Matrix Reloaded, The

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 01/06/07 14:36:28

"Some stunning set pieces; a lot of philosophical wind."
3 stars (Average)

There are two ways of looking at 'The Matrix Reloaded' (and, by extension, its 1999 predecessor): Either it's a film of ideas disguised as an action flick, or an action flick disguised as a film of ideas. The general public, I suspect, will not be drawn to this long-awaited sequel just to hear philosophical notions bandied about, though hear them it will.

No, the honest response to a Matrix film is also twofold: Either the movie kicks ass or it doesn't. As someone who was rather dismissive of the original movie, I can report that Matrix Reloaded does indeed kick whatever is put in front of it, at least on the level of comic-book/anime/techno-dweeb escapism.

We pick up Neo (Keanu "I still know kung fu" Reeves) and his un-merry band of rebels -- stoic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), PVC-clad Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), newbie Link (Harold Perrineau) -- in their continuing resistance against the Matrix, a machine-generated code programmed to keep humans in unwitting bondage while using their energy for computer fuel. Interestingly, Morpheus, an unquestionable hipster sage in the first film, here is revealed to be just one voice among many in Zion, the underground city where the last free humans take shelter. Not everyone, it seems, takes Morpheus' prophetic shtick as seriously as he himself does, though it's a measure of this largely humorless film (Joe Pantoliano's wise-guy Cypher is missed) that nobody tells him "Dude. There are other people besides you. Try some decaf."

Brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski crafted a reasonable shiny-black diversion with The Matrix; I wasn't as impressed by it as many others were, but I can see the appeal of it (mainly, it's a computer geek's wet dream: if you spend most of your waking life pushing floppies in and out, you might get chosen to be a kung-fu hero and get jiggy with Carrie-Anne Moss). The brothers, however, seem to have caught the George Lucas disease -- they've become too smitten with the perfume of their own borrowed ideas (not only from pop culture but from philosophy -- Lucas had Joseph Campbell, the Wachowskis genuflect towards Derrida and Baudrillard). Maybe they read too many furrowed-brow essays on The Phenomenology of The Matrix.

Whatever the case, every twenty minutes or so, we get an action sequence (more on those in a minute) designed to outdo everything else ever; between the money scenes, we get characters standing at attention and burping prophecies and deep thoughts at each other. Whenever a new character called the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) opens his mouth, cheese falls out: "I know this because I must know." Glad you clarified that, Sparky. Another new character, the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), drones on (in a French accent, yet) about causality. But the Wachowskis save the best for last, when Neo steps into a Kubrickian white room and meets the deus ex machina himself, the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), whose professorial white beard dislodges things like "Which brings us at last to the moment of truth wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end." Would you like fries with that?

When it's not brooding Gnostically about determinism and what-have-you, The Matrix Reloaded does put the extra money on the screen. When Neo's dryly self-amused nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) replicates himself, like a virus, to form a hundred-man army against Neo, the sequence is fun if a little too PlayStation-ish. The opening Trinity-and-agent bullet-time plummet is so good it's shown twice. And the fourteen-minute freeway chase has been and will be justly celebrated as one of the great concussive symphonies of force and momentum.

'Reloaded' takes what I enjoyed in the original -- the freaky eye candy -- and cranks it up to 11. The stuff in between, I -- and maybe you -- can take or leave, unless you thrill to dialogue like "While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected and thus not beyond a measure of control." Yeah. What he said.

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