THE MATRIX RELOADED is a disappointing, derivative sequel, not only on an aesthetic level, but also on a moral, philosophical, and spiritual level as well. Despite high production values and some admittedly “wow” sequences, someone should have taken a closer look at the script and the technological capabilities of computer-generated images (CGI), which clearly do not yet match the extravagant vision of the filmmakers.
In THE MATRIX RELOADED, Neo and the rebel leaders estimate that they have 72 hours until 250,000 probes discover Zion and destroy it and its inhabitants. As the clock ticks down, Neo must decide how he can save Trinity from a dark fate in his dreams.
The sequel opens with a dream sequence, where Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, is haunted by the apparent death of his lover, Trinity, played by Carrie Anne-Moss. After she calms his fears, reiterating their love for one another, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus, the commander of Nebuchednezzer, return to Zion, the last underground city of humanity.
Zion is battling an evil group of computerized machines which has enslaved the rest of humanity, who are being used to generate the power needed by the machines to survive. All is not safe for Zion, however. The machines have sent 250,000 seeker destroyers, one for every man, woman and child in Zion.
Morpheus urges the Council of Zion to send Neo, Trinity and he back into “the Matrix,” a virtual reality created for humans by the evil machines, to find the key to the mainframe computer generating the Matrix. Morpheus is one of the few in Zion who believe that Neo is the promised Messiah, the promised One who can help them defeat the evil machines, and end the 100-year war that has been raging.
Neo re-visits the Oracle, the black female prophet from the first movie, who turns out to be a rogue computer program scheduled for deletion by the machines. She tells Neo where to find “the Keymaker” who can unlock the door leading to the mainframe computer.
Neo and his friends have a couple major obstacles, however. The Keymaker is “owned” by a malevolent Frenchman, who controls two very mean rogue programs called the Twins. The Twins can dematerialize in the Matrix at will, making them very hard to destroy. Neo also discovers that Agent Smith, the machines’ henchman in the first movie, has become a rogue program himself. Making matters much worse is the fact that Smith has found a way to duplicate himself many times over, which leads to a very long fight scene between Neo and 100 Agent Smiths.
THE MATRIX has been one of the most influential movies of the last five years. It has become a major pop culture icon in America and around the world. THE MATRIX RELOADED will undoubtedly continue that influence in some respects, but it is much too derivative a movie. Furthermore, its special effects, though they are many, are not as impressive as the media hype would have people believe.
First, THE MATRIX RELOADED is a bit of a rehash of the first movie, just bigger. The movie is not only derivative of Hong Kong action movies, it also has a chase sequence on a freeway that seems ripped off from the chase sequences in 1991’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, even down to similar sounding music! Finally, near the end of the movie, Neo meets an older bearded man in a white suit who calls himself “the Architect” of the Matrix. The man looks like a replica of “the White Guardian of Time” in an old British sci-fi series called DOCTOR WHO, which used to run on many PBS stations in the United States. The White Guardian first appeared in a six-part series of DOCTOR WHO episodes called “The Key of Time,” starring Tom Baker, who played Rasputin in NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRIA about the last Russian Tsar and his wife. In fact, in another episode of DOCTOR WHO starring Tom Baker, Doctor Who is plugged into a virtual reality “matrix” where he does battle with one of Doctor’s Who’s many villains. The question arises, therefore, is all this just homage, mere coincidence, or outright theft?
Of course, THE MATRIX RELOADED pulls out all the martial arts, special effects stops, and the movie certainly contains several awe inspiring moments that don’t compare to anything else. Even so, however, the martial arts fighting becomes repetitive after a while. Also, some of the special effects during the fight scenes and in the big freeway chase scene look like a cartoon computer game rather than a live-action movie. This artificial, fake quality may destroy many discerning viewers’ enjoyment of these sequences. The CGI effects of the Gollum character in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS have nothing to fear from THE MATRIX movies.
The storyline plays on the concept of choice and the ramifications of choice, i.e. – since we, as humans, are imperfect, we make imperfect decisions. This is confirmed when we meet the Architect of the Matrix. He allows Neo to choose between two doors, and the maker is sad that he makes an imperfect choice: love over ending the war between the Matrix and Zion. The Architect also says that this is the sixth time that the messiah has been in front of him. So, a subtle message of reincarnation is slightly evident along with the fact that even if Neo chooses the “love” door, he might be back to try again.
The Oracle is also important to this storyline. There is a line where they say, “The prophecy cannot be fulfilled unless we meet with the Oracle first.” Later, the importance of the Oracle is emphasized when it is said, “The Oracle can do anything.” So, this message of an allegorical “God” continues in the second as it did in the first.
However, the most telling worldview scene is short, but to the point. Upon visiting Zion, all these people (at least a hundred, or so) are waiting for Neo in a long line. They initially appear to be of eastern descent, but upon looking longer, they appear to be from many different Middle East countries. They are coming to Neo as people would come to Christ in Jesus’ day. One says, “I have a son… can you watch over him?” Neo says “sure.” Another has a similar “prayer-like” request, and Neo also agrees. They are all holding artifacts which are given to Neo as gifts or used as “points of connection” to the ones for whom they are praying. Knowing that Neo is “the one” shows him briefly as some sort of savior to these people in Zion.
The acting in MATRIX RELOADED is professional, but sometimes hampered by uninspired dialogue. Character actor Anthony Zerbe, who some readers may remember from many television programs in the 1960s and 1970s, plays one of the councilmembers in Zion and provides a spark of humanity in the movie, as does the late Gloria Foster as the Oracle. The villains, however, get most of the funny lines, which makes them seem almost more real than the heroes do.
Most disappointing of all, however, is the movie’s failure to create a convincing portrayal of Zion, the last human city. There is no depth or character, much less variety, to this one-dimensional city’s culture, which leaves one to ask the question: Why is this city worth saving? Also, in the big sequence that occurs in the city, Morpheus gives a speech to all the Zion multitudes gathered in a huge cavern. One of the other characters calls his speech “a prayer,” but there is no prayer whatsoever in the speech. It’s just a hopeful political speech about Morpheus’s belief that Zion will be victorious over the evil machines. “This is Zion,” he shouts, “and we are not afraid!” Whoop-tee-do.
After his pep talk, which does not further the plot, there is a lengthy sex scene between Neo and Trinity, who are both nude. As Neo and Trinity become more passionate, the movie intercuts images of their nude bodies with images of the crowd in the cavern dancing wildly and somewhat suggestively. It’s almost as if the dancing is a prelude to an orgy that, thankfully, does not occur on screen.
There is no reason whatsoever to include this silly, offensive sex scene. The scene does not further the plot one iota. In fact, it makes the inhabitants of Zion look like mindless animals, which again raises the question, Why is this city, and its inhabitants, worth saving? The scene also makes Neo and Trinity seem less heroic and their relationship more sleazy, which is nearly a fatal blow to these characters and their heroic, redemptive actions in the rest of the story.
Another sexual scene is a mix of a “real” view and “green character” matrix view. A few times before this scene, the audience “sees” the matrix the way Neo did, with the green letters flowing around shapes of items or people in the room. Well, they meet up with this “new” bad guy, and he tells a tale about cause and effect. He says he “wrote” the slice of pie a girl was about to eat. The audience is “shown” the pie as “matrix code,” and then they show her take a bite of it in “real” mode. As she finishes the bite, the bad guy describes what she is feeling. She gets flush, gets excited and gives into her feelings. At the point of “giving in to here feelings”, the camera zooms in to what would be a shot of her genitals, but the audience is looking at the girl from the waist down through the “green character” matrix mode. A small explosion of yellow and white characters comes from between her legs as he describes her “giving in.” She quickly excuses her self from the table, slightly embarrassed by what has just occurred.
Another strange scene involves a nice looking lady, named Persephone, with large breasts, with some cleavage exposed, making a pass at Neo. She is married to a new “bad guy,” and she wants to help Neo out. However, she has one request, made in front of Neo, Morpheus and Trinity (and this is after the major sex scene). The request is an “indecent proposal”-like request to have Neo kiss her like he kisses Trinity. Persephone says that she could tell Neo and Trinity were in love, and Persephone’s husband just didn’t make her feel that way any more. So, if he kissed her correctly, she would help them out. He agrees, and after the kiss (in front of Trinity), Persephone helps them out.
There is only one brief drug scene where Morpheus is in the ship and gives Trinity a shot in one of her “matrix connectors” of something that was to “keep her from giving up” while she is in a battle “in the Matrix.”
As to violence, this sequel has a little more gore than the first, including three instances of bloodshed, including a direct gunshot to the forehead at point blank range with the blood appearing on the wall behind. Another scene has a person falling from the top of a banister where a close up of a bloody shirt and a saber in the chest is shown. In a third instance, a guy is cutting two lines in his hand, and blood is coming from his self-inflicted cuts.
There are many more fight scenes in this one over the first. The first fight scene is with Trinity against about eight guards. This is fairly graphic as heads are flopping over after being hit. There is a minute and a half basic Matrix Kung Fu fight scene with Neo. The longer Kung Fu scene is with Neo and the multiple copies of Mr. Smith. This is a longer scene (around 5.5 minutes) with Neo fighting most of the time with a pole from the ground.
Another scene is when Neo has to take on three “more trained” folks from within the Matrix. One of these is a woman who is “speared” to the wall for a short time. This is the first time Neo has fought with a female, and it’s somewhat disturbing as audiences might assume he would always fight men. So, when he kills all three foes, it seems strange.
Despite talk about good versus evil, some redemptive elements and a mention by Morpheus of “Providence,” THE MATRIX RELOADED contains cryptic philosophical discussions about choice, fate, control, and purpose. No answers are really reached, but the movie seems to be leaning toward a humanistic view of such matters, although viewers will have to wait to find out when the third part of the trilogy, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, opens later this year on Nov. 7.
The character of the Architect that Neo encounters has some God-like qualities, but he seems to be malevolent, rather than inherently good. Neo’s discussion with the Architect also leaves one with the impression that Zion itself may be some kind of illusion. If so, the third movie may ultimately lead to the monistic notion that all of reality is an illusion, which is an abhorrent Eastern philosophy rejected by Christianity. It’s hard to tell from this movie, however, which direction the trilogy is headed.
Thus, viewers will have to wait until the third movie to see what kind of religion and philosophy the filmmakers want us to consider or believe. Until then, parents who want their children and teenagers to have healthy minds and spirits probably should keep their children from venturing into this MATRIX, which, to reiterate, contains gratuitous sex, nudity, strong foul language, and many violent images. The worst of these elements could easily have been eliminated, without sacrificing any of the required thrills that moviegoers demand of such blockbuster summer movies. X2: X-MEN UNITED remains the best, most enjoyable, most redemptive action flick of the summer in 2003 so far.
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Barry M. Meyer, Chairman/CEO
Warner Bros., Inc.
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(B, C, Pa, H, LLL, VVV, SS, NN, A, D, M) Light moral worldview with very light redemptive elements, including risking one's life to help others and mention of Providence, which is spoiled by pagan, humanist elements, including nod to false religion with hint at reincarnation, the power of choice, the power of Kung Fu tactics, etc.; about 24 obscenities, including about three muffled "f" words, seven strong profanities, six light profanities, and man rattles off a bunch of obscenities in French, perhaps 10-20; strong, nearly constant, action violence includes explosions, many vehicles crash, several lengthy martial arts fight scenes, villains fire automatic weapons indiscriminately, handgun fights, people crash into walls and statues, woman shoots man to death through the head, and bullets hit people in chest area; depicted fornication scenes and intense suggestive dancing; brief upper female nudity, rear male and female nudity, and upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, cryptic philosophical discussions about choice, fate, control, providence, and purpose.
GENRE: Science Fiction Thriller/Martial Arts Thriller