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
Revolutions (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