Even if I had nothing else good to say about the second Matrix outing, I would have to give the Wachowski brothers credit for their honesty. When the Matrix exploded into an international blockbuster in the summer of 1999 the temptation must have been great to pull a ‘George Lucas’ and proclaim loudly there had always been three movies. Instead they chose to be honest and admit that they hadn’t really given sequels all that much consideration. And for better or worse that heady rush of initial creativity that brought us the original story was hit up a second time. It is fair to say that they succeeded on most levels, however the bloom is very definitely off the rose.Set some time after the first film (we aren’t really told explicitly how long) Reloaded opens with the discovery that an army of sentinel robots has begun burrowing towards Zion. Morpheus, (Fishburne) Trinity, (Moss) and Neo (Reeves) are still going around in the Nebuchadnezzar doing whatever it is that Zion residents do. They have replaced Tank (who was apparently killed by something in the interval) with another brother played by the wonderful Harold Perrineau fresh from his stint on HBO’s Oz. They have not replaced the other four members of the original crew for reasons that are (sing along if you know the words) never really explained.
The immanent arrival of a whole bunch of unpleasantness creates a division of factions in the residents of Zion. The leader of the defense force (Harry Lennix) wants to go about things in the standard military manner. Meanwhile Morpheus is still waiting around to hear from the Oracle who has apparently been incommunicado for some time. We are given the impression that Morpheus is actually something of a religious zealot. This is quite different than the picture I got from the first movie. I had assumed that all or most of Zion was on board with the theory of Neo being THE ONE as it turns out the believers are in the minority.
When Neo finally tracks down the Oracle more philosophical discussion ensues. And here we come to the theme of the second movie, whether or not the ideas of destiny and free will can be reconciled in an individual. Neo’s dilemma is mirrored by the continuation of Agent Smith’s story. The central question seems to be can we make a choice in a world that is beyond our control. Having planted that seed the philosophy goes tits-up for a while so that the arse kicking can begin in earnest. This idea is reinforced in the second act by a character called the Merovingian. And again in the third act by someone called the Architect.
In order to stop the on rushing baddies the Zion crew work out that they have to get to the central node that controls the Matrix. While Neo realizes that he will have to make a choice between what he has come to feel is his destiny and what he wants. That scene, when it comes around, will come as no great shock to anyone who has ever read the story of The Lady and The Tiger. The movie ends on a hell of a cliffhanger that leaves the audience (including me) jazzed to see Revolutions when it comes out.
Much has been made of the ‘rave’ scene that occurs towards the beginning, many people have said that it feels out of place. I tend to feel differently. Yes it comes off somewhat goofy. This goofiness is due in no small part to Laurence Fishbure’s attempt to channel every African-American leader since Fredrick Douglas into a single speech. The concept itself worked for me because it had a distinct feeling of (forgive me…) neo-paganism. It seemed to me to be a celebration rite in defiance of what would likely be their elimination at the hands of the computers. It also dovetails nicely with the sex scene that is one of the best I have seen in awhile.
There are more than a handful of plot holes but for the most part they covered over handily. Some of the special effects (that where rumored to take two years to fully realize) come off as laughably bad. For an example, watch carefully the shot where Morpheus jumps from the hood of a moving car to the top of a semi-trailer. To me it looked like some kid who was studying computer animation at the local community college got his work in the movie somehow.It is a hell of a thing to see, and I will certainly be seeing it again. However the element of surprise is gone. And honestly the movie suffers for it.