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"Sure to entertain, philosophize, and leave you hanging for the final chapter."
"The film has a tendency to bog down in its own mythology."
"An astonishing work that sets the bar for future films to live up to."
The Matrix Reloaded  

Cast

Neo: Keanu Reeves
Morpheus: Laurence Fishburne
Agent Smith: Hugo Weaving
Trinity: Carrie-Anne Moss
Oracle: Gloria Foster
Niobe: Jada Pinkett Smith
Persephone: Monica Bellucci
Review May 2003

Four years after "The Matrix" first exploded onto the screen comes the eagerly anticipated sequel, a special effects extravaganza of gigantic proportions. Picking up where the last one left off, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus continue the battle against the machines that have enslaved mankind in the Matrix and are now determined to take over the last free human city of Zion. Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, "Reloaded" expounds on their saga of machines, martial arts, and matrices. An action packed sequel, it is sure to entertain, philosophize, and leave you hanging for the final chapter.

"Reloaded" opens with a bang. Literally, gunfire erupts as Trinity, pursued by one of the machine's agents, leaps out of a tall building to her death. But does she really die? Fortunately, it's only a dream, a dream that will continue to haunt Neo. Bad dreams aside, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus journey to Zion, the last human city untouched by machines, to regroup and await further instructions from the Oracle. While there, Neo is received as a savior, Morpheus preaches to the masses, and Neo and Trinity's love blossoms. Despite misgivings from Commander Lock, the three, along with new crewmember Link, hop aboard the Nebuchadnezzar and leave Zion to consult the Oracle.

While visiting the Oracle, Neo is told that he must acquire the Key Maker. For, it is he who holds the key to the source - "where the path of the one ends." Immediately following his meeting with the Oracle, Neo is paid a surprise visit from Agent Smith, an upgraded version with a few tricks up his sleeve - he can replicate himself exponentially. Escaping from Smith's grasps, Neo and the gang find there way to the Merovingian, an affluent and narcissistic man, unwilling to part with his prized Key Maker. But while he may not be willing, his wife, Persephone is. Upset with her husband's cheating ways, Persephone makes Neo an offer he can't refuse. With the Key Maker now in hand, Morpheus and Trinity make a mad dash back to Zion while Neo fends off a slew of Merovingian's henchmen.

In hot pursuit of the Key Maker is a pair of evil albino twins with the ability to transform into ghosts. On a major thoroughfare, Morpheus and Trinity are also joined by Niobi, Morpheus' ex-love, and a handful of agents. After a narrow escape, the three main characters along with a small contingency of freedom fighters regroup. This time, with the Key Maker in hand, they must find the source of the matrix and unlock the correct door to fulfill the prophecy. But along the way, perceptions can be deceiving. After a chance encounter with the architect of the Matrix, Neo is forced to confront his nightmare.

Unquestionably, the special effects in this film are top notch. With over 1,000 shots requiring computer generated or manipulated effects, the Wachowski brothers have certainly outdone themselves. They claim that the technology is so complex that to effectively reproduce or mimic it would take years. But were the effects so drastically different as to reshape the pop culture landscape? I'm not convinced. In one of the showcase scenes where Neo battles against 100 Mr. Smiths, it was relatively easy to distinguish between Keanu Reeves the actor and Keanu Reeves the CGI character. We've seen the stop motion effects before and much of it looked like the video game. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it. I just had greater expectations. I felt that the technology on display would be ground breaking like the bullet technology of the first. But instead, much of the same technology was re-used, even the bullet effect itself.

Of course, one thing that I do not get sick of is the work of Yuen Wo Ping. Combining various styles as shaolin, Thai boxing, street fighting, and kung fu, Ping creates the most technically sound scenes in martial arts cinema today. Achieving worldwide fame for his work on "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Ping turns fight sequences into works of art. In the fight scene between Neo and hordes of Mr. Smiths, Ping uses his trademark acrobatics and aerials to make fighting more aesthetic. He transforms what could be brutal hand-to-hand combat into graceful masterpieces.

In addition to the special effects and fighting, the overall pacing of the story was very good. There's enough action intertwined with mythos to rival that of "Star Wars." However, the film has a tendency to bog down in its own mythology. In other words, when the effects are not dazzling us on screen, we're hit with a bevy of techno babble and mantras that are inserted ad nauseum to fill the void. Stuff like: "What happened happened and couldn't have happened any other way" and "You have already made the choice, now you have to understand it." And how many times did the words "systematic anomaly" come up? The original had some of the same, but only to establish context. In the original, there were also half as many special effects, which meant that the story had to deliver. But in this second helping, the producers have chosen to use effects as the mechanism to tie everything together, leaving the storyline somewhere in the recycle bin.

There also wasn't as much elaboration with the major characters as there was with the minor characters. From the first film, we already knew Neo and Trinity were in love and in many ways, this film is a repetition of their "undying love" (ironically, they continually die and are repeatedly brought back to life). But over the course of this installment, it would appear as if they've become more like machines themselves, fairly flat and unemotional. In particular, we really don't learn more about Neo and what makes him so special. Yet, for minor character roles such as Gloria Foster (Oracle), Anthony Zerbe (Councillor Hamann), and even Randall Duk Kim (The Key Maker) we feel a strong sense of attachment and gain insight into the inner complexities of the machines and the matrix.

Most viewers, no doubt, will be disappointed with the ending. Tagged with the inefficacious "To Be Continued," the film wraps things up in an anticlimactic fashion. Rather than taking advantage of opportunities to make the story come full circle, the Wachowski brothers over-extend the ending by an additional 10 minutes or so just to leave the audience in suspense. This is painfully unnecessary when considering that the suspense is really minimal to the overall story. If anything, it disrupts the story's momentum going into the third installment and leaves moviegoers on a downward note.

"The Matrix Reloaded" is a fast paced adventure with a bigger budget, an overabundance of philosophizing, and some solid acting in minor roles. Full of special effects wizardry and a handful of testosterone, it boldly pushes the boundaries between innovation and filmmaking. Though many of the features are things we've seen before, it remains an astonishing work that sets the bar for future films to live up to.



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