reviewed by Ken Hanke
Confession: Despite stout efforts, I have yet to make it all the way through the original Matrix. This is less the fault of the film than it is that the quickest way to get my mind (usually followed by other body parts) to wander is to load up a movie with martial-arts scenes. No matter how breathtakingly done, such sequences (Jackie Chan’s “Singin’ in the Rain” bit in Shanghai Knights to one side) simply don’t hold my interest. I have, however, seen enough of The Matrix that I was never at a loss as to what was going on in The Matrix Reloaded — and that’s important, because this may be the least stand-alone sequel (and now prequel) in the history of film.
I cannot imagine seeing Reloaded without some degree of comprehension regarding the premise of the first movie, nor can I imagine feeling satisfied by the sequel until seeing the promised third film in the series. My own reaction is that if you liked the first film, there’s no real reason you won’t like this. And yet that doesn’t seem to quite square with what I’m hearing from fans of the original — nearly all of whom appear somewhat let down by Reloaded. Maybe it’s just a case of the first film’s cultish “philosophy” wearing thin.
Face facts: For all its much-admired mythology and deep ruminating, you don’t get anything much deeper in The Matrix than you would from an evening of opening fortune cookies or — in more cinematic terms — listening to Mr. Miyagi wax philosophic. Apart from its qualities as a mind-messing experience, there’s not all that much new going on here. In fact, I kept half expecting some small child with unnaturally blue eyes and a dubbed voice to wander in and inquire of the wondrous abilities possessed by Neo (Keanu Reeves), “And how can this be? Because he is the Kwisatz Haderach!” Really, is The Matrix much removed from being a more accessible Dune with wire-work action scenes?
The new film’s dubious value as philosophy to one side, I have to say that I mostly enjoyed Reloaded on a wholly amusement-value level — although I’m not sure this is quite what the Wachowkski brothers intended. (Their casting of horror-sci-fi veteran Anthony Zerbe in a key role, on the other hand, suggests that the whole thing may be intended more in fun than its rather portentous tone indicates.)
I’m not sure on what other level it’s possible to take such mind-bogglingly ripe sequences as Reloaded’s apparently Metropolis-inspired underground “church” services. These come off like a weird melange of not just Metropolis, but also of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and something out of the 1935 version of She, with a frenzied dancing climax intercut with shots of the overheated leads (Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity) playing at being crazed bunnies in the sack (which is creepily like the little snippets of hell we glimpse in Alan Parker’s Angel Heart). And what of the technically brilliant scene where hundreds of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) clones battle it out with the sleekly gothic Neo?
This is all such overkill that it becomes humorous. And is this intentional? I certainly hope it is, especially since the Wachowskis shot and edited the thing like a Busby Berekely production number — so much so that I was hoping Weaving would shed his Men in Black togs for one of his drag costumes from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and start lip-synching Abba songs.
There’s not much plot here: The machines of the Matrix are burrowing toward the city of Zion and its imminent destruction seems assured unless Neo (distracted by a grim vision of Trinity’s death) and company can get new advice from the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster) and set things right. It doesn’t much matter — and neither does the film’s “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” anti-climax.
Reloaded is mostly an excuse for a lot of clever, rousing action. And on that level — as a “wow!” thrill ride — it works. Even when it gets silly (the fight with Agent Smith) or goes on too long (a very protracted scene on the freeway), the film is never less than enjoyable junk. The production design is magnificent, some shots are positively mythic and the effects are impeccable. And, in the end, maybe that’s all that matters.
If you want something with a little meat on its bones, go see X2; but if you’re just out for a really wild ride, Reloaded certainly provides it.