viewers will be informed that "believing" is the act that ultimately made the difference - notwithstanding the fact that much of the picture is devoted to sci-fi mayhem splashed all over the screen.

Written and directed by the clever Wachowski brothers, this is a sequel that only a die-hard fan could love. But those fans will love it very, very much.

Rated R; contains violence and brief sex.

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