A review of “Matrix Reloaded” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for violence, nudity, and adult situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

 

 

“Matrix Reloaded” bursts onto the film scene shrouded in secrecy.  Rumors of intricate plot points that keep “Matrix” freaks furiously speculating and relentlessly jamming online chat rooms.  A pair of directing brothers who refuse to do press or interviews, and are contractually exempt from being photographed for publicity purposes (insisting that the film speaks for itself). The hype? World-class. Worth the hype?  A definitive maybe.

Be prepared for sensory overload when you enter the world of eccentric auteurs Andy and Larry Wachowski.  Compelled to surpass their 1999 cult hit (“The Matrix”, originally conceived as a trilogy) with something bigger and better, the Wachowskis and crew have raised the bar on techno-philosophy and computer-generated imagery, with mixed results.

A quarter-of-a-million octopus-like Sentinels are knocking on the gates of Zion, prepared to take down every man, woman and child in this freedom-loving, human-inhabited colony.  Poised to defend Zion via an artificial intelligence universe (the Matrix) are Thomas “Neo” Anderson (Keanu Reeves), his black-leather-clad warrior squeeze Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and their spiritual mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), whose firm conviction that The One (Neo) will fulfill the Oracle’s Prophecy and end the war inspires his disciples to soldier on.

Arch-nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is back in full form as an evil software program (virus?) compelled to disobey a system that has deleted him. Along with a small cadre of identical malevolent upgrades, Smith has been dispatched from the Mainframe to destroy Neo and all the goodness that he represents.

“Reloaded” is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. Judged solely on its remarkable statistics --- nine weeks of grueling Yuen Wo Ping martial-arts training for a five-and-a-half minute screen sequence comprised of over 500 moves, 1,000 advanced virtual effects shots that obliterate the state-of-the-art standard --- the film is a knockout of visual integrity.  But that sophisticated artistry threatens comparisons to video game status, the domain of those aforementioned “Matrix” obsessives.

Despite solid performances by the veterans (and delightful star turns by Lambert Wilson as the power-brokering Merovingian, Randall Duk Kim as the cool-as-silk Keymaker, and Harold Perrineau as comic-relief pilot Link), the film loses focus when centered on the human aspect of Zion, swathed in Star Wars-esque futurisma and inexplicably honing in on a writhing orgy and a steamy love scene between the symbiotic Neo and Trinity.  The delicate balance between old world and new lacks a flow that’s essential to creating harmony between humans and their industrial counterparts.

On the upside, “Reloaded” is chock-full of sizzling action sequences, each one more mind-boggling than the next. Kick-ass chick Trinity lends a steely femininity to the audacious proceedings, firmly ensconcing her as my all-time favorite screen idol.  Best in show goes to the Burly Brawl -- Neo swarmed by one hundred contentious Agent Smiths --- and a treacherous freeway chase that will raise expectations sky-high for that action-adventure staple.    

Limitless interpretations render “Reloaded” something of an anomaly.  Theology, philosophy, evolutionary psychology, technological alienation, a heavy dose of Japanese anime and shades of Lewis Carroll (remember the red pill?) jockey for narrative supremacy.  The concept of choice figures prominently as the key to survival, to be continued in “Matrix Revolutions” come November.