It is truly daunting to craft a worthy sequel to a movie with as much critical appeal and cultural inertia as 'The Matrix'. Grossing over 170 million dollars in it's theatrical release, redefining visual effects, and injecting new life into the science fiction genre, 'The Matrix' was truly a groundbreaking film, and demands great things of it's sequel. It's a good thing then, that 'Matrix Reloaded' more than meets the challenge. It's a testament to the Wachowski brothers that they've managed to create a series of films that have, and will continue to redefine popular media. It's difficult to review such a controversial movie, most people seem to either hate it, or love it. So if you'd like to hear from the latter group, read on.
In a nutshell, Neo's powers are growing rapidly, and he's well near undefeatable. Well and good, but a machine army of sentinels is rapidly closing on Zion in the real world (?), and more practical measures are needed. As Commander Lock prepares for the physical defense of Zion, Morpheus believes their true hope of salvation lies in the matrix, with Neo. After visiting the Oracle, Neo learns that he is not the only one with new powers. Agent Smith has gained the ability to replicate himself like a virus, and is a formidable opponent. Escaping, Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity begin a search for the mysterious Keymaker, who the Oracle asserts is essential to Neo's destiny. Their search takes them to an ancient program, The 'Merovingian', who refuses to help them. Luckily his gorgeous wife, seductively played by the luscious Monica Belluci, has other ideas. Neo has taken the first steps on a path that will lead him to the Source, and the enigmatic creator of the Matrix - the Architect. He will learn more about the truth of the matrix, the purpose of his existence, and the true meaning of sacrifice.
The action choreography is astounding, to say the least. The creativity of 'The Matrix' is preserved and built upon. One of the finest combat scenes takes place in a beautifully appointed chateu. Neo leaps from gorgeous stairways to marble floors, battling a number of enemies with a variety of weapons, from swords to poleaxes. Morpheus showcases his style with a marquee battle against an agent, on top of a truck speeding down a freeway. Trinity and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) both manage to make life pretty inconvenient for some unfortunate security guards. The Twins are also a pleasure to watch, as you don't often get to watch combat involving straight razors. Regardless of who's fighting, or where it's happening, the combat flows nicely throughout and manages to tread the fine line between fantastical and ridiculous.
The stunt sequences are just as impressive, if not more so. The pinnacle is without a doubt the much touted freeway chase scene. Spanning over 12 minutes, this is an extravaganza of amazing driving, explosions, harrowing stunts, and impressive visual effects. The requirements were so enormous, that it actually takes place on a two mile stretch of freeway specifically constructed for this one scene. Computer graphics are so seamlessly integrated, it's well near impossible to tell which cars are real, and which ones were added in post production. The entire scene is a veritable landmark of cinematic action.
Speaking of the visual effects, not everything deserves as much praise as the freeway scene. The scenes where Neo's been replaced with a digital stand-in look like he's been torn out of a video game. It's jarring, and ruins the belief that you're bearing witness to a veritable orgy of special effects excellence. Perhaps it would have been advisable to make action sequences such as the burly brawl (where Neo fights a multitude of agent Smiths) less ambitious, so as not to require the use of a digital double. This could perhaps be dismissed as a footnote in any other movie, but the 'Matrix' franchise prides itself on being in the vanguard of visual technology.
The plot continues to be strong, but has become more complicated than in the first movie. This is not necessarily a detrimental development, providing everything's explained nicely. However, this is simply not the case. The movie leaves all it's overarching plot progression to one speech by the Architect, spanning only a few minutes. The speech is couched in needlessly complicated language, which make it even more difficult to understand the myriad array of riddles. Although several things are explained, it takes a bit of thinking and perhaps a second viewing to understand all their implications.
The DVD version contains several extras on it's second disc, including the MTV 2003 Video Awards send up of 'Reloaded', with Sean William Scott and Justin Timberlake. It's pretty funny in general, but the scene with the Will Farrell as the Architect is an excellent parody of the above. 'Look at me! I can use big words!'. The DVD also contains an excellent featurette about the making of the freeway scene. It's humbling to see the incredible amounts of work that went into a few minutes of action. The featurette is well produced, and has some excellent scenes.
Other extras include a behind-the-scenes look at Reloaded, an examination of the 'Matrix Phenomenon' (they're really proud of themselves), and a dissection of their... marketing strategy. That's right, watch this little bit to see how 'Powerade' fits so well into the Matrix world. Seriously though, it's nice to see a bit of explanation behind the ads, but this seems like some method of, uhm, hypermarketing? There's also trailers for 'The Animatrix' and the 'Enter the Matrix' video game.
The transfer is pretty well flawless, with minimal noise and excellent depth of colours. What colours there are in 'Matrix Reloaded', that is. There are no commentaries or anything accompanying the feature. It's disappointing to note that a DTS track is not included, it's just Dolby 5.1 here.
To wrap up, the 'Matrix Reloaded' is truly that rare movie that manages to meet the high standards of it's blockbuster predecessor. Earning over 100 million more at the box offices than the original, 'Reloaded' stands as a spectacular movie in it's own right.