With Zion under threat from an army of robot sentinels, Morpheus disobeys orders to defend the last human city so that Neo might await word from the missing Oracle. Neo needs to know many things, not least, why does he keep dreaming about his lover Trinity
The Matrix (1999) was a stealth fighter, a secret weapon that utterly outfoxed its jumbo-sized near-contemporary, The Phantom Menace. The Matrix Reloaded, the first part of an epic single sequel, thunders into town minus that critical element of surprise. Indeed, trailing close behind Reloaded is the creeping suspicion that the torpedo is now bloated to the point where it has become everything it was once designed to detonate...
If the only outstanding issues with The Matrix Reloaded were that it was too cumbersome to be cool, too obvious to be sexy; if all it failed to live up to was the attendant hype, then we could simply scoff at the non-believers. But, truth be told, Reloaded labours in places, and once or twice the juggernaut actually comes close to stalling. Overwritten exposition, often pretentious rather than profound, weighs heavily on a plot that is actually resoundingly linear. (No Cypher-style twist, here.) Underwritten new characters, meanwhile, distract attention from the core group. True obsessives might dedicate internet shrines to the wisdom of The Oracle or the architecture of the Matrix, but the rest of us will doubtless lament the fact that Neo's struggle with superpowers cannot possibly resonate as deeply as his first tumble down the rabbit hole. Not least because, by the credits roll, his journey has barely begun.
There's more: the disorienting Zion-set opening barely feels like a sequel to The Matrix at all, so keen are the Wachoskis to explore their underground city. The rather rushed climax is also confusing, with the episode where Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) infiltrates the power-station so fleeting you might think it was little more than a set-up for a computer game. Oh, it is. The middle hour, however, is the Matrix to the max, and it rocks like a mutha.
Once Neo seeks the Oracle, Reloaded lurches into action and it quickly generates unstoppable momentum. It is not as sleek anymore perhaps, but it is a hulking brute that grips you by the throat and shakes you out of your seat. Where once there was a sly, Sergio Leone-influenced showdown between Agent Smith and Neo, now there is the 'Burly Brawl', a truly lethal combination of special effects and stunt work that unleashes 100 Agent Smiths on an amped-up Neo. (Total photo-realism? Not quite yet. But this is far too much fun to quibble.)
Add the Burly Brawl to a dazzling freeway free-for-all, throw in the Merovignian chateau sword-clash and a half dozen other bits of hand-to-hand business, and you have more than enough five-star thrills for mandatory repeat viewings. Praise for another quantum leap in action should be split between the Wachowskis, Yuen Wo-Ping's wire-team, John Gaeta's effects wizards and a thousand others, but let's not forget the four principal actors. Reeves et al were convincing enough in The Matrix, but the second time around, with the benefit of continuous training, they all kick serious, serious, grade-A ass. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
An unqualified triumph for the many artisans who brought to life some of the most audacious and astonishing action sequences you are likely to see for a decade. A qualified thumbs-up for the auteur siblings, who, at times, seem confused as to what made the first movie so special. A five star experience, though perhaps not a five star film.