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The Wachowski brothers disappear down the rabbit hole with The
Matrix Reloaded, their long-awaited sequel to the 1999 phenomenon, The Matrix. Burrowing deeper into the elaborate
mythological underpinnings of their story, the Wachowskis have gotten in over their heads,
crafting a dull, ponderous epic in the process. Though they are still capable of
concocting riveting action sequences and eye-popping special effects, they seem more
interested in fueling the myth of their own visionary genius.
The first Matrix postulated that the world is really an illusion created by machines that have enslaved mankind, and that computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) is actually the One prophesied by the Oracle. Only the One can bring an end to the war with the Machines or at least, thats what Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and his followers believe. In the last human outpost of Zion, however, there are many who feel that only military action can defeat the swarm of robot Sentinels en route to destroy the underground city.
As Reloaded opens, Neo is haunted by dreams in which his true love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is killed while on a mission inside the Matrix. Neo, Trinity and the rest of the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar (including captain Morpheus and navigator Link, played by Harold Perrineau of TVs Oz) have returned to Zion for repairs, but have no intention of sticking around for the battle with the Sentinels. Instead, they venture back into the Matrix, so that Neo can figure out how to fulfill his destiny as the One.
The bulk of the movie consists of Neos attempt to discover his purpose, a quest that plays out in a seemingly endless series of encounters with white-haired sages who intone Zen nothings in a stilted manner. (When Keanu Reeves is one of the most vocally expressive actors in a movie, theres definitely a problem.) The last of these solemn blowhards is the Architect of the Matrix, who unloads a gob of exposition so plodding and incomprehensible, it plays like an outtake from an Ed Wood movie - at least for viewers who havent immersed themselves in the videogames, cartoons and other Matrix marginalia.
These talky, portentous scenes are punctuated by brief bouts of kung fu every 20 minutes or so, lest the audience slip into a coma. The fights are virtually indistinguishable from each other: the techno music pumps up on the soundtrack, the "bullet time" effects crank to life, and one of the heroes delivers yet another ass-kicking to the forces of evil. The big war with the Machines never arrives Warner Bros. is saving it for Matrix Revolutions, due in November.
There are two undeniably spectacular set pieces in The Matrix Reloaded, and its a shame that both of them have already been overexposed in the months-long orgy of hype that preceded the movies release. The first involves Agent Smith, played with winning dry wit by Hugo Weaving, here as in the first installment. Though seemingly "deleted" at the end of The Matrix, Smith has somehow survived due to his connection with Neo. Whats more, he has developed the power to replicate himself. When Smith catches up with his nemesis, the result is an all-out brawl in which Neo must take on over 100 Agent Smiths at once. The effects in this scene are truly stunning, and for the first time the Wachowskis seem to remember that the movie is supposed to be fun. The big battle is marred only by Neos solution for ending it, which leaves you wondering why he just didnt do it earlier.
The second big action sequence is an epic freeway chase and it is no doubt one of the great car chases of all time. The highly-touted "virtual cinematography" process allows for impossible camera angles as cars hurtle through the air, motorcycles careen through oncoming traffic, and sword battles break out atop speeding 18-wheelers. Its every bit the breathless tour de force its meant to be, but when its over theres no escaping the fact that the climactic scene of this supposedly cutting-edge extravaganza is still a car chase.
Like George Lucas before them, the Wachowski brothers connected with a huge and devoted audience by devising a comic-bookish mythology and bringing it to life with state-of-the-art special effects and rock-em, sock-em action. And now, like Lucas before them, they have fallen victim to their own mythology, as perpetuated by their most ardent fans. Long stretches of Reloaded play as if the Wachowskis actually believe they are visionaries imparting great wisdom to the masses, rather than talented purveyors of popcorn thrills.
For that portion of the audience consumed with The Matrix in all its permutations, the religious allusions, Chicken Soup for the Soul philosophical nuggets and sci-fi mumbo-jumbo may well add up to a satisfying sequel. The rest of us, for whom the original Matrix was nothing more or less than a fun matinee a few years back, are not so lucky.
- Scott Von Doviak