The most eagerly awaited motion picture of the summer, "The Matrix Reloaded" comes with a great deal of high expectations placed upon it, thanks to a mind-blowing theatrical trailer as striking and flawlessly orchestrated as any other in memory. Although not a big fan of 1999's "The Matrix
," it was impossible to not get caught up in just how awesome this $150-million sequel looked. With all of this in mind, it would be a wise decision to enter into "The Matrix Reloaded" with lowered expectations. This ultimately may be the only way to garner any sort of lasting satisfaction out of a film that, unlike the original, has no beginning or end and cannot stand on its own.
Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, "The Matrix Reloaded" is a bigger, more expansive follow-up that may reset the bar on visual effects artistry, but otherwise lacks the originality and freshness of its predecessor. While "The Matrix
" too heavily relied upon referencing other films and genres, it at least offered sounds and sights never glimpsed before on the big screen. It also could stand on its own two feet, with an undoubted beginning, middle, and end. Meanwhile, "The Matrix Reloaded" thankfully avoids the needless homages and notably adds depth to the central characters, but offers nothing from a narrative standpoint that hasn't been seen before. In fact, so little of note occurs in this middle chapter that viewers will likely be able to skip from the original to November's "The Matrix Revolutions" without missing much of anything in between.
When audiences last saw Neo (Keanu Reeves), he had just come to terms with the discovery that his entire life up to that point had been a false reality within a computer system, and his future prophesied that he was to be The One to lead the people in the real world. The real world, of course, is sometime at the end of the 22nd century, when every city and human has been wiped out, save for the citizens of Zion.
As "The Matrix Reloaded" gets underway, Neo has gotten more used to his messiac powers but has begun to suffer from nightmares in which his true love, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), is killed in battle. Neo is unsure what the dream means, and opts not to tell Trinity. Their destinies, as well as that of leader Morpheus' (Laurence Fishburne), lead them to Zion, where the battle for the people's salvation is about to begin in 72 hours with the attack of the machines. Also causing trouble for Neo and his gang is the return of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who has found a way to multiply himself as his quest for becoming real continues.
In creating this middle child in their trilogy, the Wachowski Brothers have fallen into the same trap that "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
" did. With something coming before it and something after, the film feels empty and unfinished on its own. Unlike "The Empire Strikes Back," for example, which took the time to strengthen its story and raise the stakes, "The Matrix Reloaded" does not work as a singular entity.
Such a visual effects triumph is "The Matrix Reloaded" that it is a shame not more time was spent innovating the premise. The city of Zion is disheartening in its sheer cliche of being a grimy, dirty, industrial heap of metal, and the citizens are all characterized as (mostly) nameless, faceless ravers who do little more than dance in revealing clothing and cheer for their leaders' inspirational speeches. Speaking of which, one early scene in which Morpheus speaks to the city is over-the-top and poorly reminiscent of Bill Pullman's presidential speech in 1996's "Independence Day." It is also somewhat of a disappointment that many of the action sequences are nothing more than kung-fu/martial-arts fighting. In the grand scheme of the world of the Matrix, such an act seems pointless and perfunctory.
The centerpiece of the movie, a 14-minute highway chase sequence, is so mesmerizing in its audacity that it nearly makes the rest worth wading through. As Trinity and Morpheus are attacked by not only the quickly multiplying Agent Smith, but also two ghostly twins (Adrian Rayment, Neil Rayment) the chase starts out by car; segues to motorbike, as Trinity zooms through traffic going in the opposite direction; and concludes atop a tractor trailer. Remarkably crafted, visually stunning, and as adrenaline-pumping as just about any car chase scene in history, this quarter-hour interlude is a confined masterpiece. Another scene, in which Neo must fight off hundreds of Agent Smith clones, is nearly as cheer-inducing. Such moments of fun, unfortunately, do not make up for its decidedly rote narrative progression.
As lovers Neo and Trinity, Keanu Reeves (2001's "Hardball
") and Carrie-Anne Moss (2000's "Red Planet
") excel in their roles this time around because they are given more to do. Their relationship is also believable and sweet, and the love they share for one another does heighten the stakes when Trinity's life appears to be in jeopardy. Jada Pinkett Smith (2001's "Ali
") nicely introduces her strong-willed character of Niobea past girlfriend of Morpheus'who aids in their quest to stop the machines and Agent Smith from domination. She will presumably have more to do in the final film, but it is a good start. The late Gloria Foster, who passed away shortly after completing her role as the Oracle here, is wonderful, conveying a deep and earnest warmth, while Randall Duk Kim (1998's "The Thin Red Line
") also stands out as The Keymaker, who holds the keys to every door within the Matrix.
"The Matrix Reloaded" is no better or worse than its predecessor, improving upon certain aspects (the characters and action scenes) while lacking some of the stronger elements of the first film (its overall imagination and ingenuity). The picture ends cheaply, with a vague and clumsy twist that leads to a "To Be Concluded" moniker. This may have worked in something lighter and fluffier like the "Back to the Future" trilogy, but here all it does is prove, once and for all, that "The Matrix Reloaded" is an unsatisfactory motion picture on its own. Let's hope that the upcoming "The Matrix Revolutions" really offers the goods and ends the trilogy on a high note, because "The Matrix Reloaded" regretfully does not take off and fulfill all that it promised it would.