THE MATRIX RELOADED
Directors: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci
MPAA Rating: (for sci-fi violence and some sexuality)
Running Time: 2:18
Release Date: 5/15/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
If there's one thing The Matrix Reloaded fortifies, it's that the Wachowski brothers are born filmmakers through and through. Four years after The Matrix, Andy and Larry have returned to their comic book fantasy world and pumped it up on every level. As promising as that statement sounds, it does not necessarily translate into praise. With the upgrades come more elaborate action sequences, a wider look at the world of the film, and more philosophical musings. Lost, however, is a sense of mystery. The original film started off foggy, became slightly clearer without lifting the haze, and ultimately ended in vibrant color—an understanding of events past and a realization of new, seemingly unlimited possibilities. The Matrix Reloaded is, by comparison, in black-and-white; everything is clear from the start. We know where it's heading and regret the clarity, longing for the times we could only wonder. It's only at the peak of the climax that the brothers Wachowski pull the rug out from under everything and raise the miasma again, but when they do, they shatter the security of preconception and compel us to beg for more.
The film opens as the original did, with an action sequence centering on Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, who has evolved great lengths as an actress since the first movie), who ultimately meets a crashing end. It was all a dream, though, and Neo (Keanu Reeves, whose stoicism is the right acting choice here) wakes up from it again. There's little sleep nowadays for the prophesized One who can free humanity from its enslavement and use as batteries for the machines. The Nebuchadnezzar, helmed by the enigmatic Morpheus (a quietly commanding Laurence Fishburne), is heading back to Zion, the final haven for human beings who have been freed from The Matrix. Things have become critical for the city, as the machines have begun drilling toward it for attack. Only seventy-two hours remain before the machines arrive, and while the population prepares for the onslaught, Morpheus decides that Neo needs to return to The Matrix to discover a way to beat the machines from within. A difficult task made even more challenging by the reappearance of Agent Smith (a still exceptional Hugo Weaving), now free from his program and looking to settle the score with Neo.
After the introduction of a surprisingly disappointing Zion (rave dancing as religious celebration?), the movie goes back and forth between revelatory dialogue and action. Plot-wise, there's not much to the story, so as Neo and company arrive at a new location, they more often than not meet a character who expounds philosophical on points already established or concepts so cryptic that they lose meaning. There is an interesting trichotomy established in these that differentiates the way the machines and human look at the nature of things. The machines, one character notes, see things in terms of cause and effect—programming. The humans have two ways of seeing things. One is represented by Morpheus, who sees fate and destiny leading us along the path; the other is set up by Neo, who sees choice—freedom. Now, how the world of these films operates is still open to interpretation, and there's enough coincidence and personal conflict to have sound reason for any of these. What happens, though, is that eventually, all these ruminations become perfunctory; the characters talk but nothing is said, if you catch my drift. The climax involves a long-winded speech meant to both confuse and clarify that, in effect, stops the movie dead in its tracks.
Just like the original, the film pushes the bounds of technical feats and raises the bar for special effects. Cinematographer Bill Pope reprises the green tint of The Matrix scenes, and special effects artists give us glimpses of the way Neo sees the fake world around him. They outdo themselves, though, in a fight scene set at a playground between Neo and Agent Smith. Smith now has the ability to copy and paste himself, meaning that Neo must face countless hordes of Smiths. There's a fluidity to this scene that defies reason, considering the fact that it incorporates traditional stunt work, split screen effects, and CGI. The Wachowskis handle each and every action sequence with enviable flair and expertise. They bring back a device from their debut film Bound during an espionage sequence that has a plan play out as the players design it, but the centerpiece is an extended freeway sequence that is simply spectacular. That a pair of minds would conceive such a sequence seems like insanity; that they're able to realize it is just short of a miracle.
The film ends on a cliffhanger, complete with a "To be concluded" title card. This raises an interesting quandary: Is The Matrix Reloaded a standalone movie? Or is it simply part one? Different parts of me find basis with either possibility, although I'm strongly leaning toward the latter. Is this a flaw? Perhaps it is; at least, for now it is. I just hope the conclusion doesn't go the obvious way. The ending opens up the possibility—and I hope this is where the films are heading—that the illusion runs deeper than everyone realizes. If that truly is what lies at the end of the road, I'll be ready to make the trip.
Note: Stay after the credits to see a short preview of The Matrix Revolutions.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.