"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
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.