Directed by: the Wachowski Brothers
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Rated: R for sci-fi violence and some sexuality.
Parental Notes: Although most of the violence here is comparatively bloodless, this film deserves its R rating and may be too intense for youngsters. Teens who liked the first “Matrix” film will doubtless enjoy it.
Four years ago, “The Matrix” offered up a peculiar mix of Philosophy 101 and mind-bending, computer-enhanced action sequences. “The Matrix Reloaded” is now out to provide another hit of that same odd blending, and while it’s not quite as smooth a mixture as its predecessor, it does pack a bit more punch.
As with most action films, the story is quite straightforward: In the distant future, humans serve as living batteries, their minds living in a computer-created mass hallucination of reality known as the Matrix while their bodies are used to power the machines that rule the world. Neo (Keanu Reeves) spent the first installment of this trilogy discovering his mysterious power to manipulate the Matrix. Now he must figure out how to save Zion, the settlement of humans who have escaped the Matrix, from an army of robots coming to destroy them.
There are plenty of subplots and plot twists. One of the better ones involves Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), the antagonist of the previous film. A sentient computer program whose purpose was to police the Matrix, Smith was seriously damaged by Neo in the last film and is now able to operate on his own. He also has become able to copy himself, taking over other programs within the Matrix to produce multiple Smiths as if he were a bipedal computer virus. This leads to an amazing fight between numerous Smiths and an increasingly beleaguered Neo in what has been nicknamed “The Burly Brawl.”
Fans of the first movie will enjoy tidbits of information revealed about mysterious figures like The Oracle (Gloria Foster) and sly references to the first installment. Also pleasing are the quips and one-liners sprinkled liberally through the film (one of Neo’s fellow crewmembers refers to Neo’s ability to fly within the Matrix as “his Superman thing”). Fans may further enjoy looking for the small continuity errors between the films.
Overall “The Matrix Reloaded” is enjoyable, with rousing fight sequences and astonishing special effects. Besides the Burly Brawl, there is a sequence on a freeway which puts most (if not all) other car chase sequences to shame. Hand-to-hand combat in and on moving vehicles, a motorcycle zipping between cars while moving against traffic, and a huge crash involving one eighteen-wheeler crashing headlong into another will have fans of over-the-top action gasping.
The Twins (Adrian and Neil Rayment), sentient programs who can become incorporeal in the blink of an eye and float through solid objects, are particularly impressive in both fighting and special effects. Thankfully, they are not overused, letting viewers crave another glimpse of their abilities.
The effects are not universally flawless, however. Although there are several sequences which appear perfectly real in spite of having been created almost entirely in a computer, there are also several in which the digital imagery is painfully bad. Poor computer sculpting, unconvincing momentum, and lack of texture combine to make those shots jarring to anyone accustomed to spending time out in the real world and away from a computer.
An equally distracting flaw is the lack of chemistry between Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), whose love is supposed to be so great that it will change the course of Neo’s destiny. One character comments that their love is “all over the both of you” but the only thing that’s all over them is their costumes and deadpan expressions. Even when making love, they have facial expressions closer to the cooler-than-thou looks they assume when beating sentient programs senseless.
The greatest flaw, however, is the pacing. Intense, protracted fight sequences are interspersed with lofty philosophical discussion. Mostly bearable in the first film, the filmmakers’ penchant for highbrow Calvinist monologues is mind numbing in sections of this installment. Elaborations on the nature of causality and dialogue such as “you have already made the choice. All you can do now is try to understand it,” come across as pop psychology mixed with introductory philosophy and leave the audience checking its collective watch and waiting for the next fight. Had the philosophy been reined in a bit it would have provided a necessary respite from the over-the-top action, but here it is merely tiresome. Add to that uneven mix a somewhat random underground rave sequence and you wind up with a film that doesn’t quite know what pace it wants to set.
“The Matrix Reloaded” is a decent sequel, with more fight scenes for aficionados of wire work and computer-enhanced battles and more philosophy for those who enjoy it. The uneven pace and occasional shoddy bits of special effects detract from the film’s impact, but it is pretty good as sequels go. Fans will definitely leave the theater anxious to see the last installment of the trilogy, “The Matrix Revolutions” – particularly if they stick around through the credits of “The Matrix Reloaded” for a “Revolutions” trailer.