Warner Bros. Pictures
The first movie in the Matrix trilogy derived in part from Emerson's "noble doubt" of the existence of nature itself --- the ancient intuition that the universe consists merely of our own perceptions; a private dream, rather than an external reality. In the sequel, The Matrix: Reloaded, that doubt persists, combined with frequent, cryptic discussions of questions concerning choice, chance, and fate --- free will versus what Huck Finn calls "preforeordestination." In this case, the philosophical speculation has resulted not in some further exploration of the metaphysical potential of science fiction film, but in an expensive blockbuster that resembles too many others of its kind. Reloaded a long, violent movie, crammed full of the latest in stunt work and special effects. It embodies just the sort of thing that too many filmmakers and filmgoers mistake for cinema.
In Reloaded, most of the characters return and most of the conflicts continue. This means that Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) fight the forces of the Matrix --- chiefly, the bland, self-duplicating Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). They also defend the underground city of Zion against a horde of mechanical octopuses called the Machine Army. A great many additional characters show up, sporting the same confused historical-Greco-Biblical nomenclature that underlines the semi-literate pretentiousness of the script. They include Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Persephone (Monica Bellucci), the Oracle (Gloria Foster), and even a guy called The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), suggesting that the writing-directing Wachowski brothers have been leafing, rather too quickly, through a stack of Classics Comics.
The essentially simple plot pitting the humans against the machines --- mostly in the form of Neo and his friends battling Agent Smith --- repeats itself over and over, and is interrupted by all sorts of subplots and talky digressions. The subplots include a laboriously conscious, mythic descent into the underworld (the Matrix); a political disagreement in the council of Zion; a curious sexual episode involving The Merovingian, his wife Persephone, and another woman; and a rhythmic series of dialogues in which some Wise Old Man (or Woman) instructs Neo in the purported differences between choice and destiny. Those discussions reach no discernible conclusion. However, they do hint at the Deep Thoughts the writer-directors cannot incorporate organically into the characters and action of the picture.
Aside from its connections to its predecessor, Reloaded differs very little from any of the various blockbusters that reverberate in the multiplexes every summer. It displays the usual, dazzling, state-of-the-art special effects, further refined from the first film. This means that Reeves floats through the air in six or seven different martial arts ballets, bullets spiral in slow motion from the barrels of automatic weapons, and characters suffer innumerable fatal blows and shots that never leave so much as a bruise. When the filmmakers run out of ideas --- original and otherwise --- they resort to that standard maneuver, the car chase down a crowded highway, using sedans, motorcycles, and a trailer truck (all of which, of course, collide, overturn, explode, and burn, in the great tradition of the scene).
Perhaps in keeping with its attempt to explore some pseudo-religious concepts, Reloaded now and then looks like a replay of the battles of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation. The endlessly replicated Agent Smith dresses in a black suit, white shirt, and black tie, looking very like a seminarian. Neo wears a black cassock (black, by the way, from shoes to sunglasses, pretty much provides the color scheme) and resembles nothing so much as an unfrocked priest. Even the frequent discussions of fate and free will sound like some of the theological arguments that continue to fracture Christianity.
The internal logic of Reloaded deteriorates as the philosophical basis for action that distinguished the first movie also breaks down. By insisting so strongly on the insubstantiality of its people and objects, the script nullifies the meaning of its endless fights and shootouts: If the vehicles, guns, bullets, and people don't really exist, it's difficult to accept the notion that they present any danger. When Agent Smith, in one of his avatars, Swiss-cheeses a Cadillac with an automatic weapon, for example, he behaves like any bad guy in an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick, rather than a constantly transmogrifying figure allegedly packed with profound meaning.
Perhaps the most puzzling object in the whole movie is the city of Zion, the last refuge of humanity. It looks like a huge, rusty, clanking piece of Victorian machinery, where the people crowd together in dark, dank, iron cells and the whole place functions on chain drives and steam power. It hardly seems worth defending against the wiggly mechanisms that bore through the planet bent on destroying the Biblical city. The script never really bothers to explain the motivation of the Machine Army and the entities behind it, aside from reiterating the vague, humanistic pieties of the original film.
Since the script demands an odd constellation of elements --- intellectual pretentiousness of a high order, a certain emotional frigidity, and absolute impassivity from the characters --- the general silliness of the dialogue and the inadequacy of the actors hardly constitute a problem. His smooth, pale countenance, weak voice, and limited range make Reeves a perfect Neo. Fishburne, a good actor, is reduced to merely frowning and uttering plangent declarations of his belief in the destiny of Zion and other such nonsense.
Aside from the enormous expense, the spectacular stunts, and the amazing effects, The Matrix: Reloaded amounts to a major disappointment, especially after the excellence of its predecessor. Perhaps the third film of the trilogy, which is already in the can, will redeem the whole work. One can only have faith in the Oracle.
The Matrix: Reloaded, starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gloria Foster, Harry Lennix, Harold Perrineau, Anthony Zerbe, Helmut Bakaitis, Lambert Wilson; written and directed by the Wachowski brothers. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.
You can hear George and his movie reviews on WXXI-FM 91.5 Fridays at 7:15 a.m., rerun on Saturdays at 11:15 a.m.