Four years following the release of The Matrix the Wachowski brothers bring back Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and Agent Smith to fight another day. Anticipation couldn’t be higher, so much to the point there was no way the film could live up to it. Simultaneously shot with the third film in the trilogy (Matrix Revolutions) to be released six months afterward, The Matrix Reloaded begins an undetermined time into the future since we last watched Neo fly off into the atmosphere after threatening to show the machines a world without them. Well, that didn’t work out too well because as we are getting our first glimpse of the underground human stronghold Zion and learning the machines are digging their way through the Earth and should be there soon enough kill the humans in about 72 hours, give or take.
When I first saw Reloaded in 2003 the sequel had enough for me to fall in love with everything it offered, even though what it offered was considerably less than I expected and wanted. Reloaded is a film entirely independent of what made The Matrix such a hit. In terms of expanding the world it certainly did that, but to what end? We always knew there was a Zion, but showing it to us did nothing more than offer up a visual representation of what we knew already existed, which would have been fine if we hadn’t been introduced to so many inconsequential characters in the process.
What began as a story about Neo and his rise to become The One is lost in what boils down to a film building up to a massive war. The restraint shown in The Matrix by the Wachowskis is no longer visible and their exploration of character is all but over.
The first hour of the film includes a lot of talky moments that mean absolutely nothing and barely serve to forward the plot. We are introduced to Commander Lock (Harry Lennix), a character added just to disagree with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Zee (Nona Gaye) is added to serve as a partner for the new character Link (Harold Perrineau) in an interest to include domestic squabbling; something that definitely doesn’t forward the story. Clayton Watson as the Kid is probably the most generic of them all as the Wachowskis give him more than enough time from the outset for the audience to realize he is going to play some kind of role in the things to come, little did we know it would be solely as a nuisance.
After the first hour plays your hopes of the sequel you wanted have been pretty much dashed, but a glimmer is on the horizon as Lambert Wilson, playing the Merovingian and his buxom bride Persephone (Monica Bellucci) make their appearance. In a film where everyone is so dead serious, Wilson and Bellucci add a much needed colorful distraction, both in appearance and personality. “Please, ma chÃ©rie. I have told you. We are all victims of causality. I drank too much wine, I must take a piss. Cause and effect. Au revoir,” the Merovingian says to Persephone before denying our heroes the asset they seek. Wilson appears to be the only one having fun with the role and his character is by far my favorite of the two sequels, if not the entire trilogy.
The scene with the Merovingian also returns back to the mythology of the Matrix and the world in which our heroes are walking in. The ideas of werewolves and the ghost twins are incredibly cool, but they are around only long enough to service one long hand-to-hand fight scene followed by an admittedly impressive car chase. It accomplishes an alarming boost of energy to a film that is limping along. Unfortunately the narrative quickly turns back to the war against the machines and all the wind is taken from our sails as we have yet another battle with multiple Smiths to deal with leading up to one of the most arbitrary cliffhangers in film history.
The Matrix Reloaded is a film that lifted me up when I first saw it and I still don’t mind it on occasion despite the fact you have to plod through an hour of nonsense just to get to the good stuff. The idea of Neo as The One, the savior of all mankind, is now a secondary story and quickly boils down to something of a Wizard of Oz rip-off toward the end. Ergo, all that was unique and interesting about the first film is beginning to feel stale and overused leaving audiences feeling as if they haven’t gotten any farther in the story than they were when the film started.