Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
or about the first half-hour while watching The Matrix Reloaded, all I could think was: “Did I miss something or is it still the 1990s?” I mean, here we are, four years later, the Y2K bug didn’t destroy us all, September 11th still might, and here comes another Matrix, all leather raincoats, $200 designer shades and pre-millennial tension. Except, you know, it’s 2003. It’s as if, in an alternate universe, the most influential film of the last decade wasn’t Pulp Fiction, but Kathryn Bigelow’s ultra-gothic dud, Strange Days.
Indeed, there’s a whole lot that seems familiar about The Matrix Reloaded. Really, what would a Matrix film be without pseudo-Buddhist twaddle, automaton killer agents, and 3D slow-motion fight scenes? And since this is a Hollywood blockbuster sequel, be prepared to expect more of the same – in this case, a LOT more of the same. Thought those slo-mo fight scenes were cool last time? Well, don’t worry: these fight scenes go on THREE TIMES AS LONG. Liked how those agents could take over the body of any bystander in a scene? Hell, they do that in just about EVERY scene they’re in this time.
And that pseudo-Buddhist twaddle? Make sure you’re prepared to pay close attention – REALLY close attention. Because it’s like the Wachowski brothers were paid by the fortune cookie here. I know there are people out there that think The Matrix’s ideas of choice, destiny and mythology constitute, like, some “new religion” or whatever, but man, this movie loads it on with soliloquies and dialogue that are epic in length. And with the ADD pacing of this movie, just about every time I start to feel like I understand what the hell they’re talking about, the scene abruptly turns into another one of those endless slo-mo fights where you know Keanu Reeves is going to kick a lot of ass, escape with his life and, in all likelihood, some peripheral character’s going to bite the dust near the end of the scene – once he’s fulfilled his purpose in the plot, of course.
Still, once you get past the “Bigger! Better!” redux of the first film and an utterly pointless 30-minute exposition (including a bizarrely-extended dance scene that looks like outtakes from Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video), the film manages to pack a pretty fun punch. For all the film’s dime-store mysticism, the plot is as simple as your average videogame: Neo The Chosen One (Reeves) and his team (Fishburne, Moss) have 72 hours to prevent a quarter-million squid-like sentinels from destroying the promised land, Zion, an Astrodome-like city which houses the only free humans in the universe. As you will recall, the rest of the human race has been enslaved by machines, providing them with the electricity they need to survive (guess you were right, Mr. Cheney: solar power really was only a personal virtue). To save Zion, Neo et al must re-enter the Matrix computer program with which the machines control the minds of humans and find the secrets to defeating the machines.
Along the way, they meet an engaging cast of characters: the all-knowing Oracle (the sadly-departed Gloria Foster, who in her final role lends her otherworldly omniscient a very human charm), the architect of the Matrix, a pompous (shock!) Frenchman who holds the key to their journey and a couple of albino, Rastafarian ghosts who serve as his henchman. And, of course, this wouldn’t be a Matrix film without Agent Smith, the unstoppable Man In Black Matrix enforcer who remains the only one that still calls Neo “Misterrrr Anderrrrrson...” – most likely because Hugo Weaving still makes it sound kind of cool. Oddly, Agent Smith is relegated to kind of a subordinate role in this film, though he’s learned a new trick that will surely be explored further in the third installment, The Matrix Revolutions (filmed simultaneously to Reloaded and due this November).
Though the movie makes a half-hearted attempt to paint a few of the characters a little more broadly (one has a hot and lonely wife, and Fishburne is caught in a love triangle with the underused Jada Pinkett-Smith), everyone knows that these films aren’t about character development – they’re about kicking patent leather ass. And on that front, as noted previously, the movie doesn’t disappoint. Among the several thrilling sequences is a car chase that really does “leave you on the edge of your seat” and a fight on an inner-city playground between Neo and a zillion agents that admittedly goes on too long before it really heats up. And there’s also some Crouching Tiger-esque flying around that the film has the good sense to lampoon early on.
It all adds up to genuinely fun escapist moviegoing – though little more. As the middle part of a planned trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded is less the dark middle episode of The Empire Strikes Back than the let’s-get-to-part-three of Back To the Future Part II – which makes sense when you consider that parts two and three of both franchises were filmed back-to-back in a cost-saving, profit-increasing studio maneuver (and really: when the first Matrix posits that virtually the entire human race is encased in pods of goo, can it get much darker?). That’s not to say that the film isn’t enjoyable – it’s just that after zipping you through what seems like a million different settings for its 138 minutes, it ends kind of abruptly. You know, because it can – it’s their choice.
By: Matthew Weiner
Published on: 2003-09-01