The Matrix Reloaded 

(R) 3 stars

(R) 3 stars
“I am so sick and tired of this bullshit.” —Persephone, to her husband Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded. “Amen, sister!” —Ed Johnson-Ott, glowering in the audience of The Matrix Reloaded.
There is altogether too much yapping in The Matrix Reloaded. To get to the good stuff, writer/director brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski make viewers sit through loads of somber droning about religion, philosophy and battle tactics, all triple coated with technobabble. The copious production notes indicate that within the Matrix films, “Christianity and Gnosticism exist comfortably alongside Zen Buddhist and Taoist thought.” Andy, Larry, do me a favor: Take the blue pill and shut the hell up. Remember, THE MATRIX IS ONLY A MOVIE. A pretty fun one, too, until somebody started taking all of the hooey seriously. The first film introduced us to Thomas Anderson, a.k.a. Neo (Keanu Reeves), a computer programmer/hacker whose life is turned upside down when he meets his online mentor. The legendary Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) reveals that Neo’s world is a lie, a virtual reality construct devised by a race of sentient machines to control mankind. In fact, most humans are kept in fluid pods, with fabricated lives piped into their brains. Seems the human race fought, and lost, a long, horrific war with the artificial intelligence they created. The machines now use people as a power source, and the Matrix is the mechanism to control their crop of souls. But Morpheus, one of the few remaining free human rebels, has been to the Oracle (Gloria Foster) and believes Neo to be “The One,” the messiah who will bring salvation. Freed from his pod, Neo joins Morpheus, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and a few other freedom fighters in their small ship and undergoes training. He must learn to discard all notions of physical limitations in order to plug in and fight the machines, led by the sadistic Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), on the virtual battlefield of a sprawling metropolitan city. Meanwhile, the denizens of the underground city Zion, the last refuge of humanity, pray they will be saved before the machines locate their home. The 1999 movie also was full of hooey, but that was easy to ignore given the riches of the production. Our heroes, decked out in sunglasses and long black trench coats, were the personification of cool. Fishburne was a grand leader, Moss was the best female warrior ever and Reeves, so long a cinematic punchline, had found his niche as Neo. The special effects were jaw dropping, incorporating techniques designed just for the film, and the movie even had a sense of humor to balance out the doom and gloom. The Matrix Reloaded, the second film in the trilogy (the third will be released in November), picks up right where the first ended. Neo suffers from a recurring nightmare involving Trinity, now his lover. Morpheus, Neo and Trinity, joined by new pilot Link (Harold Perrineau, the narrator from Oz), head back into the Matrix for what they hope will be the ultimate virtual smackdown. Along the way, we revisit the Oracle (Foster, in the last performance before her death), the fighter Seraph (Collin Chou), the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), power broker Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci), a pair of dreadlocked albinos known as the Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment) and a mysterious figure called the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis). Oh, and Agent Smith, now a freelancer, pops up again. And again. And again. Meanwhile in Zion, the troops are preparing for the quarter-million of machine sentinels drilling towards the city. Councillor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe) supports the efforts of Morpheus, although other military leaders consider his quest a waste of crucial resources. Pilot/warrior Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) opts to provide backup for Morpheus, while Link’s wife, Zee (Nona Gaye), waits for her husband to return. Oh, and somewhere in Zion, a double agent lies waiting. If you’re a hard-core fan, I suggest you study the previous paragraphs, as the movie throws the information at you fast and furious. Don’t expect much from the Zion segments. The city is standard issue sci-fi and the setting is used mostly for dull speeches and political/philosophical debates. There is an eve-of-war citywide party, but it is a tepid affair, resembling a rave without the Ecstasy. The special effects are mostly redundant, an elaboration on what we saw in the original, with a regrettable “more is better” mindset. Neo stopped a couple dozen bullets in midair the first time, so now he will stop several hundred. He flew in the original, so now he rockets like Superman. Our heroes previously took on numerous enemies simultaneously, so now Neo fights 100 Agent Hugos at once (that particular effect, by the way, is supposed to be some sort of technical breakthrough, but the CGI Hugos are painfully phony looking). As for the anti-gravity martial arts scenes, suffice to say that if I never see another slo-mo backflip again, I will be a happy man. Other deficits include an underwhelming score, characters introduced solely to come to the rescue out of nowhere at the last possible second, the burrowing machines (which continue to look like cheap refuges from a video game), holes in internal logic (figure them out for yourself) and the decision to give Neo even more superpowers late in the film. Finally, whoever decided to have Keanu Reeves do improv on dozens of video screens should be fired. Come on, boys, you created a character that lets Reeves shine — don’t push your luck. On the upside, the main characters remain cool, Harold Perrineau makes a fine addition to the crew, the moments of humor are welcome (wish there were more) and the 14-minute freeway chase actually lives up to its hype. Despite all the problems, the pros outweigh the cons in The Matrix Reloaded. Barely. Incidentally, those willing to sit through the eight minutes of closing credits will be rewarded with a preview of The Matrix Revolutions.

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