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It has become something of a cliché, but nevertheless a true one, that no-one saw the

original Matrix coming. In the summer of 1999 the imagination of the cinema going

world had been seduced with the promise of duelling Jedi, droid armies on the march, and the

rebirth of the Star Wars legend - and so the impact of the Wachowski brothers' vision

was only accentuated, coming out of nowhere as it did.

This time round things are different. Only a select few films of recent years have been so

keenly anticipated as the follow-up, The Matrix Reloaded. This time everyone is

watching (the most dedicated through ray-bans). We've been here before, of course, and while

sometimes our hopes have been transcended, more often we have known the taste of bitter

disappointment. So, what's it to be this time - another breathtaking Two Towers, or a

grim revisitation of Attack of the Clones?

Well, readers, cutting to the chase, and adopting the Keanu Reeves idiom, the answer is this:

Whoah. In every way, and in the best possible way, The Matrix Reloaded is a

mind-boggling experience, and a near-total success.

Six months have passed since Neo (Reeves) discovered his powers as the One, in which time

he and the other human warriors have freed many more minds from slavery in the Matrix. But

all he, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) have achieved is

threatened when it is discovered that the machines have launched a last-ditch attempt to

eradicate the free city of Zion, which will be destroyed in a matter of days if the assault is

not stopped. Their quest takes them in search of the Keymaker, the only being who can give

Neo access to the machine mainframe. Unfortunately, Neo's old adversary Agent Smith (Hugo

Weaving) has acquired unusual new abilities of his own and is determined to get his


The success of the original Matrix rested upon several things: its unique visual style

and startling innovations in effects technology, its wholesale appropriation of the energy and

grace of Hong Kong cinema, and its willingness to couple both these things to a script that

wasn't afraid to be cerebral and explore quite complex philosophical concepts.

Well, this potent mixture of pizzazz, pistols, and epistemology is once again at the heart of

the film. But there are new elements, too - after a few appetising pieces of action, the

Wachowski's unexpectedly - and probably wisely - take some time to explore new areas of

their story and add texture to the existing ones, while establishing's Reloaded's themes -

control, destiny, choice, and belief. So we see Zion, and the effect Neo's omnipotence has had

both on him and on the people around him. (Several plot elements that will only really come to

fruition in Revolutions are also established ). The true nature of the Oracle (the late

Gloria Roberts) is also revealed, something which in itself opens up new possibilities.

With things thus set up, the film proceeds to let rip with a succession of the most dazzling

set-pieces ever committed to celluloid. The Office Lobby scene from the original

Matrix is already legendary - very soon it will be joined by an astonishing sequence in

which Neo does battle with a hundred clones of Agent Smith, plus the freeway chase, the fight

in the Chateau - the list goes on and on. The special effects throughout are immaculate, but

your jaw will sag open only momentarily before you are caught up again in the action.

And when the adrenaline ceases to pump, your brow will furrow as the second part of

Reloaded's formidable one-two punch hits home. If the original was a crash-course in

philosophy, this is the Master's Degree. It doesn't detract from the story, but the ideas and

concepts inherent within it are, well, challenging. Is there such a thing as true freedom? Can

we ever really have a choice? Are our lives ruled by fate? Reloaded steps up to tackle all

these issues and does so pretty well (although the film can be obtuse and portentous in places).

It all builds up to the truly startling revelation of the source of Neo's powers and the true

history of both the Matrix and the real world.

Just so things don't get too heavy, though, there's a lot more humour here than there was

first time round. Of course, much of this comes from Hugo Weaving's performance as the

increasingly exasperated Smith and the interaction between his various clones (that said, he

doesn't have that much screen time this time round). But there's also a crowd-pleasing turn

from Harold Perrineau as the new Operator, Link, and a very ripe and arch performance by

Lambert Wilson, playing a bizarre French computer program Neo and his friends must contend


If Reloaded has a flaw it's that it suffers a little from middle-episode syndrome,

plunging into an ongoing story so rapidly that it takes the viewer a short while to get up to

speed on what's happening. This may have something to do with the way the film links into the

animated prequel Flight of the Osiris - but then again, even Lord of the Rings

has had a touch of this complaint. The end is also not entirely satisfying, opting to conclude not

with any sense of closure but a giant cliff-hanger for November's The Matrix

(a trailer for which follows the film, and it's well worth a look unless you have

to dash off to catch a bus or something).

What The Matrix Reloaded lacks in novelty value and mystery it more than makes

up for in depth, diversity, energy, and sheer gob smack value (both visually and intellectually).

Whether this standard can be maintained for the concluding instalment is something we'll have

to wait and see, but for now one thing is certain: we have a strong contender here for film of

the year.

The Awix


22.05.03 Front Page

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