The Matrix Reloaded Larry and Andy Wachowski
Published May 01, 2003Although it is nearly impossible for The Matrix Reloaded to have the same impact of the original, it is by no means a failure, and it is in fact far better in some aspects but also worse in others. However, it is a phenomenal visual spectacle that endeavours to pose questions either way.
While The Matrix reached blockbuster status with little or no advance hype or expectations, having redefined and breathed new life into a faltering sci-fi genre, and created its own unique and oft-imitated world in the process, the sequel cannot surprise and shock like the first but it can expand, which is what The Matrix Reloaded is all about. Granted, it's not easy expanding upon greatness, or even matching it.
If the original Matrix posited the question: "what is the Matrix?" then Reloaded poses the question: "what is the One?" Or more specifically, "what is the One supposed to do and how is he supposed to accomplish it?" Actually, it poses a lot more questions, some of which make sense while others, not so much. The premise of Reloaded is that the machines (who rule the world and have enslaved humanity) are now digging down towards Zion (the last free human city), having given up trying to hack into Zion's mainframe or finding it via the sewers (where it is hidden deep underground), and within 72 hours will unleash a quarter-million Sentinels (unstoppable hunter/killer robots) and reduce Zion to rubble. (If you haven't seen the first movie, you must if you want any hope of staying with Reloaded.) Obviously it's up to Neo (the One), Morpheus (the Mentor) and Trinity (the One's love) to save the last remnants of humankind by once again "hacking" into the Matrix (a virtual simulation of the year 1999 designed to keep the bulk of humanity enslaved to the machines) and bring it down from the inside, thus completing the prophecy of the first movie and fulfilling Neo's role as the One.
Or at least, that's what it initially seems like; the reality and the twists and turns that Reloaded embarks upon will have many scratching their heads with wonder (maybe confusion also), and Reloaded will definitely take a couple viewings to gather all the plot points and map out the twists and turns, not to mention then deciding whether they tie as neatly together as the original's, or even make sense. This is fine, actually, because it will take a number of viewings to take in the scope and achievement of Reloaded's phenomenal visuals.
The Wachowkis go for more of everything with Reloaded more complex fights, an increased philosophical component, an elaborated upon story, a number of plot holes but it is its breathtaking effects and fight scenes that impress the most. All of Reloaded's fight scenes are, for the most part, more spectacular and insanely intricate than its progenitor's, with the oft-talked about "highway chase/fight," where the Wachowkis actually built their own stretch of highway because no one would let them film the mayhem they wanted to capture, being beyond the hype and the best action sequence(s) in the movie. Although the "Burly Brawl," where Neo (Keanu Reeves) fights off a hundred Agent Smiths (Neo's computer-generated nemesis from the first), is so ostentatious that it becomes muddled to the point where you might need a dozen viewings to catch it all (which maybe the point), and is anti-climatic, despite its frenetic pace.
Despite its innovation, "bullet time" is fleeting in Reloaded (having been imitated to the point of parody), but it has been replaced with a sort of "virtual time," where through CGI technology, impossible camera angles are created that follow the action, rotating around and exploring while the fights are in progress. And to give credit, Reloaded comes the closest yet of any movie to doing CGI character fights right, even if it falls just short.
But much like The Matrix, Reloaded isn't just an action movie, going heavy with philosophical musings. Cause and effect is big this time, as is fate, destiny and choices, all in a very abstract kind of way. Not the act of actually making a choice, mind you, but understanding the choice after it's been made. Although Reloaded can't decide whether the choices we make dictate the path we walk or the path dictates the choices we make (again, maybe its point), but either way, Neo is trying to break free of his path, even as he struggles to find out what it is. Reloaded does raise many questions and while The Matrix made its points fairly straightforward (the nature of reality, what is real?, etc.), here they are more convoluted and will take multiple viewings to decipher the meanings and whether there is actual weight beyond them or not.
Despite its stunning visuals and fight scenes, Reloaded isn't without its fair share of problems. The first half of the movie, following its dazzling opening, lags quite a bit, getting lost in exploring Zion and giving speeches, which maybe why it's so back-ended with action. Zion itself is also a problem, while it's initially cool (the docking bay sequence), there are many cliché and uninspired moments (Morpheus's speech to the people, the beyond lame dance/rave scene, the council meeting, the mass of humanity we just don't care about). And despite having a number of "new" characters, they are all peripherals with little or no development, with Neo, Morpheus and Trinity as the main players only.
Also, the Wachowskis, who were so adamant about explaining every little detail and why and wherefore in The Matrix, take the easy way out much of the time in Reloaded. For example, Agent Smith's return is explained with "I'm not sure how it happened," while Neo, who at the end of the original evolved beyond kung-fuing people, fights everyone and their mother throughout the film, despite his powers. Also, the number of startling twists at the end, which set up the final part of the trilogy, may be utter genius or sheer lunacy, I'm actually not sure, but one thing is certain, it's not what people are expecting.
No matter what it wants to be action movie, love story, philosophical quest or actually is (stunning success or diluted follow up), Reloaded is an outstanding visual achievement, outdoing all the action of the first. However, a lot needs to be explained in the finale if Reloaded is to be remembered with the same reverence as its predecessor, or even make sense. (Warner)