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'Matrix' sequel mixes excessive effects with minimal plot

May 22, 2003
By Franklin Harris

Maybe "The Matrix Overloaded" would have been a better title. From its first action sequence to its "to be continued" ending, "The Matrix Reloaded" proves the old maxim that less is more. Everything the first film did well, this one does to excess.

The action centerpiece of "Reloaded" is a fight between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and hundreds of Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving). It starts well but quickly descends into camp, with Smiths coming at Neo from every side like an army of Keystone Cops.

Worse still, the fight is marred by some of the most unrealistic computer effects since The Rock turned into a scorpion monster at the end of "The Mummy Returns."

Contrast this fight with Neo and Smith's confrontation at the subway stop during the first film. The fight in "The Matrix" is real. The one in "Reloaded" is a cartoon.

And have I mentioned that the trick where they freeze frame and then rotate the image 180 degrees is really old now?

Of course that is the real problem. What made "The Matrix" interesting was its novelty. It had Hong Kong-style wire-fu without the wires. It took John Woo-style gunplay to new heights. It showed us people dodging bullets in slow motion.

But in the years since "The Matrix," dozens of movies have used the same tricks. Now writers/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski return with the first of their two "Matrix" sequels, and what do they bring to the table? More of the same. "Reloaded" is a retread. It's the same tricks all over again but done more expensively.

That would be forgivable if the Wachowskis had an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, "The Matrix Reloaded" barely has a story at all. It certainly doesn't have one that justifies being spread over two films. (The last of the trilogy, "The Matrix Revolutions," opens this winter.)

At its core, "Reloaded" is a quest film, modeled after any number of fantasy computer games.

The hero's homeland is threatened. So, the hero and his friends set out on a quest to save it. This quest, inevitably, takes various detours and demands that the heroes solve riddles and defeat assorted monsters. In the end, the heroes must find a mystical object that holds the key to their salvation.

In this case, the "mystical object" is a computer program called The Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim). Only The Keymaker can open the door to The Source at the center of The Matrix. And only at The Source can Neo stop the war between machines and humans before the machines destroy Zion, the last refuge for those humans not trapped within The Matrix.

Despite the simplistic plot, "Reloaded" tries hard to be a smart movie — a deep examination of determinism and free will. But it's when the film waxes philosophical that the Wachowski brothers are most out of their depth. The action and the story stop dead while characters spout dialog that sounds like it was cribbed from a Unix manual.

At other times, the story goes off on seemingly pointless tangents. We meet a new character, Link (Harold Perrineau), and his family, but what do Link's domestic problems have to do with anything?

When the story bogs down in Zion's internal politics, which are about as interesting as watching the Jedi Council argue about trade disputes, you'll probably find yourself wondering if maybe the machines have the right idea.

Producer Joel Silver reminds audiences that "Reloaded" is just the first half of the story. That may be true. But it looks like too much and feels like too little.

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