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The Matrix Reloaded

When The Matrix hit theaters four years ago, nobody knew what hit them, least of all Warner Brothers. A fresh (to some) melding of science fiction, kung fu, and philosophy, the film was so good that not even the presence of Keanu Reeves could dampen its power. Just before "trilogy" became the hottest word in Hollywood, The Wachowski Brothers admitted that they had just such a plan for the new world they had created.

And so we get The Matrix Reloaded. It's bigger, louder, deeper, wider and cooler than the first, which is to say it's more of the same. Few film titles have been more apt. For some of it, that works. But The Matrix franchise has already become a victim of its own success. The bigger you make it, the bigger the holes become, too.

It's almost not fair to judge this film, as its main reason to exist is to set up themes and ideas meant to wrap up in the fall with The Matrix Revolutions. Have no fear of the hype; though it does end on a cliffhanger, it also wraps up enough of its story to be satisfying. And comic book fans, at least, are used to waiting more than six months for the next part of the story anyway.

But judge we must. Or take the blue pill and forget the whole thing ever happened.

Set roughly six months after the events of the first film, and just after The Final Flight of the Osiris, The Matrix Reloaded certainly grabs our attention from the outset. As in the first, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) performs an amazing stunt that proves just what a bad-ass she is, only this time it looks to end in certain death. Is it just a nightmare, a prophecy, or, as will mystically be bandied about throughout the film, simply fate brought about by choices made long ago?

Though Neo (Reeves) spends a lot of time looking like he's pondering that question, it feels more likely that he merely marks time between pointless martial arts battles. In tune with the very coding of The Matrix itself, Neo appears to just be riding the waves of it rather than reaching any conclusions.

For a guy who is essentially Superman (with more than one visual nod to that idea), Neo hasn't used the intervening months to start living up to that role. In fact, he seems even less accepting of who he is than he was at the end of the first film, except in a few isolated instances.

Now he can sense the approach of Agents, a useful skill when they come calling on a clandestine meeting of rebel captains. While Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) counsels the fleet to disregard the orders of Commander Lock (Harry Lennix) and wait for word from The Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), Neo does some slow-motion code-kicking.

But "The One" isn't the only one who has changed. The reconstituted Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has somehow survived being unwritten, and now exists independent of The Matrix, a virus that no longer has the good of the mainframe in mind. Among other things, he can now replicate himself, an ability that may or may not extend into the purely biological realm.

In the "real" world of Zion, humanity remains blissfully unaware of this threat. Instead, their chief concern are the 250,000 sentinels drilling through the Earth's crust, one for each citizen. Lock wants to defend the city with every ship in the fleet; Morpheus (and many others) believes that the prophecy must come true, and that humanity's fate will be decided within The Matrix itself.

Unfortunately after an interestingly kinetic opening, The Wachowski Brothers fail to make this human clash of philosophies very interesting to watch. The movie consistently lurches through slow (though deep) spoutings of theory that gives way to highly exciting but often pointless fight scenes.

The brothers are great plotters, but not yet really great storytellers, or the imbalance wouldn't be so obvious. At points, the dialogue becomes agonizingly expository, but thankfully not heavily loaded onto Reeves' limited acting chops.

If anything saves the quieter scenes, it's the nice choices made by the supporting actors. Fishburne, playing a man who takes his role as a new John The Baptist quite seriously, consistently speaks as if dictating scripture. In her last role, Foster brings a charm and mystique, while also upending everything we thought we knew. A few smaller roles (and to explain them would be to spoil it) are played note perfectly. And then there's Weaving as Mr. Smith. Like Fishburne, he's making choices; he's acting. All of them almost make you forget that Reeves is just sort of …there.

But the man can fight. Never mind that most of the fight scenes actually have no point and stop the movie as cold as the philosophy does; at least they kick ass. Never mind that Neo can stop bullets but can still be cut by a sword; the fight scenes kick ass. And kick. And kick, to the point of almost getting boring.

Only the climactic freeway chase scene has a point, and it is as eye-popping and thrilling as it was hyped up to be. Lasting fourteen minutes, it keeps topping itself and keeps you guessing. If you're a fan of the franchise strictly for its action, you won't be disappointed.

If you're here for the ideas, they're not really that disappointing, either. If you thought you understood The Matrix, you're wrong. And for upending that expectation, The Wachowskis deserve kudos. It's fair to say that by the end of this film, no character is actually right about what's going on, and even though we have the benefit of having seen it all, we're probably wrong, too. Another viewing may be necessary. That's not hypocrisy on my part; it's just part of the overall ambivalence this film inspired.

The two sides of the equation just don't quite meet. And even taking into consideration that there's still another movie for payoff, a lot of plot possibilities raised within The Matrix Reloaded are frustratingly left unexplored. In particular, The Oracle's explanation of anomalies in The Matrix are left for …well, probably a novel series. Or more animated shorts.

While that may be cool and groundbreaking, it's also not unreasonable to want such things within the single package, not spread out over a variety of media. But it may just take Revolutions for the revelations.

In the end, Reloaded is actually a lot of different things, with the whole not yet greater than the sum of its parts. Add Superman: The Movie, The Holy Bible, The Tao Te Ching, and C++ For Dummies together and you get something close.

It's just occasionally hard to shake the feeling that you're watching a really expensive remake of Tron.

What's It Worth? $6.50

Derek McCaw

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