The Matrix Reloaded (2003) / Sci-Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and sexuality
Running Time: 138 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Harold Perrineau
Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Screenplay: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Review published May 16, 2003
The Matrix was a surprise smash that had such a unique mythos that it left the door wide open for a whole universe of possibilities should there be a market for sequels, spin-offs, and even novels if it comes to that. The only problem is that it would be hard to live up to the original because the main reason why it is so vastly entertaining is because we were learning how it all worked, mesmerized by the possibility that the world we live in could be a complete fabrication. As that first film showed most of its cards, the action began to take hold for the final half hour, and although it is doubtlessly good action, the intrigue was gone and so was much of the luster. So too, it would seem that any sequels have an uphill struggle because we come into them knowing what's the what, so to make it viable, we will need a new spin, a new direction, or new development. The Matrix Reloaded splits the baby in half, so to speak, by giving us more, much more, of the action scenes we come to expect, while also introducing more of a romantic bent, and insights into the rebellion of Zion. However, the action suffers from over-saturation, and the different directions prove more to be missteps.
Reprising his role as the computer hacker turned savior for the human race is Keanu Reeves (Hard Ball, The Watcher), now resolved to play his part in mostly stoic fashion. It's several months after the events of the first film, and the last remaining human city, the underground bunker called Zion, is building its forces for taking back the planet from the artificial intelligence that now dominates it. This same artificial intelligence has begun to dig in an effort to destroy Zion, and the resistance seems overwhelmed by the potential onslaught. The plan is now hatched to send agents Neo, Trinity (Moss, Chocolat), and Morpheus (Fishburne, Biker Boyz) back into the Matrix so that they may destroy the mainframe that controls it, but it's not going to be easy, with the usual agents, a couple of ghosts, and hundreds of Agent Smiths (Weaving, The Two Towers) he now seems to have the ability to replicate himself) on their tails.
First off, if you are coming into The Matrix Reloaded just to watch some eye-candy and amazing action pieces, you're probably going to be blown away, as the CGI crew have pulled out all stops in trying to deliver several impressively mounted scenes. One of these involves Neo battling not one but an ever-growing amount of Agent Smiths, who keeps replicating himself by taking over the bodies of others in order to battle Neo, but also to feed his hungry ego. The other is the very lengthy Los Angeles freeway scene, where the bullets fly fast and furious, cars tumble, and things explode.
However, if you are not particularly impressed with eye-candy, these are also two of the dumbest scenes in the film, together comprising a third of the total running length. For instance, the Agent Smith scene is pure nonsense just meant to impress us with their ability to use special effects. We've already established Neo can fly, so when he decides that he needs to fight a man who he already knows to have the capability of throwing as many of himself as he can at him, the obvious solution will have you almost screaming in your chair from the idiocy. The freeway scene makes even less sense. As inured to crazy driving as Southern Californians may be these days, I refuse to believe that things have progressed to the point where men with machine guns, people fighting and flying around from vehicle to vehicle, and massive explosions are so commonplace that drivers are completely oblivious to what's going on. While the combatants put on a spectacle that would shock and amaze the entire world, apparently everyone must be on their cell phones, bumping some serious bass, or otherwise too disengaged to care. Of course, like the Agent Smith scene, there needs to be lots of cars on the road, so throw logic out of the window and enjoy the pile-ups, crashes and ceaseless carnage set up solely for our visual pleasure.
However, without these scenes, as ridiculous as they are, The Matrix Reloaded would be a complete bore. Take for example the first half hour, set mostly in Zion, where we get to see the human race devolving into fashionable derelicts. Why do people sport sunglasses in a place that will never have sun? Like everything else conceived for this film, it's because it friggin' looks cool, that's why! Zion is about as awe-inspiring as a trip to Fraggle Rock, only a lot less fun. The people are flavorless, the drama is lifeless, and the only reason they seem to be showcased to highly is for the possible pitch to Showtime for a spin-off series, a la Stargate SG-1. And if you think the action scenes are excessive, wait until you see the drawn out love scene between Neo and Trinity, intercut with Zionites partying like it's 1999.
Not really surprising, as somebody at the conception level must have felt The Matrix Reloaded would have little appeal to women, as they have made a concerted effort to beef up the titillation factor with lots of sex and romance. The love between Neo and Trinity was foretold by the Oracle (Foster, Leonard Part 6), so that's expected, but the scene between them is needlessly long and largely unnecessary. Even for those among us who care that virgins like them are finally getting some, do we really need to witness actual proof that they can get it on? Things get more egregious when we witness a woman later have an orgasm eating a cake programmed to elicit just that response, only to be followed by a five minute scene where Monica Bellucci (Tears of the Sun, Brotherhood of the Wolf) coerces a passionate kiss out of Neo, just for the feeling. Perhaps she is tired of the phony feelings induced by the passion-filled desserts and wants the real thing? Well, she also knows that the Matrix isn't real, and neither are either of them, so is this kiss between to programmed representatives of their true selves any more real, especially when Neo has no genuine feelings for the woman no matter how much he tries to fake it?
Part of the appeal of the original Matrix came from the allusions to literary sources, tie-ins to various philosophies and ways of thinking, and the Zen-like musings. They are still here, further enhanced in whole scenes where there's much dialogue, but little is said. There's a meeting with the Oracle, a meeting with the Architect (of the Matrix), and sundry other dialogues, all meant to state that what you see is not what you really see, and what is going to happen isn't what's really going to happen. It all becomes quite convoluted, a bunch of phony clap trap meant to lull you into thinking that something really deep and profound is going on, but underneath it all, it seems the Wachowskis (Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas) shot their whole wad with the first Matrix, and had no where to go with this, save crafting more of the Matrix-verse for future spin-offs into television, books, and video games.
They are selling quite a bit with the Matrix franchise, but I'm no longer buying it. Supposedly, the Wachowskis are stating that they conceived of these second two films in the trilogy before the first was even made. They also want you to believe that they intended two Matrix films to come out this year. I don't believe it for a second. My take is that they understand quite well the market for the movie, the mythos and the rights to the franchise, and all of these side stories are merely to introduce more potential tales of valor, spreading out much the way the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises have. I also think they over-extended themselves with the Matrix sequel, turning in about five hours of material, and being as expensive as it is to make, they decided to split one film into two, making us pay twice to see the whole thing. It's pure marketing genius, as the movie-going public, including myself, is going to spend the money both times to see this thing finally concluded in a few months time. In the meantime we were treated to part one of the two part sequel, which is about as padded a film as there's been of this magnitude. I can only assume part two of the sequel will only continue the missteps of part one, and we'll see little of the coolness which was exemplified by the original vision.
In The Matrix human beings thought they were living out a rich and rewarding life, when in actual fact it was a hoax designed to lull them, while their bodies were being used as batteries to fuel the great machines. In our reality of 2003, we who love The Matrix flock in droves to see this rich and rewarding film series, only to be blinded to the fact that it too is a hoax, designed to use us for our dollars to fund the one of the greatest marketing machines out there these days. Saying what I will about the dumb concepts and lack of logic in the Matrix sequel(s), The Wachowskis know their subjects quite well.
-- Followed by The Matrix Revolutions.
©2003 Vince Leo