The Matrix Reloaded

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE MATRIX RELOADED

5/10

USA 2003 : Andy & Larry WACHOWSKI : 138 mins

Matrix 2 is so big, so expensive, so massively hyped, so very desperate to be taken seriously: and, it turns out, so very so-so. The franchise’s many rabid fans may collectively wet themselves – skeptics horrified at such brazen uber-Hollywood pomposity will see only a grotesque, bloated mess. And most of us, though baffled, will probably put up with the many duff aspects, there being just enough ‘cool bits’ along the way to keep things watchable.

This could and should have been a nifty 90-minute all-action picture, but the 1999 Matrix raked in so much cash that the studio bosses basically gave the Wachowskis carte blanche. And the results are predictably self-indulgent: overlong, wildly uneven, incoherent and increasingly incomprehensible as the hapless viewer is mercilessly bombarded with slabs of wannabe-philosophical/mystical ‘dialogue’ (“The function of The One is to return to The Source” etc etc etc).

Neo fighting The Smiths (Morrissey was not available to play the part)To summarise: in the future, most of humanity lies comatose, power-sources for the robots who rule the war-ravaged Earth. The sleepers’ brains are fed a virtual-reality program known as the Matrix, which resembles the world we currently experience. But ‘liberated’ humans led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) are determined to overthrow the machines, and central to this struggle is Neo (Keanu Reeves) who was eventually persuaded of his true identity and messianic destiny in Matrix I. Now in Reloaded, he deploys martial-arts and Superman-style flying skills within the Matrix – aided by ass-kicking love interest Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) – while, back in reality, the Machines mount a Helm’s-Deep-style assault on Zion, humanity’s subterranean stronghold.

The Zion scenes are ropey at best: the picture grinds to a complete halt during one for-Christ’s-sake-get-on-with-it sequence in which the pan-ethnic locals frug around to ‘tribal’ music, as if the Notting Hill Carnival had relocated to Hell. In these grimy reality sections, the plotting, script, direction and music are clumsy, derivative and cliché-ridden – it’s only within the gleaming, anything-goes, hyper-stylised world of Matrix itself that the Wachowskis’ imagination breaks loose and they start justifying the hype.

The set-pieces are, of course, spectacular – easily the best being a deliriously surreal battle between Neo and the countless clones of his smirking nemesis, Agent Smith (Weaving, top value though underused – likewise Monica Bellucci and Gloria Foster). At such moments The Matrix Reloaded briefly clicks into gear, approaching heights of near-abstract, genre-redefining beauty. But, unlike their gracefully gravity-defying creations, the Wachowskis still have plenty to learn – their shortcomings keep them crashing back to earth with thud after messy thud.

18th May, 2003
(seen 16th May 2003: Odeon West End, London)

by Neil Young