The Matrix Reloaded has everything fans are looking for in a sequel: more of the same. More wire-fu fight scenes, more stop motion photography, and more guns, explosions, and speed.
But the world of The Matrix has also gotten a lot bigger. The clique of leather-clad fighters from the first movie is now just one small squad in a gigantic army. Their raids on the Matrix were just a tiny skirmish in a much larger war, as The Matrix Reloaded shows.
Marching on Zion
R for Violence, sexuality
The three survivors from the first film (Neo, Morpheus and Trinity, reprised by Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Ann Moss) have picked up a new crewmate, Link (Harold Perrineau Jr.), brother-in-law to Dozer and Tank who were killed in the first film. They’ve been on patrol, and now they’re heading back to the great underground city of Zion to recharge their ship.
In Zion, the council of elders meets to determine how to handle the threat of the machines that are drilling their way through the earth toward Zion. There appear to be a quarter million sentinels, one for every man, woman and child in Zion. If they reach the city, the resistance is doomed.
The secretary of defense (Harry Lennix) wants every ship to defend the city, but Morpheus wants his crew to go back into the Matrix to seek out the Oracle. He hopes she will tell Neo, The One, what he can do to help stop the attack of the machines.
Meanwhile, back in the Matrix, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has been disconnected from the central core and is now a rogue program, hungry for power. He’s found a way to replicate himself, at one point making a hundred copies, all attacking Neo in a grand martial arts fight as fun as it is ridiculous.
Sci-Fi Soap Opera
The Matrix Reloaded gives us a broader view than the previous film. For example, we finally get to see Zion, the great underground city where the unplugged live. A few gawking shots of the cavernous computer-generated complex will impress the special effects nerds.
We also get introduced to the people who live there. Link lives with his wife and children in a steel-and-fluorescent compartment like the quarters on a blue-collar Star Ship Enterprise. We get involved in their politics, speeches, parties, and music. With all this detail The Matrix Reloaded makes the franchise start to look like a sci-fi soap opera, like Deep Space Nine.
This extra exposition ought to be good for hardcore fans. But for a sequel, there is almost too much plot. Or maybe the Wachowski brothers are just the wrong guys to try to work it. The movie stops dead about four times while someone delivers a two-page monologue explaining why fate doesn’t completely nullify free will, how power gives you more choices, or what the secret is behind the prophecy of The One.
The story in The Matrix movies is more interesting than your average action flick, so it’s disappointing that the plot couldn’t be better integrated. It’s almost as though you’re not even supposed to listen to the words. Just ignore the techno-jabber and check out the scenery. When you hear a speech starting to wrap up, listen for the summary, the last sentence of the monologue, and go with that.
Action, Action, Action
The Wachowski brothers may not be the most original or subtle storytellers, but they do know how to make an action sequence.
The fight scene between Neo and the hundred Agent Smiths has been hyped and featured. It’s a groundbreaking special effect, apparently, although for all the detail we’re allowed to see between swirling camera shots, the budget would have been as well spent on Hugo Weaving impersonators. It’s still a fun scene to watch, but it’s not the highlight of the movie.
The raison d’etre of The Matrix Reloaded is the action scene in the middle of the movie that starts on a baroque staircase and ends twenty minutes later on a freeway. While Neo chews through half a dozen well-trained baddies, Morpheus, Trinity, and a helper called The Keymaker flee into a parking garage, and into a fast sports car. They’re outnumbered and gained on by two dreadlocked ghosts, henchmen of a new enemy, and a couple of Agents.
When the movie has exhausted all the possibilities in the car chase sequence — including several near-misses, many demolished cars, and a fireball explosion — Morpheus hops onto a semi and Trinity finds a motorcycle, and the scene continues anew.
The fight between Morpheus and an Agent on top of a the truck is impossible, laughable, and yet completely within the laws of physics that exist in the film’s universe. I marvel at how well The Matrix Reloaded walks the line between “impossible to take seriously” and “impossibly, seriously fun.”
Taken as a whole, The Matrix Reloaded is uneven. The monologues are remarkably bad, considering how much effort went into making this sequel. But it’s still better than most summer action movies. As my colleague Ryan put it in his review of X2, this could be one of the most entertaining summers yet.