The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

D: Andy and Larry Wachowski
S: Keanu Reeves, Carrie Ann Moss

The war for the future of consciousness continues in the sequel to The Matrix. As the malevolent machines that have enslaved humankind tunnel towards the underground free human city of Zion, conflicts both in the real and virtual worlds threaten to prevent Neo (Keanu Reeves) from realising his destiny. In spite of becoming aware of his formidable powers in cyberspace in the first outing, he does not know what to do with them in the service of his fellow man. He's currently more interested in woman anyway, specifically Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss), who, following the prolonged tease in part one, has now become his lover. Haunted by dreams of her death, Neo must venture back inside the matrix, meet the Oracle, and find out what he is supposed to do. Meanwhile the villainous Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has survived his apparent destruction at the end of part one and has now become a self-actuating programme not unlike Neo himself. It's a classic case of good vs. evil written in bold comic-book/animé style, with a variety of colourful new secondary characters with amusing names scattered here and there amid the now characteristic (or even emblematic) slow-motion action scenes blending computer generated imagery with live action footage.

Unfortunately the second film of The Matrix trilogy is all second act. It opens poorly, ends poorly and is built upon a series of set pieces which build towards a turning point, not a climax. Like Back to the Future Part II, it even comes with a trailer for part three. It is as if the filmmakers were simply eager to get on with the fun they were evidently having and presumed that parts one and three would pick up the narrative slack. The film eschews exposition for the most part, assuming that the basic mechanics of the world are by now fully understood. Though there are many long speeches, most of them self-indulgent gibberish which do nothing to advance the actual plot. The film spends most of its time alternating between jargonesque teasers for new elements of the world (none of which are fully explored) and miscellaneous action scenes, none of which, in spite of the much-publicised budget, can top the impact of the equivalent scenes in the original. Quite simply, the futureshock is gone, and no amount of budgetary expenditure can compensate for the lack of visual buzz. What was titilating in the original is predictable and tiresome now, including the legendary 'bullet-time' (a subject of parody and imitation too often since 1999). In spite of the 'more is better' attitude of the filmmakers, the film has no gimmicks of real note to paper over the cracks in the story.

Incredibly, the lack of real story structure notwithstanding, film attempts to repeat the narrative feints and twists of its predecessor, right down to virtually reprising the original ending complete with a 'resurrection' scene and yet another mysterious escalation in Neo's powers. It even attempts to reinvent its central character as a directionless innocent because, the resolution of part one notwithstanding, he is still not sure of his purpose. This means he has to spend much of his time listening to guidance and wisdom dispensed by various enigmatic characters like he did in the first one, pausing occasionally to fight with them. It also means that he remains a passive character, only springing to life in a knee-jerk fashion as he battles time and time again against Smith. The film even takes this conceit to outrageous levels of almost self-parodic excess in the well advertised conflict between Neo and literally hundreds of Smiths replicated by the original. A proactive response to the situation would have been to fly away immediately and gain the upper hand, but, in the time-honoured tradition of the reactive clichés which determine heroism, he stays to fight them all.

Tedious most of the way, enlivened by a few smirk-up-the-sleeve gags at the expense of French culture, a pair of ghostly twins who menace our heroes during the big chase climax, and one solid action scene (the chase), The Matrix Reloaded is as undisciplined as its predecessor and dependent entirely upon its fan base. The faithful will receive the Word like Holy Scripture, but unbelievers will not be converted. Not without some interesting conceptual elements, the franchise is still full of half-baked ideas which have been better worked elsewhere with less than a third of the bombast. It takes itself far too seriously to be very much fun (the straight-faced virtual cameo by Carl Jung included), it goes on forever without ever moving out of second gear, and it fails to offer the pleasures of a story well told because of its dependence on parts one and three. Doubtlessly there are tens of thousands of adolescents who will disagree, and they are the only ones Warner Bros. care about. With the joint expenditure of over $200 million between this and the immediate sequel The Matrix Revolutions (shot simultaneously) they need the cash. My advice is to mail it in and use the two and a half hours of your life the film will take from you without mercy to do something else.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2003.