Although the first reviewer I am not, I intentionally avoided any other reviews of The Matrix Reloaded so as not to taint my fragile little brain with the spoilers so many reviewers slap in with or without the best of intentions. That said, I can tell you exactly what they're going to say! Most people (and the reviewers they rely on) will walk out of this movie saying it was visually stunning. They'll say it was a special effects extravaganza... a popcorn movie... not as good as the first... Empty story line... style over substance... thin plot... And every one of them who say such things are wrong, wrong, wrong! This movie might suffer from the same plague as Unbreakable! Both are wonderful comic book movies (all original I might add) that will be compared to their predecessors, and will be ultimately not be understood by the average popcorn movie-goer. Larry and Andy Wachowski have taken the freedom afforded them by the phenomenal success of The Matrix and have made a movie that is exactly the movie they wanted to make! Further this film is aimed toward a very specific audience... Comic Book Fans with College Degrees (oh, yes, we exist, little people)!
I was one of the lucky ones back in 1999. My wife and I went to see The Matrix before all the spoofs, and tributes and articles and spoilers began to surface all over the place. Like many out there we thought we were going to see some vaguely futuristic hacker film with great action, drugs and stunts... sort of Johnny Mnemonic on a Star Wars budget. Needless to say when "The Surprise" was revealed... people as batteries for an immense system of computers and machines keeping the humans working with an elaborate 20th century simulation of life, we were both stunned! The Matrix fleshed out ideas scarcely touched on since Ren Descartes wrote Discourse on Method (though I doubt that Descartes' Evil Genius ever looked quite like this)! As Keanu Reeves' Neo begins to think, and therefore, be, he comes to terms with the concept that he is "The One," a sort of Cyber Messiah who alone can save Humanity from the clutches of the machines... or he tries to. When we last see him he's flying above the crowd of Matrix Minions like a Goth Clark Kent (without the spit curl)!
So ends the first film... If you haven't seen it, stop reading this and do so! The second film picks up some time later (judging from the length of Neo's hair)! The Freedom Fighters of Zion (the last Human City on Earth) have received intel that the machines who control the Matrix are burrowing through the ground to get to them and exterminate all free humanity! All of the Zion Hovercraft ships (including Morpheus' (Larry Fishburn) own Nebuchadnezzar from the first film are ordered to remain nearby to defend them.
The crew of the Nebuchadnezzar (including Trinity [Carrie-Anne Moss], Morpheus, Neo himself, and newcomer Link [Harold Perrineau of HBO's Oz and Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo + Juliet]) believe that they can destroy the Matrix, and therefore the Machine threat from the inside. And so the plot is set! (I promised no Spoilers!)
The Matrix Reloaded offers no recap of the first film. The first film is a prerequisite. Instead this film accepts that you already understand the concepts of the first film, which is a welcome trend... the making of sequels for fans! As a matter of fact this entire film is made for Fans, by Fans of the Genre... and that might be the very reason that most folks will walk out not knowing what they just saw! For one thing, the attention to detail in this movie is incredible. There's one scene in which Neo (whom we saw able to fly in the first film) is described as
The Wachowski Brothers further pay close attention to their own continuity. Unlike some unmentionables there are no "Gregory Benford Moments" where you wonder how such a disjointed script made it to film. That's not to say there aren't surprises, because there are! More on these later!
As previously stated this is a purely Sci-Fi movie. You never forget that you are not in the real world here, as you so easily could in the first film. Even while within the Matrix itself there are surreal Fantasies that are hard to wrap your head around (like doors that open into different parts of the world depending on which key unlocks them).
But it is outside the Matrix where we truly see the Science Fictive nature of the Wachowski vision! Zion is a fascinating eye-scape combining mechanisms and primitive influences into a complex yin-yang that Giger would be proud of! The reliance on Machines even in Zion is lost to no one (by aaron pruitt). Elements of Classic Sci-Fi (from before most Sci-Fi started looking the same) arises in Zion. The clothing, the environment, the method of governance all hearken back to a Battlestar Galactica, THX-1138, Logan's Run or even Forbidden Planet feel! Considering the top of the line special effects, it's ironic to state that they just don't make movies like this anymore... but they just don't make movies like this anymore!
Clearly all the favorite characters are back and looking incredible! Smith (Hugo Weaving) is back and no longer an "Agent" but more of a Virus in the system. You've heard of popping up like a bad penny? Well, Smith pops up like a whole bad roll of quarters when least convenient! Also, other Agents who are still allegiant to the Matrix cause more trouble than a Boba Fett Impersonator at a Star Trek Convention!
But it's the new characters that steal the show! The Twins , who look like Shotgun Messiah-era Tim Skold, have powers you have to be tripping to believe. Persephone (Monica Bellucci) is alternately Hot, Dangerous, and teasingly playful! Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) fascinates with every word whether it's about his power-brokering agenda, or... other things! And then there's The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) who delivers the biggest surprises of this film (to rival even Neo's awakening in a human Battery Pack!)
And those are just the bad guys. Link, the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), Captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Zee (Nona Gaye), and Councillor Hamann (Sci-Fi Alumnus Anthony Zerbe in a welcome Cameo) are all necessary characters who move the plot along beautifully! Even the incredibly hot Gina Torres makes an unexpected appearance as Cas!
So why not give it 5 Stars? Well, I'd love to, but there are some Minor, nitpicky little issues I need to hit. First off there are a couple of moments in which the CGI is not so Flawless! Like 2002's Spider-Man once or twice the seams between real life and Animation are not only noticeable, they can give you paper cuts. Most of this surrounds Neo's trench coat while in the Matrix! In that everything within the Matrix is supposed to be a surreal CGI anyway purists can explain that away! Also just before every fight scene begins there is a ramping up of techno music that is supposed to get you right into the mood. It gets a little predictable and (although the fight scenes are great) that one little gimmick makes them feel a little bit similar each time out! (That's it... just a couple)!
Sure there are a lot of violent scenes, but most no worse than the first film. Yes, there are lots of Slow-Motion kicks, and Panoramic still-cam shots that reflect on the beautiful world that Larry and Andy created, but it is a great world. The acting is universally pretty good (even Keanu "WHOA!" Reeves... though I don't know how many takes it took). I thought the Martial Arts were incredible, but some Sifu or Sensei out there will probably be able to find tons of flaws. I liked it. This also has the best car chase scene of any movie to date. Better than Bullitt better than The French Connection... and better than Capricorn One... if you can believe that!
I'm still debating about bringing my daughter to see it. The first The Matrix is to date the only R-rated film she's seen, but this one has a little more to worry about! So, Parents: This film is somewhat more violent (with more actual people getting hurt, not just vanishing) and some very hideous car crashes that you won't believe. There is one long sex scene in the film, but it's tasteful and not gratuitous at all (no nudity either), and during the same scene the citizens of Zion have a Bump and Grind dance which is pretty steamy, and has some brief, brief nudity!
This is also not a stand alone film at all. You must have seen the first to understand this one, and once you see this one you immediately MUST see the third. (Those of you seeing this in a Theatre, stay through the credits as there is an exclusive Preview of the next film The Matrix Revolutions afterward that isn't available anywhere else!) The cliffhanger ending doesn't take away from the fact that there is a real, viable climax to this film which leaves the viewer wondering what is real, and what is truly the Descartesian Evil Genius of the Matrix confusing you again!
The Matrix Reloaded is a wonderful and complete film. It's not for everyone, and many fans of the first won't understand it! Anyone who calls the plot thin either didn't get it or didn't pay attention! Four and one Half stars for The Matrix Reloaded! Study up on your Descartes, then strap on your skin tight leather and prepare for more ass-kicking before breakfast than most movies kick all day! In the Easter Egg Category: When the Architect is sitting in the room covered in television monitors, watch closely whose image appears when he says the word "Grotesque!"