The Matrix Reloaded (DVD)

It’s like wiping your ass with silk…I love it.

The Matrix Reloaded is one of the most hotly anticipated sci-fi films of the last 25 years. Genre buffs have recently feasted on a cornucopia of high-profile releases. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was probably the number one most hotly anticipated film of all time, an anticipation matched only by the sense of overwhelming disappointment many felt afterward. Still, the “Star Wars” label has a mystical draw; the follow up Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones caused many sleepless nights for excited fans. Again, many were let down. When The Lord of the Rings was brought to the screen, anticipation and suspicion were sky high. Remarkably, the anticipation was matched with quality goods (twice in a row!). Sci-fi and fantasy movie fans have been run through the emotional wringer lately, having experienced abject disappointment and euphoric glee as a result of their stellar expectations.

In other words, Matrix fans worldwide were ripe for a colossal letdown. Reloaded followed a sleeper sensation that swept the world up in its fascinating creative vision. To sustain that sense of wonder and spectacle would be nearly impossible. And though The Matrix Reloaded flubs in several major areas, fan disappointment was kept reasonably in check. The world was not scintillated anew, if only because The Matrix is so integrated into our cultural consciousness that to surprise would mean straying too far from its central tenets. Many were disappointed (see below), many were relieved, but in general viewers are in standby mode, waiting to see how this rabbit-powered wormhole will terminate. The simple existence of this mass suspended final judgment means that The Matrix Reloaded was reasonably successful.

A quarter million sentinels are drilling towards the earth’s core to reach and destroy Zion. The surly Commander Lock (Harry Lennix) prepares the hovercraft fleet to defend Zion. His efforts are resisted by Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who believe that communication with the Oracle is the only hope to save Zion. They go back into the Matrix to find the Oracle. Inside, Neo runs into his old pal Smith (Hugo Weaving), who is no longer an agent. Smith is now a rogue program, replicating himself in an attempt to wipe everything out. Neo has his hands full saving the world: even a superhero is vulnerable to emotion, and Neo fears for Trinity’s life.

No matter what else they did or failed to do in this DVD release, Warner Brothers has done one thing right: The Matrix Reloaded is packaged in a glorious plastic Amaray keep case. That’s right, no snapper. Whoa.

There are many, many things wrong with this movie. Given the height of “the bar” set by The Matrix, it is quite easy to contrast the flaws of Reloaded with its more successful predecessor. My fellow judges have admirably covered the problems with the film, most of which I agree with. The first film’s esoteric subtext changes to ham fisted philosophizing in the second. Fear, doubt, and anger give way to catatonic placidity. Taut tension ebbs away leaving anticlimactic battle scenes against Superman.

Superman? The “superman” thing is dumb, dumb, dumb. In fact, most of Link’s comic relief throwaway lines fail miserably. But his is not the only unsuccessful dialogue, not by a long shot. Most of the words spoken seem like an abstract treatise on existentialism and determinism. Though the content is intellectually provocative, listening to it is painful. To distill: if I am a human in this movie, “I believe” something very strongly (at a whim sometimes; stunning how quickly a situational analysis converts to diehard fanaticism) and will do anything to support my beliefs. If I am a machine in this movie, “I’m surprised you haven’t figured that out by now.” Whatever “that” is, no matter how esoteric or obscure, it surprises the machines that Neo hasn’t figured “that” out “by now.” Except for the Architect who, in a stunning reversal of narrative structure, is surprised that Neo figured “that” out faster than the others. Try this:

The Matrix “Loaded” Drinking Game:
Drink every time someone says the word “choice,” “believe,” or their derivatives. Any participants who make it to the final credits win much respect and funds for a liver transplant.

Despite myriad flaws, The Matrix Reloaded has many positive elements. The most obvious is the lauded highway chase sequence, which deserves every accolade. (But seriously, can a Caddy still drive with 19,000 bullet holes in it? none of which hit a person?) Action movies will be hard pressed to match this sheer visceral spectacle. Other effects excel, such as the ghoulish twins and their transporter beam shenanigans.

Yet the positives are deeper than effects. Though the flaws mask it, Reloaded has a heart. The people of Zion are the obvious poster boy/girl/boy/girls. Other hints are more subtle: pay close attention to when Neo speaks to Morpheus about the prophecy. Morpheus took Neo out of the Matrix and pulled the rug of his life out from underneath. This time, Neo turns the tables and the result is devastating.

Enough from me; the opinions below are more than enough to enlighten you as to the film’s quality. The real fun in The Matrix Reloaded begins after the credits roll. The possibilities are like tumblers in your mind. Just when you think you have it all figured out, a new piece of evidence presents itself to invite more ruminations. Its cachet is not so much the movie experience itself, but all of the questions it provokes in the mind afterwards. People are talking about the issues and themes in this film, which is no small feat. Throw in a fantastic freeway chase, a downright weird meeting with the Architect, some ass kicking by Trinity, and hubba hubba hot Monica Bellucci, and the balance is favorable.

Now for the DVD presentation. As far as audio visual quality is concerned, the video is reference quality, the audio nearly so, and “reference quality” is not an accolade I hand out lightly. The DVD is a spectacle in every sense of the word.

The Matrix took the Oscar for best sound, and the same finesse is applied here. Some 5.1 mixes only gear up during the action scenes or highlight obvious visual cues onscreen. Reloaded‘s mix is detailed throughout, enhancing the film’s environment through steady and appropriate sonic cues. Surrounds give the viewer subtle and constant feedback, while the mains thunder with otherworldly effects (a hovercraft flew by and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up with static electricity). The center channel contributes perfectly clean dialogue.

The piece de resistance is the subwoofer. Afterwards, I was checking for stress fractures in the walls. The sub takes time to really kick in. At the beginning of the movie, Trinity is doing her usual “kick everyone’s ass” thing when she blows up a building. The resultant sonic aftermath lacks oomph, which is mildly disappointing. Never fear, the brothers were saving it for the real explosions later. I felt as though a concussion grenade had been thrown into my living room. Mind you, anyone can crank up the bass dial on a mix. No, this was clean, massive bass firing in perfect concert with mind-blowing crashes and mayhem.

I have stylistic issues with the soundtrack, but cannot fault its presentation. The music was clear, oscillating between sub-harmonic and pounding at appropriate times. Spoken words, music, and effects were seamlessly integrated, punchy and bright without being harsh. However, many people are displeased with the fluctuating volume levels of the mix. Dialogue in particular is faint at times, while the music and effects volume seem to take greater precedence. This may be a conscious stylistic decision, or it may just be poorly handled volume transitions.

The audio was a treat, but the video is better. Here’s how good the transfer is. I had been watching for an hour or so when a visual artifact distracted me in the background. I jumped backwards a few seconds and watched again, only to find it was a stray bit of dust. It wasn’t even a particularly big speck of dust, but the transfer is so clean that a normal transfer’s dust becomes The Matrix Reloaded‘s blight.

I am sensitive to edge enhancement. Watching this DVD was like breathing pure mountain air. In fact, I was miffed when I did notice two minor, respectable instances of edge enhancement. The truth is, DVD as a format has limitations. Something must be compressed somewhere to fit it all on the DVD. This is a DVD that reaches those limitations, highlighting in its pristine elegance the physical limitations of DVD.

In the case of The Matrix Reloaded, this visual feast is surprising because the film has a challenging palette. Most of the film is dark—not dark with “noirish shadows” but simply dark: caves, hovercraft interiors, tunnels, mystical erotic archways of passion, what have you. Within this darkness, there are three subtle tonal shifts: red in Zion, green in the Matrix, and blue in the hovercraft. The ruddy shadows in the rocks and pecs of Zion give way to the cool shadowed dashboards of the hovercraft, which plug into the dispassionate, stomach churning green of the Matrix. It is a testament to this transfer that those tonal shifts are so distinct. To achieve this requires absolutely solid black levels and consistent hues.

But we aren’t done. In addition to palette, the brothers challenged themselves in the contrast department. The Architect and the Zion flight controllers live in pristine white conceptual spaces, where the merest hint of detail is threatened with blinding white obliteration. Did they shy from this? No. The flight controllers whisk around virtual flight plans composed of intricate, thin, dark lines. To say this is a challenging test of contrast is understatement. And though bits of the detail were indeed consumed by the white, I suspect it is because my LCD projector lacks the fidelity to display these minute gradations.

Speaking of detail, it is amazingly sharp throughout. The detailed skin textures, hair, veins, and eyebrows make you wistful for a broader range of facial expressions to behold.

The extras are less impressive, and it boils down to two words: commercialism and commentary. The irritating lack of a commentary track is a major strike against such a landmark DVD release. The Wachowski Brothers are notoriously reticent with the media. So be it; with all of the stuntmen, actors, video game engineers, special effects crews, and other functionaries running around for a year, surely someone had the time to record a few words. It wouldn’t even have to be audio; the Legally Blonde DVD used an alternate subtitle track to great effect, popping up trivia throughout the film. This would have worked perfectly in The Matrix Reloaded, particularly given the intricacies of the film.

The second strike is the patently commercial aspects of many of the features. Of the features, the following feel like extended (if subtle) infomercials:

• Enter the Matrix
• The Matrix Unfolds
• Get Me an Exit
The Animatrix trailer

Of the four, The Animatrix trailer gets a “Get out of Jail Free” card because it actually is a commercial. As trailers go, this one is enticing and thorough, but gives too much away. Slightly more feature worthy (but paradoxically, more annoying) is the “Get Me an Exit” featurette. It is basically a bunch of Matrix inspired commercials. Whoa.

“The Matrix Unfolds” is very self-promotional, so I figure it was a promotional piece. Let’s just say that if producer Joel Silver is correct, the Wachowski Brothers handle every element of cinema with groundbreaking finesse. Fold this one back up.

Rounding out the promotional extras is the lengthy “Enter the Matrix,” a piece about the making of the video game. It is perhaps unfair to malign the commercial bent in this extra, because it was a noteworthy effort by the brothers to extend such respect toward the creation of the video game. The video game professionals involved were ecstatic at the opportunity to helm such a monumental effort, so their enthusiasm feels genuine. Again, Joel Silver and the voiceovers add the commercial spin. We are left with the strong message to buy the video game, or else we aren’t true Matrix fans.

That leaves three extras, and they fare much better. “Preload” is short, but packs more genuine emotion than all of “The Matrix Unfolds.” We get to see Keanu steaming with exertion in his workout; hear about the trepidation and exhaustion of the cast. In this extra we find more of the Morpheus-Neo-Trinity magic than in Reloaded itself.

“The Freeway Chase” is nothing short of amazing. It is a documentary of the phenomenal highway scene that reveals the careful staging, rehearsal, and execution of the scene. We see the long periods of waiting followed by brief minutes of exhilaration. The complex mechanics involved are staggering. I particularly enjoyed learning how they achieved those impossible-looking shots of Trinity whizzing through oncoming cars on the motorcycle. All I could think of during the scene was “where is the freaking camera?”

After the seriousness of Reloaded and the self-important extras, “The MTV Movie Awards Reloaded” is a welcome blast of comic relief. I’m not sure how it will hold up to repeat viewings, but I’ve seen it twice now and laughed out loud both times. We have the inimitable Seann William Scott accompanying Justin Timberlake through the Matrix, with Will Ferrell playing Architect. All I can say is listen up for the Oracle’s first line. And the Architect scene is a more perceptive parody than you would expect.

That’s all, you say? Not quite. Our old friend the InterActual Player is back. We at DVD Verdict have much vitriol to spare for this loathsome bit of spyware. Hmm…Hollywood spyware. I certainly trust studio execs with my personal information, don’t you?

Well, folks, there you have it. With all of the varying opinions, sharp complaints, and rampant speculation, I can say this with certainty: If you are looking for a jaw-dropping, audience-stunning home theater display DVD, this one is well worth a purchase. A better image may be technically possible, but I doubt we’ll see it any time soon. Without further ado, I present the fine words of the Supreme Court panel.

Judge Bill Gibron: Concurring Opinion

There is only one real problem with The Matrix Reloaded, a little thing that gets blown up into a large problem the minute it surfaces on screen. No, it’s not the new-fangled bullet-time substitute called virtual cinematography or CGI crowd chaos, some overly technical cute binary balderdash. Instead of causing our jaws to droop in awe-inspired wonder, this new computer noodling renders sequences like Neo and Agent Smith’s Burly Battle into a multiple personality cartoon game of schoolyard dog pile. Nor is it the fault of the constant re-imagining and rebooting of the movie’s mythology. After all, if little Georgie Lucas can fudge with his space world’s tall tales from film to film, why can’t the Wachowski Brothers (“Leia loves Luke, but can’t have the wee ones witnessing interstellar incest so let’s move over to Han Solo’s sleeping compartment, mmmkay?”)? You can’t even decree sophomore slump syndrome since the film, as a whole, functions so well on so many levels.

No, the problem with this otherwise stellar, sumptuous action sci-fi epic is Zion, the underground home of the last remaining humans. Imagine Woodstock circa 1969 with ethnically indeterminate space cases wandering bleary eyed through a subterranean version of Yasgur’s farm all worshiping at the feet of a Tiger Beat Jesus, and you’ve got a basic idea of just how dopey this cavernous craphole is. The minute we enter this sacred sanctuary as Spawn Ranch, complete with grubby commune members and proselytizing council prophets, the film’s forward motion lurches and we are stuck trying to re-right the wrong for an hour and forty minutes.

Indeed, Zion might have worked had it been saved for last, the final shot in the continuing saga of man vs. machine. Maybe then, after all the ultra-sophisticated modernisms and sleek chrome confusion of the simulated world, a trip to a way station for well-groomed migrant workers would have actually worked. Of course, the Wacky Wachos could have simply re-thought their idea of Zion, removing it from its deep earth roots reality and adding just a small amount of sensible livability. Like Spielberg’s environmentally dull Neverland for his Hook or the off-scale digital domains in the galaxy of Lucas, The Matrix Reloaded‘s home base is badly conceived. It has no scope, no sense of functionality or logic. One minute it’s like a glorified ant colony, multiple people moving walkways interlacing a bottomless pit of an atrium. The next it’s all simplified space pods, like the orbiting living quarters from Aliens. Zion is so massive and yet so claustrophobic that it contorts the purpose of a safe haven. To have this enticement error frontloaded on us loses the audience almost irrevocably. Even old GL knew better than to throw Luke’s Vader-ish lineage at him in the beginning of a film. Imagine if young Skywalker had learned his Dad was the Death Star’s dictator early on and was then saddled with that information throughout the rest of his travails. Suddenly Empire strikes back a totally different chord, right? The same thing happens here. When we learn what a useless wasteland this overblown Kahlúa Mudslide commercial truly is, we start to second guess Neo’s whole “save humanity” objective. Not a wise move for a film that is supposedly basing its last two parts on this exact sentiment.

Fortunately, the action and attitude keeps Reloaded from dying a complete death. Others may complain about the carbon copy Agent Smiths running around like rabbits with rabies and the completely convoluted ideology that seems straight out of a badly written Unix technical manual, but none of this is really fatal to this middle child in the series. Like the linking verb in a sentence, Reloaded is meant to connect the microcosm of the original film with the celestial stratosphere of the finale. One has to assume that this is all setup for an ultimate payoff in Revolutions. If not, the bad Brothers have set themselves up for a royal rump reaming come Christmas 2003. IF the Architect and the Keymaker and the Snack Master don’t lead to some manner of brain bending climax, if all the elongated battles and vroom broom special effects were merely a smokescreen for a franchise functioning on autopilot, then The Matrix Reloaded will go down in history as the worst segment of a science fiction film series ever.

Now, without giving anything away, it is possible that the Zion we see in the movie is not the real resting place for the remnants of humanity. Those who have seen the movie will understand, and it would explain the rather lackluster approach to its visual style and appeal. But until Revolutions rears its hotly anticipated head, we are left with a place not worth fighting and dying for, a confusing concept of Matrixes within Matrixes and some startling stunt set pieces to satisfy our Neo/One jones. You get the feeling that, when viewed together, The Matrix movies will be a moving, magical experience. But there is also a haunting fear that, after the benchmarking first film, the sequels will sink under their own pretentious preoccupations. Here’s to keeping the faith a few months longer.

Judge Erin Boland: Dissenting Opinion

After having thoroughly enjoyed The Matrix, I was highly disappointed with The Matrix Reloaded. In fact, I was so upset with the movie (how upset was I?), I felt compelled to do something constructive and compile a “Things Wrong with The Matrix Reloaded ” list while I was watching it.

The Zion rave scene was gratuitous and added absolutely nothing to the movie. I am not opposed to sexuality in cinema and I have enjoyed racy films, but I think that any element in a film (sex, gore, violence) should serve some purpose: plot development, character development, theme exploration, etcetera. During the rave/orgy I felt like I was watching a nicely airbrushed soft-core porno film—something I would expect only if the film had been entitled Debbie Does The Matrix.

The Clone Wars sequence…wait, wrong self-indulgent franchise, the Neo vs. the Clones: the Video Game (which can be picked up at your local electronics dealer for the reasonable price of your dignity) advertisement is next on my list of “Things Wrong with The Matrix Reloaded.” This particular sequence makes this list for several reasons:

a) The sequence was drawn out enough that I was able to get up, take my time in the bathroom, get a drink from the kitchen, microwave some more popcorn, and return to the couch before it was actually over.
b) It was infuriating that Super-Neo could have simply finished the fight whenever he chose to simply by flying away.
c) I pay to rent/buy DVDs because I like to watch cinema without commercial interruption.
d) Kung-Fu, clone-fu, men-in-black-fu, CGI-fu gets a little boring without some nice explosions to back it up.

This scene is destined to make the Top 10 list of “Most Spoofed Scenes in Movie History” list.

Speaking of Super-Neo, I felt that his “super” powers were ill handled during the movie. They appeared whenever an excuse was needed to get Neo easily out of a sticky situation, add an exciting car chase scene without some extra plot development, or save Trinity’s life; however when it came to beating up the scary ghostie brothers, he fell short (it was a neat scene though).

Overall, The Matrix Reloaded had potential to be a great movie. The new perspective on the world of Reloaded offered by the Oracle was actually interesting, and if the film had been executed properly, could have restored mystery and a sense of wonder to the film. But since “the body can’t live without the mind,” The Matrix Reloaded is pronounced DOA.

Judge Michael Rankins: Dissenting Opinion

The Matrix Reloaded is the perfect Keanu Reeves vehicle: like its star, Reloaded is slickly good-looking on the outside, vacuous on the inside. All the pretty lights are on at the Wachowski Brothers’ house, but it doesn’t appear that anyone is home.

But oh, how the WackBros long to convince us this whole Matrix thing is as deep and meaningful as the night sky over the Serengeti! That’s the only conceivable reason why they compel us to sit through one interminable, droning, ponderous speech after another. Everyone in Reloaded takes him/her/itself more seriously than a talk-radio host. If I want to listen to dullards pontificating, I’ll switch on C-Span. No wonder the machines wired the human race up and stashed them in stasis chambers—when left to their own devices, they’re like guest lecturers at an actuarial convention. Shut up, you people!

In fact, everything about Reloaded seems to just go on and on, like a John Tesh concert or your uncle’s home videos. The fight sequences are technically brilliant, but does each one have to plod on for, like, twenty minutes? Usually action movies fail the wristwatch test during the expository passages between the marquee stunts, but here I actually kept thinking to myself, “When is this going to be over?” right in the middle of the colossal shoot-and-beat-’em-ups. It’s as though someone suggested to the Wachowskis, “If five bullet-time battles turned people on in the first movie, they’ll like fifty even more.” Enough already. Don’t keep throwing flash and dash at the screen hoping we don’t notice that you have no clue what rathole your once-fresh concept is spiraling down.

Speaking of clueless, apparently the writer/directors felt it necessary to carry on the tradition that mandates every Hollywood actor named “Reeves” or “Reeve” has to play Superman. What’s up with Keanu soaring through the skies fist-first like the Man of Steel, for pity’s sake? At one point late in the movie, Neo buzzes past the camera with Trinity in his arms—I thought I’d accidentally dropped into a Goth episode of Lois and Clark. Endlessly repeated wire-fu and slow-mo is one thing, but turning the Matrix into Metropolis? Just plain lame.

One place I’ll give the Wachowskis their due—all the money’s on the screen. Reloaded is a marvelously expensive-looking film. Unfortunately, we’re looking at the same expensive folderol over and over, with grueling stretches of insomnia-curing dialogue stitched in between. This is one case in which “more” is not necessarily better. The Matrix Reloaded is simply The Matrix Recycled, ad nauseum. And they’re doing this again in November? Better stop at Starbucks on the way to the theater.

Judge Bryan Byun: Concurring Opinion

If any film this year has been the victim of its own hype, it’s Matrix Reloaded. The combination of omnipresent marketing and PR superlatives that elevated hype to a whole new level (“There is no bar”) sent critical and financial expectations soaring, to the point where anything less than a billion dollar-grossing cinematic home run would have been viewed as a disappointment. Why anyone thought that a R-rated sequel to what was essentially a big-budget B-movie would do Titanic numbers or be anything but another big-budget B-movie is beyond me, but the fact is that audiences and critics alike went in expecting filet mignon and got prime rib instead. Any other day, prime rib would have been a scrumptious meal, but that day, their mouths were set for filet mignon, so Reloaded, for many, was the letdown of the summer.

Which is too bad, because if you look beyond the hype, what the Wachowskis have created here is a rare and precious thing—a Hollywood blockbuster with a brain, and a sequel that doesn’t merely seek to top the original’s action and effects, but also builds upon the original film’s themes and reaches for a level of intellectual discourse that few, if any, monster-budget mainstream films dare to approach. Schopenhauer it’s not, but on balance, Reloaded is a film built around ideas, not just elaborate stunts. It’s one of the few science fiction films of recent times that actually takes on science fiction themes. In other words, it’s the kind of film that critics are always complaining that we don’t get from Hollywood anymore. So naturally, most of the critical discussion of the film centered around…whether or not the CGI was realistic.

Take the film for what it is, and what you get is a flawed but ambitious take on some of the classic science fiction themes—questions of identity (what makes us human?) and choice (how do our choices define us?), and humankind’s turbulent relationship with technology and machines. Reloaded delves deeper into the first Matrix‘s examinations of the nature of reality and the consequences of technology run rampant. It gives us a speculative look at a future in which the human race, playing God, creates God in its own flawed image; and paints a grim portrait of a society that, enslaved by its own machines, is no more than a logical extension of our current dependence on technology.

And it throws in a nifty freeway chase scene for good measure.

For all of its fetishistic preoccupation with techno chic, the true heart of Reloaded lies in its most-maligned scene: the “rave.” Unfairly dismissed as gratuitous, this is actually a key moment in the film. It’s the moment that answers the question, “What are they fighting for?” Given the grim world the humans live in, it’s a pertinent question. In the first film, Cypher rejected that world in favor of the comfortable illusion of the Matrix. It’s a choice many of us would have made. So why fight it? Why would the denizens of Zion choose a grimy, death-laden reality over a machine-generated dream world?

The “rave” answers one part of that question, with its raw sensuality and unbridled energy embodying (literally) the essence of humanity. The Zion humans aren’t just enjoying a final hootenanny before the storm. They’re celebrating their own physicality and reaffirming the communal bonds between them—after all, what defines our humanity more strongly than our connections with others? Note the close up of their muddy feet—a visual metaphor for their connection with the Earth (their common ground, so to speak) and the dirty, messy real world—everything that the tidy, soulless Matrix isn’t.

The intercut sex scene between Neo and Trinity gives us the other half of it—the emotional side, the sense of bonding and union. It’s not an erotic, titillating scene, nor is it meant to be. It isn’t thrown in there for a little fun T&A. It’s actually a crucial moment in that it communicates in the purest possible sense the passion and connection these characters share. This isn’t the steamy bump ‘n grind of two beautiful people having porno sex. This is the quintessential moment of sexual/emotional/spiritual joining of two damaged, frightened human beings who know that each day could be their last. The vulnerability that Neo expresses afterwards—it’s one of his most human moments in a film where he’s otherwise mostly stoic and detached. In that sense, this is probably the least gratuitous cinematic sex scene I’ve witnessed in a long time.

Of course, the film isn’t without its flaws. Although the “Burly Brawl” between Neo and the Agent Smiths is entertaining in an over-the-top way, as a parody of the familiar “hero versus a hundred henchmen” kung-fu movie cliché, the scene does come off as a trifle videogame-ish, even down to the weirdly Super Mario-like music that plays over the fight. The violence in general lacks much of the grit and sense of peril of the first film—it’s fun, but so outrageous at times as to feel cartoonish and overly “clean.” And some of the more emotional moments, like those between Morpheus and Niobe, don’t generate as much payoff as they probably should.

Ultimately, any examination of Matrix Reloaded must be predicated on the understanding that the Matrix series is not, fundamentally, a true trilogy. Structurally, yes—there are three films. But in narrative terms, Reloaded and Revolutions form a single story that is really one extended sequel to the first Matrix. While that may seem academic, it’s key to the vague sense of dissatisfaction that Reloaded leaves us with. As Part One of Two, it asks more questions than it answers, and builds up to moments that have no resolution. As a standalone film, therefore, it’s a fairly thankless experience. But our perspective on the film will, in the end, be informed by Revolutions and how this “super-sequel” stands in the context of the Matrix story as a whole.

Judge Mike Jackson: Concurring Opinion

Is all that we see or seem,
but a dream within a dream?
—Edgar Allen Poe

November 5th will bring the Matrix story to a close. The battle between man and machine will be finished. The true nature of its virtual world will be revealed. We’ll find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes.

And back in our world, the “real” world, Hollywood will be taking notes, finding new ways to mine the series so that, in lieu of actual creative thought, they can crib from it to make other films, hopefully as successful, but more likely to be steaming piles. We’ve seen it already. “Bullet time” became a running gag. If there was a way that someone could be possibly paused in mid-air, the camera spun around, and the action restarted, the hacks responsible would do it. Martial arts came into vogue for, oh, about the dozenth time. “Wire fu” was all the rage, and if it wasn’t used for ridiculous martial arts shenanigans, it was used for ridiculous flying-through-the-air stunts about as realistic as…well, about as realistic as the fake CGI that also became all the rage.

Why, why can’t Hollywood learn the real reason The Matrix and its sequels are successful? It’s not the special effects or kung fu; it’s that they have an intellectual underpinning deeper and more complex than other films—well, at least more so than what real people, not academic wags, watch. These films don’t just have a philosophy; they are about philosophy. Many of the deeper films concern themselves with psychology, either internal (who am I? why am I so depressed?) or external (why does Johnny kill?). Few films concern themselves with the bigger issues—not just what’s in the mind, but what is the mind? Not just who you are as an individual, but what is it to be human? Is reality really real, and is it real because it’s real, or because we think it’s real?

I flat out love The Matrix Reloaded. I love that you can see every dollar of its $127 million budget on the screen. I love Keanu Reeves’ stoicism, and that Hugo Weaving looks like he’s having the most fun he’s had since Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I love the Burly Brawl and the freeway chase/fight that just…doesn’t…stop. Okay, so I don’t love the rave, but where’s the glow sticks? What’s a rave without glow sticks? But you know what I really love? You know what makes the movie for me? That it makes me think. Think about how it borrows from Gnosticism, Baudrillard, Foucault, and others. (Okay, so I read those names somewhere. My major was management, not philosophy, though that textbook is the only one I kept from my college days.) Think about its connections to the Bible, and not just the obvious messianic parallels or that the bastion of humanity is named Zion, but why the heck Morpheus’ ship is named the Nebuchadnezzar anyway. Think about how all these little pieces work together, and what it’s going to mean when the third film, Matrix Revolutions, is released in just a few weeks (from this writing, at least) and how I’m going to have to rethink everything I thought I knew. And how there is one overriding truth…

There is no spoon.

Judge Brian Burke: Dissenting Opinion

Just to be clear: I enjoyed The Matrix—it was clever, viscerally exciting, and used CGI intelligently, but I was never more than a casual fan. My expectations of The Matrix Reloaded weren’t too high, but I at least expected an engaging sequel. I saw it in a packed theater the week after it opened and left unimpressed. For this opinion, I decided to revisit the film on DVD to see if my first impression was somehow wrong. I mean, maybe I’d had a bad day or something. Alas, the second viewing only pissed me off all over again. Spoilers follow.

First, the positives: The freeway chase is not over-hyped—it’s definitely the best thing about the film, in my view (interesting that it’s the only extended sequence without Keanu). Zion was interesting visually. I enjoyed the character of the Keymaker. The DVD looks and sounds great. Umm…I guess that’s all I can think of.

Now, the negatives. First and foremost, there is Keanu Reeves. Rarely have I seen worse line readings in such an overpaid actor (Schwarzenegger and Stallone look like Olivier and Gielgud next to this guy). Second, the script sucks. I mean really sucks. It comes off like unintentional self-parody with its silly philosophizing. I’ve heard fans of the movie argue, in essence, “the movie is a studied discourse on the nature of free will and determinism.” Yeah, and I’m John Locke. Third, the direction is a travesty when there’s not any action going on, and the storytelling is incoherent at best. Also: do the Wachowski boys have an aversion to the two-shot? I got so tired of watching a dialog between two people done as a series of one-shots. It’s widescreen, guys. You can fit more than one person on the screen at a time (quit pandering to the Pan and Scan crowd, for Chrissakes). Fourth, with the exception of the freeway scene, the action is very monotonous and boring. Neo’s fights have no drama. Why? Because he’s never in danger of losing. Not so when Trinity or Morpheus are engaged in a fight—there, something is at stake. Fifth, the music is thump-thump-thumpingly bad. Sixth, the sound editing pumps up the volume for the bad music, but leaves crucial dialogue barely audible. Sixth, the gratuitous rave/sex scene. That’s there because…? Seventh, the Architect is particularly painful to listen to: really awful, pseudo-intellectual garbage keeps spewing from his mouth, like your very worst college professor trying to explain Sartre—while stoned. Eighth, the Neo-as-Superman stuff is particularly wrongheaded and derivative (why stay and fight when you can just fly away?). I could go on and on…

If I had to rate it: Story: 57; Acting: 61 (Keanu: 18). No, really: I’m serious.

I envy that Keymaker. He took the easy way out.

Judge Bill Treadway: Dissenting Opinion

Some movies exist as nothing more than a clothesline to hang bizarre setpieces and visual effects upon. While this strategy may have worked for Ken Russell and his wild melodramas (his most famous credits include Tommy, Lisztomania, and The Devils), it does not for the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix Reloaded. I expect more from them and the sci-fi genre.

Oh, the movie looks great. Fans of high-octane action and CGI will love the wall-to-wall visual feast that is Reloaded. But I expect more from science fiction. To me, great science fiction is all about tone, story, and character. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis are weak in all three of those departments.

Science fiction has become all too reliant on CGI these days. Directors think that in order to have a successful science fiction movie, it has to be a thrill-a-minute extravaganza. That is why in the late ’90s-early ’00s, we were stuck with Armageddon, The Core, and countless other duds. The best science fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1960 version of The Time Machine, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) have excellent special effects, but their filmmakers remembered that they weren’t the whole show. If the filmmakers have low expectations of the audience to begin with, why should they care about making a movie that makes sense?

Stanley Kubrick proved that an excellent science fiction movie could be made with limited special effects, an intelligent story, and few characters with 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Wachowskis go the opposite route. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what Reloaded was about. I have seen it three times as of this writing and I am still lost in this 138-minute mess. No doubt the filmmakers know what this movie is about. I wish they had let us moviegoers in on it.

I did admire the first Matrix film. Even though it was a confusing film, I felt connected to it all the way through. The action scenes were invigorating and it had an intelligent, well-written script. It was refreshing in the wake of Armageddon.

Reloaded lacks the basic ingredients that made the first one so good. I didn’t feel connected to the material the Wachowskis introduce in their screenplay. As for the action scenes, there is one great scene involving a highway chase. Unfortunately, the other scenes fail to top that chase and play as either revamped versions of the original or incomprehensible mush.

Another problem with the film is the number of characters in the film. The Wachowskis introduce several new characters, including The Architect and Persephone. Although I have a feeling we’ll discover more about them in The Matrix Revolutions, I wish the Wachowskis would have done more in their screenplay than just an introduction, some confusing dialogue, and a hasty exit. At least, that’s what I think happened. I was lost, remember?

While Reloaded was shot in Super 35, it practically caters to the full screen crowd. Only the effects are composed and shot in 2.35:1. The remainder is filmed in 1.66:1 and then cropped to 2.35:1. But some directors have done great work with Super 35, composing some wonderful widescreen compositions. As Judge Burke pointed out in his take, the Wachowskis fail miserably at Widescreen Composition 101.

Is the film worth seeing? I’m having a hard time making a decision. It’s a colossal mess that will stand out as the bastard son of a superior original. I’m hoping the third and final installment will clear some of my questions.

Judge Adam Arseneau: Concurring Opinion

The best part about a cliffhanger ending, where you know that the film you are watching is going to be concluded in a big and spectacular way, is the sheer anticipation of it. Which is the way it should be. If you walked away from The Matrix Reloaded with a bland taste in your mouth, well, then, it failed in selling you on the third film. And a lot of my fellow Judges were not sold…to say the least.

As for this Judge, I was absolutely sold. This is one heck of a DVD, and The Matrix Reloaded is a compelling and interesting film—not a great one, but a very interesting one. Problem is, trying to read The Matrix Reloaded as a standalone film in a trilogy results in bitterness and a review with a lot of red marks on it. Reading the film as the first act in a two-part film seems more correct, more proper—and also, if you do it that way, The Matrix Reloaded doesn’t suck as hard.

Though admittedly, as a two-parter, it’s not as good as Back To The Future Part II. But then again, what is?

Sure, the film explodes in all the right places, and fantastic amounts of money were spent blowing the bajeezus out of absolutely anything that can have bajeezus blown out of it (which, as it turns out, is a lot). And of course, the DVD presentation is absolutely freaking fantastic. These things go without saying.

But what really tweaked my short attention span in The Matrix Reloaded was some of the interesting philosophical hints the film drops. I think that, despite the feeling of being in a really pedantic Philosophy 101 class, the ideas brought up in The Matrix Reloaded are interesting—especially ideas about causality and destiny, and how these ideas relate to the next movie.

There is a strong emphasis on connections in The Matrix Reloaded movie. Physical, mental, spiritual, and ideological, the whole works; I find this both fascinating and endearing, especially coming from a big Hollywood blockbuster. Whether people have free will, or are merely the end results of programs running to their inevitable conclusion—it is the connections made that define The Matrix Reloaded‘s uniqueness.

Take, for example, the interaction between Agent Smith and Neo.

Assuming that the Agents are merely computer constructs, programs within, but independent of the Matrix—something (that remains nameless) “happens” to Agent Smith, directly associated from Neo and Agent Smith’s interaction in the first film.

Smith, it seems, has been irrevocably altered. And, since Neo himself is less a man, it would seem, and more the unresolved bit of code in a causality loop, the two of them seem to have became more than the sum of their own parts during their confrontation in the first Matrix film.

Smith has gained the ability to exist outside the confines of his original code, to affect change in the “real” world. He becomes an anomaly, like Neo—an evolution. It would only stand to reason that Neo would take away something from the encounter as well.

So, as a wild hypothesis, through this interaction with Smith, the coming together of two diametrically opposed pieces of code that would normally never be combined, Neo—like Agent Smith—is able to affect change in the outside world (stopping sentinels, saving Zion, and such). These would all be things that he would have been unable to do in his previous incarnations, due to the limitations of his singular programming—or his lack of free will, depending on how you want to look at it (isn’t this fun?).

But having made a connection, suddenly, Neo may be able to resolve the fundamental paradoxical nature of his repeating existence, thanks to the one person that seems intent on destroying him.

Not bad for a summer blockbuster.

Plus, blind speculation is fun. In a few months, the other movie will be out, and the fun will be over, which is a shame. This is the precious window between ambiguity and decisiveness, and I intend to take full advantage and let my imagination run wild.

What The Matrix Reloaded lacks in solidity, it makes up for in its ambiguous pleasures of speculation and wild interpretation (see above). I myself enjoyed the film, but it is definitely a flawed piece. The Matrix Reloaded feels very weak at times, and for the most part, I do agree with the stronger criticisms of the film put forth by other Judges. They are both valid and accurate (especially in regards to the rave scene, and overall level of suckiness of said scene).

I have heard talk that The Matrix Reloaded is a film about life. The questions brought up in the film are the same fundamental questions that lurk in the basement of our subconscious mind and occasionally pop in to annoy us, like an obnoxious aunt that sporadically drops in to visit and pulls on your cheeks a lot.

Likewise, I have heard tell that The Matrix Revolutions will be a film about death. If true, this means that answers are coming. Whether we will like the answers that we get or not, is another matter.

I cannot lie—the anticipation of seeing The Matrix Revolutions makes me a very excited boy clad in a judicial robe. Therefore, as a Judge, I myself am out of session, and going to watch The Matrix Reloaded again on DVD, and try to see how many Biblical license plate references I can catch.


Hey—go figure them out for yourself. It’s all part of the fun.


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