With all the hype, the cool clothes, the groundbreaking cinematography and Keanu Reeves actually giving a good performance, The Matrix Reloaded is certainly the most awaited sequel in a summer of sequels. But one thing must be remembered when thinking about Reloaded's chances of bettering or even living up to, its original. It's the middle film in a planned trilogy. Some notable sequels have been better than the original (X-Men, Star Trek, and Superman jump to mind) but only one has been the second film in a planned trilogy (yes, there were three Godfather films, but three wasn't planned and frankly was horrible, so those don't count as a trilogy), and that of course is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
If you are going to try to argue that Empire isn't the best Star Wars film then just go run some laps or something, because you've got some personal issues to work out. Jabba the Hut, Leah in that belly dancer get up, Solo gets frozen. It had every thing you could ask for and more. But let me return to my point. The middle film of a trilogy gets cheated, because while the first and third films get to have a beginning, middle, and end, the second film gets a beginning, middle, and beginning. Yeah, it has to start where the first one ends, and then end where the third one starts. This means there isn't a satisfying resolution (except for Star Wars where you know the war is coming, and are chomping at the bit to get there, only to end up with a mouth full of Ewok fur and a dance number. I'm still bitter Lucas) and the audience naturally feels cheated until they buy the $180 six DVD package and watch all three movies in a row. Then they understand, but in the theater, you just feel cheated.
And thus back to Reloaded. The Wachowski brothers, who write and direct all three Matrix films, had a tall order, because not only do they have to keep a plotline and characters moving, they also have to top effects that they essentially created in the first film. These are tall orders for a movie that is essentially a big budget action film. The results are definitely mixed.
First of all, if you think the Wachowski's shot all their bullets in the first one, then they completely unload the clip here. Of the effects sequences the most impressive is probably the battle between Neo and somewhere in the near vicinity of 100 Agent Smiths. But for my money the most excitement comes during the incredible car chase that centers the film. I saw The French Connection when I was nine years old. I've been waiting awhile to find a car chase that even compares to what the late John Frankenheimer pulled off there, my search is over.
But then there's that script part. Shakespeare these guys ain't. All those lines Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn) had that sounded so cool in that deep, crisp, heavily enunciated voice Fishburn used. Well, multiply the number of lines by ten, and then turn the volume up to eleven as he screams to a crowd of thousands, and they are just not nearly as cool this time. The bad guys are equally cool, but the technical side really comes out. At times I felt like I was in a computer programming class, and school is not the first thing I want to think about when I'm watching The Matrix.
The gathering Morpheus is screaming to is both one of the lowest and one of the highest points in the movie. While Morpheus is preaching and technopunk is blaring on the soundtrack Neo and Trinity have the good common sense to retire to their quarters and get some "alone" time. They get it on during a city wide rave/pep assembly. She looks good in latex, can walk on walls, and pilot a helicopter; he knows kung fu, is the One, and can fly. I'm guessing it's a good time. But the Wachowskis keep cutting back to party, and bullet time just doesn't look as cool with dreadlocks instead of bullets.
Which brings me to another point. Like the first film Reloaded is rated R. Why did the ratings people bother? Reloaded took in $134 million dollars in its first four days. That's a record yes, but even scarier is that some reports say that an extra twelve to fifteen million was taken in by kids who bought tickets for a random PG-13 film and then snuck in. Don't think it was happening? At one Arizona theater on opening weekend there were five midnight or later shows. Four of them were Reloaded and the only other one was the coincidentally PG-13 Bringin' Down the House. Strange? Maybe, but now factor in that Bringin' had been out nearly two months, had never before run on midnight shows (even during its opening weekend) and was pulled the next week. The theater owners don't care, that's more mouths for more $4 Cokes and popcorns. Mom, Dad, its worth it on this one, just go with the kids.
Because the ending alone is worth it. Finally, after an hour and a half of pontificating, character exploration, and general nerdiness interrupted only for (admittedly way cool) fight scenes, the Wachowskis just let go and Reloaded starts to fire on all cylinders. By the last frame, which again is a beginning rather than an ending, I was chomping at the bit to see Revolutions the third film. I'll be there on November 5th, probably waiting in line. I'll quibble with some things in Reloaded but I'm already sold on the next one, and I'm willing to bet there won't be any cute furry creature ruining it.