It’s been six months since Neo (Keanu Reeves) was confirmed as the One the prophecy announced would free mankind from the Matrix and end the war with the machines, but not much seems to have happened since. Things heat up again when the humans receive news that the machines have gathered an army that’s drilling down towards Zion (the last free human city, “near the Earth’s core where it’s still warm”). With a 72 hour deadline to possible genocide, this should make for a suspenseful, breathless narrative but instead, half the film is devoted to Counsel hearings, motivational speeches, lame romantic subplots, a rave (really!)… I suppose the intent is to show that the characters are human (as opposed to machines), but the dialogue and most of the acting are too awful for this to work.
“Reloaded” introduces tons of superfluous new characters like Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), an ex-girlfriend of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who left him for the Commander, hovercraft captain Link and his worried girlfriend, a gay Counselor who takes Neo on a date underneath Zion, a French jackass (Lambert Wilson) who’s created a specially encoded virtual chocolate treat that makes women soak their panties and Persephone, a mysterious temptress played by Monica Belluci in an impossibly tight dress. Gone is the intimacy of the first film, where the action revolved around a few key characters who became like a family for Neo, with Morpheus acting as a father figure and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) as both a mother and a lover (or was I the only one who denoted Oedipian subtext there?). Morpheus has lost almost all sense of purpose and importance, he’s now bossed around by Zion officers and politicians we don’t give a crap about and Trinity does nothing outside the Matrix beside having sex.
Even the action scenes are disappointing. Wire-fu and “bullet-time” camerawork are still captivating on a basic sensory level even though they lost their freshness, but what is lacking is the gleeful discovery of what Neo is capable of. It’s a bunch of random uninspired fights, like oh, Agents in my way, kick-punch-jump-turn-kick-etc. There is that much ballyhooed-about scene in which Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) creates dozens of copies of himself to gang up on Neo but while it’s technically impressive, it isn’t all that exciting. The great thing about martial arts is to see people in perfect control of their bodies; wasn’t it great to see Keanu Reeves being more badass than you ever thought possible? Whereas here, at times we’re literally watching a bunch of computer-animated figures kicking each other. Isn’t it ironic considering the film’s themes that the Wachowski prefer technical gimmicks to actual human prowess?
All that said, there is one sequence that is AWESOME. I am referring of course to the epic freeway chase scene which just hits you with one damn cool thing after another, from albino twins who can turn into ghosts to Morpheus in a samurai swordsfight atop an 18-wheeler to Trinity riding a motorcycle against traffic to Neo flying in to save the day… Just that last part (and every time Neo does “his Superman thing” for that matter) is so intense that it’s worth the admission price by itself. So “The Matrix Reloaded” isn’t all bad… I’m still looking forward to next November’s “The Matrix Revolutions” and there’s a possibility that “Reloaded” won’t seem as underwhelming in proper context, as the middle chapter of a trilogy.