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With: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Monica Bellucci, Hugo Weaving
Written by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski (The Wachowski Brothers)
Directed by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski (The Wachowski Brothers)
MPAA Rating: R for sci-fi violence and some sexuality
Running Time: 140
Date: 05/07/2003

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Same Old Bag of 'Matrix'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Matrix Reloaded presents a conundrum. On the one hand, it's asuperbly executed action movie of the like we haven't seen in years. Buton the other hand, it's a disappointing sequel to one of the biggestAmerican film phenomena since Star Wars.

If the film were merely a popcorn-muncher like Cradle 2 the Grave or Bulletproof Monk, you would hear this writer singing its praises from the mountaintops. Choreographed by the great Yuen Wo Ping, this is what action is supposed to look like; shots last for breathtaking seconds on end, and when the cuts come they clarify and emphasize the action rather than hiding it in a jumble.

But a member of The Matrix family is supposed to be more. The first 40 minutes of the original 1999 film came close to greatness. Remember the ad campaign "What Is the Matrix?" The writer/director team of Andy and Larry Wachowski teased us with a terrific mystery. What if everything you knew -- the whole wide world -- was only a computer program?

The idea allowed for Deep Thought. To what degree do we all live in our own little Matrixes? For example, you might believe that McDonald's new fries are good for you or that John Grisham is a great American novelist or that the Republicans are acting in the name of freedom and democracy -- without ever knowing that there's a much bigger picture, a bigger world.

That mystery ended when the Wachowskis decided to fess up and explain every last detail at the 40-minute mark. The rest of The Matrix consisted of nothing more than top-notch chase and fight scenes. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But The Matrix Reloaded is not much more than 140 minutes of top-notch chase and fight scenes, without even that scant 40 minutes of delicious anticipation.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) has been having nightmares about Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) getting shot and killed. Meanwhile, a whole army of those scary octopus-like probe robots are poised to descend upon the human city of Zion and destroy it, along with all the black clothing and cool shades everyone wears.

Neo makes another visit to the Oracle (Gloria Foster), who tells him to find the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim). Teamed with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity, Neo eventually tracks him down with the help of sexy Persephone (Monica Bellucci), who -- in a rather ridiculous scene -- makes Neo give her a kiss before she agrees to help.

The keymaker tells our heroes the rest of the plot: they have to blow up a power plant in order to get through a special door inside the program. Once inside that door, Neo discovers a few more things about the Matrix, none of them nearly as interesting as what we already know.

It ends on a cliffhanger, which will presumably be resolved this fall. Meanwhile, die-hard fans who have seen the animated shorts that comprise "The Animatrix" -- to be released on DVD June 3 -- will find themselves rewarded with at least two references.

The Wachowskis unravel their plot in a series of long, talky scenes filled with expositional dialogue, the kind that actors hate to memorize. It's mostly high school-type philosophies, such as "cause and effect" and "the nature of control." In each case, after the talk goes on for a while, some bad guys jump into the scene and a fight begins.

The first great fight scene has Neo duking it out with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who has now developed the power to copy himself. At first Neo fights with about 10 Smiths, but by the end of the fight, it's more like 100. The Wachowskis swirl their camera around, slowing the action down from time to time, and keeping everything wonderfully clear. Unfortunately, the more Smiths enter the scene, the more it begins to look like a computer-generated video game gone awry.

Another great fight/chase scene comes in the middle of the film and, lasting at least 20 minutes. In the middle of it, Morpheus finds himself trying to defend the keymaker on top of a moving 18-wheeler on the freeway. As he advances toward a waiting Agent, the camera does a 180 around the length of the truck -- moving at perhaps 60 or 70 miles an hour -- and keeps Morpheus' cool stride at center-frame the whole time.

And so it's the technical wizardry that keeps The Matrix Reloaded going at all, which should not be the case. In a series this ambitious with this many ideas, we should be buzzing from head to foot. I suspect that the film will be an enormous success, but it will be in the vein of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones -- based more on sheer momentum than on genuine enthusiasm.

Fans willing to sit through the endless end credits (the accountants are listed!) will be treated to scenes from The Matrix Revolutions, which opens November 5.

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