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Agent Smith(pop culture)
Not all supervillains wear gaudy costumes, maintain high-tech subterranean lairs, or display any of the other conventional trappings of the archetypal comic-book arch-foe; some uber–bad guys instead don the livery of duly-instituted law and order. In the eponymous virtual world of the stylish cyberpunk/martial-arts films The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), Agent Smith—played to vicious perfection by Hugo Weaving—is cast in the mold of a dour Secret Service agent, complete with a Men in Black–style suit and an ear-mounted radio wire. Agent Smith represents legitimate-appearing authority carried to tyrannical extremes, and he is the diametric philosophical opposite of the Matrix franchise's youthful, freedom-loving cyber-hero Thomas A. Anderson (Keanu Reeves)—better known by his electronic moniker “Neo.” While Neo symbolizes the freewheeling informational anarchy of the late 1990s Internet, Smith is his antithesis, one of many all-but-unstoppable intelligent software programs whose function is to purge the online virtual world of the Matrix of all sources of disorder, including the thousands of free spirits who have fled the Matrix to live in the off-line “real world” community called Zion. Besides Neo, Smith's other prime targets include Trinity (Neo's girlfriend, played by Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), one of Zion's leaders. Smith is motivated both by a built-in deference to the strict rules that enable the Matrix to function, and by a profound hatred of unconstrained, frailty-prone humanity. “Human beings are a disease,” Smith declares in the first film. “A cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.” Smith discovers that his ability to “rewrite” other cyber-entities into submission won't work on Neo, cementing the mutually antagonistic relationship between the agent and the young hero. Despite his devotion to order, Smith himself grows to feel constrained by the rules that govern the Matrix; he yearns to be free and sees the destruction of Zion as his only chance to achieve that freedom. Although his campaign against Zion fails, The Matrix Reloaded finds Smith separated from his fellow agents and possessed of the ability to create an apparently infinite number of copies of himself. And although Smith attributes his liberation to Neo, Smith is ill-equipped to deal successfully with freedom; during a series of martial arts battles of ever-escalating savagery, Smith demonstrates that his hatred of the anarchy Neo represents hasn't diminished. All the while, Smith's power over the Matrix grows, to the point that he threatens both the virtual world and Zion, where he attacks Neo and Trinity by “possessing” a flesh-andblood human named Bane. “There's nowhere I can't go,” Smith gloats to his prey, speaking through Bane. “There is nowhere I won't find you.” Thanks in part to the wisdom of a cyber-entity known as the Oracle, Neo comes to understand Smith's philosophical nature, as well as the extreme severity of the threat the rogue agent poses to the existence of both the Matrix and Zion. “He won't stop until there's nothing left at all,” the Oracle reveals to Neo in The Matrix Revolutions. “He is you. Your opposite, your negative. The result of the equation trying to balance itself out.” During his climactic final, flying, twirling, chopsockey showdown with Neo, Smith is both intrigued and enraged by his exhausted opponent's obstinate refusal to surrender, even in the face of apparently certain defeat. Smith harangues his battered foe, revealing a core of nihilism in the former agent's soul: “Do you believe you're fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom, or truth? Perhaps peace? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose!” In typical supervillain fashion, Smith appears to defeat Neo when he “rewrites” Neo's cyberpersona, transforming the hero into yet another copy of Smith—only to discover that Neo has actually co-opted Smith's own software, causing the agent and his army of duplicates to vanish in a spectacular light show. Neo disappears in this conflagration as hero and villain cancel each other out like colliding antiparticles, recalling Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty plunging to their deaths over the Reichenbach Falls. Smith's ultimate defeat, which ensures the continued survival and autonomy of Zion, represents the triumph of optimism over nihilism, hope's conquest of despair. Whether or not Smith and Neo return from the grave for a rematch—as Holmes and Moriarty did in Arthur Conan Doyle's post-1893 Sherlock Holmes prequels— remains to be seen.