Should I Watch..? The Matrix Reloaded
What's the big deal?
The Matrix Reloaded is an action sci-fi film released in 2003 and is the second instalment of The Matrix series. Written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers (as they were back then), the film sees Neo once again do battle against the machines within their virtual realm whilst also discovering the return of Agent Smith, who has developed new powers since their last encounter. The film reunites the cast members Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving together with newcomers Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci and Lambert Wilson. It also marked the final film appearance for Gloria Foster who passed away in 2001. Like The Matrix (1) before it, the film was a huge hit at the box office with takings in excess of $742 million but critics were more divided, citing excessive exposition and a confusing plot as negative aspects of the film. It was followed by a third and final film The Matrix Revolutions (2) later that same year.
What's it about?
Six months after the events of the first film, Neo and Trinity have become lovers with Neo finally accepting himself as the One - the prophesied leader of the human resistance against the machines. An emergency call to Zion forces the Nebuchadnezzar to travel to the last human city on Earth where they unite with fellow ships that also hack into the Matrix. However, the celebrations are short-lived - it is announced that Sentinels are tunnelling their way towards Zion and will destroy them in less than 72 hours.
For Neo, who is haunted by recurring nightmares of Trinity's death, his only hope is to try to end the war for good. While the rest of humanity prepare to defend Zion, Neo and Trinity board the Nebuchadnezzar in order to try and contact the Oracle who may hold the key to ending the war. But Neo soon finds that Agent Smith has returned and gone rogue, developing the ability to clone himself from other people and agents within the Matrix. And Smith's determination to destroy Neo at all costs puts everyone in danger...
Jada Pinkett Smith
Andy & Lana Wachowski
Andy & Lana Wachowski
Release Date (UK)
21st May, 2003
Razzie Award Nomination
What's to like?
Anyone who found the first half of The Matrix to be a little on the slow side will be delighted to learn that the sequel throws you straight into the action. With the pre-amble already out of the way, the film can concentrate on showing us new tricks that the film-makers have learnt and new characters to add to the mix. The highlight is definitely the thrilling highway pursuit as Neo and the gang are pursued not just by agents but the unnerving Twins and their unique set of abilities.
Weaving has also evolved, turning Agent Smith from a mildly unhinged computer program to a thoroughly nasty piece of software with designs on the real world as well. His presence is truly felt throughout the movie, despite attempting to leave him in the shadows for the time being. What we do get is a rush of information and characters that floods the screen like those familiar green symbols raining down. Characters like Persephone, the Merovingian and the Architect suddenly appear as if they've been waiting since the first film but who they are and what significance they had got lost in the chaos somewhere. Probably because another kung-fu sequence arrived to distract me from studying the plot too closely.
- Agent Smith's number-plate is IS 5416, as seen on his Audi at the start of the film. In the King James Bible, Isaiah 54:16 reads "Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy."
- The highway sequence was shot on a 1.4 mile three-lane loop built specifically for this movie. Shooting this sequence took three months, more than the entire shooting schedule for many movies
- Martial arts training for the cast took eight months - Trinity's Scorpion Kick alone took Moss six months just to get right.
What's not to like?
Almost all of the new things introduced in The Matrix Reloaded failed to grab my interest or attention. Zion seemed a trifle unimaginative (and was instantly put under a death sentence by the plot anyway), the new characters don't really add much to the film and Morpheus has gone from being a Yoda-like mentor to an irritating cryptic figure, spouting dialogue of such vapid awfulness that I paid no attention to anything he said. The plot became mired in the digital destruction wrought and the details were the first things to go. I enjoyed the first film because it made sense, not because just of the dojo sequence or the lobby shootout although these did help, I admit.
But the worst thing was how much of the action was now performed by digital doubles. Take the scene when Neo is set upon by numerous clones of Agent Smith and has to fend them off with a staff. It felt as if the entire sequence was nothing more than pixels on a screen instead of actors performing the stunts themselves - and you can tell that they are computer sprites. The energy you felt watching Neo and Smith duke it out in the subway station in The Matrix is replaced with dreary repetition and the realisation that you might as well be watching someone else play a video game. This was not what I expected and frankly, it left me cold.
Should I watch it?
For fans who have worn their DVD and Blu-ray copies of the first film out, The Matrix Reloaded will provide a necessary hit of slow-motion awesomeness and excessive Bullet Time moments. Just don't expect to be able to follow the film's complex narrative. From the giddy heights of the first film, this is far short in terms of imagination, story-telling, performances and cinematography. It's an entertaining enough dose of kung-fu capers and philosophical pondering but surely there were better ideas in the tank?
Great For: philosophy students, Buddhists, action junkies who don't care about plot
Not So Great For: fans of the first film, the easily distracted, therapists
What else should I watch?
The Matrix Revolutions, unfortunately, loses the plot entirely as half the film seemed to be set in Zion and the other half focused on Neo leading up to the final face-off with Agent Smith. Watching that, I thought back to the wonder and awe I felt watching The Matrix for the first time and the relative simplicity of its plot and wondered how they had gotten the series so wrong from that glorious starting point. Personally, I'd just stick with the first film and imagine your own story from that point on - neither this or Revolutions got anywhere near the sheer class of that first movie.
Cyberpunk has had a somewhat less-than-stellar history in movies but there are examples worth hunting for. Virtuosity (3) is a somewhat mindless but compelling thriller in which Denzel Washington's traumatised cop must track down a digital composite of numerous serial killers who has escaped into the real world, played with eye-swivelling lunacy by Russell Crowe. Strange Days (4) is a vastly under-rated sci-fi thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow and sees Ralph Fiennes' sleazy ex-cop drawn into a conspiracy involving snuff movies and exploited women in the final days of the last millennium. And of course, there are the two classics who take very different approaches. Blade Runner (5) is a noir-ish thriller that asks a lot of smart questions about artificial intelligence and the nature of what it means to be human while Terminator 2: Judgment Day (6) doesn't and settles for blowing stuff up. A lot.