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The Matrix Reloaded (2003)



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The Matrix Reloaded embodies the blockbuster sequel in every regard. It's more of everything than the original was: more slickly edited action scenes, more sincerely delivered pseudo-philosophy, more toying with the premise of the series, more explosions, machines, and special effects. Though the expression "less is more" is a valuable life lesson, it has no place in a special effects bonanza like these movies. You don't make a roller coaster better by slowing it down and smoothing out those inclines. But I don't mean to imply that The Matrix Reloaded has no sense of subtlety, either. It never relies on it, but it infuses the grand gestures with fine textures that sustain their appeal after the initial adrenaline rush has worn off.

Still, I could have done with less of the pseudo-philosophizing. At least two philosophical monologues went on too long, although I did smile inwardly at how the script and actors make what is essentially meaningless sound deep and important. The Sphinx, from Mystery Men, would be right at home here if he could break that nasty habit of getting to the point.

Yet the action scenes, a triumph of style in the original movie that inspired so many clones and spoofs as to become a cliche within a year or two, miraculously manage to raise the bar. A twentyish minute highway sequence near the end of the film is absolutely brilliant, one of the best action sequences ever put to film. Earlier action scenes mirror the best of the martial arts superhero movies of Hong Kong, infused with western cool. What is it about an athletic pose silhouetted in front of a fiery explosion that is so compelling? The only action scene I don't like was one that takes place on a staircase -- it seems superfluous, both with regard to the story and the visceral experience of the film -- but even that one is alive with vivid imagery.

The one sequence that just plain doesn't belong is the dance sequence in Zion. While the same might be said of a number of the soliloquies, the film grinds to a halt for a montage of decadent, sensual imagery, a dubious gain for a dear price: it turns Zion into an implausible place. What, a remnant of humankind escapes from imprisonment, and while the threat of extinction rears its head, people...gyrate in an underground dance hall? It doesn't feel right, at least not without also depicting what these people do in their personal lives, how society in Zion functions, and what principles it abides by.

Still, once that sequence is over, it's over; it's not particularly damaging to the film as a whole. How could it be? Nearly every scene in The Matrix Reloaded has an overwhelming sense of immediacy to it. While it carries the appearance of an intellectual experience (which is meant to be seen through), the film is a visceral one. Just as the experience of the third movement in a symphony is rarely damaged by a weak second, so also are the strengths of The Matrix Reloaded unencumbered by its weaknesses.

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