The Matrix Reloaded
M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   G A R Y   J O H N S O N

When The Matrix hit movie theater screens back in 1999, it left a powerful impact. Imitators quickly sprung up, aping the movie's stylistics and technology. Suddenly we saw "bullet time" everywhere -- as in television commercials, where cameras pirouetted around happy car owners. Such innovations became ubiquitous and commonplace. The DVD revolution fed off The Matrix, with many viewers purchasing their first DVD players in conjunction with the release of The Matrix on DVD. All the better to see the film's ground-breaking special effects and mull over the film's philosophical musings.

What could the Wachowski Brothers do for an encore? They had set the bar mighty high. Their response in The Matrix Reloaded follows much more conventional expectations. They give us more of what we saw in The Matrix, but they amplify it to the nth degree. For example, instead of battling a single Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), Neo must now face an army of self-duplicating Smiths. While so much of the original movie came as a surprise, The Matrix Reloaded must now further pontificate on the world inhabited by Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the other 200,000 humans of Zion. But there is something to be said for suggestion and inference. At this point, however, we know many of this world's secrets. And with those revelations go much of the mystery and the allure. We're left with the empty posturing of leather-clad, sunglasses-wearing, saber-wielding, super-cool superheroes. Resultingly, the clothes fashions help tilt the movie dangerously close to self-parody and camp.

Previous Wachowski Brothers films, such as Bound, have flirted with this sense of self-awareness, displaying an exaggerated sense of coolness. But The Matrix and Bound fed off of their revelations and surprises. Once we're already familiar with the worlds in which these movies take place, it becomes difficult to continue surprising the viewer. We know the patterns. We know what to expect. As a result, the new visions tend to revolve around matters of quantity. Now there are more explosions than before. Now there are more car chases, more swordplay, more airborne sequences, more … you get the idea.

Officially the second chapter of a three-chapter trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded involves an impending war against the humans. The machines are already furiously digging through bedrock on their way toward Zion, where they can exterminate the humans once and for all. Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) must figure out a way to hold off the impending onslaught and discover weaknesses in the Matrix that will allow them to defeat the machines. Much of this story also involves the deep love between Neo and Trinity and the nightmare visions they share of Trinity's death. Will these visions come true? Can this fate be averted? Along the way they encounter Monica Bellucci in a saucy supporting role as Persephone. She is married to Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), who is the gatekeeper of information. But she is less than happy with his philandering ways, and thus a chink in the machinery develops. Merovingian's bodyguards are a pair of mean-ass albino martial arts experts named the Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment) who can turn into ghostly apparitions and pass through walls. Harold Perrineau plays computer expert Link. He mans the keyboard while his Nebuchadnezzar crewmates enter the Matrix. And Jada Pinkett Smith stars as ship captain Niobe. She once loved Morpheus so there is some emotional baggage here that may be further revealed in the third chapter of the trilogy, to be titled The Matrix Revolutions (hang on after Reloaded's final credits if you'd like to see a preview of Revolutions).

The Wachowski Brothers deliver The Matrix Reloaded with their customary élan and panache. The vastly multiplied scale of many of the special effects and fight sequences will be enough to satisfy many of the original film's fans, but something is missing this time around. The bigger-is-better approach is all too conventional. All too expected. All too Hollywood. Whereas the Waschowski Brothers delivered a stunning new world with The Matrix, their sequel provides a much reduced sense of discovery and surprise. The Matrix Reloaded plods forward like a tremendous dinosaur. At times it manages some graceful moves, but the movements are mechanical, technological showcases that carry the bratty aura of a rich kid showing off his toys to the less fortunate in the neighborhood.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]

Studio Web site: Warner Bros. Pictures
Movie Web site: The Matrix Reloaded



Photo credits: © 2003 Warner Bros. Pictures.
All rights reserved.