Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 15, 2003
The Matrix Reloaded
Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne. Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. Rated R.
The New Neo

Kick-ass action trumps philosophy overload in the sequel to The Matrix.


The biggest shock about The Matrix Reloaded is how dull the first 45 minutes or so are. The original 1999 film was never dull, and it was much more than a blockbuster hit. Its trailblazing special effects left an imprint on every Hollywood action thriller made since, and its black-and-white-in-color visual palette and admixture of literary and philosophical influences made it a world unto itself. The sequel delivers a wealth of detail — too much, actually — on the reality outside The Matrix. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) leads Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) on a quest to liberate the world’s humans from their machine oppressors by locating and destroying The Matrix’s mainframe computer, called The Source. They have to hurry, though, because the machines are tunneling toward the underground city of Zion, intending to wipe out the world’s only colony of free humans.

Much of the fun in the original was in the way it popped between its different virtual landscapes. By contrast, the sequel’s opening scenes are all set in the grimy, intentionally ugly “real” world, and their visual sameness wears you down. They’re also plagued by the same trouble as George Lucas’ last two Star Wars films. Writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski bog themselves down in character development, Zion’s politics, and expositional dialogue. While the Wachowskis’ writing is nowhere near as awful as Lucas’, character and dialogue are hardly the brothers’ strong points. There’s so much jargon and big ideas flying around that you wish the characters would just speak plain English. Technogeeks with a philosophical bent may find it a slice of heaven. Casual moviegoers, not so much.

Fortunately, that state of affairs ends once the filmmakers look up from their William Gibson and get down to ass-kicking. Helped by the fact that they’re among the few Western filmmakers who know how to edit martial-arts sequences, the Wachowskis come up with action scenes that top anything in the original film. There’s an inventive fight in a foyer, which looks like the lobby of the Paris Opera with weapons hanging from the wall. The scene in which Neo takes on 100 clones of the resurrected Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) begs to be replayed thousands of times on your VCR or DVD player. Even those, however, can’t match the 18-minute car chase that includes a motorcycle rider dodging gunfire while going against freeway traffic, a swordfight on top of an 18-wheeler, a four-way martial-arts battle inside a moving car, and a roof-raising climactic collision and explosion. The skill involved is beyond awesome. It’s off the heazy, fo’ sheazy.

Through it all, the filmmakers never compromise the visual integrity of their universe, so The Matrix opens onto new fantasy worlds while remaining consistent in its look. The concluding part of The Matrix franchise will be released in November, and what the Wachowski brothers have up their sleeves will keep us all waiting eagerly until then.

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