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The Matrix: Reloaded
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   The Wachowski Brothers (writers, directors)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   May 15, 2003
Review Date:   May 22, 2003
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

"Hmm. Upgrades." -- Neo, on encountering several new Agents (just before slapping them around like red-headed stepchildren).

What is there, really, to be said about "The Matrix: Reloaded"? It's the most highly-anticipated sci-fi sequel since "Episode One", sure to be seen by geeks and jocks alike for its mix of cool futuristic gearhead concepts and blisteringly paced martial arts fight sequences. Admit it; you know you're going to see this movie anyway. Nothing I say in this review will make any difference.

So, instead of telling you to go see this film (because you WILL go, oh yes), I'm going to tell you that you can feel confident in your decision, knowing that you aren't going to get gulled into seeing a ponderous monstrosity like the new "Star Wars" films. Because "The Matrix: Reloaded" is indeed a damn good film, one that won't make you feel ashamed you paid good money for as you leave the theater.

I'm sure by now everyone knows what the "Matrix" films are all about. In the future, a civilization of AIs has taken control of the world and has turned humanity into a bunch of enslaved D-cells, all plugged into a VR representation of the late 20th Century (called the Matrix) in order to keep them docile. A small group of free humans from the last unconquered city on Earth, Zion, periodically venture back into the Matrix to free others. One small band, led by the enigimatic Morpheus, frees a man named Neo... who may be the prophesied One who will defeat the machine overlords and their insidious Agents and free all of humanity. With the help of generous amounts of flashy wire-fu and clever special effects-laden gunbattles, of course.

The story in "Reloaded" is just as much of a mindf[il]k as the original. Even more so, really, since it takes the "everything turned upside-down" plot of the first "Matrix" and turns THAT upside-down. There are wheels within wheels within wheels here. We learn that the world of "The Matrix" movies is not just about a machine intelligence using a VR representation of the 20th Century to control an enslaved humanity; things go much, much deeper than that. People are being manipulated into manipulating other people, nothing is as it seems (even things from the first movie), and the basic nature of reality and free will are isn't just questioned, it's given a Gestapo-style interrogation. There are some revelations here about the Matrix, the programs that inhabit it, and the history of the whole war that will leave you, like Neo, going "woah".

Of course, tearing down the characters' (and the audience's) expectations and then rebuilding them from the ground up takes time. "Reloaded" is rather slow to get going as a result, as we take a side trip into the free city of Zion itself, and both Neo and Morpheus have to deal with the messianic nature of the prophecy that has guided much of their lives. Then, gradually but with an accelerating pace, things start to pick up. The fight scenes that are the REAL raison d'etre for the "Matrix" films provide a nice eye-candy counterpoint to all the weird-ass Zen philosophical bantering going on here. And once the fight scenes start happening, things explode with an intensity that will probably leave you drained and stunned at the end of the movie (but in a good, post-coital way).

But enough about that. If I tell you any more about the plot, it'll ruin all the surprises and revelations in "Reloaded". Some movies you just need to experience for yourself, especially those as truly visceral as the "Matrix" films, all pop philosophizing in the dialogue aside. In lieu of spoilers, I'm going to tell you a few other reasons you'll be happy with this movie. Such as the interesting way it inverts the usual Hollywood racial balance: rather than a mostly white cast with a few token minorities, the main cast and especially the extras at Zion are almost all minorities, with just a few token white people. I personally consider this a very good thing, but views on Political Correctness aside, it does make this movie stand out in your mind, even if it's only a subconscious realization that things just FEEL different than they normally do in a big-budget sci-fi movie.

The special effects are, of course, simply amazing. They're just as flashy as you'd expect, but they're integrated into the narrative, though more often to emphasize the otherworldliness of the Matrix and its inhabitants than to advance the plot itself. But even at their most gratuitous, the effects matter far more to the story than they did in, say, "Armageddon" or "The Core". And they easily top the effects and the fights from the original. This is a bit of a relief, since there was a lot of concern that "Reloaded" would not really have anything to match the breathtaking originality of the Bullet Time duels from the first movie, but have been copied endlessly in films since then. Let's face it, we watch "The Matrix" and now "Reloaded" to see these fights, and we want them to be unlike anything we've ever seen on screen before. "Reloaded" definitely doesn't disappoint. The fights are badder, faster, and, most notably, BIGGER than before (like the fight between Neo and a hundred.... well, you'll see). Along with the more extreme fight scenes, the imagery of "Reloaded" is a lot more extreme, too: darker, brighter, more ornately brocaded, more gothic, more industrial and iconic and ethereal. And it has werewolves and ghosts in it.

The acting is a bit of a mixed bag. It's competent, yes, but aside from Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, there's not a lot else here worth mentioning. Keanu acts like a stunned mullet, as usual, but that fits perfectly with the barrage of freaky-pop philosophy being tossed at him (and the audience), so it's not particularly a problem for the movie. The supporting characters, especially the late actress playing the Oracle and the inimical Hugo Weaving as fan-fave Agent Smith, get some fantastic moments, but they're just a tiny part of the whole. And they're sadly overshadowed by the community-theater histrionics of the Zion scenes. However, the script is uniformly excellent, making the Zen-pop gibberish seem a hell of a lot deeper and more interesting than it really is. There's even some nice moments of deadpan, understated humor, to break the tension a little (like the quote from Neo at the top of the review).

"The Matrix: Reloaded" is everything that made the first movie such a huge hit, cranked up to 11. Everything is bigger, from the fights to the plot twists to the psychobabble dialogue to the sheer visual impact. It's a massively flashy special effects extravaganza, leavened with just enough "deep" sounding exchanges between eclectic characters and edge-of-your-seat revelations to distance it from the usual crop of substanceless sci-fi summer blockbusters. It even features the return of The Spoon. You NEED to go to this movie. You MUST go to this movie.

But you know what I mean; you've probably already seen it by now.

The important thing to remember about Anime Editor Kevin Pezzano is that there IS no Anime Editor Kevin Pezzano. Woah.

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