The Matrix Reloaded lacks the same zippy jolt of total surprise and satisfaction as its predecessor. But it’s still a pretty amazing piece of work, with gleeful rushes of incredible action, intelligent narrative nuances and quieter moments that will only be enhanced upon repeat viewings.
Along with the budget, the grand vision of writers / directors The Wachowski Brothers has expanded. Just as Neo, the film’s central character played by Keanu Reeves, flies through the air with kung-fu moves, so do love, faith, destiny, control and loss through the narrative with just as much mind-boggling swiftness.
To make the long back-story short, what we think is the real world is actually called The Matrix, a construct generated by machines who have enslaved humans to use their body heat as fuel. A band of human rebels living outside The Matrix removes Neo from it, hoping he will be the one who can save humankind and destroy the machines.
Still, the uninitiated but interested should rent the original as the Wachowskis leap right into their story — an ominous dream of Neo’s in which he sees his love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) shot as she falls from a building.
Neo is haunted by this vision, as well as the overwhelming notion of being mankind’s savior. But more troublesome is the news of machine sentinels digging to Zion, the human outpost near the Earth’s core where all those freed from The Matrix reside. If the sentinels break through to Zion, everyone will die.
While strategizing to battle the sentinels, Neo and his mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) must solve the mystery of his visions. The resolution will reacquaint Neo with his mortal machine enemy, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who now has the unexplained power to clone himself, and take him into the very center of The Matrix.
Most action films are lucky to have just one jaw-dropping action set piece, but Reloaded has three, all of them hitting like mainlined adrenaline.
The shifts from live-action to CGI in a scene where Neo battles the scores of Smith clones are jarringly obvious, but it’s nevertheless a furious, meticulously choreographed fight scene. Ditto for a scene in the stairwell of a chateau, combining intense weapon work with lightning-quick kung fu.
But once Trinity rockets that Cadillac out of the parking garage, strap in for what might be the best modern-day action sequence ever put to film. Cars, motorcycles, semi-trucks, stunts, explosions, big special effects and, yes, plenty more kung fu combine for a truly exhilarating 20-minute juggernaut.
Thanks to its action, Reloaded moves at a steady clip, but its intriguing characters and human touches are plentiful as well.
Neo and Trinity’s romance can get a little corny and messy at times, but has a potent, passionate drive. There is scrappy, stoic nobility to Randall Duk Kim’s diminutive Keymaker, who figures prominently in the film’s plot. And Gloria Foster revisits the same charming, devil-may-care lilt of the enigmatic Oracle. Having died during back-to-back production of this and the third film, The Matrix Revolutions, Foster will be missed.
Reloaded also is never at a loss for someone to sneer at and root against. Weaving brings the same wry malevolence but slightly newer sadism to his Agent Smith. As Merovingian, French actor Lambert Wilson is spectacularly snide Euro-trash. And the cool, calculated Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) oozes cerebral menace in the film’s headiest scene (one that may require a couple viewings).
The biggest miscalculations in Reloaded come during the segments in Zion, an admirably multicultural city that nonetheless resembles Star Trek by way of an oil-stained mechanic’s shop.
Veteran actor Anthony Zerbe gets some nice moments as a venerable elder who probably knows more than he’s letting on, and Reeves gets Neo’s confusion at being a Christ figure across well.
But the rest of the Zion scenes and characters are noticeably weak. Fishburne sounds constipated and weak during his big speech, as though they used the 24th take. And the supposed primal sexual charge of a one-last-hurrah rave creates not one spark.
Reloaded’s big-ticket philosophy is popcorn for the brain, the twisty plot raises more questions than it answers and it ends on a surprisingly abrupt note. It doesn’t feel quite complete, as its story picks right back up in Revolutions, to be released in November.
But overall, the themes work to create a second go-round that’s faster and flashier but still in touch with the humanity at its core. Reloaded is the same genius material, only this time with a small handful of flaws.