|Matrix Reloaded, The|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 14 October 2003|
”The Matrix: Reloaded,” the second film in the Wachowski Brothers' epic trilogy, picks up six months after events of the first, with Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) defending the free haven of Zion from a quarter-million Sentinel machines that are on their way. Meanwhile, inside the Matrix, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is spreading like a virus, and the Oracle (Gloria Foster) sets Neo on a journey to open a door -- and puts him in the path of the vengeful Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his mysterious and beautiful wife, Persephone (Monica Bellucci).
Attempting to top the action set pieces of the first film, “The Matrix: Reloaded” boasts a spectacular freeway chase scene, as Trinity and Morpheus attempt to escape the Merovingian's clutches with the Keymaker -- the McGuffin of the film. Less spectacular, alas, is the Neo and Agent Smith "burly brawl" which, while pioneering a blend of live-action, motion control shots and computer animation that is seamless, simply goes on far too long and begins to resemble a cartoon. However, despite the superfluous length of these two sequences -- which do move the plot along, but not in a timely fashion, considering the ticking time bomb of Zion's fate -- they do live up to the standard of the first film, which revolutionized how action movies are made and viewed in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the pacing of the second film differs wildly from the first, which may dishearten the legions of fans who memorized every line of dialogue and can name ever FX shot in the film after three years of constant re-watchings on DVD. Unlike “The Empire Strikes Back” or “The Godfather II,” ”Matrix Reloaded” falls a bit more into the category of “Superman II” in the history of sequels -- while it may fall short in some respects, the hardest thing to combat is fans’ perception of how the story should have continued. “Reloaded” is more about Morpheus, the prophecy and Neo's Christ-like status, which is painted in much broader strokes in this film, than the actual nuts-and-bolts of the attack on Zion. Trinity is still ultra-cool, and her and Neo's romantic relationship is the emotional core of the film. Particularly effective is the final Zion sequence, as thousands of free people of every race dance with wild abandon, while Neo and Trinity have finally found a quiet corner -- away from the devoted, almost cult-like following Neo has gained -- to make love.
”Reloaded” also suffers in comparison with the original “Matrix” precisely because it is the middle section of a trilogy. The beginning is always more clear-cut, as the characters, the world they inhabit, and their struggle are introduced. ”The Matrix Revolutions” (which was released in theatres November 5th) finishes the tale, so the task of “Reloaded” is to get the viewer from the beginning to the inevitable end, with some fantastic stunts in between. However, when viewed and judged on its own merits, the core story -- Neo's passion and love for Trinity and his discovery of what his place in this universe may really be -- stands up, and if it's not quite as compelling we feel it should be, that's more a matter of perception from an audience who have obsessed over the Wachowskis’ creations thus far and held their breath in anxious anticipation of the final chapter of the story.
As with the first film, the individual performances as strong. Fishburne is commanding and suitably epic, particularly in Zion, where Morpheus is embroiled in both politics and personal struggles with a former lover, Captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Reeves embodies the affable Everyman, which works particularly well considering Neo's mystique. Trinity is the true stone-cold icy warrior within the Matrix, leaving Neo to find a place between her remarkable martial arts prowess and Morpheus’ almost religious fervor. Pinkett Smith, who came into the trilogy after the death of actor/singer Aaliyah, is a worthy partner for Morpheus. The film continues the legacy of the first film in creating kick-ass female icons who are better fleshed out than their comic-book counterparts, an obvious homage to the Japanese anime and Asian cinema which the brothers cite as a major influence on the trilogy. Weaving's character, driven mad by the events of the first film, is slightly more cartoonish. However, the over-the-top nature of his performance works to show in broad strokes how much of a threat to both worlds the rogue agent program has become.
Because the first disc contains no extras, it can be devoted to presenting the film in as much splendor as current technology allows. For fans, it's a stunning treat. Visually, the film continues to set the bar high, and the DVD presentation is topnotch, which is to be expected from Warner Bros. at this stage of the game. The transfer is flawless, with the greenish overtones of the Matrix scenes beautifully counterbalanced by the rich earth tones of Zion. There are no discernible artifacts. The colors are saturated if muted (which fits the aesthetic of the films) during the Matrix scenes, and despite the overall visual darkness, the blacks do not overpower the film.
The sound mix makes excellent use of the entire range of 5.1 sound, particularly in ambient noise, footsteps and all of the little details that fool the senses into believing they are in a real place. The score and soundtrack come through clean and clear without overpowering the dialogue, which is crisp, clear, and easily understood.
The action sequences -- particularly the freeway chase -- are amply supported by the entire spread of speakers. It's all too easy for the viewer to become lost in the film, and it's a very satisfying home theatre experience.
In terms of extras, the two-disc set is packed with supplemental material, some of it promoting the third film, “The Matrix: Revolutions,” as well as the video game and animated shorts. The first mini-documentary, “Preload,” is a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the film, complete with actor and production staff interviews. “The Matrix Unfolds” is a brief look at the entire “Matrix” epic, including the films, game and shorts, as well as the website, which pioneered the next generation of online film promotion. However, for the special effects and stunt geeks, the highlight of the extras is definitely the half-hour Freeway Chase documentary, which explores the sequence from pre-production through the extensive post-production. “Get Me An Exit” examines the effect the film has had on advertising, showing a number of “Matrix” and ”Matrix”-inspired commercials. “Enter the Matrix” is devoted entirely to the video game, which serves as a bridge between “The Final Flight of the Osiris” animated short and “Reloaded.” The final extra is the “Matrix” parody from the MTV Movie Awards, "The MTV Movie Awards Reloaded.” However, the discs curiously lack a commentary track, which may disappoint fans hoping to hear the cast and Wachowski Brothers’ thoughts on the film.
Overall, for fans of the trilogy, the two-disc set is a must-buy. However, the lack of a commentary track may mean consumers will choose to wait for a hoped-for future "loaded" release.