That’s right, folks, The Matrix Reloaded, the long-awaited sequel to 1999′s groundbreaking sleeper hit that grossed more than $450 million worldwide, is finally here. As for whether or not it was worth the wait…well, I guess that depends on how confusing you like your movies to be. There’s no doubt that die-hard fans and techno-geeks who re-booted the first movie over and over again will happily download the sequel’s jaw-dropping special effects, but as for the rest of us, the film is so complex, cerebral and confusing that your brain might just shut down from information overload.
It is only a matter of time before the mechanized sentinels invade the city of Zion, the last human enclave on Earth. The citizens of Zion fully support Morpheus’s (Laurence Fishburne) conviction that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is the chosen One who will put an end to the war with the machines, but Neo has his own doubts after being haunted by disturbing visions of the future–visions which foreshadow the demise of his true love, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). Conflicted by varying degrees of passion, truth, faith, knowledge and purpose, Neo will eventually be forced to make the ultimate choice, or Zion will fall and humanity will cease to exist.
Fans of the first movie will be happy to know that, at least on a visual scale, The Matrix Reloaded delivers big-time. Where the first film was a thinking person’s action movie that combined elements of technology, martial arts, special effects and Japanese anime for a style that was all its own (and the Wachowskis’ inventive “bullet-time” photography didn’t hurt either), the sequel definitely advances to the next level. Some standout scenes include a spectacular battle between Neo and more than 100 Agent Smiths and an awesome freeway car chase that, at more than 15 minutes, will go down as one of the greatest in motion picture history.
The problem is that if you look past all the bells and whistles, you’ll find a film that’s not as tight, as focused or as free-flowing as the first movie. Never mind that the last 20 minutes felt choppy and ended with an anti-climactic cliffhanger, but some scenes go on far too long while others don’t seem to add much to the plot. That’s especially the case with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who was previously defeated by Neo and is now hell-bent on getting his revenge. Even though he’s featured in one of the film’s best scenes, he’s not really essential to the overall story (at least, not yet), and he feels more like a running joke to make the fans happy.
The Matrix Reloaded is also hampered by an incredible amount of exposition. Then again, so was the first film, but at least Morpheus explained the whole concept of the Matrix to Neo (and the rest of us) while showing it to him (and us) at the same time. This time around, the exposition is much more tedious and confusing (and, dare I say it, boring), especially during an 11th-hour revelation where Neo is forced to play the ultimate game of “Let’s Make a Deal” with a Donald Sutherland lookalike (don’t ask!).
There’s no doubt that the Wachowski Brothers have a vision, but where they once seemed inspired, now it feels like they’re just showing off. And when they aren’t trying to push the boundaries of special effects, they’re recycling old science fiction cliches. For example, after so much anticipation to finally see what Zion looks like, it merely resembles the same post-apocalyptic outpost we’ve seen before in The Road Warrior, 12 Monkeys and Waterworld.
It’s also worth mentioning that at no point did I ever get the impression that anyone was in any danger, especially Neo. Now that he has embraced his status as the all-knowing, all-powerful One, he’s virtually indestructible to the point where, no matter how many Agent Smiths are thrown his way, you know he’s going to win. There’s no real threat, and that keeps an already cold film from making a significant emotional impact.
The first Matrix gave Keanu Reeves the role of his career, and for good reason. Reeves is hardly known for his dramatic range, and since his character was largely reactive (instead of proactive), he wasn’t really required to “act.” Of course, he kicked ass during the fight scenes, and to that extent, his performance in Reloaded pushes him to the next level. Not only does he share a steamy love scene with Carrie-Anne Moss, but he also switches roles with Laurence Fishburne, who is more vulnerable and insecure than he was the last time around.
The supporting characters don’t seem to serve any real purpose, except to (hopefully) introduce elements for the third (and final) film. That goes for the beautiful Monica Bellucci, a Matrix trophy wife who will do whatever it takes to feel emotions, and Jada Pinkett Smith, a rebel ship captain who has a mysterious past with Morpheus. Only the razor-wielding, teleporting Twins have much to do, as they provide something different to the film’s key fight scenes.
If The Matrix Reloaded doesn’t feel like a complete movie, that’s because it’s not. It’s only half of a movie. The other half, The Matrix Revolutions, doesn’t open until November, so in the meantime, Reloaded will have to be judged as a single body of work. As it is, it’s cool, but it’s not inspired. Then again, I should mention that I didn’t really “get” the first Matrix until I saw it a few times, and my opinion here is based solely on a single viewing.
To that extent, I guess I’ll have to take the red pill…again.