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The Matrix Reloaded
Directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
Written by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
The Matrix Reloaded
 
Principal Cast
Keanu Reeves -- Neo
Carrie-Anne Moss -- Trinity
Laurence Fishburne -- Morpheus
Hugo Weaving -- Agent Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith -- Niobe
Monica Bellucci -- Persephone
Gina Torres -- Cas
Daniel Bernhardt -- Agent Johnson
Gloria Foster -- The Oracle
Kelly Butler -- Ice
Matt McColm -- Agent Thompson
Neil Rayment -- Twin #1
Adrian Rayment -- Twin #2
Anthony Zerbe -- Councillor Hamann
Bernard White -- Rama-Kandra
Nona Gaye -- Zee
Randall Duk Kim -- The Keymaker
Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

"Some things never change. And some things do."
-- Morpheus
It has been four years and over $300 million since The Matrix, and now Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) return in the first of a two-part sequel that arrives with as much anticipation as anything in the Star Wars saga. Wonderful to behold, The Matrix Reloaded nearly matches the hype. It's a great action pic, a good romance, a decent SF epic, a visual candy store, and a thoughtful piece of philosophy concerning the nature of choice. And it may be one of the only films this summer compelling enough to demand a second viewing.

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The first film was a loud, brash assault on the nature of reality, literally. The film-making team of Larry and Andy Wachowski were as serious about investigating ontological questions as they were about blowing up office building lobbies. Discovering that the "real" was a computer-generated fantasy piped into our minds by the latest technology, our team of heroes took a moment to contemplate the irony and then reached for the ammunition. As Neo said before embarking on an ambitious rescue mission, "We're going to need guns. Lots of them." Our cyber-heroes took the radical stance of annihilating the world that was less than perfect.

The Matrix Reloaded offers plenty of guns, explosions, crashes, high speed pursuits, and marital arts mayhem, so fans who considered the first movie an action classic, will get exactly what they've been drooling for. It also extends the mind-twisting dives into philosophy. This time "the problem is choice." Fate is imagined as the choice that is made over and over again, almost according to instructions. (One new character, the Merovingian [Lambert Wilson], a decadent Frenchman who acts as a kind of Matrix overlord and gives this film a lot of its humor, likens fate to the lines of computer code in a program.) Free will, however, is the choice that has never been tried before. "I wish I knew what I was supposed to do," Neo says, and the story of Reloaded is a quest of sorts, one to find a sort of secret instruction booklet the we all sometimes imagine was misplaced in our lives.

Morpheus is unable to lead Neo in his new quest; he only knows what Neo is supposed to do, not how he might do it. It falls to the Oracle to lay the path before our hero. "You can't see past a choice you don't understand," she tells him, and in no uncertain terms tells him a decision has already been made. Also troubling are the recurring dreams Neo has had showing Trinity falling to her death in a mid-air shootout with Agents. How can he prevent this and still save humanity? The Oracle tells him he needs to reach the Source; to do this, he will need to liberate a character/program known as the Keymaker, who has access to all parts of the Matrix system (rescuing him is tantamount to stealing system passwords). If Neo fails, then "Zion will fall." And time is of the essence: the machines have located Zion beneath the Earth, and in 36 hours will have tunneled through to destroy it.

Visually, Reloaded carries on the irony of the previous installment, that everything in the Matrix itself looks sharper and more vibrant the real world outside of it. The computer-given reality has the familiar green tinting and faded blues, while the world of Zion is an industrial-park gray, cloaked in darkness and rust. One breath-taking contrast: the docking sequence early in the first act, where lumbering hovercraft are guided to port by controllers operating in a clean, white, almost heavenly virtual environment.

We finally get to see what the last human city on (or beneath) Earth looks like, and it seems to resemble a giant Erector set jammed into a hole in the ground. The bulk of the complaints about the story will fall on these early Zion scenes, which are mostly about the political infighting in Zion and could have been summarized with one of LucasFilm's patented title crawls. Commander Lock (Harry Lennix) wants to recall all ships to protect Zion from the coming invasion, but Morpheus disagrees; he wants to remain within broadcast range of the Oracle. Councilor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe) and Captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), a warrior woman with romantic ties to Morpheus and Lock, choose sides. This whole section tends to drag and feels like a staging area for the real show: Matrix-inspired violence and head-scratching conversations.

This film's tone could jar some viewers; it has the naive enthusiasm of a comic book ("Wouldn't it be cool if ...") and the contemplative discourse of a story like Crimes and Misdemeanors. With the apocalyptic gestures of the final act, it could seem to be The Seventh Seal, with kung-fu grip.

It would have been nice to learn the answers to some questions left over from the first movie. For instance, if power is scarce in this future world, then where do the Zionists recharge their batteries? One would assume from the same place as the machines, which would lend an ethical shroud to their endeavor. And if this society can master computer skills and high-technology items such as hovercraft, why do they choose to live like a third-world village after monsoon flooding? The Wachowskis take a pass on such elucidations, substituting the stentorian tones of Laurence Fishburne as he rallies the troops. Fishburne's Morpheus remains rock-solid in his faith that Neo is the salvation of Zion. Yet part of Reloaded is an implicit criticism of salvation myths, and one of the film's best contests is Morpheus v. the unfolding plot.

Inside the Matrix, Neo is stoic and brave; outside, he's hesitant and moody. He's emotionally wrung by Zion's adoring throngs, and Reeves' baffled politeness -- he has no idea what miracle is expected of him -- is a subtle touch. For strength, he relies on Trinity, and here Carrie-Anne Moss almost steals the movie. She's required to be steel-tough inside the Matrix, wrapped in black PVC so bright it looks like armor; but she gets to be feminine in the human world. Unfortunately, her love scene with Neo is inter-cut with a cast of thousands dancing in Zion's temple, a moment that was apparently added to make up for the fact that no one in Zion is being pummeled by Agents. ( If a narrative is a balanced structure, then removal of a significant portion should cause it all to collapse. The dance routine here feels like it could have been tossed and never missed.) When the fighting begins, she becomes a fierce warrior with balletic scenes that show off her jaw-dropping agility.

The action sequences are startling, though the continuity errors are going to grate the DVD audience. Nonetheless, they remain hypnotically intense. A freeway chase in the Matrix is an instant classic, with the highlights being Trinity racing on a motorcycle at high speed across lanes of oncoming traffic, and a massive collision shot in "bullet-time" style. And unlike anything filmed before is a confrontation between Neo and dozens of copies of a sneering Agent Smith, who has returned (yes, he was destroyed in the first movie, but you can't keep a good villain away) to replicate himself on the frames of other Matrix-dwellers. The CGI effects for this are spectacular, but it's the beginning of the scene that startles. As Smith enters, he scatters a murder of crows from the courtyard ahead of him. They fly as he menacingly chats with Neo; then the conversation literally circles around them as one copy after another of Smith approaches. It's as if the crows had flown away to morph into Agents before returning. A sly, creepy effect, and it almost disappears from mind as the screen roils with combat seconds later.

The Wachoskis deserve credit for a clever screenplay structured around three "temple" scenes, each with a dispenser of wisdom who weaves a different context for interpreting the story, and they have made fate vs. free will their thematic fabric. The conversation between Neo and the Architect will be debated until at least part two arrives in November; archetypes and reincarnation will be the topics of interest. Neo makes a choice that will come as a surprise to those readers of Joseph Campbell who think they know how this mythologically-inspired drama is supposed to go.

The final part of this trilogy, Revolutions, sounds suspiciously like Revelations, and promises to answer the questions left at the end of Reloaded. To follow the story threads woven into this epic, theological and otherwise, requires effort; but it always seems to illuminate a character or a situation. What if our existence is pre-programmed and we simply don't know it? What would we do if we did? Grab the ammunition. As the Oracle says, the choice has already been made.

Copyright © 2003 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years before joining the college book trade. He lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.


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