Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the rest of their crew continue to battle the machines that have enslaved the human race in the Matrix. As their quest unfolds, Neo learns more about his super-heroic abilities, including the ability to see the codes of the people and things around him. Simultaneously, now, more humans are waking up out of the Matrix and attempting to live in the real world. As their numbers grow, the battle moves to Zion--the last real-world city and center of human resistance.
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
, Lilly Wachowski
. Starring: Ray Anthony
, Christine Anu
, Andy Arness
, Alima Ashton-Sheibu
, Helmut Bakaitis
, Steve Bastoni
, Don Battee
, Monica Bellucci
, Daniel Bernhardt
, Valerie Berry
, Ian Bliss
, Liliana Bogatko
, Michael Budd
. Music by: Don Davis
I have very mixed feelings about the movie. There were some things I liked about it and some things I didn't. That's true of every movie, of course, but this one struck me as being two movies, a sort of My Dinner with André meets Return of the Jedi. To explain this opinion, I'm putting what will be a large number of spoilers behind a cut. If you haven't seen the film yet and plan to, or if you just have to believe in the premise of The Matrix and can't bear the thought that the sequel was a deeply flawed movie that desperately wanted to be more than an action film but didn't make it, don't read behind it.
The Matrix Reloaded, as a sequel, had to deal with a fundamental problem. The first Matrix revealed the secret that "reality" is just an illusion... so what do you do to keep the sequel interesting? In this case, having already explored the first question of philosophy -- what is the nature of reality? -- the filmmakers explored the second human question, "Do I have free will or is the universe deterministic, and if I do have free will, can I also have an implicit purpose in the universe?"
There's a problem with asking this question in a movie; it's very difficult to demonstrate the question and its answer in a way that will interest a typical movie-going audience. This fundamental problem absolutely plagues Reloaded, resulting in a choppy movie that never quite manages to blend its philosophical basis with the need to excite the audience. Instead, what we get is a film wherein every action scene must be preceded with a long-winded explanation of what's about to happen. In fact, the film starts off with a flash-forward cloaked as a dream sequence in which Trinity appears to die. This scene is repeated three times in the course of Reloaded, even though the Oracle gives away how it will turn out halfway through. After seeing Neo's conversation with the Oracle, can anyone doubt that Trinity is going to survive her shooting? This same problem is encountered again in the meeting with the Merovingian, when that character explains detail after detail of his reason for being, philosophy, and esthetic sense in excruciating detail -- replete with an explanation of how he likes French because cursing in that language "is like wiping your ass with silk." We encounter it again and again with Morpheus' various speeches, and with the Architect's lesson on the nature of his programming skills at the end of the film. In short, the movie hasn't figured out a way to show us the answers to the question it wants to pose, so it has to tell us several times. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is an action movie, with guns and car chases and characters being hurled through walls. Reloaded never manages to make the transition between these two faces smoothly, and so the result is almost as if two films were shot separately and then edited together.
A prime example of this propensity for a character explaining itself is the scene where the Merovingian's wife, Persephone, demands that Neo kiss her like he kisses Trinity if he wants to be granted access to the Keymaker. The explanation is utterly unnecessary, yet it goes on and on in far too much detail, slowing the pace of the film. Persephone's speech could have been summed up in a sentence if the film had time for character development. We could have been shown some sign of conflict between Persephone and the Merovingian... but we never see it until it is explicitly spoken in far too many lines. Between explaining philosophy and showing action, there's no time left for nuances in this film.
A few of the action scenes are excellent. The scene where Trinity and the Keymaker are fleeing the wrong way up Highway is exceptionally well-done, and perhaps one of the best action sequences in a film in the last 5 years. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this sequence steals the show entirely. Once the Keymaker is atop the truck with Morpheus, and Morpheus combats the agent, however, it's gone too long. Morpheus almost loses too many times, over and over again. The scene should have been shorter, but as it stands, the outcome is predictable. Everyone who watches knows that Neo is going to show up at the last possible second to save the day, just as he does at the end when Trinity is falling after being shot.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the fight scenes in this film. Particularly, I wasn't exactly floored by Keanu Reeves' fight scenes. The scene in which Neo fights the Agent Smith replicants in the park looked bad to me. It looked fake; punches landed with no visible impact. The CGI graphics looked a bit cheesy, especially the part where Neo breaks free from under the pile of Smith-clones. It just looked fake to me. Keanu Reeves' looks very stiff as far as his fighting goes, and he doesn't convey a feeling of power or expertise. He looks like he's following choreography, like an inexperienced dancer who counts steps in his head while on the dance floor. He seemed to land blows that had no force behind them, and so when a bunch of Smith-clones go flying through the air, it looks like a stuntman flinging himself instead of someone being knocked down by a solid fist to the head. This was true of every fight scene centered on Neo.
I liked the climactic scene, when Neo confronts the Architect. The idea that Neo is the result of a system flaw is interesting, if not a bit predictable. The room filled with monitors showing an image of every possible reaction Neo could have during the course of his meeting with the Architect was well-conceived and well-executed. The character of the Architect himself was a bit of a cliché -- a typical movie version of god, an old man with white hair and a white beard in a white suit. Didn't George Burns play this character in Oh God years ago? Even though this God does talk a bit too much, some of what he had to say was interesting to me. The idea of the ages of earth, the Yugas, being iterations in a software development process was interesting, for example.
This scene has a HUGE flaw in it, however. Neo's choice of the two doors were NOT his only choices. In fact, since the Architect had designed his system (in his own words!) to function on a deterministic ideal, and Neo had the capacity to act outside of determinism (hence his role as a "system flaw"), Neo could have both saved Zion from the war and rescued Trinity by simply refusing to make any choice between the two doors at all. In fact, he could have beaten the hell out of the Architect and extracted the secret to the program itself! Having done this, he could have truly acted as The One, demonstrated a resolution that gave free will the upper hand over fatalism, and saved the human race, all with one or two swings of a fist and a little fast thinking. Instead, Neo allows himself to be forced into acting within the system. In fact, Neo's choice, as pointed out by the Architect, ends up being based entirely on an emotional need for Trinity. He literally decides to let the entire human race potentially be destroyed to save one person he cares about, even though the destruction of the human race would mean her destruction as well, anyhow! In the end, Neo really acts out of selfishness instead of thinking of the people he's supposedly trying to save or actually doing something unexpected and outside the box. What's more, by not doing something about the Architect himself, he condemns humanity to suffer through a possibly infinite number of future iterations... so rather than save a thousand worlds and a billion billion sufferings, Neo makes a choice based on his need for Trinity. Personally, I found that climax to be deeply disappointing. In the end, it shows that Neo isn't really all he's cracked up to be. He's better with his fists than his brains, and frankly, he's not all that great with his fists. Sure, Neo can fly now, and he can stop bullets with a thought. The first film, though, seemed to promise more from the character.
The things Reloaded mostly had going for it were visual effects. The ships are very cool, and the squidssentinels are outstanding creations. The Merovingian's twin dreadlocked thugs are pretty nifty, too, even if they do look a bit like the ghosts of Milli Vanilli dressed in leftovers from the Miami Vice wardrobe department. In fact, I'd say that they were the best special effects of the movie. The Keymaker character was fun and a very good personification of outdated hacking code.
All in all, I'd give the film a 6 out of possible 10. It certainly wasn't horrible, but it wasn't anything special, either. For the most part, I found it to be a choppy action film that really wants to make a statement that it can't quite make. I've seen a lot worse, and a few that were better (the question of free will and small choices having profound consequences was explored far more convincingly in Run Lola Run, for example). I liked the first Matrix better, although I wasn't as rabid about it as a lot of people were at the time. This one left me cold much of the time, but had a few good points that saved it from being a bad movie.
I guess if its pure escapism that someone is after, and thus that person were willing to watch the film with absolutely no critical eye, they'd likely have a higher opinion of Reloaded than I did. As it is, Reloaded tries to have one foot in each of two worlds and winds up doing a wide split that, all too often, leaves it falling flat on its ass.
Review by w00f from the Internet Movie Database.