So after two viewings of The Matrix: Reloaded, I have to say I liked it quite a bit better than some of the early negativity had suggested (although I’m glad I lowered my expectations.) [BIG SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.] To be sure, the first forty minutes of the film, including everything that takes place in Zion, is almost unwatchable. We’re talking Attack of the Clones bad. What with the ponderous soap opera interludes (especially the Jada Pinkett Smith love triangle, the fresh-faced kid recruit, and Link’s worried homefront wife…please), the big, goofy Bacardi Silver commercial (“Your night just got a lot more interesting”), and the mere sight of Councillor Anthony “Straight to Video” Zerbe strolling around in Federation hand-me-downs (why didn’t they just let Cornel West handle that part?), I could understand why Joey Pants (Cypher) decided to pull a Benedict Arnold in the first film. If I had a choice (which, given half of the lecturing in this film, is an open question, I guess) between wearing my sunglasses at night and styling in the Matrix or being forced to join the Matthew McConaughey memorial drum circle every Friday evening at Zion central, I might just cut a deal with the Man too.
But, right about the time Neo gets a call from the Oracle and reenters the Matrix in Chinatown (right under the hard-to-miss Heineken sign), the film finally starts to find its rhythm. Sure, there’s still a lot of overwrought “check out the big brains on us” grandstanding by the Wachowskis [we get philosophy lessons along the way from both a sleazy French existentialist (the Merovingian) and a perfectionist Freud-like (God)father figure (the Architect)], but if you don’t like a little pop psychology with your kick-ass kung-fu, then why exactly are you in line to see a sequel to The Matrix? Alas, Neo and Trinity still don’t really work as an onscreen couple, but most of the action setpieces are breathtaking (particularly the highway chase and truck fight…in the midst of all the new characters showing up, it’s nice to see the Agents still getting their due.) And as expected, Hugo Weaving is just wicked good fun as Agents Smith…they steal every scene they’re in. Finally, though it took me a second viewing to catch everything that was going on, the final meeting with the Architect made for a nice end-of-film twist that’s more inventive than where I’d originally feared they were going with the storyline (i.e., the “real world” is also part of the Matrix, just like every Freddy Krueger/David Lynch movie you’ve ever seen.) So, despite the egregious first act, I have to say I came out of Reloaded with a smile on my face, and am looking forward to seeing what November’s Revolutions has to offer, starting with this special trailer from the Enter the Matrix game. Hopefully, the third film will see a lot less of As the Zion Turns and a little more of the lovely Monica Bellucci….Silly Neo, don’t you know an upgrade when you see one?