Judge Paul Pritchard took the Blu pill; now he has no recollection of last night.
Our reviews of The Matrix Reloaded (published October 20th, 2003), The Ultimate Matrix Collection (published January 17th, 2005), The Ultimate Matrix Collection (Blu-Ray) (published October 23rd, 2008), and The Ultimate Matrix Collection (HD DVD) (published May 30th, 2007) are also available.
"If one fails, all fail."
One of the most hyped films of recent times, The Matrix Reloaded has, until now, not seen a standalone release on either hi-def format. Finally, following its inclusion in The Ultimate Matrix Collection on HD DVD and Blu-ray, the second chapter in The Matrix trilogy comes to Blu-ray all by itself. And while it's perhaps questionable that anyone is likely to pick up the film separate from the other two installments, it at least offers a chance to reassess the film, free from the hype.
Facts of the Case
Neo (Keanu Reeves, Constantine) is "The One," the prophesied savior, and lone hero who can free mankind from the bondage of its machine captors. Having discovered that the world as he knew it is a computer simulation in The Matrix, Neo now finds himself capable of bending the rules of the system, granting him superhero-like powers such as super-strength and flight. But with these admittedly cool powers come unwanted gifts, such as the ability to see future events. Haunted by visions of his lover Trinity's (Carrie-Anne Moss, Memento) death, Neo seeks out The Oracle (Gloria Foster) for guidance.
Meanwhile Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, V For Vendetta), who was last seen being destroyed by Neo, has returned. No longer an Agent of the system, Smith, like Neo, finds his powers increasing, and is now capable of cloning himself onto other inhabitants of the matrix.
As Neo and Agent Smith circle each other until their seemingly inevitable final confrontation, Neo must follow the path of "The One," which leads him to the unscrupulous Merovingian, the Keymaker, and ultimately the creator of the matrix itself, The Architect.
The Matrix Reloaded, has, like it's successor The Matrix Revolutions, been much maligned in the years since its release. Following The Matrix, a film that came in under the radar for most people, the Wachowski Bros. ensured that 2003 was to be the year of the Matrix, and anticipation levels for the sequels were off the charts. Following it's release, and a raft of glowing reviews, it seemed certain that The Matrix Reloaded was a success, and destined for classic status. Upon leaving the cinema following my initial viewing of the film, I declared The Matrix Reloaded to be the greatest superhero movie ever made. And then, after a few weeks of release, dissenting voices began making themselves heard. Critics claimed that the film was overlong, flabby, and perhaps worst of all came the argument that the plot lacked coherence.
Since that summer of 2003 I've watched The Matrix Reloaded on numerous occasions, often in one sitting with the rest of the trilogy. And while my initial sentiments on the film are not quite so strong anymore, and time has revealed a string of flaws with the film, most notably it's inconsistency, I nevertheless find it a fascinating, bold, and hugely watchable slab of intelligent and thought-provoking sci-fi.
It is that aforementioned inconsistency that will shape this review, and as such the review will be split into three sections beginning with:
• "In five minutes, I'll tear that whole goddamn building down." AKA—The Good:
Chief amongst the positives is Neo himself. Having realized his role in the grand scheme of things at the end of The Matrix, Neo finds himself blessed with a confidence previously lacking, but one which is quickly offset by bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. With his new found superpowers, which see him off "doin' his Superman thing" and battling multiple agents with ease, comes the curse of foresight, which sees his dreams plagued by images of Trinity's death. Throughout the film, through conversations with The Oracle and The Architect, Neo is told that his ultimate choice is simple: he must save mankind or Trinity-he can't do both. A big theme running through the film is choice, and more so than most superhero movies, The Matrix Reloaded deals with the consequences of the choices made by heroes in a very forthright manner. Consistently Neo finds himself tested in his commitment to Trinity: Should he share a kiss with Persephone to gain access to The Keymaker, even though he would be betraying Trinity? Can he really put Trinity before the rest of mankind, and in doing so risk the destruction of Zion? And is he selfish to want to spend time with Trinity when others seek his counsel? One of the best scenes in the entire movie, despite being relatively simple, comes early on when Neo first returns to Zion. Neo and Trinity have clearly planned some alone time, but on exiting an elevator are greeted by a herd of people, all offering gifts to their messiah in return for assurances that he will look out for a loved one. Even now, the scene is particularly powerful, and while Trinity assures Neo there is time, and that these people need him, Neo's reply of "I need you," says it all. Much like in The Matrix, the Wachowski's attempt to add an emotional center to The Matrix Reloaded through the relationship between Neo and Trinity. One scene relating to this, and which has come in for much criticism, is Neo's kiss of life towards the film's finale when he resurrects Trinity; a trick ripped wholesale from the original film. Now, I can't deny it's done rather clumsily, but dammit! Having seen Neo fly at supersonic speeds to catch his falling lover, it's hard not to get caught up in it all, and hokey dialogue or not ("I know you can hear me. I'm never letting go. I can't. I just love you too damn much."), that scene just gets me every time. For me, and I know this may be sacrilegious to some, that scene is up there with Superman reversing time to save Lois Lane. It's cheesy, it's a little ridiculous, but it's freakin' awesome seeing a superhero forsake all others for the one person who completes them.
The Prophecy, which is so central to the trilogy, is also given more prominence this time around and is explored in a number of interesting ways. For the first time, by way of Commander Lock (Harry Lennix, Dollhouse), we find that not all of mankind believes in the prophecy. Lock, and those who share his beliefs, sees Morpheus as a fanatic who is a threat to the security of Zion and its inhabitants. As they see it, those who believe in "The One" are diverting precious time and resource away from the military's efforts to secure mankind's last post.
If that wasn't enough, through Neo's meeting with The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), the creator of the matrix, we are told that the prophecy is merely a means of control for those who rejected the systems programming. Indeed, it is revealed that "The One" is actually an anomaly, the result of an unbalancing of the equation that drives the matrix. While many have criticized the scene, arguing it to be incoherent, it still stands as an earth shattering exchange that shakes our hero to his very core. The dialogue heavy scene does sometimes feel a little like the Wachowski's are showing off, by throwing as many fancy sounding, multi-syllabic words together as possible ("Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant."). Sounds a little pretentious? Well, perhaps it is, but it's also a fascinating scene that brings forth multiple questions. When it is revealed that Neo is not the first incarnation of "The One," and that in fact this is the sixth version of the matrix, the film throws a previously unseen curveball at the viewer. Suddenly we are unsure of exactly where events will lead. But again, there are questions. If the prophecy is a lie, and Neo isn't "The One" but merely a glitch in the system, then how and why does he possess superpowers in the real world, which are witnessed when he brings down a sentinel in the films final moments?
Though his screen time is limited, The Architect proves to be one of only two additions to the cast to be as important as those carried over from the original film. The second of these characters is The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson, Babylon A.D.). Possessing a similar talent to The Architect for wrapping his tongue around as many impressive sounding words as possible, The Merovingian is our first real insight into the politics that drive the matrix. Suddenly our heroes find that muscle alone will not be enough to best their opponents. In fact, were it not for The Merovingian's weakness for busty young blondes and his wife Persephone's (Monica Bellucci, Irreversible) lust for revenge, Neo and co. would find themselves unstuck. Though the whole sequence with the Merovingian's cake is completely disposable, his confidence, even in the face of "The One," marks him out as an excellent backup villain to Agent Smith.
Oh yes, Agent Smith; how could we not mention him? Thanks in no small part to Hugo Weaving's perfect delivery, Smith remains one of modern cinema's finest villains, combining a menacing presence with a dry wit. While Smith is occasionally used for comedy purposes (see his defeat in the Burly Brawl), he ups the stakes dramatically this time around, and, now freed from the protocols that bound him in The Matrix, is a man without limits with nothing less than total dominion over both the matrix and the real world his intention.
What drove the trailers, and sold so many on The Matrix Reloaded were the numerous action scenes that punctuate the film. It was always going to take something special to top the action from The Matrix, but in a handful of scenes the Wachowski's up the ante to a currently unmatched level. The Burly Brawl, the film's first big set piece, is a dazzling combination of CGI and wire-fu that to this day is impossible to turn away from. Facing a countless number of Agent Smith clones, Neo becomes a wrecking ball, decimating his nemesis like a videogame player pepped up on candy and fizzy drinks. Each second seems to escalate the action till it reaches frankly ridiculous levels.
Lacking the numbers of the Burly Brawl, yet containing far more style, is the Chateau fight, where Neo takes on the henchmen of The Merovingian. Incorporating weapons into the Kung Fu for the first time in the trilogy, the sequence is perhaps the purest, and most beautifully realized sequence in any of the films. With only the occasional use of bullet-time, the scene contains some of the most tightly choreographed martial arts ever seen in Western cinema, and all of it played out at a frantic pace.
Last, but certainly not least, is the freeway chase, where numerous factions within the matrix face off in a thrilling 15-minute tour-de-force. Blessed with more striking imagery than some films manage in their entire running time, the combination of multiple car chases, Kung Fu fights on top of speeding trucks, and Morpheus cutting lose with a katana makes for a jaw dropping, and technically stunning achievement.
Visually, it's arguable that The Matrix Reloaded is the richest installment of the trilogy. Each shot gives the appearance of having been slavishly thought over, time and time again. The opening sequence, that sees Trinity and an agent unloading round after round at each other while falling from a skyscraper is impossible to forget. And while the likes of Spider-Man had already shown that CGI had progressed to a stage where the comic book could be perfectly replicated on the big screen, The Matrix Reloaded showed that cinema could finally go beyond what was achievable in the funny pages to create unbelievably cool shots beyond the grasp of the Ditko's, Romita's and Kirby's of this world. It is perhaps a sweeping generalization, but whenever The Matrix Reloaded hooks us back into the matrix itself, the film soars.
The good news continues with the Blu-ray release of The Matrix Reloaded. Presented in a 2.40:1 1080P transfer, the film looks glorious. Indeed, those who have seen the film on HD DVD will know just how jaw-dropping the transfer really is. Blacks are particularly strong, while the level of detail on show is matched by the sharpness of the picture. Though I wouldn't quite mark this out as the pinnacle of hi-def transfers (the Wachowki's own Speed Racer takes that title), it's certainly one to show off to anyone thinking of picking up a Blu-ray player. Extras are ported over from the earlier DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray ultimate boxsets, and provide a detailed insight into the making of, and concepts behind the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
• "We are getting aggravated." AKA—The Bad:
The Matrix Reloaded contains a number of elements that really could, and should, have been better thought out. These range from concepts that never really go anywhere, to underwritten characters.
When Neo confronts Seraph, we are presented with one of the most soulless encounters in modern cinema. The notion of programs testing each other must have sounded far more interesting than it actually plays out, as the fight is lacking in any tension and the outcome is clear from the start. In fact, with so many of the big decisions held off until The Matrix Revolutions, its easy to see how this scene backs up the argument made by some of the fiercest critics that The Matrix Reloaded is rather inconsequential.
While Trinity is as well written as before, and is only hindered by a truly awful wardrobe this time round, Morpheus is left severely wanting. Having guided Neo throughout the first film, acting as the John the Baptist to Neo's Jesus Christ, Morpheus now finds himself with little to do now that his charge is all grown up. Apart from sounding like a complete ass whenever he opens his mouth to Link (Harold Perrineau, Lost), and showing his chest wig before the rave, is there anything substantial that Morpheus actually does? Take away his involvement in the freeway chase, and Morpheus could easily have been omitted from the film altogether.
One final missed opportunity is Agent Smith's assimilation of Bane, which allows Neo's nemesis to enter Zion. In retrospect, having Smith enter the real world was an obvious step, but nonetheless, an interesting idea. What doesn't work quite so well, however, is its execution. Left in the background for too long, it means that there's no empathy felt toward the character of Bane, thereby robbing Neo and Bane's fight in The Matrix Revolutions of added weight. Had the Wachowki's chosen to have Smith assimilate Morpheus instead, it would have added so much more to the plot thread, and actually given Morpheus something to do for the final two-thirds of the trilogy.
• "If I were you, I would hope we do not meet again." AKA—The Downright Ugly:
Finally we find ourselves with either whole segments of the film that should have been cut, or severely underwritten characters and the Wachowski's penchant for jibber-jabber.
The film's multiple sequences set in Zion have frequently been criticized, and it's hard to disagree that they are certainly a weak point. The much-derided rave scene, which sees the inhabitants of Zion bust-a-move in defiance of the impending Sentinel attack, is overlong and dull. Don't get me wrong, I get the scene. Dancing is a very primal part of us all, and something mankind has done from year zero—something a machine would not understand—but do we really need to spend so long on it? Yes, the occasional nipple shot is all very nice, but it feels so out of place here that it pulls the viewer out of the film, and completely kills the momentum that had been building since the opening credits.
Unfortunately there are also a dozen or so new characters introduced who are a little undercooked. While those (like me) who purchased the Enter the Matrix videogame will have a better understanding of Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith, Reign Over Me) and her partner Ghost, everyone else is likely to find them superfluous to the proceedings; especially as their big moment, the destruction of the power plant, is only fully realized in the videogame. More disappointing is the character of The Kid. In The Animatrix it is revealed that he, unlike anyone else before or since, extracted himself from the matrix. Sadly, it seems this rather significant event has no bearing on the films at all. Other characters, as witnessed in the meeting called by Niobe during the film's first act, are apparently so underwritten that they have to share dialogue, and can only speak in short sentences before someone else takes their turn.
One final grumble must be reserved for the at times woeful dialogue that frequents the screenplay. From Neo's protracted exchange with Councilor Harmann on the fundamentals of control, to Morpheus and Commander Lock's disputes which always seem to boil down to the nature of belief:
Lock: "Dammit, Morpheus. Not everyone believes what you
It often feels like the Wachowki's are either trying to be too clever, or are simply guilty of laboring their point.
Though the Wachowski Bros. frequently stumble as they attempt to deliver their complex narrative, their eye for detail and clear passion for the project ultimately win out. An understanding, and love of The Matrix is a prerequisite of enjoying The Matrix Reloaded, as well as being the key to having any chance of understanding the many theories and plot threads that permeate this second chapter of the trilogy. Very much an extension of The Matrix, rather than the tonal shift of The Matrix Revolutions, everything here is bigger and bolder, though not always better than it's predecessor. Still, this is a classic piece of action-packed sci-fi that, despite its flaws, should be applauded for being rich in ideas as well as possessing plenty of bang for your buck.
My main concern with this particular release is that, with few exceptions, I see little reason to purchase The Matrix Reloaded on Blu-ray without the other two parts of the trilogy. Though I love the film, despite its problems, I see no reason why my arguments in the films favor should change the minds of its detractors. Ergo, while a standalone release for The Matrix makes sense, those like me, who enjoy the sequels and are looking to upgrade their DVDs (or perhaps replace their HD DVDs), should really look at getting the The Ultimate Matrix Collection on Blu-ray instead.
A questionable release perhaps, but, just like wiping your arse with silk, I love it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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