It is accepted widsom that the second episode of a trilogy is generally the weakest (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). That is definitely true for the Matrix trilogy; the second film, The Matrix Reloaded, is much less compelling than the first.
We open with Neo (Keanu Reeves), now dressed for fighting in a black cassock, which I can tell you is not the most conducive garment for kicking, punching, or flying. But, hey, it’s black, and with his newly styled hair and black shades, he looks cool, if impractical. His powers have grown—remember that these are powers of the mind which only appear to have physical or material characteristics within the computer generated illusion of the matrix. Now he can fly and fight off a hundred agents at once, and awe everyone with his newfound speed and strength.
Neo, also being spiritual, has been having bad dreams, in which he sees Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), now his lover, falling from a tall building and being shot. At the end of the film the dream happens just the way he saw it—big surprise—and Neo has to make some life and death choices—‘nother big surprise.
In fact, there’s nothing very surprising or particularly interesting about this second film. The Wachowski Brothers obviously know that, because they make up for lack of depth by including twice as many fight scenes, including one interminable highway chase scene that must go on for thirty minutes. And Neo wasn’t even in it to show off some more of his interesting new powers.
In addition to the loads of extra fight footage which did not serve the dramatic flow of the story in the way the fight scenes did in the first film, there was also the lower quality of the FX themselves. More than once I could see where Reeves was in the scene, where it was his fight-double, and where it was a computer generated figure that only bore a slight resemblance to Reeves at all. This is simply sloppy filmmaking. It is a sign of a successful film franchise resting on its laurels and taking too many shortcuts because they think they’ve done all the hard work with the first film.
And what was the deal with Agent Smith? He can now replicate himself, but how or even why is never clearly explained. He seems to have had some sort of spiritual experience at the end of the first one; maybe being dead will do that to you, even if you’re a machine. But he certainly doesn’t want to be on Neo’s side in all this, so we get at least three or four scenes in which Neo fights a whole herd of Smiths. One time he uses a stick.
One creative piece of the story included the explanation that appearances in history of vampires, ghosts, angels, and the like, were really glitches in the program. Some of those “exiles,” programs that go into hiding rather than be deleted, come after Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity with an array of medieval weapons—now they all have sticks. That was interesting, but in the same segment Neo has to kiss this French woman while Trinity watches. Trinity does pull a gun on the other woman, but Neo kisses her anyway, and there’s no reckoning for this. No cold shoulder, no shut bedroom door, no punch in the mouth. It’s just never brought up again. I don’t think so. And speaking of bedroom doors, there is one sex scene between Neo and Trinity that should be hot, but it isn’t. I’m sorry, they’re beautiful humans, but they have holes all over their bodies. How sexy is that—naked people with gruesome black holes all up and down their bodies? It just didn’t do it for me.
The philosophical premise of this film isn’t as interesting, either. The first film asked, is our reality really our realty, while the second one asks whether our choices are really our choices. It borders perilously on nihilism, which despite post-modern filmmakers' best efforts, just isn't a compelling theme. Half the characters in this films walk around spouting nonsense about, “I did what I must do,” or “I was meant to do this,” as though human choice played no role in causality. The penultimate scene leaves us with a strong indication that all actions are controlled by the Matrix, so that even the rebellion exists because someone in control wants it to. It may be an age-old premise, but it’s a boring one. If my choices are pre-set, then who cares what I do? If they’re preset, but I think they’re real, then why tell me? And if they’re not preset, then human beings actually have some basis for ethical decisions. This unresolved question is quite unsatisfying, and I can only hope the third film at least has the courtesy to give humanity back its free will.
Fortunately for the Wachowskis, this film doesn't make us lose our appetite for the 3rd film; in fact, after seeing how good the idea can be, we are hungrier than ever for the storyline to get back on track. If second episodes are the weak link in trilogies, third ones are famous for bringing the concept back stronger and more creative than ever. And all in all, the concept isn’t bad. It just didn’t work hard enough this time around.
|Title||The Matrix Reloaded|
|Director||Andy and Larry Wachowski|