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Agent Smith, my One and only

Why Hugo Weaving is the real star of the ‘Matrix’ franchise
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

When “The Matrix” premiered in the spring of 1999, few could have predicted what it would become — not only an international box-office smash, but a near-religion which has spawned several scholarly volumes dissecting its philosophy.

The long-awaited arrival of this year’s two sequels — “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” — once again has fans poring over the metaphysical questions the movies may raise. In fact, so much attention gets paid to the movies’ alleged philosophy that many seem to overlook the fact that the components of the “Matrix” trilogy are basically B-movies.

That’s not a dis. They’re very good movies (or, at least, the first one was). They certainly have very slick production values and groundbreaking special effects. But, come on: robots have enslaved the earth, and it falls to one renegade man and his ragtag band of sidekicks — including, of course, the woman he loves — to defeat them? Dude, that’s a B-movie.

And if “The Matrix Reloaded” had just embraced its B-movie status and given us what we expect and want in a B-movie — lots of car chases and ’splosions, and few boring expository monologues — maybe more of us would be looking forward to “The Matrix Revolutions” with thrilled excitement instead of grim resolve. Instead, everyone still involved in the franchise seems to have started believing all the hype surrounding “The Matrix,” gravely undertaking their parts as though the franchise were a cycle of Strindberg dramas. Only one cast member looks like he’s having any fun with “The Matrix”: Hugo Weaving. What makes him so memorable and refreshing in “The Matrix” sequels is that he alone recognizes that he’s in a B-movie.

Weaving’s performance as the relentless Agent Smith was one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dour and joyless “Reloaded”; if his near-parodic villainous laugh in its trailer is any indication, he promises to light up “Revolutions” in much the same way.

Admittedly, part of the reason Weaving gets to cut loose with such glee is that his character — originally created by the machines to quell rebellion among their human chattel…or something — has transmogrified into a computer virus. Thus, Agent Smith no longer has any official mandate to keep order, or any checks on his destructive impulses.

More Smiths means more fun An enemy both to the machines and to the humans, Agent Smith is pursued by other agents, but as of “Reloaded,” he has the power to take any corporeal forms and turn it into a clone of himself. In the first scene in which we see Agent Smith in “Reloaded,” another agent recognizes him and gasps, “You!” Agent Smith dryly replies, “Yes, me.” He then jams his arm into the other agent, turning him into a second Agent Smith, which then drawls, “Me too.”

The dialogue may not be much on paper, but Weaving digs into the scene with such gusto — exaggerating every pause and consonant — that you can’t help laughing. Here he is, smack in the middle of this dull philosophy lecture, gnawing through the scenery like he’s William Shatner’s illegitimate son.

Agent Smith even gets a whole cheesy monologue about the way Neo “destroyed” him in the first “Matrix” movie — “I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey. And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson,” and so forth — that’s straight out of “Star Trek”; all that’s missing is someone screaming “KHAN!” at the end of it.

Agent Smith’s new status as a computer virus also means he can attack Neo (Keanu Reeves) in whatever ways he sees fit. In the case of “Reloaded,” this means making hundreds of copies of himself, all of which dogpile Neo and try (unsuccessfully, of course) to kick Neo’s ass.

We’re supposed to be rooting for Neo since he’s the hero of the movie and the savior of humanity and all that noise, but the fact that he wins every damn fight makes that kind of boring. Agent Smith and all his clones are so hell-bent on beating him — and so delightfully melodramatic in his efforts — that the audience ends up hoping the Smith posse at least gives Neo a black eye.

At any rate, with the rest of the cast mirthlessly drifting through the oppressive Zion landscape, it falls to Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith to inject the movie with its few moments of cheer. Giving Agent Smith the power to regenerate himself endlessly is a genius innovation on the part of the Wachowski brothers: more Agent Smiths mean more campy fun.

Having cut his teeth on “The Matrix,” it was a wise move on Warner Bros.’s part to bring Weaving over to its other big sci-fi/fantasy franchise: the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. This winter, moviegoers will have their choice of Weavings — either pointy-eared and Elvish in “The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King,” or dark-suited and sunglassed in “The Matrix Revolutions.” All signs from the trailer suggest that “The Matrix Revolutions” will be Agent Smith’s last stand; even if the computer virus does get flushed away by Neo’s divinely anointed…er, antivirus software, Agent Smith — the real star of the “Matrix” trilogy — will continue cloning himself forever, in our hearts.

Tara Ariano co-created and co-edits Fametracker.com and TelevisionWithoutPity.com.