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Keanu Reeves in 'The Matrix Reloaded.'

Sequelitis infects 'Matrix Reloaded' with talk - lots of it

Rene Rodriguez
Miami Herald
Published: Wednesday, May 14, 2003

In The Matrix Reloaded, an insidious new virus has infected the universe, an enemy more fearsome than a thousand Agent Smiths or an army of steel-tentacled Sentinels. Even Neo himself, with all his newfangled superpowers, cannot withstand the assault. There isn't enough kung fu in the world, really, to fend off the withering effects of that strain of cinematic kryptonite known as . . . sequelitis.

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Yes, Virginia, The Matrix Reloaded disappoints. How could it not? Part of the appeal of 1999's The Matrix -- a dizzying fusion of science fiction, comic books, martial arts, anime and so much other cool stuff you had to see it twice to fully grasp it -- was how the film sneaked up on us in late March, a time of year Hollywood usually reserves for its mangiest write-offs, and went on to affect every facet of popular culture imaginable.

With its sleek style, groundbreaking effects and mind-bending premise -- the world as we know it is an artificial construct created by the machines that have enslaved us -- The Matrix was an all-too-rare breed of big-budget studio production: Something New. It was inevitable, then, that The Matrix Reloaded, which arrives under the deafening clang of the Hollywood hype machinery, would be awaited with the sort of breathless anticipation usually reserved for a new Star Wars picture.

But the letdown you feel when Reloaded is over isn't just another case of impossible expectations. As a piece of razzle-dazzle, shut-your-mouth-and-slap-you-silly eye candy, Reloaded more than delivers. But where's the head candy? Where's the complexity? Where are the goods?

POSSIBLY AHEAD

It is possible they await in The Matrix Revolutions, due in November (sit through the end credits of Reloaded and you'll get a sneak preview). Even if you don't care much for Reloaded, there are enough tantalizing hints sprinkled throughout the movie (were all of Morpheus' babblings about prophecies and chosen ones just the ravings of a lunatic?) to ensure you'll be lining up in the fall to see how it all turns out. This may be why Andy and Larry Wachowski, the brothers who wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy, seem content to coast through this middle chapter. They've already got your undivided attention, they know you've committed the first movie to memory and they've earned the right to poke around their cyber-universe and smell the digital roses. Besides, only a fool makes just one sequel when he can make two.

But did it have to be so ponderous? Too much of this talky, bloated movie, in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) must fulfill his destiny and save what's left of humanity, consists of scenes that belonged on the cutting room floor. Characters stand around with nothing to do; precious screen time is spent regurgitating ideas that have already been established (such as mankind's symbiotic relationship with machines). The first half-hour of the movie, which takes place in Zion (the last ''real'' city), is made up of speeches and tribunal meetings that come dangerously close to Phantom Menace languor.

And the way these people talk! The dialogue in Reloaded sounds as if the Wachowskis had pored over all those egghead essays written about The Matrix's philosophical underpinnings, and felt the need to live up to them. Everyone Neo meets in his self-actualizing journey is spouting such pretentiously ''profound'' observations as ''What happened, happened, and couldn't have happened any other way,'' or ''We're all here to do what we're all here to do,'' or ''There's no escaping reason, no denying purpose.'' By the time Neo gets some face time with the Architect -- the genius who created the Matrix itself -- I was expecting the guy to turn out to be Dr. Phil.

Fortunately, the Wachowskis are obsessive visual stylists who can make even the dullest conversation at least look good. Every frame of Reloaded is an expression of cinematic joy at its purest form: The sheer thrill of capturing motion, color and sensation with a camera. This is never truer than in the action sequences, which the Wachowskis expand and protract the way Brian De Palma drew out the prom-night coronation in Carrie. There is an elaborate and thrilling 15-minute freeway chase in which the camera hurtles and zooms through impossible places while the cars, trucks and motorcycles pile up in alarming numbers. There is a shot of Neo flying through the clouds, his monastic trench coat twirling behind him in slow motion, that would make Superman envious (even better is what happens when Neo flies really fast).

And although a lot of the kung fu fighting in the movie feels rote, as if it were there out of obligation, Reloaded does contain one bravura fight sequence -- between Neo and 100 Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving) -- that is giddy, silly, exuberant fun, not because of its realism (the computer-generated work is obvious), but because of the ingenious angles and unusually long takes the Wachowskis employ.

Occasionally, Reloaded even offers pleasures that have nothing to do with technology. The Wachowskis' vision of a multiethnic future is a welcome change from the lily-white society seen in most futuristic sci-fi movies. The romance between Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is touching: Their love scene, which is intercut with a massive, sweat-soaked rave in Zion, is reminiscent of the throbbing sensuality of the Wachowskis' Bound. There is also an interlude in which the heroes encounter an amusingly arrogant Frenchman (Lambert Wilson) and his sexually predatory wife (Monica Bellucci) that makes for an enjoyably weird, if pointless, detour.

NO PURPOSE

Pointless, though, is how the whole of Reloaded feels, unless you enjoy the introduction of characters (such as Jada Pinkett Smith's warrior Niobe) who serve absolutely no purpose other than to justify a spinoff video game. I don't believe the Wachowskis are as calculating and greedy as George Lucas, a filmmaker who appears to have completely lost his grasp of the basics of storytelling and thinks only in terms of profit. But this cold, generally soulless movie does feel like it was made by people who are taking themselves way too seriously. Remember the delicious anticipation you felt when The Empire Strikes Back was over? You won't feel that way when The Matrix Reloaded reaches its cliffhanger finale. You'll just feel relief.

ABOUT THE MOVIE
The Matrix Reloaded

Rating
2.5 stars

Genre
SciFi/Horror

MPAA rating
R
for sci-fi violence and some sexuality

Running time
2:18

Release date
2003

Cast
Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Keanu Reeves

Directed by
Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski

Feature
Mike Antonucci / Mercury News
Mark de la Vina / Mercury News
Bruce Newman / Mercury News
Bruce Newman / Mercury News
Mark de la Vina / Mercury News

Other
George Thomas / Beacon Journal

Review
Bob Curtright / The Wichita Eagle
Lawrence Toppman / The Charlotte Observer
Bruce Newman / Mercury News
Terry Lawson / Detroit Free Press
By Christopher Kelly / Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Mary F. Pols / Contra Costa Times
Chris Hewitt / St. Paul Pioneer Press
Carrie Rickey / Philadelphia Inquirer