By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated November 03, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
The Matrix Revolution: Jasin Boland

”Where is this going? Where does it end?” ”Cookies need love like everything else.” ”He did it! He saved us! He ended the war! The Machines are gone!” ”What ze hell?!?”

That last pronouncement, delivered in a full, fruity bouquet of an accent by Lambert Wilson as the satanic bon vivant known as the Merovingian, is less pithy than the usual level of discourse in The Matrix Revolutions. But after the final rain-soaked showdown between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his indefatigable opponent Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) in this winded conclusion to the Wachowski brothers’ epic sci-fi trilogy, ze hell of it is this: There’s little philosophical distinction between the needs of dessert pastries and those of the good people of Zion in their hemp couture.

It seems clearer than ever that these ardent Zionists are brave pre-Christians yearning for a savior to deliver them from evil. And that Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), who doesn’t believe in The One but believes in Neo, represents a certain kind of convert while Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), emerging from a spiritual crisis in the last episode, is another. And that no one should attempt to make sense of the previous two sentences without first having seen ”The Matrix Reloaded.”

So here’s a mystery for the faithful: Why does resurrection and salvation — the ”Matrix” payoff — here feel more like a religious obligation than a triumphant revelation? There’s relatively less of the clunky alternation of big action and static speechifying that stalled ”Reloaded.” But there’s also less storytelling fervor from the Wachowskis as their hugely influential Big Bang of a movie notion settles for rigged explosions in its final volley.

Among its better tricks, ”Matrix Revolutions” finally gets the love-story subplot of Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in the right proportion: There’s little of it, as befits the utter monotony of the characters. (The Machines exhibit more passion than these two chess pieces.) The filmmakers have also come up with an inspired solution to the death of actress Gloria Foster, who was so outstanding in the role of The Oracle, by gently slipping in a fine Mary Alice to play up the seer’s grandmotherliness. (Representing Eastern religious philosophy, the old woman explains that she now wears a new ”shell.”) And Pinkett Smith finally gets the spotlight she deserves for her Niobe, who is as spunky and appealing as Trinity is pained and cold.

”Revolutions” features a snazzy, ”Star Wars”-y invasion of Zion by Sentinels (and hard-working CGI guys), with much charging and clanging, as well as diverting, Xena-like heroics by Nona Gaye and Rachel Blackman as a couple of buff, weapon-wielding citizens who fight as bravely as any man. It also features a dangerous rallying cry, ”Everything that has a beginning has an end” — risky, because the congregational response may well be, Hallelujah.