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The Matrix Reloaded, written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, 2003, 130 min.
The Matrix Reloaded is a difficult movie for me to review. I think that the movie delivers everything it promised to, conceptually. The movie also (mostly) delivers on the blockbuster level. But in terms of the simple craft of making movies, it has some basic flaws that are hard to overlook. Itís not easy to make a perfectly glossy summer blockbuster that also has brains and something to think about later, but the Wachowskis did it with the first Matrix movie. I understand that The Matrix Reloaded is a middle movie, with another movie (The Matrix Revolutions) coming out yet this year with all the answers, but I have a number of nagging thoughts about the internal inconsistencies of the world we are presented with. As will be clear from this review, most of my complaints are a fanís complaints; I would have liked to see a movie that lived up to the ideas and promise of the Matrix universe. The Matrix Reloaded is only partly that movie.
The Matrix Reloaded begins with Neo, our hero from the first Matrix movie, in a state of confusion. Heís not sure what to do next with the powers that he found at the end of the first movie, and the Oracle, the seemingly omniscient person who told him many helpful things, has not contacted him in a while. Morpheus, a powerful believer in the prophecy that Neo is the One, is facing some political problems in Zion, the city of humans that have escaped from the Matrix. It seems as if Trinity, now Neoís lover, is the only stable thing for him to hang on to, but he is having dreams that seem to foresee her death. Whatís a poor messianic figure to do?
So far so good. After some political maneuvering in Zion, the Council allows some ships to go out to the point where Neo and friends can get to the Matrix to try to contact the Oracle again. Neo does so, and the Oracle gives him some more cryptic things to think about, along with a clue to follow up on. After this, he is shocked to find that Agent Smith, decisively defeated at the end of the first movie, is back with a vengeance, this time as a rogue program, apparently not under the control of the Matrix and with the ability to clone himself infinitely. A much-hyped action scene follows, in which Neo and about a hundred Smiths face off; itís relatively exciting, but also much more fake looking than I was expecting. Worse, Neo ends the fight by running off! Now Neo is off to find the people (that is, the programs in the Matrix) that the Oracle told him about. The rest of the movie is mainly about this hunt, with a few side mentions of what is happening when the city of Zion is under attack.
The Matrix Reloaded suffers from very poor pacing. The early scenes in Zion are impossibly pointless, particularly the speech/rave, which did not advance the plot and made the inhabitants of Zion look like morons. Almost any time a character opens their mouth, the movie falls dead to the ground as they blab endlessly. The worst offenders were the Merovingian and the Architect (two programs that Neo runs into, more on them later); in particular, the Architect scene, ostensibly the climax of the movie, was dull as dirt. Some screens in the background tried to add dynamic interest but to no avail. All of this is despite the fact that the ideas that these people were talking about were actually quite interesting! I was suitably impressed by the big action segments, but even these had odd internal tempo problems. A car chase that goes on for twenty minutes... ok, ok, Iím stupefied already. I would have much preferred a more consistent pace, instead of these awkward and enormous blocks of one thing and then another.
Three parts of this movie are very interesting, and spoiler warnings for this paragraph. The Oracle tells Neo to find the Keymaker, a program with the ability to make keys for any door in the Matrix, even the doors that send you to system access points or around the world. The Keymaker is a nifty conceit, a handy metaphor for the cryptographic code necessary to access certain parts of the Matrix. And the Keymaker is only one of a number of different programs, rogue or otherwise, we are introduced to in this movie. This is the second element of The Matrix Reloaded that works well. We now learn that the Oracle herself is a program, and that there are many others out there, including the Merovingian who has the Keymaker in his custody. Agent Smith seems to be on his own now, but I suspect that this only another level of control. I enjoyed finding out about this part of the Matrix; to me, it seemed precisely like ideas of evolutionary software development that many people are now working on. The overall goal of these programs is to perfect the controlling aspects of the Matrix, and as they fight it out, better and better solutions are found. Messy, but capable of leaps analogous to intuition. The third part of the movie that I liked (and now some heavy spoilers) has to do with some revelations about Neo and Zion. Once Neo has fought his way to the centre of the Source, with the help of the Keymaker, he encounters a character named the Architect. The Architect tells Neo that he is only another level of control. That is to say, the rebellious humans are gathered around a messiah figure like Neo and into a physical place like Zion so that the machines can channel all rebellion into one easily identifiable area. In fact, Neo is told that he is the sixth version of himself, in an ongoing loop of threat identification and threat destruction. Is what the Architect is saying an elaborate charade to confuse a potent threat? Perhaps. But as an idea of how an infinitely resourceful system would subjugate a world full of humans itís quite a viable option. And if we take as a given that Neo 6 will be the one to overthrow the Matrix in the third movie, then we are left with a fascinating cliffhanger. What makes this Neo different? How and why he has these powers is now answered, at least from the machinesí point of view. Will he win? Will he change his destiny?
A few other problems exist with the movie. Flying might be an easy way to manipulate the Matrix -- multiply walking speed by a certain factor, and so forth -- but if Neo can see into the code, wouldnít a more useful feat be teleportation? It would be a simple matter of transposing a few numbers in the coordinates that indicate his present location in the Matrix. Most of my other nagging thoughts are related to the inconsistently worked out application of Neoís new powers. He did an awful lot of hand-to-hand fighting for someone who could stop bullets, i.e., mentally protect his personal space. We also never learn if itís possible for Neo to teach others how he can see into the code; logically, it would be as easy as cutting and pasting a few subroutines into someone elseís Matrix avatars. This would take away a lot of the peril for Morpheus and Trinity when they are in the Matrix, but thatís the precise point; with these new powers in the mix, there should be correspondingly greater threats. The next movie hopefully will deal with this, but the lack this time around makes The Matrix Reloaded a frustrating experience.
The Matrix Reloaded is a strange movie: it has some fundamentally sound ideas underlying a poorly-paced narrative, a decent cliffhanger following a unsatisfying story, and a lot of action scenes that donít quite add up to as much as they promise. I admit to being hooked on the world that the Wachowski Brothers are creating; I just wish they had come closer to living up to the (impossible) expectations with this second trip to the Matrix.
Last modified: June 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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