The Matrix: Reloaded

The capsule review I’ve been giving to my friends who haven’t seen it yet goes something like this: “It’s several sequences of really cool intense kickass action and effects, interspersed with tedious pseudo-philosophical pontificatory monologues wherein one character explains the world to another character. So it’s just like the first one, but more.”

I waited out the fanboy crowds, avoided spoilers, evaded conversation with those who had already seen it, and finally saw it last night a little over a week after its release. And I have to say, after waiting three years and one week for this sequel, I’m a tad disappointed in the end result. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it a lot. It’s a great kung-fu sci-fi summer blockbuster adrenalin-and-popcorn flick. It just could have been better. Read on for my full review.

It’s in those monologues where the Matrix Reloaded really falls short of its potential. Most movies have expository dialogue, where things are explained to the characters and thus explained to the audience. But, most movies have simplistic stories and don’t need much of this, so we don’t even notice. Movies with especially complex stories are a different breed, and really good ones manage to keep us in the loop without holding our hand. (In turn, movies with complex stories which don’t keep us in the loop fail on a basic story-telling level, alienating the audience. I could name several examples but I’d wind up annoying all the David Lynch fans.)

The Matrix Reloaded errs on the other side. Our hand is held too tightly and we’re dragged along with the exposition and never given the chance to really piece it together for ourselves. I got the impression that the Wachowski brothers were so enamored with their own trippy reality-bending ideas that they couldn’t resist shoving them down our throats and making really sure we got it and no questions were left unanswered. And they do it through these monologues, characters yammering on about the nature of reality and cause and effect and predeterminism and revealing that what we thought we knew was not so. Important and necessary information is revealed, it’s just that the pacing and delivery is clumsy and forced. Dare I say it, some parts of this movie are actually boring.

But the action makes up for it. Some of the fight scenes are gratuitous, but that’s half the fun. Surely it’s some kind of rule in the matrix programming that bad guys must decorate their palaces with melee weapons, just so the good guys can come kick their asses with more variety. The martial arts battles are longer and faster and cooler than the first movie, and the whole freeway chase/fight/podrace sequence leaves you winded from the endorphin rush. And everyone has really cool sunglasses.

So my final verdict: Kicks ass with flaws. The action is great, the whole movie looks amazing (though the CGI Keanu is easily detected), and the story is actually pretty well thought out in spite of some hamhandedness in the telling. While the philosophical aspects give the Matrix more depth and weight than most other sci-fi popcorn flicks, the philosophy itself isn’t terribly difficult to grasp. Questions of free will and perceptions of reality are raised, but Philip K. Dick gives a much better mindfuck.

I’m not bothering to summarize any of the plot, since everyone’s gonna see it anyway. But I’ll give away one semi-spoiler just as a warning: it ends on a cliffhanger. Not just an open-ended potential for what may happen in the future, but an outright total cliffhanger for what will happen the in next few minutes. Luckily we only have to wait until November. Also, be sure to stay for the preview of Revolutions after the credits.

Update 5.1.04: This review was written a few hours after seeing the movie, and at the time it was how I felt. I admit I came out of the movie feeling entertained, which is a good effect for this kind of movie to have, it certainly succeeded on that level. But a year later, after rethinking it and discussing the movie with friends (and seeing the third one), I have to officially lower my rating. The Matrix: Reloaded pretty much sucked. Yes some of the action sequences were exhilirating and the visual effects were impressive, but in the end that simply can’t overshadow the glaringly bad speeches and weak storytelling. Plenty of kickass, but mostly flaws.