I saw Matrix Reloaded on Thursday and have some definite thoughts about it, along with some still-to-be-determined thoughts. Overall, I thought Matrix Reloaded was a very good sequel film. For me, the strong need to see the film yet again, to figure out a few bits and pieces is a very good sign.
If you are going to see Matrix Reloaded, make sure you sit through the credits (about 5 minutes) as there's a little surprise at the end of the film. Trust me. :-)
Spoiler Warning! I realize that my non-US readers may have not yet seen the film, so I've activated the Moveable Type excerpt feature on this post to avoid spoiling the film for anyone who has not seen it. You're now forewarned that following the link below will share film details.
Ok, first off, I should say that I would have been perfectly happy with only the original Matrix movie. I felt it stood well on its own, sharing the story and leaving the viewer with a nice wrap-up at the end. It worked for me quite well as a single film and what a film it was!
However, I also liked the idea of a sequel, as long as any Matrix trilogy were designed originally as a three-film series. I didn't want to see the Wachowski brothers spin off two more films because the money was good, with no clear idea where they were going with Neo, Morpheus and Trinity. I was pleased to learn that the Wachowskis had always intended three films. This set my mind a little at ease, as I reasoned that a clear intention to tell a story with three parts (e.g. Lord of the Rings) had a greater chance of being good, than the "thanks for all the cash -- now lets make up two more films as we go" approach.
Still, even if the Matrix parts two and three were created with the best intentions in mind, I had a feeling that we Matrix fans had a pretty high standard set for these films, because The Matrix. was so well done. Even if the Wachowski brothers managed to create an excellent second movie, I was concerned that so much new ground was taken with Matrix that any movie to follow it might be somehow seen as less than the original. In fact, I was pretty certain of this.
I came to May 15th slightly mixed in my feelings: one the one hand I was excited about seeing Matrix Reloaded, finding out how the main characters deal with the machines and what new areas of the Matrix world I'd get to see. On the other hand I knew that this could very well not meet my own expectations compared to the feelings I have for the first Matrix film.
I felt the film was a success as a sequel. There many things I enjoyed about the film and a few details that I disliked. Let me start with what I enjoyed about Matrix Reloaded, as I felt that the majority of the film was perfectly suited to its task. I'll follow that with some of my criticisms of the film, things I'm unsure of (until I see it again) and my overall conclusions.
The Good Stuff
I'm very pleased with the visual appearance of the film overall. The greenish color shift of the Matrix seems very consistent with the original Matrix film. Cinematogprahy was excellent, with some very beautiful scenes to liteally drink in with your eyes and your mind. I was also pleased with the extreme comic-book-like camera angles, continued from The Matrix. I also appreciated the extension of the "classic" sense in the Matrix itself, with great classic and new cars, big, square trucks and the fashion blend of 1950s CIA agent clothing, shiny plastic coats and Morpheus' custom made, Italian shoes. Well done!
I love the way the film opens, with Trinity kicking things off -- from the outrageous motorcycle jump to the use of her helmet as a kung-fu weapon. Trinity opened The Matrix as well, so it should be interesting to see if she also opens Revolutions.
The big rebel pow-wow at the start of the film was quite interesting -- great background environments there! However, I wondered why about 10% of the Zion leaders didn't wear sunglasses -- maybe their residual self-image didn't include black shades?
I was a little surprised to find that Agent Smith had been freed -- I found it a funny little slieght of hand by the Wachowski brothers, who know you'll assume Smith is still an agent, when actually, he's become a rouge virus of sorts. Tricky. I actually have a gut feeling that Agent Smith may end up being a character much like Gollum was in Lord of the Rings -- mostly bad but there to serve some kind of purpose in the end. I could be collossaly wrong... but we'll see when Revolutions arrives.
Zion was well done, particularly the landing pad and views of the huge machinery that keeps Zion running. I loved the "lived in" feel that Zion had -- it was slightly industrial (like the dwellings with submarine doors) but very human and organic at the same time.
I also found it very interesting to learn about Morpheus being much more of a small faction leader, very much like a John the Baptist character in the Gospels. In Matrix you figure he's a big leader in Zion, but in Reloaded you find he's much more the exception than the rule.
Fight scenes were again very well done. I can't say that they were groundbreaking in comparison to the original Matrix, but this comes back to the idea that Matrix was so revolutionary, it would be hard to top. Some reviewers complained about the length of the staircase fight -- I didn't mind and found it an interesting take, with much more flying and floating -- it seemed almost like dance.
My favorite fight scene of the film was the Burly Brawl, where Neo and hundreds of cloned Agent Smiths battle to a draw in a playground. Just the idea of a single guy (Neo) taking on this many combatants was a sight to see. In one scene I laughed out lout when I saw one Agent Smith clone thrown against the wall of a building about 4 stories up and in another, where Neo was using one Smith for a bowling ball against twenty Smith clones, I had to smile. Even in the fight scenes the Wachowski brothers have a sense of humor. I found it particularly interesting that Neo comes to realize he cannot win the battle against all the the Smiths and flies away -- Neo is tempered a bit.
Of course, I love the freeway chase scene. For me, that was 18 minutes of pure fun. I switched between asking "how did they do that" to "WOW" several times. I loved that Niobe cruises up in a purple 1967 Pontiac Firebird. And the finale was pretty amazing too. All in all the freeway scene for me was alone worth admission.
I liked the albino twins: their phasing tricks and how they completed each others' sentances. Should be interesting to learn if Morpheus knocked them off, or if they will reappear in the next film.
I really enjoyed the Keymaster, though his name did bring back memories of Ghostbusters and Rick Moranis. Scary, eh? It was great to see this little guy and his necklaces full of keys, darting around. I especially liked the scene where the Keymaster pulls out a key to access a door and gets Trinity to remark "you do come in handy!".
The Not So Good Stuff
The Rave scene. If you've read any reviews or comments, you'll know this is one of the least favorite things mentioned. I'm squarely in the anti-rave camp. I thought it was too long for starters, which added to the dragginess of the first 45 minutes of the film. But the rave was also kinda cheesey -- while it dragged on I kept thinking of the Ewok dance in Star Wars Return of the Jedi. It was also cheesy in that these people are all dancing next to pools of molten lava -- come on now! Those dancers woulda had 3rd degree burns! So, I say trim this 8-10 minute sequence to 2 or 3 minutes tops, with much less emphasis on the rave.
Morpheus came off a bit too full of himself and over-serious. I suppose this is the idea, since he's a believer in Neo as The One while most everyone else thinks he's a nutter. Still, I wished Morpheus' lines were not always so serious and dire.
The Burly Brawl CGI. I thought this section was pretty good, but I suppose as a picky graphics guy I see all of the imperfections. While this was not enough to ruin the scene (which I really enjoyed) I was much more aware of the too-perfectness of Neo's coat as he fought and the too-smooth draping of his clothing. There were other little clues that made it feel like CGI, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I don't mind this "perfectness" too much because after all, the Matrix is supposed to be a stylized, computer generated environment.
Trinity's car getting shot on the freeway with no bullets entering the cabin. I was a bit surprised that Trinity didn't find 8 bullets lodged in her arm from all the shots in the Caddilac on the driver-side door. I mean, come on... is this thing armor plated? It didn't seem so in other scenes where bullets penetrate the car. I know... suspend belief. :-)
The John Woo-ization of Trinity jumping off the semi trailer on the Ducati. I about gagged when I saw this scene unfolding for what seemed like five minutes while the woo-ing choir swelled. Just jump the bike off the semi already! Maybe this was the Wachowski's tribute to John Woo (whos overdone style of cinematography I'm not terribly fond of).
What I'm Unsure About
I would really like to see Reloaded once again to clear up some details in my mind with the movie. This is a good thing for me -- I'm the type of person who really enjoys getting more detail from a second or third viewing. Sometimes (like with Lord of the Rings) I'll see the movie to hear the music and then go again later to look at background details. Through this process, I gain a fuller sense of the film.
A few things of note: I want to see exactly who the guy was intending to kill Neo before he gets on the elevator. I've read this is the physical representation of Agent Smith, but I could only remember the goatee.
I'd also like a chance to hear the discussion between Neo and the Architect again. Information was moving so quickly and so deeply at that point, I feel I've missed something. I'd love to process through that sequence once more.
I'd also like to see the portion with Merovingian and Persephone -- I was again pleased with the Wachowski's humor in Merovingian and would like to absorb the dialogue there once more to see how it fits in with the rest of the film.
Of course I want to see the freeway chase scene again and take its details in bit by bit. The action is so quick there, that I feel it deserves a second viewing to really get a feeling for what's going on on the freeway.
I'm not sure what happened to Neo that he was able to stop the sentinels at the end of the film with a telepathic thought. I'm not sure what this meant -- did Neo's powers extend to the physical world or is Zion also a Matrix? Hmmm.
I want to see Reloaded again for these reasons and more -- mostly that I enjoyed the film thoroughly and would love to see it again.
My overall impression of Reloaded was that the Wachowskis are trying to throw viewers off balance. We're challenged by the conversion of Agent Smith to a virus, Morpheus' beliefs in Neo as the One are challenged and Neo's idea of free will and choice are being challenged. About halfway through the movie I had the distinct feeling that the Wachowski brothers were intentionally puling the rug out from under us... to prepare us all for their conclusion in Revolutions.
I think Reloaded is a great sequel movie but really couldn't stand on its own. But I believe that's exactly what was intended -- the Matrix is a story designed to be told in three parts, so the second film depends greatly on the first. And the third film will depend greatly on the first two. But in the end, we will have a whole film, much like Lord of the Rings will be whole this year. Because I believe this, I'm not bothered that The Marix or Reloaded have some imperfections, because the story is moved forward and will be unified in the third part -- Revolutions.
Finally, I'm pleased to see that the Wachowskis are having fun with a multi-faceted film. They're offering something for everyone and having a great time experimenting with all the ideas they've had bottled up in their brains for years and years. Philosphy, action, religious thought, software concepts, exploring choice vs. destiny and of course visual explorations. I think it's great to see these guys offered the chance to explore things nobody else has until now. Yes, maybe parts were explored but not all of these aspects in a single film. I applaud them for this daring approach.
I guess this review was more geared toward those who have already seen the film, because I'm curious to hear your impressions in the comments section.
I hope you enjoyed Reloaded as much as I have. Yes, it's not perfect, but overall a great bit of fun that I look forward to seeing again soon.