A Sequential Cinema Event
2003 was a banner year for The Matrix. There was not only one Matrix film. There were three of them. Reloaded and Revolutions were shot back-to-back in Australia ready to go for 2003. May garnered Reloaded. The Animatrix would get a brief and limited theatrical run in June before releasing on DVD. Revolutions would come out in November 2003. It was pure Matrix overload. Not to mention the video game Enter the Matrix is also being released in line with the series. It was pure Matrix fever.
It was also the beginning of The Matrix fatigue. In 2003, the first film was parodied beyond all reason in many movies to come. Scary Movie, Shrek, and Kung-Pow! Enter the Fist all took their shot at the action scenes. Several others did as well, but those were the most prevalent. It was so ingrained in pop culture in such a small amount of time. The decision to release the two sequels at the same time was striking while the iron was still hot. It permeated everything based on that one film alone so what did the future hold for the franchise? That question would be answered in 2003.
Reloaded has our heroes returning back to the world of Zion in preparation for the war against the Machines. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are in their relationship and devoted to the revolt. Morpheus is leading the charge alongside newcomers to the series such as ex-lover Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Neo meets with the Oracle once again who informs him that Agent Smith still exists as a rogue program after his defeat. She reveals that she is tied to the Matrix itself and Neo needs to seek the Keymaster. The Keymaster has a link to the Source of the Matrix that can help stop the machines.
The trio of Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity head out to find the Keymaster only to come face to face with the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). He is backed by his wife Persephone (Monica Belluci) and the white-dreaded Twins (Neil and Adriene Rayment). The quest begins complete with a big freeway chase, battles against the machines, and yet another crewmate’s betrayal. This all leads up to Neo meeting the father of the Matrix itself, The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) to discover an even greater truth behind the Matrix.
Reloaded can still thrill, but bloated in its story. The first film remains a highlight of storytelling and action blending in beautiful tandem with one another. While that attempts to continue here, the story itself gets very muddled and complex. Fans will eat this up and be invested while the more casual moviegoer will have way more questions than answers. The fact that some of these answers will be explained away in a video game that no one can play makes it more infuriating.
[Side Note: Not by legal means anyway.]
As a fan of the first one, I am in the camp that eats this story up. The real world outside of the Matrix is compelling in itself with a whole society functioning in Zion to be against the Machines. It’s muted in the tone, outside of course the crazy Zion dance party. I can stand the exposition dumps throughout because of that personal investment. The exposition dumps remind me of how anime explains lore or even basic attacks (looking at you, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure). I’m a sucker for a good exposition dump, even if it borders on being a bore as in the Architect scene. Neo meets the father of the Matrix is a critical moment, but I do remember some people not being as into the moment as others. It was another “Strictly for die-hard fan” moment. Yet, if I had the mindset of seeing it back then without the knowledge, I can understand the reason to be bothered by it. The Matrix was only one film at the time with only those who wanted to go all-in having the DVD to rely on. Or, if you are lucky, the Collector’s Edition VHS with a ton of bonus features after the movie finishes.
As for new casting additions, Jada Pinkett Smith joining in on the fun is astounding. She joined after her husband Will said no to The Matrix. This is a terrific behind-the-scenes casting story itself. Jada auditioned for Trinity but was not cast. Niobe was created with her in mind who would play a major part in the next sequels and the Enter the Matrix game. As for Will, at least we got “Wild Wild West” out of him passing on Neo. Not the movie though, the song. Never the movie. Another standout is the Merovingian. This man is on another level in this movie. He radiates vampire energy on screen and has this aura about him that works. The performance is also a nice bit of cheese in an otherwise heavy sci-fi film. Lambert Wilson is a gem and is more well-known in France than stateside. He also can sing like a motherfucker. He chews the scenery aplenty and we are better for it.
Monica Belluci as Persephone does not get much to do but does get a key moment in the film by kissing Neo and going against her husband. Belluci seems wasted in this film, but she is a terrific actor in her own right. To not give her much outside of a few scenes is tragic. The mainstay trio is also rather great, expanding on their characters. I adore Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves so much that it may be due to recency bias, but they are these characters. Fishburne is still fantastic as Morpheus and gets more stoic in each film.
The action in this film ups the ante with the freeway chase being the most well-known. 2003 was a banner year for car chases. It’s a brilliant mixture of practical and digital effects, stunts, and pure chaos. It was shot on location in Alameda County in California on an actual freeway and it shows. Now, it would be someone’s warehouse in Atlanta with actors jumping about on green blocks. Yet, in 2003, you best believe we are doing that on camera and in too many takes. Bad Boys II also had a chaotic spectacle of a freeway chase later in the summer of that year that rivals this one. That was done by Michael Bay who is stellar at delivering dumb action bliss. The Wachowskis are also as stellar if not more so. For Reloaded, it’s the centerpiece of the film that is also a “chef’s kiss” of the film series.
The real world outside of the Matrix is great in the production design department. They capture the shattered world and what remains of it. It shows how much the Machines encroached themselves into society. It also looks like a whole world designed by the Shinra Electric Power Company from Final Fantasy VII. Except with way more dance parties. The CG can remain impressive at times, but it is definitely showing its age as time goes on. Even more so given the latest entry showing what can be done now with CGI elements. They still look fantastic as they are used in small doses when in comparison to the next film.
The Matrix Reloaded is a bloated sequel that is a fan favorite. It has standout moments that will keep audiences entertained. Yet, that momentum can stop dead for many the minute any lore dump begins. It’s a sequel for lovers of world-building and dying to get back into The Matrix.
The Matrix Reloaded: 4 out of 5
The Matrix Series 2 out of 5 Complete
Next week, Matrix Madness gets anthological and animated with the cult-favorite The Animatrix.