For many, The Matrix proved to be the most exciting, obsession-forming sci-fi flick since Star Wars burst onto the screen; the four year wait for this first sequel only increased its reputation amongst devotees. And inevitably, The Matrix Reloaded failed to live up to such expectations, that edge of strange, otherworldly cool replaced by a bloated running time, incomprehensible dialogue and Battlestar Galactica–esque sub-plots about human tribes fighting evil robots. But two years on and away from the hype, it does prove to be an entertaining spectacle, and certainly superior to the deafening tedium of the third film in the series, The Matrix Revolutions.
Keanu Reeves remains at the centre of Reloaded, reprising his role as Neo, the innocent freed from the mind-enslavement of the Matrix to fulfil his destiny as ‘The One’. He now possesses incredible powers, which his mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) believes will lead the humans to victory over the machines. Neo is having terrible visions of his lover Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) dying; meanwhile the human city of Zion readies itself for an impending attack from the machines.
Part of the initial disappointment of Reloaded comes with the realisation that the Wachowski brothers have largely squandered the very concept of the Matrix. The idea that the world as we perceive it is in fact a computer simulation that our heroes can move in and out as they attempt to defeat their enemies remains central to the story, but way too much of the film takes place in Zion and the ‘real’ world – a gloomy, subterranean series of tunnels, and scenes of rousing speeches to embattled humans and council meetings to decide how best to fight back have been seen in every other sci-fi film of the 30 years. It’s no accident that the best moments take place within the Matrix. There’s a climatic siege on a powerplant, a spectacular elongated chase sequence down the California highway and the much heralded scene in which Neo takes on his nemesis Agent Smith (the amusingly sardonic Hugo Weaving) and hundred Smith duplicates in a rooftop kung-fu fest (even if the digital effects in the latter do make it look somewhat like a PS2 game).
Those who loved the pop-philosophy of the first film will find plenty to get their heads around here; others might find their patience tested by the various plot convolutions and po-faced discussions of destiny, choice and probability. The late Gloria Foster returns as the Oracle, throwing out hilariously enigmatic predictions all over the place, but to be fair, sci-fi has long revolved around what to many seem like overly high-minded concepts. It seems a little churlish to criticise the Wachowskis for their pretensions while lauding the likes of Asimov and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Reeves, Moss and Fishburne play their roles with the same solemnity they did in The Matrix, and a variety of new characters are thrown into the mix. On the side of good we have Jada Pinkett Smith’s hard-as-nails pilot Niobi and Harold Perrineau’s technician Link, but more interesting are some of the more ambiguous individuals. Lambert Wilson camps it up as The Merovingian, a rogue computer program represented in the Matrix as a flamboyant Frenchman who holds an important key to the humans' fate, while Monica Bellucci sits decoratively at his side as his equally untrustworthy cyber-lover; they bring a sense of mischievous fun distinctly lacking from the rest of the film. And in one of the final scenes Neo comes face to face with the designer of the Matrix – known as The Architect – played with sinister charm by Helmut Bakaitis. It is this scene that non-converts to the Wachowski’s world will find most infuriating, since it consists of dialogue like this: "You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which, despite my sincerest efforts, I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision." Personally, I quite enjoyed this admittedly baffling encounter, it does provide a sort-of twist (which is largely ignored in the third film).
How much you enjoy The Matrix Reloaded may in the end depend on how seriously you take it all. I would like to imagine the Andy and Larry Wachowski sitting around, writing the dialogue and laughing: "I can’t believe anyone buys this shit!". But I suspect they take it as seriously as anyone. Nevertheless, purely in terms of futuristic spectacle, the film hits the right buttons.
Reclusive American director who, along with brother Larry, now Lana, wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy. The Chicago-born Wachowski brothers debuted with the lesbian gangster thriller Bound, and followed it with 1999's sci-fi epic The Matrix which was a critical and commercial smash and set a new standard for special effects. Sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were less well received but still scored at the box office. What did not score was their live action version of cartoon Speed Racer, their adaptation of the bestselling book Cloud Atlas or their original epic Jupiter Ascending, though cult followings were not far away. Also wrote the screeplays for Assassins and V For Vendetta. Born Andy, and credited as such on her first films.
Lana Wachowski (1965 - )
Reclusive American director who, along with brother Andy, wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy. The Chicago-born Wachowski brothers debuted with the lesbian gangster thriller Bound, and followed it with 1999's sci-fi thriller The Matrix which was a critical and commercial smash and set a new standard for special effects. Sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were less well received but still scored at the box office. What did not score was their live action version of cartoon Speed Racer, their adaptation of the bestselling Cloud Atlas or their original epic Jupiter Ascending, though cult followings were not far away. Also wrote the screeplays for Assassins and V For Vendetta. Born Larry, and credited as such on her first few films, she became Lana in the 21st century.