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Matrix Reloaded (2003) Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 May 2003
"Matrix Reloaded" is another visit to the imagination of The Wachowski Brothers; like its predecessor, it's jammed with special effects, jaw-dropping action sequences and lots of strange details and even stranger people (which many of them really are not). If this movie stood alone, it would be greeted with the same intense enthusiasm that the original received, and it too would pass from being a mere movie, however popular, to the genuine world-wide cultural bombshell like the first one did.

But though it's still rich with incident and amazing action sequences, "Matrix Reloaded" is likely to be greeted with some disappointment, even contempt, by some who are simply expecting too much. Also, the film is much more conventional -- like other films -- than the original, but this aspect was hard to avoid. The Wachowskis are seeking to finish the story that they began in the original, and they do that. The first film was stunningly original -- partly because it was not a finished story, but instead the elaborate introduction to a bizarre, science fictional world not quite like anything else ever filmed. Plus it was influential for innovative special effects and very cool costumes. In fact, describing its impact as merely "influential" probably doesn't go far enough.

But inasmuch as it was an introduction to a different reality than the one we know (in which "The Matrix" initially appeared to be set), this sequel simply cannot be as mysterious and intriguing as its predecessor. This is built into the idea of a sequel.

"Matrix Reloaded" is unquestionably a more conventional movie than the first, but it plays fair with the premises -- it's just that it cannot be as endlessly surprising as the first film. Instead, it continues with the story of the last surviving human beings on Earth, who are trying to wrest control of the Earth away from the computer-driven machines that keep most of mankind just for their energy.

Last time around, a hacker named Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is approached by a mysterious man called Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and a leather-clad woman, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). He's told that he's not in the reality he thinks, but is instead wired into a gigantic computer; the world around him is created by the computer, and is called The Matrix. What's more, Anderson, renamed "Neo" when he wakes up in real reality (grim, grimy and dark), is the One who can lead humans to freedom. Because the apparently-real world is artificial, people who have been awakened can manipulate it, if they're powerful enough, even to the point of Neo flying like Superman (literally -- at the end of the first film he left a phone booth and rocketed off into the skies of the Matrix in Superman's classic "Up, up and away" pose).
Neo, Morpheus and the others on their big aircraft that prowls through the tunnels of the machine-dominated world, have learned that the computer is sending hundreds of thousands of Sentinels (squid-like killing machines) in the direction of the underground city of Zion, the last stronghold of humankind.

When they visit Zion, we see that many in Zion believe Neo to be the One, the Messiah who will lead them out of bondage to the computer. They bring him offerings. There's a clash between Morpheus and Commander Lock (Harry Lennix), who wants Morpheus to stay put with his ship to battle the Sentinels, now drilling their way toward Zion. But with the backing of Councillor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe, sounding very different than in the past), Morpheus and his crew head off to try to contact the Oracle (Gloria Foster), the mysterious woman who has advised them in the past.

Neo meets with the Oracle, learning that she's actually a renegade computer program, but she's still willing to help, and instructs him to meet the Keymaker, who can help Zion and the others further. This leads to a lot of action.

While there are action scenes throughout "Matrix Reloaded," the two primary events, and the ones going to be talked about the most, are when Zion unexpectedly encounters Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), his computer-created opponent from the first film. But Smith has escaped bondage to the computer -- just what he now is maybe explained in "The Matrix Revolutions," the third and final film out in November -- and he can now multiply himself, evidently almost infinitely. And Neo takes on ONE HUNDRED Smiths in an astonishing battle with arms, legs, and a long pole. Let's see commercials steal THAT as they did the "bullet time" scenes from the first film.

Later on, while Neo is separated from the others, Morpheus and Trinity try to take the Keymaker (wasn’t he in “Ghostbusters”?) to the building with the door he needs to open. This leads to the freeway chase to end all freeway chases, a thunderous spectacle of hurtling cars, trucks and motorcycles. It's so big that Warners had to construct their own half-mile freeway in Alameda, near San Francisco. (Most of the movie was shot in Australia, like the first one.) People leap from vehicle to vehicle, Agents of the computer use semis as weapons, and finally Morpheus and an agent square off on top of a semi as it hurtles along at a hundred miles an hour.

The film does introduce a few more mysteries near the end, after Neo meets the cool, elegant Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), who built the Matrix computer, and who claims that the truth is not what Neo believes it to be. The beginning of "Matrix Revolutions" is carefully set up, and if you sit through the nine minutes of credits at the end of the film, you'll see a brief trailer for the third movie.

In addition to everything else going on, Neo and Trinity have fallen in love, and have sex while a thunderous dance is held elsewhere in Zion following a stirring speech by Morpheus. Neo has had a possibly predictive dream of Trinity being shot to death while falling from a skyscraper, firing pistols at the Agents above her.

As with "The Matrix," this sequel is rather too long, although it's better paced than the first picture. As stunningly rhythmic and hip/primitive as the dance scene is, the movie didn't really need it, and it goes on too long. Furthermore, its purpose is unclear: are we supposed to realize that the inhabitants of Zion are a lusty lot? If so, why? The movie has too many of these kinds of set pieces, scenes that while well done, don't seem to add much to the evident story. In a movie of this nature, you don't want the audiences' attention to wander, and that's what will happen with most people during this dance sequence, and others as well. Morpheus, Trinity and Neo meet the snotty, French-accented Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) at a lush nightclub in the Matrix. He doesn't want to tell them how to find the Keymaker, but his jealous lover Persephone (Monica Bellucci) agrees to -- if Neo will give her a meaningful kiss. The movie stops dead at this point, as the audience impatiently waits for the Wachowskis to just get on with it.

As with the original film, the acting is very stylized -- and very good. Newcomers include Link (Harold Perrineau), Morpheus' new pilot, sleek Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith), a fellow warrior, the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), and the two albino killer twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment), who can dematerialize. They figure in the freeway battle. Gloria Foster returns as The Oracle, a motherly but very wise woman (or so she appears to be); her warmth adds a great deal to both films; her untimely death following "Reloaded" means the Wachowskis will have to come up with someone different for "Revolutions."

"Matrix Reloaded" was made back-to-back with "The Matrix Revolutions;" all the money spent is certainly visible on screen. This is a much bigger picture in every way than "The Matrix" -- more effects, more actors, more stunts, more of everything that money can pay for. It's an epic this time, rather than a rather intimate if spectacular adventure like the first film.

At this budget level, you expect all supportive functions to work at their very best, and that's the case here. The Panavision cinematography by Bill Pope, Owen Patterson's production design and the costumes by Kym Barrett are all hip, dark and stylish. The score by Don Davis is also excellent, and visual effects supervisor John Gaeta does Oscar-worthy work. As is always the case with big-scale, effects-laden summer/holiday features like this, the sound is imaginative and effective.

Joel and Andy Wachowski direct as one, though they're not really all that much alike. One (which one?) is the primary comic book fan, the other (who?) is into philosophy, which turns up again here, especially in the beautifully-played but somewhat opaque speech by The Architect near the end. (It's all about choice, he says.)

If "Matrix Reloaded" eases on by the almost certain scattered disappointment it will arouse, it's likely to be a major hit in this sequel-filled, effects-filled year.

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