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The Matrix: Reloaded (R)
Warner Bros.
Official Site
Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Producers: Joel Silver
Written by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Harold Perrineau Jr., Jada Pinkett Smith, Gloria Foster, Anthony Zerbe, Monica Bellucci, Matt McColm, Randall Duk Kim, Harry Lennix

Rating: out of 5

I’m not as happy as a woman who’s seen Keanu Reeves’ lean naked bottom ought to be.

The Matrix: Reloaded is at once not as good as and better than the first movie, which you really should watch before attempting this one. What’s not as good can be easily chalked up to the fact that it’s been four years since the style explosion that was The Matrix. I can’t count the number of advertising campaigns that have appropriated Matrix style or Matrix technology, most notably the now-ubiquitous bullet-time. Major magazines have in-depth articles—some did cover stories—on this movie. My own hometown newspaper, never in the vanguard of good sense or taste, had a Sunday front-page article on The Matrix: Reloaded. The production designers of The Matrix so upped the ante for movie magic that this time around the characters would probably have to emerge from the screen to compel the same jaw-dropping awe. What’s better than the first movie is the quantity and quality of mayhem. The fight sequences are longer, the choreography is inventive, and the editing doesn’t make it tough to figure out who’s delivering the whoop-ass and who’s the whoopee. So we’ve got a win and a lose, and what’s kind of a draw is the deeper exploration of the pseudo-mystical bullshit that underpins the Matrix universe, a witches’ brew of knee-deep spirituality and mathematical wanking.

These fights: I’m sure some folks will take issue with the some’s-good, more’s-better approach the Wachowskis have taken regarding the fight scenes. Normally, in fact, I’d be in that camp, but it’s so clearly a cartoon that’s been peopled, live players fighting incredibly unrealistic battles with martial arts, guns, and edged weapons. It’s not a boxing picture (not that those are monuments of accuracy). These kinds of fights always require you to step away from reality and rest your common sense. You say you could hang with the fights in the first movie, but these fights were too too fakey? News flash: They’re not really fighting. They’re just pretending. And in Reloaded, they’re doing mo’ betta pretending.

Much of Reloaded takes place in Zion, where we see much more of the lives of the men and women of the real world. The best that the real world offers is a majority-minority population and choice, and frankly there’s little that makes Zion look like a particularly inviting choice. Cypher’s methods were treacherous, but his assessment seems spot-on. A lot about this borrows heavily from 12-step programs. The clean and sober world may not be pretty, but the issue is that you choose to see it for what it is and then deal with it for what it is. So in essence, the choice the residents of Zion have made is sobriety, and their forces war to free the rest of humanity from the toils of addiction. (Great. A shiny, 138-minute “just say no” ad.)

Zion is a sort of theocracy. Well, duh. The city itself is dark, dank, and machiney (And was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark Satanic mills?). It’s actually kind of cool-looking, in a Dickensian way, running counter to the cleanroom look one might have expected, given the technology of the times. The denizens have a real get-down religion, one where the homilies sound suspiciously like pep rally exhortations and celebrating mass means scantily clad parishioners and a rave. Actually it’s more of a mythological religion than a denomination as practiced today. There’s a lot of talk about who’s a believer (Morpheus) and who isn’t (Commander Locke); who sees and then, like doubting Thomas, believes; and a good deal of jawing about The Prophecy. It’s like meeting a bunch of geneticists who tell you about their fervent belief in tyromancy.

So about that movie. Now that Mr. Anderson has accepted the mantle of being The One (Reeves), he must deal with being the hope of humanity’s liberation from the virtual reality of The Matrix. It’s a lot of pressure and, not surprisingly, Neo’s having troubling dreams again. Morpheus’s (Fishburne) ship, the Nebuchadnezzar—named for a conqueror of Jerusalem, the same guy who cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace—returns to Zion for a war council. The Nebuchadnezzar crew now has a new operator, Link (Perrineau), in addition to Trinity (Moss) and Neo. Harold Perrineau’s character gets a lot of screen time and is so fleshed out (in the first movie, Tank and Dozer were practically supernumeraries) that one suspects that he will have an even greater role to play in The Matrix: Revolutions. At the council, they learn that sentinels are mining their way toward Zion at a furious rate, and a strategy must be devised to save this last outpost of free humans.

From here, it gets hazy. The general plan seems to be that most ships will remain in Zion to protect the city, but Morpheus’s ship, to Commander Locke’s (Lennix) everlasting exasperation, will head back into The Matrix to try to stop the sentinels. Everywhere Neo goes, everybody was kung-fu fighting. Each stop they make is bracketed by a palate-cleansing fight scene that pleases the senses (Mostly. The music is just dreadful!) and clears your mind for the next course of pseudo-mystical techno-babble. Right after the meeting, agents show up and there’s a fight. A nice little “Gunsmoke” moment of trash blowing through empty alley like a tumbleweed prefaces this first fight.

Their first stop is a consultation with The Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), a genial, if cryptic advisor. Untypically, she gives Neo actual concrete advice: Find The Keymaker (Kim). To do this, Neo first has to fight Agent Smith (Weaving), who is now not only resurrected, but who has the computer-virus power of replication. This is the celebrated Burly Brawl, the fight between Neo and 100 Agent Smiths that we’ve been reading about, and it is a spectacle. It’s also confusing, not in terms of what’s happening, but why it’s happening. Neo now has so many awesome superpowers that he’s just the baddest cat around. We know how these fights are going to end. The man can fly. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound without mussing his slicked-back hair, losing his bad-ass sunglasses, or rumpling his long black sacerdotal garb. Why bother fighting at all? I’d know I’d be saying, “Fear me, puny agents! Mwah-hah-hah-hah!” from about 50 feet up. Well anyway, there’s a huge fracas, including a dogpile-on-the-rabbit moment during this very nice fight. It includes nifty freezes like comic book panels. From making moving pictures out of comic books, the Wachowskis’ beast turns on its own tail and makes comic books out of moving pictures.

Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus make their way to the effete and villainous Merovingian, who is holding The Keymaster against his will. Naturally the Merovingian isn’t inclined to give up The Keymaster just because they asked him nicely. The Merovingian’s luscious wife Persephone (Bellucci), gives up The Keymaster just because her husband is annoying, although she does want a little something in return. Meanwhile, Zion’s council calls for volunteers to aid the Nebuchadnezzar. Niobe (Smith), formerly the paramour of Morpheus but now with Commander Locke, is one of the captains who answers the call. The centerpiece of the mayhem follows and I guaran-damn-tee it’s like no mayhem you’ve ever seen. Nearly 15 minutes of kung fu, car fu, gun fu, truck fu, blade fu, bike fu, as our heroes battle to get The Keymaster safely away so that they can unmake the sentinel threat.

The acting was all over the place. Fishburne was totally hammy. Why does Morpheus sound like Agent Smith in his speech cadences? Moss is an interesting actress. Of the three leads, only she successfully portrays two distinct characters: the passionate, tactfully sensitive Trinity of personal life and the highly effective, ass-kicking, video-game Trinity she must be inside The Matrix. Reeves has never been as poor an actor as slander would have it, but he exhibits a certain lack of affect here, though losing some of his humanness could be a valid part of Neo’s evolution from Mr. Anderson to The One. Interestingly, he’s at his most human not in his passion with Trinity, but when he’s with The Oracle, in whose confusing presence he’s attractively insecure. Anthony Zerbe! Zerbe frequently played weaselly guys who turn on their associates and bite them in the ass, the sort of roles Joey Pants often does now. As such, Zerbe was sometimes, uh, over the top? Here, he’s good. He’s more restrained than he used to be, yet enough of a cypher that he may be a kindly, rambling old fart or there may be more there than meets the eye. When he goes for a stroll with Neo, one wonders whether to warn Neo to look for a sudden shiv in the back.

Me, I’m hoping for a third installment that packs a true surprise—say revealing Neo and the Zionist resistance as radicals monkeywrenching a Matrix that’s actually our benevolent and beneficent protector—but who knows? The Matrix: Revolutions suggests that we’ll see, you know, a revolt. But then again, it could be the circle of life, stuff coming around and going around. I read that the ending of Reloaded was a cliffhanger, and so it was. There were several legitimate cliffhanger moments the directors might have chosen to end the film. The one they picked wasn’t the one I’d have picked, especially since I was none too sure what I saw (and some of my co-viewers gave varied answers). But then, no one’s giving me upwards of $300 million to make movies…

The Wachowskis serve up maximum spectacle inside a popular-philosophy meditation on faith, perception, and reality. And after all, a hero has to have some moral or philosophical underpinning. If all you do is kick ass and take names, you’re not a hero, you’re a thug. Reloaded is definitely worth seeing, but it cannot match the first movie and we shouldn’t hold that against it.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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