RETRO REVIEW: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Keanu Reeves as Neo in THE MATRIX RELOADED — Photo: Warner Bros.

Directed by Lana & Lilly Wachowski — Screenplay by Lana & Lilly Wachowski.

Released four years after the original science-fiction action modern classic, The Matrix, the Wachowskis returned to the story with which they had made their names in Hollywood. This continuation was filmed concurrently with the trilogy conclusion Revolutions, which was, incredibly, released in the very same year as Reloaded (half a year later). The Wachowskis tried to recapture the spirit of the original film and to continue its story in a way that would both up the ante narratively as well as with the inventiveness of the action. While I don’t think this first sequel is a complete miss, I must, however, say that I think Reloaded missed that mark. I think it is an underwhelming sequel with unexciting subplots and action that fails to be as breathtaking as in the original film. However, although it is a mixed bag, it is certainly not without some notable bright spots and some memorable sequences.

The Wachowskis’ The Matrix Reloaded takes place months after the events of the original film, and we now still follow Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), and Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), who have been trying to free minds from the Matrix and fight the army of machines in the real world at the same time. Neo, who is now in a relationship with Trinity, has become all powerful within the Matrix and he has become something akin to an idol in Zion, the last human city on Earth. But all is not well for our heroes. Morpheus is engaged in several heated debates as to the approach to an upcoming attack from the machines, Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving) has gone rogue and is replicating himself, and Neo keeps on having these ominous visions of the future.

When the Wachowskis continued the world of The Matrix on the big screen, I think they found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Speaking for myself, I think they must have realized that the first film basically turned Neo into Superman inside of the simulation, and, while it may have been exciting to watch Neo master the simulated combat in the third act of their 1999 film, it is difficult to really raise the stakes for a vastly overpowered character. They also felt compelled to elaborate on what exactly Zion was, which is understandable since Neo had mastered the Matrix in the previous film. So, essentially, the Wachowskis had to find a suitable foe for Neo, all the while broadening the film’s scope and building upon the world that was set up in the 1999 film. Their solution was to double down on Zion and Agent Smith.

Likely in an attempt to set up the big battle on Zion in third film of the trilogy, Reloaded is littered with subplots that go nowhere and that are very uninteresting. Morpheus’ Zion subplot leave a lot to be desired, as some of the characters that he interacts with are just too stoic. While I like Harold Perrineau just fine as an actor, the subplot involving his character ‘Link’ just wasn’t very engaging to me, and the same can be said for Clayton Watson’s character. So while the pacing of the film was off, the subplots revolving around Zion were also just not interesting. On top of that, Zion itself is just not very visually appealing, and I can definitely see how people might’ve mentally checked out of the film every time the movie cut away from the A-plot. I actually think this is the big problem with the sequels. Zion was not established in a way that made you want to see the story stick around there. This half of the film is just not very good.

The second half of the film, i.e. the parts of the film inside of the simulation, is much smoother, but it certainly isn’t without faults. The decision to focus on Agent Smith makes a lot of sense. In sequels, there is a tendency to shoehorn in more than is necessary in an attempt to top what came before the sequel. But dozens upon dozens of the same character that Neo beat with one hand behind his back in the 1999 film are just not very exciting villains. The major set-piece involving Agent Smith and Neo is the so-called ‘Burly Brawl,’ in which Neo goes toe-to-toe with an absurd amount of Agent Smiths, and, while Neo does break a sweat here, the sequence just doesn’t work for me. Though overwhelming, the Burly Brawl isn’t very engaging for two reasons: firstly, we know that Neo can both beat Agent Smith and just fly away at a moments notice, and, secondly, it just doesn’t look very good. The characters look rubbery, it looks like a video game, and the sequence just flat-out takes me out of the movie. It starts off well enough, but then it just descends into CGI meaninglessness.

But while I don’t think the act of doubling down on Agent Smith works in this movie’s favor (I do love Hugo Weaving in the role, though), I think there is a lot of good to be said about the sequences involving Helmut Bakaitis’ The Architect and Lambert Wilson’s The Merovingian. These characters are new and really fascinating, but their scenes could’ve definitely been better with some added clarity. This is especially true with the Merovingian. His section of the film includes the film’s very best action sequence, in which his henchmen chase Trinity, Morpheus, and the so-called Keymaker (played by Randall Duk Kim) on the freeway. It is a fantastic action sequence, and I even like what Neo is doing in the meantime. The problem is that the Merovingian should’ve been introduced better, and the same goes for his henchmen who are supposedly monsters from previous versions of the simulation, or something like that. I think this portion of the film could’ve been so much more and so much better, because these old programs actually pose some kind of threat to our main characters inside the Matrix. I mean, at least two of them move like ghosts.

The Wachowskis’ The Matrix Reloaded is a mixed bag, at best. This is an overstuffed film that takes too long to get going, and the subplots in the B-plot don’t go anywhere in this movie. I think there is a lot of good in the A-plot, though, its details should have just been made more clear than they actually were. I also think there is a solid version of this film out there, if you were to trim a lot of the fat, add further scenes to explain the ‘new’ characters inside the Matrix more clearly, and rework a couple of characters, but, as it stands, it just isn’t up to scratch.

5.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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