The tagline for the new Matrix film, Reloaded, is”Free Your Mind”. I think a more appropriate one would be a line ofdialogue taken from the Christopher Guest comedy A Mighty Wind: “Hey, Wha’ Happened?”
Four years of intenseanticipation and even more intense hype has given way to MatrixReloaded, a flat follow up to the 1999 sci-fi hit starring Keanu Reeves thatplayed like Alice In Wonderland with guns and robots. The original film waseverything its sequel is not – involving, exciting, inventive and most ofall, fun. While Reloaded does have some gems scattered about in its secondhalf, you may find yourself sitting in a darkened theatre wondering exactlywhat is the point of that which you are witnessing.
In this instalment of the trilogy, Neo (Keanu Reeves)assumes greater command of his powers as Zion falls under siege to theMachine Army. Only a matter of hours separates Zion, the last human enclaveon Earth, from 250,000 Sentinels programmed to destroy mankind. But thecitizens of Zion, emboldened by Morpheus’ (Laurence Fishburne) convictionthat the One will fulfill the Oracle’s Prophecy and end the war with theMachines, rest all manner of hope and expectation on Neo, who finds himselfstalled by disturbing visions as he searches for a course of action.
In order to find a way to stop the machines, Neo,Morpheus and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) must once again enter the Matrix tofind a person who can help them in the war. Along the way, there are bothnew and old villains to contend with, including the now rouge Agent Smith(Hugo Weaving), who is hell bent on getting out of the Matrix at allcosts.
The 1999 original, written and directed by theWachowski Brothers, was a unique breath of fresh air in the sci-fi genre -the effects were impressive, the action scenes exciting and the storyinvolving, one that did a fine job introducing its concept: our world isnothing more than an elaborate computer program. It wasn’t perfect, but itsure was a lot of fun.
I wish I could say the same about Reloaded. Infact, I consider this movie to be the antithesis of the first film. All ofthe elements that made the first Matrix unique, save the visual effects andstunt work, work against Reloaded. The directing by the Wachowskis isunfocused and plodding, even – surprisingly – during the action sequences (moreon that below). Instead of taking chances with their material, theWachowskis seem to be playing it safe, rehashing what made the first onesuch a big hit and serving it up under a different name.
Their screenplay is equally a let-down. It’s thin,underdeveloped and full of pretentious dialogue, including a horrible,rambling discourse delivered by a useless character named Merovingen(Lambert Wilson) regarding choice, illusion and chocolate cake (!) that stopthe film dead in its tracks. The screenplay also lacks a much-needed senseof humour (where is Joe Pantoliano when you need him?).
Neo is a prime example of the script’s failure torealise its own potential. He’s meant to be “The One”, possessing superhumanpowers that pose a serious threat to the machines. Yet, rare does he usethem, and the powers he does use we’ve already seen in the first film. IfNeo can do things others can’t, like stopping bullets, flying into Agentsand breaking their “code”, why is he still using kung fu as a fightingtechnique? Does Neo fulfill his promise, made at the end of the first film,to free more minds from the Matrix? No. Why not? Live up to the film’stagline and have him free his mind! If anything, his mind seems more closedthan it did during the first film.
Any of the above would have made up for thealmost-unbearable first act set in Zion, home of lame secondary characters,political intrigue that makes CSPAN exciting and a rave/orgy sequence thatmade me wonder if softcore porn director Zalman King stopped by for a day ofdirecting.
In regards to the action sequences, the one standoutbeing the 17-minute freeway chase towards the end of the film, someoneshould have also told Andy and Larry that their signature bullet time/wirefu/slow-motion techniques have now become pass. They’ve been done to deathin the four-year interim between Matrix films. They are no longer unique orexciting. The only thing they manage to accomplish is to slow the pace downeven further.
Reeves, Moss and Fishburne are adequate even if theyare just going through the motions here (you would too if you were giventhis screenplay). Weaving, the late Gloria Leonard (she died shortly aftercompleting her role) and Jada Pinkett-Smith make the most of their limitedscreen time and underwritten roles, coming off the best of the bunch, whileMonica Bellucci’s extended cameo adds very little aside from some greatvisual splendor.
And it all ends with a weak cliffhanger, one thatwill be resolved this November with the third and final film, Revolutions.The brief trailer had some interesting scenes, but Reloaded deflated any andall enthusiasm I had to see this series to its end. I would like to hold outhope that Revolutions will justify the mediocrity of Reloaded, but it wouldhave be something quite extraordinary to do that.
Take Neo’s advice to Trinity and “stay out of theMatrix”.