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THE MATRIX RELOADED

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gloria Foster
Directors:  The Wachowski Brothers
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  138 Minutes
Release Date:  October 14, 2003

“I know you can hear me…I’m not letting go.  I can’t.

I LOVE YOU TOO DAMN MUCH.”

Film ****

Once upon a time, a bold new vision of science fiction graced the movie screen.  The first part of what would become a trilogy, it instantly captured the imaginations of filmgoers everywhere, its vocabulary and philosophy became a part of our culture, and its heroes became icons because they represented the best of humanity confronting the end product of our darkest sides.

Am I talking about Star Wars or The Matrix?  Both.  And the reason I do is because as an 8 year old child seeing the former for the first time, I never believed I would ever again see anything that would enthrall me and fuel my imagination as much as it did...especially once I got old and cynical.  But sometimes lightning strikes twice.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love The Matrix movies, but not only for their great storytelling, their remarkable advancement in cinematic technology, their characters and their message.  I love them because they remind me what it was like to be a wide-eyed kid thinking that ANYTHING was possible in the movies.

The Matrix created a bold new vision.  The Matrix Reloaded furthered it, showing that the “rabbit hole” went even deeper than we knew.  It’s not a sequel, but a continuing chapter in a trilogy.  Therefore, it doesn’t attempt to repeat the formula of the first (that would be impossible; the stunning revelations of the world of the Matrix could not have been duplicated), but turns to the next part of the story while addressing the concept of man vs. machine made in his image with more thought, deeper philosophy, and a greater realization of the full scope of the war.

WARNING:  While this review contains no spoilers for Reloaded, it may spoil the first film for those who haven’t seen it yet.  If you’re one of them, stop reading now and go buy The Matrix and watch it as soon as possible…you’ve been denied long enough.

In the time since we last left the Matrix, more than a quarter million humans have been freed from it, and the last human city of Zion has been flourishing underground.  Neo (Reeves) has just about fully come into his own as The One who was prophesized to bring about the end of the war between man and machine.  His captain Morpheus (Fishburne) is still the greatest believer in that prophecy, holding fast to faith in a world of technology.  And Trinity (Moss) is still in support of Neo as both warrior and lover.

But the triumphant return of humanity may be short lived.  When it’s discovered that sentinel machines are digging to get to Zion with more than enough power to wipe out the free humans, there are only hours to either prepare for a battle to the death or to follow Morpheus’ belief that Neo can bring about the end of the war as predicted.  Doing so will mean a return to the Oracle (Foster) and facing off against an old nemesis, Agent Smith (Weaving) who has becoming freed from the mainframe himself.

The journey will bring our heroes deeper into the secret of the Matrix, and it’s something bigger and more sinister than they (or we) could have imagined.  In fact, the secret of the Matrix may come down to the answers of the most basic but persistent of philosophical questions:  namely, do we have choice in our actions?  Is what we do predetermined?  Or does it all come down to cause and effect, with control as an illusion?

At this point, if you haven’t seen the movie, you’re probably thinking man, that sounds like heady, heavy handed material for science fiction or action.  It’s part of what makes the film so great, though.  Yes, you could argue that the thinking process is somewhat basic and superficial, but when was the last time a movie like this dared to be about anything substantial at all?

But the other part of what makes the film so great is the sheer adrenaline pumping ecstasy of it.  There is plenty of action to go with the mental stimuli, which can be reduced down to three major sequences that are possibly the finest and most exhilarating ever constructed for a film.  I was fortunate enough to see this movie in a packed house at a sneak preview, and I’ve never heard anything in my life to compare with the sounds of the audience reaction to these scenes.  It was like a rising chorus of unintelligible noise caused by a large crowd of individuals who were so thrilled by what they saw that they didn’t even realize their breath was vibrating their vocal cords.  There were explosions of cheers, strangers high-fiving one another, and a roar of angst and delight as the film ended on a sharp cliffhanger, making way for the final installment Revolutions.

If the first film utilized bold new technology to create visuals never before seen in action or science fiction (and it certainly did, scoring a well-deserved Oscar for its efforts), then the second takes it even further.  The “bullet-time” concept is explored even more, as we follow characters in slow motion as they dive through high windows and fall, dodge bullets, fly and fight, all with the technology of bringing the impossibly fast action down to a digestible speed while simultaneously giving us all angles at once.  It’s a technology that’s been copied and spoofed to death, but never equaled nor surpassed until The Matrix Reloaded.

The critics who got the entire picture lauded it with praise.  Those who weren’t plugged in (no pun intended) were sometimes cold and cruel in their short-sighted reviews.  I don’t wish to insult any of my brethren in criticism, but it was obvious from reading the negative reviews that something was very wrong with the authors’ points of view.  Some seemed as though they hadn’t seen the first movie (a tragic mistake; you’ll never follow the second film without having seen the first), others found the philosophy and faith questions more than they wanted to deal with in a movie of this nature.  One of our local critics here in Jacksonville actually slammed the film saying it wasn’t “the least bit scary”.  Scary?  What movie did he think he was going to see?

Having seen the film four times already at the time of this writing, and having discussed it over and over with friends and colleagues who were equally enthusiastic, I can only say that I don’t understand how anyone could dismiss this movie, for three major reasons:  one, it’s a genuine story continuation, not a rehashing like so many sequels we get nowadays.  Two, it combines special effects and storytelling to create a completely believable, realized, and engrossing science fiction world that captures viewers’ imaginations like no film since the Star Wars ones.  And three, it boasts some of the most exhilarating action of any motion picture I’ve ever seen.

In a nutshell, The Matrix Reloaded, like its predecessor, does more than walk a fine line between science fiction and action.  Much more…it’s both the year’s best science fiction and the year’s best action film in one package. 

Video ****

As Keanu would say, whoa…this anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros. is a beauty from start to finish.  Considering the amount of visual information, the level of detail, and the intense constancy of the action, I’d wager that this movie was a hard one to commit to disc.  The studio did right by putting all the features on a second disc and reserving the maximum amount of space for the film’s presentation, thus minimizing compression.  The Wachowskis’ distinct look is wonderfully replicated, with sharp images, bold coloring schemes and integrity in both well-lit and darker scenes.  This is what DVD is all about.

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack is strong, busy, and dynamic, with an almost constant signal to the subwoofer to keep the futuristic world humming.  The lengthy action sequences keep all channels open and working overtime so that you’re in the center of the action, and the stylized science fiction aspect of the action makes the most of multi-layered sound effects editing.  Dialogue is clean and clear, even though such scenes are often quiet and contemplative…they make for a formidable comparison to the bolder moments.  Highest marks.

Features ***

I guess it should be said that the features are as good as can be hoped for given the Wachowski’s lack of participation…noted for not doing interviews or promotions, they pretty much let others do the talking here.

All the extras are on the second disc, and they start with “Preload”, which features plenty of cast and crew interviews and lots of behind the scenes looks at the training, design and special effects of the film.  For an even bigger look at the film’s most complex and thrilling scene, there is a “How They Did It” featurette on the freeway chase.  “The Matrix Unfolds” looks at how the film has crossed over into sequels, anime, and a popular video game, while “Get Me an Exit” shows how the picture made its way into advertising and products (including the cell phones used in the film!).

There is a look at the video game “Enter the Matrix”, which was pretty much written as though it were a film in and of itself, a trailer preview for The Animatrix, and web links.  The finale will tickle your funny bone…a Reloaded spoof crafted for the MTV Movie Awards that features Justin Timberlake and Seann William Scott, plus some surprise cameos.  It’s absolutely hysterical!

Summary:

The Matrix Reloaded is no cranked out cashing in sequel.  It’s a legitimate story continuation of a tale so deep, rich and surprising that even now, we feel like the sleeves haven’t yet been rolled up all the way.  It’s a complete, modern science fiction experience that can only be compared to Star Wars in terms of how thoroughly and intensely it has permeated and assumed a part of our culture.  This is movie magic at its very best…bring on the finale!

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