1.5 stars out of 4. Extremely Disappointing Godawful Mess That In Effect Gives Us The Finger.
Here is an sci-fi action film for the senses and not the mind. Unfortunately it isn’t really for the senses either. The Matrix pulled a Die Hard-like feat in making a smaller action film with no real fanfare become a worldwide phenomenon. This eagerly awaited sequel was filmed back to back with the third sequel, which was released six months later. What occurred over the four year gap between films is that the drive of the story evaporated.
I’ve found that the only way to accurately get across some of my extreme issues with this sequel is to go through the film chronologically, so that some of the frustration, confusion and sheer rising anger encountered can be adequately expressed. It shouldn’t be a bad film. The production value is high, and enough of a story is present in order to keep some semblance of a coherent narrative. However it is the indifference to this bare minimum necessary to maintain an audience’s attention span and other elements that makes Reloaded fail completely as both a movie to be enjoyed and as a sequel to the first film. Instead of being along for the ride and a part of the action, we are left on the sidelines and told that we humans are just to stupid to understand the great events going on before our very mortal eyes.
Reloaded opens with the human resistance in deeper struggle with the machines. a secret meeting is held between crews inside the Matrix where it is revealed that a machine army is digging towards Zion, the last human city. The machines mean to end the war in one fell swoop and will reach the city in 72 hours. The crews must return to Zion, but Morpheus asks for one crew to stay behind so that they may have news of the Oracle. Neo, “The One” who was supposed to end the war and save humanity, still has no idea of what he is supposed to do. (How would anyone know?) One crew remains and the meeting is broken up by agents. Curiously this is preceded by Agent Smith giving Neo his earpiece and thanking him for setting Smith free. Wait, didn’t Smith get destroyed last time round?
The others return to Zion (giving no thought to the reappearance of Smith), giving us our first glimpse of the last human city in existence. A place that was only referred to briefly in the original film, the Zion that was built up in our imaginations of course does not exist. What we are presented is essentially just a giant cave with rooms connected to other caves. Oh, and there are some people around wearing rags and robes. At their home, everybody tries to get a little R&R, especially Neo & Trinity who seem to never be able to have their umm..conjugal visitations. This is because Neo is seen as a Christ-like figure who is besieged with request to bless and aid others in need.
Everyone continues talking about the impending machine attack and what the people should be told. This goes on for several scenes and no agreement is reached on whether to lie, water down the truth, or admit that an army is coming. We then focus on the secondary character of the new computer operator, Link, and his wife who is angry with him serving in the ship that killed her brothers and being in danger. Ooookay, was that really necessary to explore?
That night, a meeting is held to explain what is going to happen to Zion. Neo and Trinity sneak off to have that visit. Without any hesitation, Morpheus stands before everyone and brazenly shouts that the machines are coming to kill them all (in a highly but unintentionally funny over the top performance), and that things look bleak, but that they will make a lot of noise. Oh, I mean something more like: “WE ARE ALL GOING TO PROBABLY DIE, SO INSTEAD OF PREPARING OR GETTING READY FOR THE FINAL BATTLE OF OUR LIVES, LET’S HAVE A MASSIVE SLOW-MOTION RAVE AND GROPE EACH OTHER TO TECHNO!!!” This terrible and completely stupid scene lasts for a good four minutes and is inter-cut with Neo and Trinity’s lovemaking. After you’ve winced for this entire sequence, as we all did in the theater, the movie decides to finally continue with those still in the Matrix trying to get word back to Morpheus that the Oracle wants to meet. Unfortunately the last man is captured by Smith who uses his new-found power to copy himself so that Smith is then extracted into the real world via the telephone. Wait, how does that work?
Neo finds and has to fight the Oracle’s bodyguard, Seraph. Then he is led to his meeting with the Oracle, who engages in a completely nonsensical dialogue with Neo for about five minutes before finally relaying Neo’s new objective. He must retrieve the Keymaker from the Merovingian in order to reach the Source where the path of the One ends. (“Are you the keymaster?“) And of course this makes little to no sense, but at least it’s something for us to go on. The Oracle then leaves and Smith appears. He explains that when Neo destroyed him that he was supposed to go off to be destroyed like other dead programs. But he simply didn’t want to. Okay, if that’s true then why isn’t there a fail-safe in the Matrix to prevent this, and how does this make Smith seemingly invulnerable and able to copy himself? Smith essentially says has no purpose and tries to copy Neo. This does not work, and a fight ensues. It starts well, and continues. Starting to get a bit stale, more Smith clones appear. Getting more stale, more clones appear. Finally a small army of Smith clones appear, and Neo flies away. Throughout this fight, things turn into complete computer animation which absolutely destroys any and all sense of this being a real conflict. The addition of a computer animated Neo simply does not work and undoes the fight entirely. Not that it wasn’t getting stale anyway. (Oh, and isn’t it funny how some of the Smith clones have a different face in the longer shots?)
Two crews volunteer to aid Morpheus’s crew in the hopes of proving the prophecy of the One while the rest prepare for the machines’ assault. Morpheus, trinity and Neo then enter into the film’s only truly interesting scene where they meet with the Merovingian. The Frenchman is a dealer in information, an older program who lords over his power and underlings like a classic-era Warner Bros. villain. Here is a fully realized character who draws out every last syllable as if it were a fine wine. His actions are all meticulously plotted, even a tryst with an attractive woman is wonderfully overdone with a cleverly disguised dessert that triggers an overpowering orgasm.
He of course refuses to give them the Keymaker, and adds that they have nothing to give him in return. They are then led to the Keymaker by his frustrated wife who does this service in exchange for a kiss from Neo-a kiss that must be performed as if he were kissing Trinity. Ah, actual interest and development in a scene arises! She gives them the Keymaker, which royally pisses off her husband. (Hey look, Brides of Dracula! A much better movie!) He sends his goons to retrieve the Keymaker and Neo fends them off. He stops them after a fight that goes on far too long with an obvious conclusion, and the Merovingian escapes to sadly never again appear in this series, save for a essentially pointless cameo.
Trinity and Morpheus are pursued by the Merovingian’s twin ghost boys who are seemingly invulnerable. They are forced to take the only available exit. It happens to be located on the freeway. This is built up as a very bad idea, and thus we have an example of that almost obligatory part of an action film: the car chase.
This is the one section of the film people point to to explain away the film’s problems. As long as there’s a big long action sequence, it must be good right? The slow motion bullet time is used frequently which immediately ruins any and all of the tension that has been built up in the chase thus far. Agents join in the chase to further complicate matters. But for some odd reason “the exile is our primary target“. What? Why do they care about an old program? Shouldn’t they be going after the human resistance? Why does this make sense? Why do I keep asking all of these rhetorical questions? I’m never going to be answered by the movie.
This scene progresses as if the filmmakers had gone to the John Woo school of directing, but Woo’s deep connection to the emotional subtext and character is sorely lacking. You continually come to realization that this entire sequence is designed around a single idea: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Cool. Cool is not a word with which one should design a film or storyline. Cool can be used in coming up with a situation or snake pit for action films. Cool should be used in conjunction with imagination in order to further enhance the impact of the story. The car chase fails miserably in maintaining story and tension. It becomes a lifeless video game level instead of a hair raising car chase where we are worried about these characters or what happens to the Keymaker. At this point, we still don’t even know who this little guy is!
Neo flies in to grab everyone and they adjourn to find out just what they need to do. The Keymaker tells them of a secret floor in a building that will give them access to Source entrance. They will need to shut down the power at two different locations in order to start a five minute window to get through the door to the Source. Neo must go alone into the unknown. One team goes in and completes their objective, with the other team’s ship destroyed by machines before their station can be destroyed. Thus, Trinity unbeknownst to Neo (who asked her to stay out of the Matrix because he has continual nightmares of her death) goes into destroy the station so that Neo can complete his mission. An Agent appears and they do battle.
Neo, Morpheus and the Keymaker are confronted by Smith in front of the door to the Source. (How did he get there?) he attacks with his clones and Neo manages to get the others into the doorway, but the Keymaker is fatally shot. He tells Neo which door to go through and tells Morpheus which door will lead him out of the Matrix. (So Morpheus was here for no reason. Good.) Neo goes through the doorway and gets to the point in the film and franchise where it all started to go completely downhill…
Neo meets a man sitting in an office chair in an empty room amidst dozens of TV screens plastered with his face. This is the Architect. The designer of the Matrix begins to spill the beans to Neo as to what is going on and what The One’s true objective is. There is much too much mumbo jumbo surrounding the few nuggets of truth, so the audience must again spend this time trying to slough through the crap to get to the meaning of what is being discussed. And the Architect begins by saying that Neo (and in reference, us as well) will only understand some of what is being said. That’s a great way to get us all off your backs, just say that we won’t understand what is going on!!!
Finally the Architect relays to Neo that the path of the One is really just another machine setup. It was found a necessary evil in order to keep all of the humans peaceable inside the Matrix and in subservience. The One must put his special code inside the machine source and reset things. Zion will be destroyed along with all of its inhabitants, and the One will start a new Zion with a selected small group of humans. (Dr. Strangelove’s mine shaft anyone?) Neo is the sixth “One” thus far and Zion has already been destroyed five times. Neo is now presented with a “choice”. If he returns to the Matrix, then all those plugged into he Matrix will be killed and Zion destroyed. If he goes to the source as directed, humanity will be saved from complete annihilation. Not much of a choice there is it?
The One is programmed with a deep connection to other humans and thus is supposed to be inclined towards performing his tasked duty. But Neo is primarily connected to Trinity, who is being killed by an Agent just as in his nightmares. So, Neo goes after her and dooms all humanity to destruction. A climax is quickly forced, where Trinity dies, Neo revives her, Neo only partially reveals the plot to the others, the ship is attacked and destroyed by Sentinels, they barely get away, and Neo suddenly realizes he has become awesome outside of the Matrix. He stops several Sentinels with his mind and promptly falls unconscious. The crew is picked up by another ship who has a crewman in the sickbay in a coma like Neo. Of course the crewman is the same one who was infected by Smith.
TO BE CONTINUED
Seriously, who ends a film with a silly “to be continued” card? This is not a TV episode or a cliffhanger of a serial. It’s a silly cliffhanger simply meant to bring people back in six months later. And the sequel is really the same film going on for 129 minutes longer. But with all of the really bad parts.
The ending of Reloaded makes little to no real sense. Neo has killed everyone already, so what is the use of Trinity surviving? Oh wait, the killing of everyone connected to the Matrix is never mentioned again, and absolutely no one is ever informed of what the Architect told Neo. So basically this has all become just a setup for the final assault on Zion. So much for leverage.
They had to bring things to a quick climax so how would you write the crew getting away on foot from the Sentinels? Oh yeah, Neo now has his magic powers in the real world! Wait, that makes ABSOLUTELY NO FREAKING SENSE IN ANY CONTEXT! (Sighs.) I still cannot tell if this is just lazy writing or if we were meant to take this seriously. Why would Neo be powerful outside the Matrix? The entire premise of this series was that the humans only could gain a partial semi-advantage via hacking into the system of the Matrix. To have him just as powerful outside ruins any dramatic context previously established and guts the film of any tension or interest that could possibly be left.
And then to have Neo in the same ship as the Smith-man, who just happens to also be in a coma is beyond coincidence. He’s not going to do something bad now is he?
The problem I have with this film, and its much inferior sequel is that all of the spunk present in the first film is completely gone. With the increased budget and success came a lifelessness to the Matrix universe. That spark that said, “screw it, let’s end the movie with Rage Against the Machine and Neo flying into the camera” is nowhere to be found. In addition the characters become one dimensional and over the course of Reloaded we cease to care a damn bit about them. Some fans of Star Wars have claimed that as soon as the sequels arrived the magic of a vast unknown universe was somewhat dissipated. That may be debatable, but it is absolutely true as far as the Matrix franchise is concerned. With each proceeding minute of this 4 1/2 hour snoozefest (both sequels put together) you feel all of the enjoyment and love you had for the first film get put through the wringer. If you have any love left for the franchise after sitting through both sequels, then hats off to you. I thought I didn’t and stayed away ever since the theatrical release.
This isn’t even going into the fact that the plot has no tension or definite meaning. Heck, there isn’t even a point to the mess. Reloadedis big, sprawling and unsteady. It’s as if this is a big lumbering ship lost at sea with no one at the helm to control the madness. For all those who claim this to be a decent movie, I challenge you: When was the last time you actually sat down and watched this mess? Especially right after the first film, which is a first class operatic masterwork in every way compared to this junk. The first film has passion, energy, characters with definite motivations, a fully realized opposing force with impressive agents in its service, pacing, and an actual screenplay that combines all of these elements into a highly entertaining and more simply put it: a great movie.
I found myself becoming increasingly angry at Reloaded while reviewing the DVD after all this time. It must be constructed in a way as to provide the maximum amount of confusion and frustration to the viewer. Not only does the film contradict itself numerous times, but it does so in such a mindbogglingly uninteresting way that you cease to really care at all.
EDITIONS: The DVD issue was and still is quite impressive. 16:9 anamorphic 2.35:1 image that looks spotless for the format and age, involving 5.1 Dolby mix that resembles the theatrical presentation, and a bevy of extras on a second disc. This was pretty much reissued untouched for the Ultimate boxset, and a the HD master struck for that DVD box was rolled over to HD-DVD with a Dolby True-HD 5.1 soundmix. This was simply ported over to Blu-ray. (All of this much like Warner’s practices, akin to their treatment of the Batman series on video.)