"The Matrix Reloaded" (IMDb listing) is actually one half of a larger sequel to 1999's groundbreaking science-fiction film "The Matrix." The other half, "The Matrix Revolutions," is set for release later this year, with "Reloaded" being the setup for a story that beautifully expands the ideas and motivations that were so carefully initiated in the original film.
After becoming The One in "The Matrix," Neo (Keanu Reeves) has begun to understand his new powers, question his responsibilities as a savoir, and explore his love for Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). When the machines begin a massive effort to destroy Zion, the last free city for humans, it is up to Neo, Trinity and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to explore the Matrix to find a way to save humanity from impending doom.
The initial conception for the two new "Matrix" films was to release them about six weeks apart, thus maintaining the epic nature of the tale. Since then, "The Matrix Revolutions" has been moved to November 5, leaving "Reloaded" to stew all alone for a seemingly eternal six months. This is the central flaw to "Reloaded," as the writer/director Wachowski brothers spend most of the film building the narrative in towering ways, with little payoff to be had. The story is a gigantic one, forming a cat's cradle of philosophical ideals, a rapidly expanding character palette (including new actors Jada Pinkett Smith, Harry Lennix, Harold Perrineau and an exquisite Monica Bellucci), and a widely intricate narrative that is an interpretive nightmare without the answers that will be (hopefully) provided in "Revolutions."
This, of course, inhibits the overall pleasure of "Reloaded," as most of the picture is setting up something larger and darker for "Revolutions," yet trying to keep the audience interested in the story at hand. You must pay close attention to "Reloaded," as there are details in every frame, which has become a Wachowski specialty. But to achieve the balance between colossal entertainment and the thoughtful continuation of the "Matrix" myth, the tone of "Reloaded" often becomes derailed in the process. One minute, characters are delivering long speeches on the nature of humanity and prophecy, and the next minute there are rousing action sequences that most audiences have paid good money to see. At many points during the film, the Wachowskis don't appear to understand the lack of a consistent tone to their film, leaving both the exposition and the action tiring to the mind and eye with its wildly fluctuating rhythms. "Reloaded" is paced fiercely, but to concentrate on both angles of the film, it takes a pretty resilient filmgoer to take all the elements in.
The biggest challenge "Reloaded" has facing it is trying to top what has come before. "The Matrix" was such a cultural phenomenon, and revolutionized special effects for both the film and commercial industry, resulting in countless rip-offs and deeply unfunny spoofs (I'm looking your way, "Shrek"). "Reloaded" brings back such familiar visuals as "bullet-time" and the wire-fu fighting, but meticulously takes it further, pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished with a keyboard and mouse. Unlike the original film, "Reloaded" makes abundant use of digital body doubles (As seen badly in "Blade 2" and "Attack of the Clones") to take the action to places the human body would break in two if attempted. This results in a video game appearance to some of the action, and that isn't exactly a good thing. Without the natural human movement in glorious sequences--such as Neo's ballistic fight with 100 Agent Smiths (played by a scene-stealing Hugo Weaving)--it takes the audience out of the experience. What the Wachowskis achieve visually in "Reloaded" is often staggering and admirable, with the full, lush realization of Zion, and a 15-minute heart-stopping car chase that puts all others to shame, but as the Wachowskis attempt to raise the visual bar for these follow-ups, the reliance on computer effects is beginning to reveal them in increasingly negative ways.
While "The Matrix Reloaded" certainly held my attention, it doesn't have my heart. At this stage, it's tough to understand where the Wachowskis are taking this saga, but I hope for their sake this climaxes into something both coherent and mind-blowing, and renders all the trouble spots in "Reloaded" moot.
Filmfodder Grade: B