Principal Cast : Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Clayton Watson, Harold Perrineau, Randall Duk Kim, Gloria Foster, Helmut Bakaitis, Lambert Wilson, Monica Bellucci, Collin Chou, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Lennix, Ian Bliss.
Synopsis: With the machines advancing on Zion, and the presence of Agent Smith inside the Matrix becoming more and more controlling, Neo and his crew must fight to save humanity, even if it means their own lives.
Inevitability – a word used often by Agent Smith, and a perfectly reasonable attachment to the way in which Warner Brothers managed to wipe the drool off their lips after the success of The Matrix and say to Andy and Larry Wachowski: “We’ll have two more of those please”. And they gave them a budget equivalent to the GDP of a small European nation to do it. Which, as most audiences know, is never a good idea. Economy is often beneficial to the storytelling process, and limited funding begets better levels of creativity on behalf of the film-maker, something to which George Lucas hasn’t been familiar with since the late 70’s. With hindsight, filming both sequels to The Matrix simultaneously might have been a good idea financially, creatively it perhaps wasn’t – mind you, with the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy stemming from being filmed together, perhaps the risk was worth taking. The Matrix Reloaded, and its immediate descendant Revolutions, were released six months apart, in 2003, to much hoopla and fanfare on the part of the studio and fans alike: pre-release trailers had us gawping like imbeciles at the stunning effects and glimpses of the gargantuan visual dynamic the Wachowkis were to unleash upon us. Little did we know, right?
Set some time after events in The Matrix, Reloaded sees Neo having visions of Trinity’s impending doom, a foretelling he’ll stop at nothing to prevent. Agent Smith, meanwhile, is still lurking in the dark recesses of the Matrix, stalking Neo through the digital realm and trying to acquire enough power to kill The One. Returning to Zion, Morpheus, Neo and Trinity, along with their new crewmates, rediscover the reason they’re fighting – humanity is under threat from the machines’ new tunneling devices, devices which will chew through the Earth and eventually find their way to Zion itself, resulting in the final battle. The trio must return to the Matrix to meet with the Oracle, to try and find a way to stop the increasingly powerful Smith. The key to stopping Smith, apparently, is to locate the Keymaster, held prisoner in the dungeon of one who calls himself The Merovingian, the Keymaster being the one who can unlock the hidden passages behind the code of the Matrix and take Neo directly to the source. Or something like that. Along they way, they meet the Oracles protector, Seraph, a tiny Asian dude who kicks as much ass as Neo does.
As somebody who unashamedly enjoyed the hell out of Reloaded, I can say without question it’s one of my all time faves… at least as far as balls-out action goes. The main feature, a massive chase/battle/chase sequence from downtown to an enormous freeway, as well as various locations within the Merovingian’s lair, takes around twenty or thirty minutes to unspool, the sheer bedazzlement of money spent on production perhaps more impressive than the film itself. The critical factor in it all, though, is the fact that the story, by comparison to the original film, is slim at best. Perhaps it was the weight of possibility and the frustration of anticipation, but like The Phantom Menace before it, Reloaded (and Revolutions, for that matter) could never hope to live up to the expectations of the rabid fans worldwide: that said, lowering your expectations does nothing for the fact that the story in the twin Matrix sequels just isn’t as well honed (or fat free) as the first film. A completely batshit Neo/Smith brawl in the middle of the film, a sequence lasting some fifteen minutes (or does it feel longer?), in which Neo battles not one Agent Smith, but hundreds, is the equivalent of the Wachowski’s flipping the bird to all those copycat Bullet Time parodies, by making a sequence there is no way anybody could hope to replicate – even worse, it doesn’t do anything for the story but look cool, a fact not entirely lost on an audience willing the film to give it something more than empty parroting from Morpehus.
The story, such as it is, flaps in the breeze like a busted window. There’s no semblance of the finely tuned narrative from film 1, instead we’re given a ten minute lecture by the Merovingian as to just how powerful he is (rather than just show us, he has to flap his gums for an eternity!) before Neo ends up brawlin’ with Frenchie’s henchmen and flying away. Action supersedes story, narrative structure is reduced to empty pseudo-philosophy and faux-intellectualism, a belligerent style the Wachowski’s inherited when they were given a blank cheque to write this thing. Sure, the visuals scream out for an Oscar for Special Effects and Cinematography, but the story starts to drag… and drag and drag. It’s like they sucked all the humanity out of the film and made the cast all act like robots. Nobody cracks a smile, nobody has any warmth to their souls here – the Wachowski’s have fairly and squarely delivered what can only be described as an emotionally liberated film. Not liberating, liberated. Neo, trinity and Morpheus all act like cyborgs, glaring and glowering their way through this fetish-fest with barely any semblance of emotional connection whatsoever. The chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss seems to have evaporated into a shell of its former glory, resulting in a love affair that’s patently as thin as Moss’s stick-like figure. Morpheus has become a character who knows he’s cool and shows it, rather than just being cool because he is so. Fishburne has some “inspirational” motivation speechifying early in the film, just prior to an overlong, pointless (but rockin’) human dance orgy, but it rings hollow because the love has been sucked out of the film.
As a stand alone film, I would state that Reloaded is one of the best filmed, most exquisite action/sci-fi films released by Hollywood in the last twenty or so years, even if its story isn’t so strong. As a sequel to one of the best sci-fi films of all time, it’s a mess. Convoluted, bloated and seemingly without end, The Matrix Reloaded swaddles its way between action sequences by having the omnipresent fear of the Machine’s attacking Zion played out every few moments. Just to remind us what all the hoopla is about. The story attempts to be more epic, more encompassing, since it introduces a plethora of new and un-involving characters for us to follow, characters we have no story for save the ramblings of war-talk and the like – Mifune, the leader of the resistance’s military forces in Zion, has a bugbear with Morpheus about Niobe, the female pilot of another vessel similar to the Neb. Niobe, Morpheus and Mifune have some kind of weird love-triangle thing going on, and its a mere footnote to the outcome of both the film and the overriding narrative – yet Andy and Larry give it more credence than it’s worth. The addition of extra characters suffocates the screenplay into a gasping, clutching spasm of a thing, lurching from one “cool” moment to another, trying desperately to keep The Matrix fanboys happy, while exponentially increasing the confusion about the plot rather than lowering it.
Newcomers Lambert Wilson, as the Merovingian, and his on-screen wife Persephone, played by the always stunning Monica Bellucci, are about as consistently annoying as syphilis, and the Wachowski’s spend an inordinate amount of time giving these two some sort of warped love story – Wilson’s performance is grating to say the least. Will Smiths wife, Jada Pinkett, plays Morpheus’ one-time love interest Niobe, although with only minimal character development she’s reduced to a few key moments of cool and not much else. Gloria Foster produces yet another head-scratching mountain of double-talking dialogue, her last on-screen appearance in the Matrix trilogy, since she would pass away prior to filming scenes for Revolutions. Her lolly-crunching affectation is lovely, and of all the hallucinatory characters in the film, she’s the most…. human. Lost actor Harold Perrineau takes over the role of the Neb’s pilot, as Link (an apropos name considering his character is related to Tank, the original operator from The Matrix) and has a few funny moments, while Clayton Watson overacts as one of Neo’s most ardent fans, the Kid. Watson had previously voiced the same character in one of the Animatrix shorts, Kid’s Story. Far and away, though, the most conspicuous member of the cast would have to be Helmut Bakaitis, playing the eponymous Architect – apparently, he’s responsible for creating the Matrix, or at least, this version of it. Bakaitis delivers his lines with aplomb, even though to most people they’re almost incomprehensible unless you’ve got a thesaurus handy. Many fans have said that the appearance of the Architect represents the Wachowki’s “jumping the shark”, but I tend to disagree: that moment occurs in The Matrix Revolutions, during the gunfight in the lobby of the Merovingian’s club.
Yes, there’s plenty to roll your eyes at with Reloaded. A pointless fight between Neo and the Oracle’s bodyguard Seraph, to which the latter informs Neo as to why they’re fighting: “You never really know someone, until you fight them”. What? Really? Seems to me that the Wachowski’s think we should all beat the shit out of each other. The logic behind the massive chase sequence involving Morpheus, Trinity and the Keymaster, as well as a couple of Agents, is thin at best, but the scene works so well as a pure action piece it avoids complete redundancy only just.
If nothing else, Reloaded provides the viewer with an absolutely blast of an action film – putting aside issues with the story, the logic or the lack of character depth, Reloaded is an action-film lovers pure, unadulterated delight. Explosive, loud and gargantuan, seemingly without limit, Reloaded plays like a computer game gone mad – the opening sequence, with Trinity leaping from a window several hundred stories up, falling to earth while being shot at by an Agent, will make your jaw drop, while the massive twenty minute chase sequence involving colliding trucks, Agents leaping from vehicle to vehicle, and a pair of ghostly Twins creeping up the joint, will swizzle your brain inside your skull and leave you speechless. The Wachowski’s took the money they got from Warner Bros and put it all up on the screen – the visual effects, the massive sets and epic, wide-screen scope of Reloaded sparkles with money well spent. It’s the visual equivalent of that blank cheque writ large, even if the end result is bloated and unfocused. As such, it’s become one of my favorite Guilty Pleasure movies, and a film I consider to be among the best sequels of its type: bigger, bolder and (for better or worse) badder. On a personal level, I find this film to be more entertaining on a mindless, action-packed level than the original. Call me small minded, but I just love to watch stuff blow up, and Reloaded delivers on a monumental scale.
The internet is filled with plenty of people ready to hate on Reloaded (and even moreso on Revolutions) but I’m among the minority who stand up and say “I still enjoy watching this film” and mean it. I even went so far as to list it in my Top Ten Sequels list over at Top 10 Films. I have a soft spot for Reloaded, even with all its faults – I overlook the logic and narrative faults and concentrate on the simple, jaw-dropping entertainment factor. For that reason, and that reason alone, this film rates a lot higher than it perhaps should, under the circumstances. See haters? It is possible to find the faults and still enjoy this action-packed spectacle.