If you haven’t seen “The Matrix” or it’s been such a long time that you’ve forgotten some of the story, it’d be a good idea to fork over $4 at Blockbuster for a rental, or the $10 you’ll fork over to see “The Matrix Reloaded” will be in vain. Unlike most sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” doesn’t waste any time with the unnecessary details of what happened in the first film. It just assumes you know what the hell is going on. The story literally explodes onto the screen with in-depth references to The Matrix, Zion, The One and The Oracle without ever explaining what they are or how they fit into the first film.
This sudden continuation after a four-year intermission is quite refreshing, actually. When I saw “The Matrix” back in 1999, I had no idea what it was about, and it floored me. I’ve been waiting for the sequel for years, and the film lives up to the wait. Not since “The Empire Strikes Back” have we had a sci-fi sequel that brings in so much more without trying to top the original.
The war is still going on: man against machine. The free people who have been downloaded from the Matrix (a virtual reality in which the machines have enslaved humans so they can be used as a thermal power supply) are gathered 250,000 strong in the underground city of Zion. However, the machines on the surface have located Zion’s position and have started drilling into the Earth to invade the city. (This critical piece of information was the focus of Final Flight of the Osiris, shown exclusively with the odious Dreamcatcher earlier this spring.)
Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew return to Zion for a brief refueling before they leave again to plug Neo (Keanu Reeves) into the Matrix to meet with the Oracle (Gloria Foster) to figure out how to stop the machines from destroying Zion. Of course, the machines have upgraded their agents, and are constantly on the tail of the rogue humans. To make matters worse, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), whom Neo thought he destroyed in the first film, has absorbed some of Neo’s powers and is now running freely through the Matrix independent of the mainframe’s orders. Oh, and he has this nifty new power that allows him to duplicate himself infinitely, so Neo has to fight not one, but a thousand Agent Smiths.
The first part of “The Matrix Reloaded” is a little slow going, but this is entirely forgivable because the filmmakers take us to places only mentioned in the first film. Zion is more than just a casual reference; it is the setting for a good third of the movie. I felt a little disappointed, however, in the lack of vision for the society of the humans who can manufacture futuristic flight and hack into the most sophisticated program in the universe but still look like they stepped off the set of the 1968 version of “Planet of the Apes.” Why is it that all futuristic fashions are so dominated by flowing robes? Why do the characters have such hip styles inside the Matrix, but they dress like hippies in the real world?
My sister has a theory that the reason the original film did so well, thus saving Keanu Reeves’ career from flops like “Johnny Mnemonic,” is because he had so little dialogue. After all, what other star can utter the brain-dead phrase “I know kung fu” and still be taken seriously. “The Matrix Reloaded” features similar scant guttural phrases from Keanu, yet he’s still believable as the savior of the human race. Who ever thought Keanu could play the Christ figure? Other characters, like the rogue program Merovingian who waxes poetically about how his chocolate cake can give a woman an orgasm, talk a little too much.
Still, no one is seeing this movie for post-apocalyptic fashion advice or how to make orgasmic chocolate cake. They’re seeing it for the special effects, which are nothing short of astounding. One of my biggest worries about this film was whether they could out-do themselves from the first movie. After all, “The Matrix” paved the way for everyone from major top name directors to car companies to imitate the virtual camera moves and ramping frame rates. This time around, “The Matrix Reloaded” takes these effects to the extreme. While there are many times that you can tell different elements (including people) have been computer generated, the action is so intense that you’ve passed through a dozen effects before you can even ask yourself how they did the first one.
Most of the film takes place outside of the Matrix, actually, only jumping inside for the characters to gather new information or have kick-a*s action sequences (one of which lasts 18 minutes and reportedly cost $38 million to shoot). It expands a bit on the human characters (for example, giving Neo some time to contemplate his existence as a reluctant living savior and the attention it brings him), but more importantly it expands on the biggest machine character around – the Matrix. While few questions are answered, the Wachowski Brothers let us know that they’re at least thinking about things like who made the Matrix, how long has it been around and what are the true motives of the machines.
If you haven’t guessed, “The Matrix Reloaded” is a set-up for the final film “The Matrix Revolutions,” due out later this year. However, the film satisfies while it leaves plenty of loose ends untied.
Now if I can just make it until November to see how those loose ends tie up…