The Future is Here: DARPA’s Nervous System Implants

DARPA_implantHard on the heels of their proposed BRAIN initiative – a collaborative research initiative to map the activity of every neuron in the human brain – DARPA has announced a bold new program to develop tiny electronic implants that will be able to interface directly with the human nervous system to control and regulate many different diseases and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, and depression.

The program, called ElectRx (pronounced ‘electrics’), ultimately aims to replace medication with “closed-loop” neural implants which monitor the state of your health and then provide the necessary nerve stimulation to keep your organs and biological systems functioning properly. The work is primarily being carried out with US soldiers and veterans in mind, but the technology will certainly percolate down to civilians as well.

electrx-darpaThe ElectRx program will focus the relatively new area of medical therapies called neuromodulation, which seeks to modulate the nervous system to improve neurological problem. Notable examples of this are cochlear implants which restore hearing by modulating your brain’s auditory nerve system, and deep brain stimulation (DBS) which is apparently capable of curing/regulating conditions  like depression and Parkinson’s by overriding erroneous neural spikes.

So far, these implants have been fairly large, which makes implantation fairly invasive and risky. Most state-of-the-art implants also lack precision, with most placing the stimulating electrodes in roughly the right area, but which are unable to target a specific bundles of nerves. With ElectRx, DARPA wants to miniaturize these neuromodulation implants so that they’re the same size as a nerve fiber.

electrx-darpa-implant-diagramThis way they can be implanted with a minimally invasive procedure (through a needle) and attached to specific nerve fibers, for very precise stimulation. While these implants can’t regulate every condition or replace every medication (yet), they could be very effective at mitigating a large number of conditions. A large number of conditions are caused by the nervous system misfiring, like inflammatory diseases, brain and mental health disorders.

Currently, a variety of drugs are used to try and cajole these awry neurons and nerves back in-line by manipulating various neurotransmitters. However, the science behind these drugs is not yet exact, relying heavily on a trial-and-error approach and often involving serious side-effects. Comparatively, an electronic implant that could “catch” the misfire, cleans up the signal, and then retransmits it would be much more effective.

cochlear_implantAs DARPA’s Doug Weber explained:

The technology DARPA plans to develop through the ElectRx program could fundamentally change the manner in which doctors diagnose, monitor and treat injury and illness. Instead of relying only on medication — we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concept like a tiny, intelligent pacemaker. It would continually assess conditions and provide stimulus patterns tailored to help maintain healthy organ function, helping patients get healthy and stay healthy using their body’s own systems.

Despite requiring a lot of novel technological breakthroughs, DARPA is planning to perform human trials of ElectRx in about five years. The initial goal will be improving the quality of life for US soldiers and veterans. And while they have yet to announce which conditions they will be focusing on, it is expected that something basic like arthritis will be the candidate – though there are expectations that PTSD will become a source sooner other than later.

AI'sAnd this is just the latest neurological technology being developed by DARPA. Earlier in the year, the agency announced a similar program to develop a brain implant that can restore lost memories and experiences. A joint fact sheet released by the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Association revealed that DARPA also secured 78 million dollars to build the chips as part of the government’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) program.

While DARPA’s ElectRx announcement is purely focused on the medical applications of miniature neural implants, there are of course a variety of other uses that might arise from elective implantation – for soldiers as well as civilians. With a few well-placed implants in a person’s spine, they could flip a switch and ignore any pain reported by your limbs, allowing them to withstand greater physical stress or ignore injuries.

posthumanImplants placed in muscle fibers could also provide added electrostimulation to provide extra boosts of raw muscle power. And With precision-placed implants around the right nerve fibers, people could gain manual control of their organs, allowing them to speed up or slow down their hearts, turbo-charge their livers, or tweak just about any other function of their bodies.

The age of the Transhuman looms, people!

Source: extremetech.com, motherboard.vice.com, darpa.mil

The Future is Here: The DARPA/BD Wildcat!

BD_atlasrobotThe robotics company of Boston Dynamics has been doing some pretty impressive things with robots lately. Just last year, they unveiled the Cheetah, the robotics company set a new land speed record with their four-footed robot named Cheetah. As part of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program, the robotic feline demonstrated the ability to run at a speed of 45.06 km/h (28 mph).

And in July of this year, they impressed and frightened the world again with the unveiling of their ATLAS robot – a anthropomorphic machine. This robot took part in the DARPA Robotics Challenge program. capable of walking across multiple terrains, and demonstrated its ability to walk across multiple types of terrain, use tools, and survey its environment with a series of head-mounted sensors.

Atlas_robotAnd now, they’ve unveiled an entirely new breed of robot, one that is capable of running fast on any kind of terrain. It’s known as the WildCat, a four-legged machine that builds on the world of the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) that seeks to create a robot that can support military units in the field, carrying their heavy equipment and supplies over rugged terrain and be operated by remote.

So far, not much is known about the robot’s full capabilities and or when it is expected to be delivered. However, in a video that was released in early October, Boston Dynamics showed the most recent field test of the robot to give people a taste of what it looks like in action. In the video, the robot demonstrated a top speed of about 25 km/h (16 mph) on flat terrain using both bounding and galloping gaits.

Cheetah-robotFollowing in the footsteps of its four-legged and two-legged progeny, the WildCat represents a coming era of biomimetic machinery that seeks to accomplish impressive physical feats by imitating biology. Whereas the Atlas is designed to be capable of doing anything the human form can – traversing difficult terrain, surveying and inspecting, and using complex tools – the Cheetah, LS3, and WildCat draw their inspiration from nature’s best hunters and speed runners.

Just think of it: a race of machines that can climb rocky outcroppings with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat, run as fast as a cheetah, stalk like a lion, bound like an antelope, and swing like a monkey. When it comes right down to it, the human form is inferior in most, if not all, of these respects to our mammalian brethren. Far better that we imitate them instead of ourselves when seeking to create the perfect helpers.

LS3-AlphaDog6reducedIn the end, it demonstrates that anthropomorphism isn’t the only source of drive when it comes to developing scary and potential doomsday-bating robots! And in the meantime, be sure to enjoy these videos of these various impressive, scary, and very cool robots in action:

WildCat:


Cheetah:


Atlas:


Source:
universetoday.com, bostondynamics.com

The Capture: A Revenger Mission Update

interrogation

Welcome back folks! As you may recall from our last Revenger Mission Update, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. The warehouse we assaulted hoping to find the mysterious artifact that was at the center of the Tyrene Code turned out to be a ruse. In addition to finding that there was no alien artifact at the center of the place, we quickly realized that we had also stumbled into a trap.

And shortly thereafter, a whole bunch of government troops showed up to assault the place. Soldiers were dispatched, missiles were launched, and the facility toppled. And to seal things off, your humble leader – Captain Smackdown – was wounded and taken prisoner. Luckily, our team knows exactly where he is, and where he needs to be extracted from.

However, until such time as they can locate and breach the facility to save him, our humble Captain is going to be subjected to the full weight of an “enhanced interrogation”. One can only hope he can endure…

*                      *                    *

The lights came on slowly and in small spurts. Only in waves did the world readmit itself, and the transition was not an easy one. Every time his eyes opened, they demanded to be shut again. His head hung heavily from his neck, and kept wanting to be laid down to rest. But the drive to wake up was undeniable. Much as his body wanted to remain in a state of forced recovery, to simply lie there limply and let the world pass it by, something in him knew it had to be awake for this.

When he finally got his eyes to remain open and take in his surroundings, he knew exactly why.

The chair he was sitting in.

The way his hands and feet were bound.

The way they had taken the time to set his leg, seal his wounds, and remove his exoskeletal armor.

He was done with whatever recovery he handlers would allow. Now the interrogation would begin…

He was in a tight space, he could tell, the only illumination was provided by a hanging lamp that stopped just shy of his head. He could feel the heat coming off of it, heavy and oppressive, and saw the bright circle of light it case on the floor. It was the kind that burned hot and kept a man awake and uncomfortable. Whatever rest he had accrued up until now had been a blessing, due largely to a semi-comatose state and whatever drugs they had administered.

In addition to beating down an intense burning sensation on his head, the light also did a pretty good job of obscuring his surroundings. But he had been in spots like this enough to get a sense of its dimensions. The cell he was occupying was roughly fifteen feet by twelve, the ceiling extending not much more than ten feet above the floor. And there was someone else standing nearby, a single guard manning the door and waiting for him to come to.

The only thing missing was the interrogator. And given the events of the last few days, he knew with some degree of certainty who that would be. Spooks were a special breed when it came to dirty work. And with some exceptions, they preferred to handle their own on their own.

The guard must have noticed he was coming out of his stupor, because a second later, the door opened with a loud clang. The light changed momentarily, a bright burst coming from the hallway and bringing a cool breeze with it. Smackdown squinted as the combined sensation both stung and provided some welcome relief. He became aware of the terrible headache he was nursing, and just how painfully dry and thirsty he felt. He also felt incredibly dirty, like he hadn’t showered in days. All necessary states of being, he knew. All part of his handler’s plan to convey to him exactly how un-in charge he was of the situation.

“Good morning, Will. Good to see you conscious. You’ve been out for some time…”

He recognized the voice. It was nice to know that his instincts could still be proven correct at a time like this. And knowing his betrayer was conducting his interrogation somehow made him feel better about it. Perhaps he was still holding onto some faint hope. Bill Huntington, the man he knew as a colleague once upon a time. He had been a friend back then, and quickly became a source thereafter.

And now… what was he now? Perhaps that was the point of this, he thought. It could be Bill had yet to truly reveal himself, and he would see his true colors soon…

“You’re most recent medical indicated that you suffered from a heart murmur while you were working here. Is that still true?”

Smackdown rolled his head. His neck craned and ached terribly and it felt like his head might actually fall off. But somehow, he managed to get it upright and look at the obscured face of the man questioning him.

“It’s important we know exactly what you can’t take, Will. Otherwise, we might do something… regrettable.”

“It’s Smackdown now,” he replied. The words sounded like steel wool scratching against a pot. Smackdown tried to swallow, but the act proved too painful. His throat was so dry that any attempt at moisten it felt like he was trying to force sand down his esophagus. He tried clearing it next, but that felt like more steel wool, this time grating against his tender vocal cords.

He heard a barely audible whisper. Within seconds, the guard came to his side and placed a sponge on his face. The cool traces of water felt like deliverance, and Smackdown opened his mouth to receive some stray droplets. Knowing the drill, the guard remoistened it and placed it above his head. Smackdown opened his mouth again and aimed it upward, receiving every drop that was squeezed out of it. He could tell from the smell the sponge was well used and the water brackish and murky. But at the moment, he didn’t care, and guessed that his body wouldn’t either.

“Better?” Bill’s voice asked from beyond the circle of light.

Smackdown nodded, dipping his head forward and feeling the light burn through his hair to grace his skin again. The water quickly dribbled away down his face, onto his sweat-stained shirt, and disappeared into the folds of his clothes. Whatever traces of cleanliness and relief it offered were quickly absorbed by a hot, grungy body.

“Better,” he replied. Though he knew it wouldn’t last, and it would be awhile before he could expect anything more.

He heard some footsteps approaching, and felt the sharp slap of a file folder landing on his knees. It was already open when it landed, and several photos looked up at him.

“You’ve been busy recruiting,” said Bill. “Ten freaks, all in the space of a few months.”

Freaks, Smackdown noted. The word was making the rounds, and now Bill was using it himself.

“And between the eleven of you, you’ve really made an impression. People are saying how the criminal underworld is running scared. The pimps, the pushers, even the Brotherhood itself… some say you’re even making enemies at City Hall.”

A silence followed. Smackdown felt it, sensing that he was expected to reply at this point. He knew the dance, what was expecting of him. Time to play it…

“Is that why I’m here?” he rasped. “Because of City Hall? Or is someone higher up yanking your chain?”

Another second of silence. He expected Bill might laugh, say something dry or witty. The usual company denials that anyone was forcing their hand or making them do the things they did. Instead, Bill’s reply was incredibly swift and surprising.

His knuckles impacted him on the left cheek, sending Smackdown’s head rolling over. He yelped, just in time to get another blow on the same cheek. A third blow, and Bill began speaking again…

“Is that what you think this is, Will? You think this is some bullshit black op?”

Smackdown turned to look up at Bill’s eyes. They were directly above him now, staring down at him and blocking the light. But it didn’t matter much. In those eyes, he saw the same burning intent the light had provided moments earlier.

And then came another series of blows, from the right this time against his other cheek. Bill dealt him another three, each punctuated by some hard words.

“This is war, you fucking idiot! War! You started a goddamned free-for-all. And now we’ve got to clean up your mess.”

The words stopped as soon as the hitting did. Smackdown looked back up into the light, where Bill’s head no longer loomed above him. His neck now felt like someone had taken a torque wrench to it and twisted it the wrong way by several degrees. And he could feel a small trickle of blood pooling in his mouth. One of the last blows had knocked something loose…

Bill reached for the photos next and pulled them in front of his face. He shook them as he finally issued the instruction this meeting was built around.

“You’re going to tell me who these people are and where we can find them. You’re going to make sure we bring them in peacefully and quietly, or else this war is gonna go on and cost a whole lot of lives.” He leaned in again to deliver the last of it. “You’re going to do this, because one way or another, these freaks are going down. And you can make it easier on all of us. Especially you.”

It took all the strength he had left to look Bill in the eye. But somehow, Smackdown managed to get his head on a level with his and see the white of his eyes. Somehow, they didn’t look so incendiary anymore. Though it was hard to tell, thanks to the haze of drugs, pain and discomfort he was looking through.

“What did they do to you, Bill?” he said, his voice so scratchy it was barely audible. “When did you become such an asshole?”

Bill’s face changed. He couldn’t tell, but it looked like it was moving at the corners, as if he might be smiling.

“You wanna see an asshole?” He turned away and snapped his fingers. The door opened again and he could hear the sounds of wheels and footsteps, followed quickly by the door shutting. Bill’s head blocked it all now, so he had no idea what was happening until the telltale sensation of clamps being attached to the fingernails on his right hand.

Bill stepped back and left the circle of light, making his way over to the cart that no sat just outside it.

“I got plenty of time, Will,” he said, grabbing hold of the instruments on the cart. “And I can make sure you suffer long and hard.”

“Bill… you can’t-“

The words were cut off abruptly. Smackdown yelped as the first wave hit his arm and traveled up to meet his neck. Very quickly, it spread to all other areas of his body, causing every muscle to be pulled far tighter than they dared. And just as quickly, it ended. Smackdown took several breaths, his heart racing and feeling like every other stretched fiber in his frame. He emitted a small chuckle as soon as he could.

“I remember that sting,” he said painfully. “I seem to remember it being on a lower setting when they made us go through it back in training.”

Another burst hit him, this one worse than the last. Smackdown yelled again, the surge of current turning his body into a tight, flexed, fireball. Every nerve fired at once, his bones feeling like they would snap under the strain his muscles were putting on them. His head fell back and his legs felt like they might break free of their bonds. By the time it was all over, he felt something wet and warm flowing in his pants.

“They were surprisingly gentle to us in training,” Bill said. His voice sounded incredibly low now, the shock and pain making everything seem like it had had the volume turned down. “You wouldn’t believe how high these things really go. And what with all the terrorist suspects we have to process, we really do get to fool around with the settings these days.”

Smackdown needed much longer this time to recover. His heart was beyond racing, and his muscles felt like they were continuing to spasm long after the current was on. But Bill was determined to let him speak between volleys, so he would. Something less provocative this time…

“Bill… why are you doing this?”

That got a scoff. “Why? Because we’re old friends?”

Smackdown coughed, dislodging something slimy and thick. “No… I mean you know as well as I do what the playbook says about torture. You do this now, I might tell you something to make it stop. But come back tomorrow, I won’t have anything for you. And you are coming on way too strong here friend…”

“Really?” said Bill.

Smackdown nodded, a motion which produced some serious discomfort. “If this is how you plan to get info from me, you’re going to fail… You got no options after this pal. None…”

Bill made a thoughtful noise. Smackdown could hear the implied sarcasm in his tone, but knew Bill understood what he was getting at.

“Makes me wonder what you’re thinking here, Bill. Do you even really want their names… or is something else happening here?”

Bill reached for the cart. Smackdown braced for the third wave, but was pleasantly surprised when none came. Instead, Bill shut down the current and motioned to the guard. Reaching down he picked up the bucket that had been resting by his feet and brought it forward. Taking up a spot directly by his head, the guard shoved Smackdown’s head back at a tight angle and readied himself to pour.

“Will… Will… Will… have you not heard? Rules have changed boy. You torture anyone long enough, and they’ll do whatever you want. They’ll tell you all you want to know, just for the sweet relief death will provide.”

Bill came around to his other side and looked down into his eyes again. Though no electricity was flowing him anymore, he didn’t feel any less vulnerable. In fact, he looked to what was coming next with complete dread. He only hoped the tremors he was now experiencing would appear like spasms.

“Last chance, Will. Tell me who your colleagues are and where I can find them. Or you’ll get every play out of the playbook, one after another.”

Smackdown took a deep breath. The last one he knew he would have for some time to come.

“My name… is Smackdown…”

Bill’s eyes lost their intensity and he looked gravely at the man standing across from him. A nod passed between them, and the bucket was brought up and tipped. The bright light staring down at Smackdown went dark, and a cold wave struck his straight in the face. Very quickly, it was invading his nose and mouth. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t hold it off for long, and the terrible urge to cough and dispel overtook him.

He waited for an eternity for it to stop, and spent another trying to clear it all from his lungs. Mercifully, they had let him hand his head forward, which made it slightly easier. When he was done, he had no voice left, and every rasp that escaped his lips was a grinding agony.

“Let’s take a break,” said Bill. “We’ve got all night, and I’ve got several more plays I wanna run. That okay with you, Smack-down?”

Bill’s hand landed on his back, causing another volley of coughs and sputters. If Smackdown could have replied, he might have said something witty or dry. As it stood, his sense of humor, like his voice, was spent.

“I’m going to grab some coffee and see you in a few minutes.” He felt a slight smack on his knees, looked down to see the photos again. “While we’re gone, look at those faces, Will. Think of what they’ll look like staring up at you, dead and lifeless. The twisted look of shock and betrayal completely impossible to erase.”

He heard a noise at the door, a slow jarring of hinges and the sounds of two sets of boots leaving. They paused at the point of leaving, right before the door shut behind them with a loud clang.

“We’re going to find them, Will. It’s only a matter of time. Consider what I’ve said. Make it easier on yourself and all of them.”

The door slammed shut, leaving Smackdown alone in the room. He sat there with his head hung forward, the cold drops running from his face and the hot burning light above his only company. Having endured all they could throw at him for at least one sitting, his body once again fell into a state of dark, blessed unconsciousness. When he would eventually wake up again, he would have no way of knowing how much time had passed. But that was to be expected.

Time, like everything else, had a way of disappearing inside places like these…

The Matrix: Revulsions!

The Matrix: Revulsions!

With the final movie hitting theaters, fans believed we were coming to it at last! The explanation as to what it all meant in Reloaded, whether their was a Matrix within a Matrix, how would Zion survive, why Neo was able to destroy those squiddies, and who the hell that Bane guy was now. Most or all of these questions would have been easier to answer if the second movie hadn’t left people befuddled and confused. But at least now, with the third movie, some of that confusion might be dispelled. And I for one was eager to find out who was right in the whole “what’s going on” debate!

The Matrix: Revolutions
As it turned, none of us were! The answers we were waiting for turned out to have nothing to do with any of our theories, and we were quite unhappy about that! Not just because we were wrong but because ultimately, the explanations for why things had happened the way they did in movie two… kinda sucked. The critics felt much the same way, with most reviewers panning the film and it earning roughly half of what the sequel had. When describing it and how it wrapped the series up, words such as “anticlimactic” and “unsatisfying” were often used. Most people I knew just called it dumb! And the reasons were obvious.

1. Weak Opening:
So the movie started with Neo finding himself in limbo which is basically a part of the Matrix. (Note: Mobile station is an anagram for Limbo, which was what Neo – anagram for One – was in. Get used to it, the franchise is full of them!) So in addition to the questions about the squiddies, how he’s supposed to save Zion, and whether or not the Oracle is the enemy, there’s the added question of how the hell he could find himself in the Matrix when he’s not jacked in. Meanwwhile, Morpheus, Trinity and the crew of the Hammer are trying to find him, and the Oracle tells them they got to find YET another program who’s being guarded by the Merovingian in order to get to him. Didn’t they do this plotline already? And reusing one so early in the movie is a bad sign, makes the audience think the whole movie’s going to be a rehash of the last one. And after some needless action sequences in the Merovingian’s night club, which just seemed like an excuse to do the one thing they hadn’t tried yet (fighting upside down!) they find Neo and they are free to pursue all the other plot threads they left open.

2. Weak Explanations:
The movie reached a climax of sorts around the time that Neo reached the Oracle and asked her for explanations. There I was in my seat thinking “Here we go!” Finally, we’d get to see what all that stuff was about. And what the Oracle said was interesting at best, lame at worst, and disappointing somewhere in the middle. So apparently Neo was able to stop those machines because “the power of the One extends to the Source” which is, apparently, where his powers come from… Uh, okay. So Neo has powers that enable him to control machines in the real world as well as in the Matrix… Why? Come to think of it, why does he have powers at all? The way the Architect explained it, his powers were a systemic anomaly, suggesting that they were just exhibited in supposedly gifted individuals that cropped up from time to time. But why the hell would those powers extend to the Source, aka. the machine mainframe? And what the hell did she mean when she said they CAME from the Source? Does that mean the Source willed Neo and all his predecessors into being? Did it do this just so it’d have something to do? Or is he just some kind of super-cyberman who defies all comprehension? Seriously man, this was just weak! Compared to all this, what my friend said (hey Sam!) about Neo being a program actually made sense!

Oh, and the bit about Neo’s mind breaking off and running loose in the Matrix? Also weak! Apparently, he “wasn’t ready” for these abilities, so that’s why he went comatose after killing those squiddies, woke up and found himself in Mobile (Limbo) Station. Yeah, because that’s what happens when you’re the One and you use your abilities prematurely, you go to a train station! I know that the Wachoswki brothers were trying to be cool and mysterious when they wrote this, but this is just inexplicable nonsense! To top it off, we never did get an explanation as to how the Oracle could be on humanity’s side when thus far, all she’s done is lead them into a seemingly hopeless situation. When Morpheus and Trinity confront her, not once do they ask the obvious: “Why did you lie to us, bitch? Why did you say the war would end once Neo went to the Source when in truth, it meant the war would continue and the whole cycle would just repeat itself?” Not asked, not answered. The Oracle just acts like this was all part of the unfolding plan and she’s just telling them what they need to know. Sure, she did tell Neo he’d have to decide between saving Trinity and Zion, which was true, but everything else still felt like lies, or at the very least, convenient half-truths.

3. Obvious Biblical References: In this movie, the mythological references were not only way over the top, but obvious as well! In movie one, much of the mythology was biblical in nature. In movie two, it was more classical. Third time around, it seems like the wheel came back around and returned to biblical. But holy shit was it obvious here! First, there’s the part where Neo is blinded during the fight between him and Bane/Smith. Not only is this an obvious allusion to the biblical Samson, Bane even comes right out and says “A blind messiah!” Are you kidding me? Did the art of subtlety die somewhere between movie’s two and three? No, I can’t defend that. Movie two was never subtle! And the part at the end where Neo decides to sacrifice himself to save Zion? Of course, this particular biblical allusion was building up all throughout the whole of movie three. Scarcely a person in the audience expected Neo to live, especially after Trinity died. But by the end, when Neo’s dead body was being ferried off by the machines, all splayed out Jesus-style? C’mon, Wachowskis!

4. That Lame-ass Death Scene: Trinity survived movie two, which I believe I mentioned was kind of hokey, only to die here. And it took place after she delivered Neo to the machine city, which basically meant she died as soon as she was no longer of use! As if that wasn’t enough, her final farewells dragged on foreeeeever. Seriously, I heard people snickering in the theater, it had gotten so cheesy! Yes, I’m sure there were plenty of people who might have found it touching as well, but I refuse to believe Carrie Ann Moss actually cried when she first read this part of the script! More like she confronted the Wachowskis and said, “You can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!”

5. Smith Gets Comical: I’ve already mentioned how Smith had most of the best lines in the first movie, right after Morpheus. Part of what made his dialogue so cool was the fact that it was cryptic and delivered in a real cool, badass way. Aside from his incredibly even tone, which made him sound all the more menacing, Weaving showed himself to be an expert at catching the right look. That hard stare, those arched eyebrows, that cruel mouth – he was bad reborn! Then the second movie came out, in which he was still pretty bad. He even had some decent lines, even if they were a little monosyllabic. Remember “Me too…”, or “More!” Or how about “The best part about being me is there are so many of me”. Those were pretty good and captured the essence of Smith’s growing megalomania. But by this movie, he so overdid the evil madman routine that it just got creepy, even laughable. For example, that drawn out scene where he smashes the Oracle’s dish and then does that evil laugh as soon as he assimilates her… That was painful to watch. Oh, and lets not forget that long, hammed-up lecture he gave Neo when they were fighting at the end: “Why Mr. Anderson?! Why do you persist?!” Seriously, he was yelling through clenched teeth! I seriously hope for his sake he was choosing to have fun because he found the dialogue so crappy!

6. Final Fight!: At this point, the movie already had outdone itself in weird, over the top special effects. But that big-time, burly brawl at the end of the movie? That was just plain overdone! Sure, Smith and Neo are both superhuman by this point in things, but did their fight have to resemble a battle between two Supermen? Did you not rip off that franchise enough already with all Neo’s flying? Hell, Link even said it in movie two: “He’s doing his Superman thing!” In any case, the action itself was terribly over the top, and was made worse by Smith’s antics which, as already noted, had gone from cryptic to comical! That, plus all the CGI – which always makes a scene look fake – made this entire scene feel totally superfluous. Mainly I just waiting for it to end so we could see how Neo was going to die and whether or not he would take Smith with him!

Okay, some stuff was good in this film. That battle scene where the machines reached Zion, that had some good parts to it! The action was pretty intense and it did have the right feel. Sure, there was the part where Kid (that’s his name, no fooling!) commandeers a mech and shoots the doors to Zion open, saying “Neo, I believe!” right before he shoots. Oh, and of course the part where Link’s wife and some militia women are popping off rockets and taking down the big drilling machine, but then start to get cut to pieces by squiddies shortly thereafter. Those were pretty cheesy, not to mention a pretty cheap attempt at making the audience care about some tertiary characters. But hey, the action was cool so I can forgive. I can even forgive the Aliens rip-off with the mec suits (known here as APU’s) since they are cool in ANY context AND were put to good use! Oh, and and that whole squiddy/hovercraft chase scene? Also not bad! It was fun and tense, and as opposed to the lesser characters dying in Zion, the audience actually seemed to care about what happened to Morpheus and Naobi (as always, played by Jada Pinkett Smith). Her badass delivery and sharp wit also made the scene believable, but dammit did they have to repeat that crappy “There are some things that do not change… and some things do” line?

And you might even venture to say that part of why this last movie seemed so disappointing was because they did a pretty good job of making things seem hopeless in Reloaded. In addition to being confused, I seriously went away wondering how the good guys could possibly win at this point. Yes, the plot was underdeveloped because of pacing problems and too many action scenes being piled on, but the whole concept of the Matrix being centuries old and there being several predecessors to Neo was still borderline genius! After movie one, with what seems to be an open and shut plot, they had their work cut out for them making it seem like everything was about to take a turn for the worst. And yet, they managed to pull it off! From movie one to two we went from thinking Neo was invincible and humanity would win to believing Neo was helpless and humanity screwed. So you might say there was little inspiration left for when it came time to brighten things up again, to find a way to make the good guys win that was plausible and consistent with the whole theme of prophecy and “this has all been foretold”.

But alas, the weak ending where Neo dies and the machines for some reason decide to leave Zion alone cannot be so easily forgiven! That, on top of all the other flaws in this movie meant that this franchise was ending on a groan and not a hurrah. Seriously, why did the machines leave Zion when they were an inch away from wiping it out? And why, for that matter, did the Architect promise the Oracle the “red pills” would be set free from now on? That was never part of the agreement! Neo said he wanted peace, not that all humans who couldn’t accept the program should henceforth be set free so there would be no reason to go to war. Makes sense, but why would the machines accept it? Because they felt honor bound to acknowledge Neo’s sacrifice? Because they promised they wouldn’t? What kind of machines are these? Honor, promises, solemn oaths; these are HUMAN things! They are based in emotion and ethical insight, not mathematics or cold calculation! And you call yourselves machines! Pah! I spit on your machineness!

And let’s not forget what kind of moral this all amounted to: that humanity and robots need to live in peace. Sure, the whole concept of human-machine interdependency came up repeatedly. It came up first in the original when Morpheus explained how humans power the Matrix, and how this was ironic given humanity’s historical dependence on machinery. It was resurrected in that needless scene where Councillor Hamann (that old dude from Zion) takes Neo tot he bowels of the city to look at the machines and reflect on the irony of THAT. But to take that to the point where they must learn to live in peace and harmony, Kumbaya-style, just seemed lame! And as the Architect said to the Oracle: “How long do you expect this peace treaty of yours to last?” Good question! As it stood, the only thing protecting Zion from exterminations was this treaty; but in time, humanity was likely to recover and expand, at which point they’d be wanting to shove a great big EMP up the Matrix’s ass! Any calculating machine would know this, hence why they would have finished the job when they had the chance! But at this point, no one was looking for practical. They were looking for over…

The Matrix: Revolutions, people. A disappointing but not terrible ending to a very promising franchise. Perhaps, like with Highlander, there really should have only been one. Or perhaps they shouldn’t have tried so hard to top everything from the first. In truth, I think that if they had just taken their time and gone with those rather genius ideas – the ones about rogue sentient programs and how the Matrix and the whole One thing were a lot more complicated than originally foretold – the sequels would have been much better. But, as I said, greater people than the Wachowskis have tried to make lighting strike twice. Who can blame them for not succeeding?

The Matrix: Revolutions:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 5/10
Direction: 6/10
Total: 6/10