The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 5/15/03
Producer: Joel Silver
Written and directed by: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Martial Arts Choreography: Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Lawrence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ngai Sing, Monica Belucci

The best Hong Kong movie to never come out of Hong Kong. Following the events set up in "The Matrix" (1999), the capital human city of Zion faces a full scale attack by the machines. While disagreeing factions bicker over what course of action to take, Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), Neo (Keanu Reeves), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) try to stop the war from inside The Matrix. Of course it won't be easy, and a renegade Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) shows up to complicate matters further. Neo finally learns the nature of himself as well as his destiny, but is he willing to accept it? Does he even have a choice? With humankind teetering on the brink of utter annihilation, we'll just have to wait for "The Matrix Revolutions" to see how it all turns out.

I feel sorry for the Wachowski's because of the extremely high expectations set for this film. Amazingly, they've managed to create one of the most astonishing and exhilerating action films of all time, and allowed Yuen Woo Ping to quite possibly outdo himself (which is very impressive indeed). The Wachowski's love of Hong Kong cinema, anime, and kung fu is readily apparent, and the film is brimming over with amazing and incredibly staged fight sequences. Keanu Reeves does an astounding job with the material, and comes across with more speed, grace, agility, and confidence than in the first film. You quite literally can't believe your eyes when you see him in action. Watching him exchange blows with Hong Kong veteran Ngai Sing is also quite rewarding. The chase scenes are equally impressive and very exciting. When most domestic action films shoot for over-the-top action sequences, they usually go too far, which ultimately makes them seem silly and laughably excessive. However, "The Matrix Reloaded" manages to escape this pitfall and somehow succeeds in taking it to the next level without actually crossing into absurdity. The film also looks great and the cinematography is breathtaking. Oozing with style and attitude, the film is an incredible feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately, the film has its fair share of disappointments. The pacing is awkward and the philosophical techno-babble dialog is mind numbingly tedious and drawn out. As a result, the film fails to be intellectually engaging, requiring more effort to pay attention to the dialog than to comprehend it. The dialog also serves as a plausability buffer, and the story completely falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. The inexplicable introduction of sex into the film is unnecessary to the plot and just plain bad. It's neither erotic or interesting, and I can't imagine what the filmmakers were thinking when they decided to go that direction. Serving as an object lesson in sex, power, and control, the beautiful and talented Monica Belucci is sadly reduced to little more than a window dressing role with plunging cleavage. Again, was her character even necessary? But perhaps the biggest flaw in the film is that it fails to be emotionally engaging. The characters are so cool and calculating that they almost seem to be non-human, and they're never given a chance to emotionally connect with each other or with the audience, which makes it hard to care about what's going to happen to them. Perhaps the sex angle was intended to represent the human element of the film, but it just comes across as shallow and gratuitous.

Ultimately, these flaws don't detract from the fact that the film is extremely exciting and delivers one hell of a punch (or several) to any adrenaline junkie. It definitely has a comic book mentality to it, with ultra-cool characters and over-the-top action tempered by philosophical pinings and cyber-angst. The works of Masamune Shirow immediately come to mind when thinking about the film. But curiously, what the film reminded me of most was "Tron" (1982) with its techno-babble, alternate cyber reality, and its notions of renegade programs. The film also tries very hard (perhaps too hard) to be an allegory for the human condition, and continually revisits the nature of power and control with varying degrees of success. An interesting juxtaposition of action and philosophy that doesn't quite gel, but it's entertaining nonetheless.