Did I see the right movie? Since when did "The Matrix", one of the most innovative, energizing and thought-provoking blockbuster action films since the second "Terminator" movie, dissolve into something this lame? Why is that four years ago, brothers and creators of "The Matrix" Larry and Andy Wachowski were able to have us buy so much into this universe of theirs, and now all it seems they have up their sleeve is pseudo-intellectual bullcrap? Why are we no longer impressed?
If you haven't seen the first "Matrix" film, I can't really help you there; go find a synopsis of the first film (or better yet, see it) while I jump right into "Reloaded". Anyway, Neo Anderson (Keanu Reeves) was discovered to be "The One" who could possibly end the cruelty of the Matrix once and for all. He is now no longer a trainee but a defender of everything the human rebellion he is a part of stands for. He is also the only person not only to survive a fight with one of the nefarious "Agents" (essentially, evil machines), but to destroy one as well (a certain Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who returns in this sequel from being more than slightly AWOL at the end of the first). His most lasting friend within the rebellion is Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), the man who introduced Neo to the Matrix and taught him most of what he knows.
Also on the same ship as Neo and Morpheus (yes, they've got a spaceship) is Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who is now Neo's lover. Neo's recurring dream of Trinity dying has set alarms off in his head and make it difficult for him to concentrate on much else. When it is revealed that machines similar to those who created the Matrix are digging to reach Zion, the one human city left on Earth, and there's very little time in that Neo and pals can try and save Zion. To do so, they will need to find a man named the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) who can lead them to a central building within the Matrix that could be crucial in the war against the machines. Neo must do all this while trying to protect Trinity.
In the first "Matrix" film, it seemed that the Wachowski brothers were onto something. The world they created was new and mysterious, and each little bit of information that was uncovered (slowly, bit by bit, so as to tickle and intrigue the audience as much as possible), it was a small revelation of sorts. The idea of a computer system that can fabricate all we know was mind-blowing enough to some that people began to wonder if they really were within the Matrix-- I would have loved to see the faces on the Wachowskis as they heard that one.
However, now that the idea Matrix is being explored deeper in this second film, the Wachowskis are coming up short. The Matrix no longer seems like such a brilliant idea after all-- well, within the context of this second movie, anyway-- in fact, all it looks like now is a campy, overcooked, self-important comic book. The (incorrect) assumption is, that since this should be a continuation of the first film, that we are already hooked before the first frame is projected.
But we are not, and this is hardly a continuation of the first film at all. "The Matrix Reloaded" is different from its predecessor in tone, form, and purpose. All the mystery of the first is gone; what the Wachowskis slowly built up to in "The Matrix", they are too impatient to do in a similar effective manner here. Instead of dealing with important plot twists with the time they deserve, poorly written and carelessly delivered dialogue is thrown at us quickly as the film moves on, leaving us scratching our heads. I guess the Wachowskis aren't big fans of clarity; for those of us (like me) who don't speak Matrixspeak, most of the important parts of the film had to be explained after the lights had gone up.
But at that point, I had resigned from taking "The Matrix" too seriously anymore. After all, how is one supposed to respond to something so goofy in nature? Zion looks like an R-rated version of something from "The Phantom Menace", the human "diplomats" are a joke, the Agents seemed to have turn into wimps overnight, and the new villains (like "ghosts" and evil French stereotypes) are used for comic relief. Where's the danger? The villains in the first film were an unstoppable force, here they're dopes with guns.
The one-note acting from almost everyone in the cast didn't pull me in much, either. The handful of competent performances came from Carrie-Anne Moss (who, for me at least, has always been the real star of "The Matrix"), plus Monica Bellucci and the late Gloria Foster in parts so tiny it's almost pathetic that they can do so much more in that little amount of time than almost everyone else does in the entire film.
However, one thing is for sure: when they're not pretending to "act", the stars of "The Matrix Reloaded" are doing some good in pretty amazing action sequences. True, some of the fights are very generic, and one fight scene between Neo and a thousand clones of Agent Smith looked downright fake at its climax. However, the centerpiece of the film is a gripping experience: a fourteen minute car chase, the likes of which is not likely to be topped in the near future. Orchestrated by Yuen Wo Ping, possibly the most brilliant film stunt choreographer of our time, this sequence is almost worth the price of admission alone.
And in all honesty, the complexity of the fighting is about as deep as "The Matrix Reloaded" gets. Before I get nasty remarks from Matrix officionados claiming that the film is really about "Destiny! Reality! Love! Brilliant Philosophy! Blah, Blah, Blah!", let me state that the Wachowski brothers are hardly original in what they're saying here. Most of the reality-questioning here has been explored in an infinitely richer sense by Richard Linklater only two years ago in "Waking Life", not to mention by thousands of philosophers all over the world and all throughout time. As for the destiny bit, I liked it better the first time I saw it, when it was called "Star Wars". So if it's a mind fuck you're looking for, there are plenty of other films that do it better, or even better still, one could (ghasp!) read a book. When it all boils down, "The Matrix" is really about kicking ass, which it does, albeit unevenly. See it for the brawn, not the brains.