The Matrix Reloaded
starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence "Don't call me Larry" Fishburne
4 stars

The Matrix Reloaded is full-on Matrix. Everything The Matrix was, Reloaded is more. 

But that promise is a devil's bargain, because when you're watching the movie in the theatre you have to take it all, cool and uncool. All that head-popping stuff you go to again and again on the DVD to see? There. All the humorless proclamating and Oracle-consulting and prophecy-quoting you skip over again and again in the DVD? Also there, in huge chunks. It's all Matrix, baby, lap it up.

So, the basic question: does Reloaded deliver the mind-bending fight and chase sequences promised by the trailers? Yes. Totally. The Matrix style is in full powerhouse effect. Things happen very quickly, and then suddenly slow down, and then speed up again. Cameras rotate. Ass flies through the air. Even though some of the cherry moments have been spoiled by trailers, there is eye-popment galore. The action in Reloaded starts at the level of super-kung-fu and climbs up the power scale to actual superheroics, with away-blowing results throughout. As promised, Neo battles a multiply multiplied Agent Smith, and the freeway chase explodes with all the time-slowed kaboom and holy-shit sword action anybody could hope for. 

That's life in the Matrix; pretty exciting. But then, the Matrix is only half of the Matrix universe; there's also the "real world" which is another thing entirely.

Let's just take a second to review Matrix mythology, because if you intend to see this movie, believe me, you're going to need it. In the first film, The Matrix, we start in our world. Then we, along with Neo (Keanu Reeves), discover that our world is actually a computer-generated illusion, the Matrix, and that the actual "real world" is a robot-blasted hellscape where everybody looks terrible and eats paste. While the mass of humanity lives in jars plugged into the Matrix, a few hundred thousand free humans survive in a fabled city, Zion, deep in the Earth. At the end of The Matrix, Neo had discovered that he was the One, the long-prophesied human being with the ability to see the artificiality of the Matrix and transcend its limitations, which he demonstrates by flying away at the end of the movie.

In The Matrix, we only really got glimpses of the squidbot-infested "real world", basically enough for us to feel like if it was our choice, we'd probably prefer to stay in the Matrix. Well, get comfy with the "real world", because in Reloaded you're going to spend a lot of time there.

Audiences may not be expecting how completely the connection to reality has been severed for this movie. Reloaded takes place in a full-on sci-fi universe now, filled with huge spaceships, underground cities, and tunic-wearing post-apoc survivors. Return trips to the world we used to know as ours are now tinted green, constantly time-shifting, and filled with computer-generated superheroes. Normal human beings like us, the people in jars who don't know we're in the Matrix, figure not at all. The thing that connects us to the idea of the Matrix --"We're in the Matrix, dude, we're being controlled and we don't even know it" -- is gone.

The basic Matrix concept --what if we're all just brains in a jar and reality is an illusion?-- is a classic workhorse of philosophy, and there's really no limit to how deep you can go if you start exploring its implications. The Wachowski brothers have some ideas about what to do, fusing zen and hacking, but they're mostly interested in psuedo-mystical proclamations and the intricacies of Zionese politics. With all the paradigm-advancing skill of their time-dilation visualization, you'd expect the same next-level skill brought to plot, pacing and dialogue, but no, all that stuff is only Hollywood blockbuster standard.

There are a few things that don't help the Zion parts of the movie. One is the almost total lack of humor. Keanu Reeves' Neo has a twitch of his surfer-dude persona, but Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus and Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity? Funny? Ah, no. This is a serious, serious bunch of people and programs here. But if you're too humorless, you risk becoming laughable, and this happens a few times, particularly in a strange lunge at sensuality presented as an all-night Zion rave commercial, a scene that goes on for a bafflingly long time.

Another thing that doesn't help is that the film is completely mechanical, that its plot seems to move not through dramatic imperative but because Neo has to score 600 points before he can go to the next level. It's entirely like a video game, right down to the battle scenes that completely resemble a comparable cinematic in a high-end computer game. True, to complain that something looks or feels "computery" sounds particularly dumb when applied to The Matrix --"Well, no shit, dude, it's The Matrix --everything's a computer!" -- but it still stands. 

It's these and other things that make Reloaded feel like a sequence of big adrenaline bursts and slow-down lag times, like you're zooming at a thousand miles an hour-- and then suddenly stuck in molasses, molasses, molasses --zooming! Zooming! Then molasses again. Then zoom! …molasses... etc., etc.

But that's the Matrix. The zoom is great, fantastic, crazy, and the molasses is molasses. And some parts of the molasses are tasty, and interesting, and can fuel worthwhile conversations. Go see Matrix Reloaded so we can talk about it.