There is a school of thought that in a perfect world there would be no need for sequels and regardless how you feel about such cherished follow ups involving Aliens, Terminators and Godfathers, it isn’t a concept that should be dismissed out of hand. Continuing the storyline or characters of a hit movie is always a hazardous roll of the dice, even if the majority of the original creators are on board and the attempted re-bottling of creative lightning can very easily result in the burning of all involved.
This brings us neatly to The Matrix Reloaded, the first follow up to 1999 ground breaking smash that achieved the oh-so humble feat of changing the face of cinema. No fucking pressure then.
However, the Wachowski siblings has something a little grander in mind and instead of sitting down and crafting a sequel, the pair managed to orchestrate a multi-media assault on fans that included a second AND third movie shot back to back and released in theaters with barely six months between them, a video game tie-in that included whole new scenes shot by the auteurs and finally the DVD release of The Animatrix; a collection of animated short films detailing some of the histories of the secondary cast members. As impressive as this all sounded it also meant that to get the whole story you would have to get all the various bits and pieces and while that wasn’t such an issue back in 2003, plonking yourself down to watch The Matrix Reloded without a copy of Enter The Matrix ready to go on your PS2 or an hour and forty two minutes of animation reveals sizable flaws in the Wachowski’s ambitious plans.
It’s still the future and the majority of mankind is still wired into the huge virtual reality simulation known as The Matrix in order to provide their machine overlords lots of scrummy energy to keep going but the human resistance has finally been gaining ground. Armed with their not-so secret weapon Neo – a human known as The One who is bestowed with the superpower of being able to change The Matrix from within – Morpheus and his fellow captains have been freeing people from the mainframe left, right and center and the charismatic leader feels that the end will soon be nigh. Fate proves him right – sorta – when the news breaks that 250,000 Sentinels (killer squid robots to you and me) are tunneling their way to the underground human city of Zion in order to upgrade the human race’s status to dead the second they get there and so the race is on for Neo to jump start the prophecy and somehow find a way into the machine world’s mainframe via a secret door hidden in the Matrix. However, as virtually impossible as this sounds, matters are made FAR worse by the return of the Neo hating programme known as Smith who not only has somehow managed to come back from the dead, but now has the ability to “overwrite” himself over his victims in order to produce endless copies of himself.
Entering a secret underworld of rogue programmes who are taking refuge from deletion in the vast virtual world, the humans attempt to strike up a deal with The Merovingian, an extraordinarily smarmy trafficker of information, in order to secure the services of The Keymaker (no, not the one from Ghostbusters, you’re thinking of the Key MASTER) who is the only being who can get Neo to where he has to be. As time runs out and the threat of extinction grows ever nearer, a reoccurring vision Neo keeps having of his lover, Trinity will lead to a devastating secret being unleashed, one that changes everything he thought he knew about The Matrix, Zion and the very nature of The One itself.
Right out of the gate, the second the movie starts, it’s apparent there’s something very wrong here although you initially aren’t able to put your finger on it. The visuals and tone all seem correct; shades and phones are all present and correct and everyone is spraying philosophical musings all over the place like a firehose, but after a while, things just seem wrong. All the fusing of Anime, Kung-Fu, spirituality, philosophy, cyber-punk and noir that blended so seamlessly back in 1999 now seem at odds with each other as The Wachowski’s clumsily stack more and more details onto an already tottering stack of lore until it topples into a large pile of pseudo-bollocks.
Nothing in the movie seems to work as it’s supposed to with the film even going as far to end up being unintentionally hilarious, especially with the infamous rave/orgy scene, which is SUPPOSED to be a celebration of life and humanity but instead gives visions of being sprayed with dreadlock sweat and being grinded on by numerous strangers whose body odour must certainly resemble a perspiring buffalo.
Worse yet, not only is the Wachowski’s filmmaking mojo seemed to have worn off, but they compound this with some of the worst storytelling in recent blockbuster history. Vital information concerning the plot is either badly communicated of even missing entirely, popping up elsewhere as a fucking videogame cut scene. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe is the most noticable casualty (her entire story arc is literally confined to the video game) and the sub plot of Smith possessing a human who stalks Neo in the real world is so atrociously handled that when the film reveals that he’s on the same ship as our heroes in the rather botched climax, you’ve most likely forgotten who the fuck he is! Similarly, having the whole vast and VERY complicated twist explained by a character who has the vocabulary of a man who talks like his mother was made pregnant by a thesaurus (the much maligned “Architect” who looks way too much like Colonel Sanders to be even remotely threatening) is just a step too far.
What was once so fresh now comes across as laboured and even the action beats sit awkwardly within the film, slowing the pace to a crawl whenever another fiendishly complicated brawl erupts that ultimately has no bearing on the overall story…
So then why three stars? Well, despite the wheels coming off the franchise disappointingly early The Matrix Reloaded curiously turns out to be the movie that the chapter skip function your DVD or Blu Ray player was made for. Take the Chateaux Fight; an extended fight sequence that runs the plot directly into a brick wall when watching the film in it’s entirety but when watched in isolation proves to be one of the best set pieces of the decade. It’s the same for the chaotic freeway chase and the multi-Smith vs. Neo Burly Brawl (although the CGI in the latter makes it frequently look like all involved are a gang of scrapping Ken dolls) once you speed past all the endless banging on about the nature of causality which is somehow echoed by The Merovingian giving a woman a cake that can spark off an orgasm (I’ll have what she’s having).
The cast still rise to the challenge (although Fishburne looks curiously hefty for a man living in a dystopian future) throwing lines and punches like they mean it but you can’t shake the feeling that The Matrix really should have stopped at just The One…