In 1999, Warner Brothers dropped a bomb on an unsuspecting public. I remember I was living in East Texas at the time and I had decided to go see the newest Keanu Reeves cyber-thriller, really because there was little else showing. I certainly had no desire to watch Reeves stare his way confusedly through another incarnation of Johnny Mnemonic or an internet version of Speed. The Matrix was released with little fanfare and no advance warning of the mindblowing implications therein. But I guarantee you that nearly everyone who came out of that theater did so with a completely new world view. The Matrix was a nearly flawless fusion of science-fiction and philosophy, action and subtlety. Its insidious web of influence has spread through Hollywood, the fashion world, the internet, and beyond. Not since Star Wars has a film spawned such a mythic following. There just had to be a sequel.
For those of you who may have missed it, the Matrix is a computer generated environment designed to trick our minds into thinking that we are going to work, sitting in traffic, napping on the couch or any of a hundred zillion other things you can think of. Basically, it's the world around us that keeps us from realizing that we are all actually just living batteries for a world of malevolent machines who harvest our body heat for power. In the first film, Reeves, as Neo, discovers that he has the power to shape the world around him and that he is actually a kind of messiah whose coming has been foretold. It's basically revealed to him that, like it or not, he is destined to lead a band of freedom fighters in a war to end the Matrix and destroy the machines, returning the Earth to man's control. As the second film begins, that war is just starting to heat up, and Neo, along with returning characters Morpheus and Trinity discovers that the Matrix goes deeper than previously believed. The first film introduced us to the Agents, a group of toughs in typical G-Man garb who seek out and destroy any human minds who become too aware of the Matrix and who might pose a threat to it. You can think of them as anti-virus software. In Reloaded we meet some other viruses, if you will. Apparently, there are some programs within the Matrix that don't exactly follow the rules. Agent Smith, the lead baddie from part one who is destroyed by Neo, returns as a free-floating application, no longer connected directly to the mainframe, and who has the power to replicate himself. New to the story are, among others, a pair of albino rastafarian assassins; "ghosts" in the machine. All of these serve as roadblocks to Neo and Trinity reaching "the source," and effecting the destruction of the Matrix. And all the while, back in the real world, the people of Zion, the last human city, are gearing up for a terrifying final battle with an army of machines who are rapidly approaching. Will Neo destroy the Matrix in time, or will he somehow play a part in the destruction of all he holds dear? As you might expect from The Matrix, the answers are never easy.
The Matrix revolutionized the world of special effects, and Reloaded aims to raise the bar even further. With more than twice as many FX shots as the original, Reloaded is a spectacle of sight and sound. Marvelous fight scenes and beautiful cinematography come together perfectly to form a great looking picture. The directors, who worked nearly non-stop on back to back sequels (The Matrix Revolutions is due in November), obviously have a great love of comic book art, though The Matrix is a completely original creation. Each shot is so meticulously created that you can almost see it laid out with others on a page in pen and brightly colored inks. Epic fight scenes alternately speed and slow the action so that every glorious detail is revealed. A highly touted scene where Neo fights 100 Agent Smiths is a marvel.
All that said, The Matrix Reloaded is not a perfect sequel. There are two problems, one unavoidable and one not. First, with a film like The Matrix the questions are sometimes the best part. The more answers you get, the less mystery you have, and the whole thing begins to feel somewhat mundane. This was a problem up until the ending, where a whole new batch of questions were raised. That brings me to the second problem. The ending feels rushed; almost poorly edited. I'm not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say that not all the questions you are left with are entirely intentional. As I understand it, if you play the videogame, Enter The Matrix, much more is explained, but I feel that is cheating the audience somehow. All in all, however, Reloaded is very satisfying intellectually and a whole lot of fun to watch. It definitely demands repeat viewing and discussion to grasp some of its deeper implications. Considering the worldwide fervor over these two films, the original tag-line is just as appropriate today as it was four years ago, the Matrix truly has you. Grade: A-
The Matrix Reloaded is rated R for violence and sexual situations.
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