I finally took in The Matrix Reloaded last night. Despite being a big fan of The Matrix (I lost count of how many times I saw it in the theatre, but half a dozen wouldn’t be hyperbole), I didn’t even entertain the idea of going to its opening night. Movietickets.com and cookie-cutter “Go big or go home!” theatres have killed the magic of opening night. And once you’ve missed opening night, what’s the rush? My verdict on The Matrix Reloaded? What’s the rush indeed.
Before I comment on the movie, I’ll be honest about two factors that undoubtedly affected my experience: (1) I heard general comments from two people indicating that the movie took some time to ramp up (ranging from half an hour to an hour), and (2) I haven’t watched The Matrix in more than three years. The former had me expecting the action and the story to pick up at some point, and the latter had me expecting the movie to largely stand on its own. Alas, I was disappointed on both counts.
I firmly believe that the popularity of The Matrix had as much to do with its intelligent, fast-paced story as its groundbreaking action sequences. With the exception of Keanu’s ever-wooden presence and the sap between his character and Trinity, the movie worked and moved. The consensus is that The Matrix Reloaded did not move; I would say it twitched, and most often with action, as opposed to a story. The one exception was Neo’s conversation with The Architect.
Of course, by the time Neo made it to the door of light, the audience had given up on seeing the overarching story progress. I suspect most of that philosophical conversation fell on deaf ears. (Lord knows I had to mentally slap myself a few times, and I heard a kid behind me say, “Look! It’s his whole life.”) However, this story is a dichotomy because it isn’t simply a case of padding an hour and a half around a half-hour story; the material that was included seemed to have suffered terribly on the chopping block. For example, what was the point of the Morpheus-Niobe-Lock love triangle? Or Jada Pinkett Smith’s character, for that matter? I can hear her now, “Was all that footage just for the video game?”
These questions really get to the heart of my disappointment with The Matrix Reloaded: I wasn’t engaged. I didn’t care that Zion was in imminent danger, or that Link was struggling to sort out his priorities. I didn’t believe Morpheus’ rhetoric (which really killed the potential of Neo’s return), or Neo and Trinity’s love (O.K., so I didn’t believe it in the first one either… Why do they even attempt that?). Compare that with the first movie, where I feared the agents and wanted those characters to grab that receiver and get the hell out of there; where the Matrix itself was truly horrifying; where Neo’s surviving his first confrontation with an agent was so exhilarating. The truth is that it’s no comparison at all.
So what about the action sequences? Surely they saved the movie, right? Yes and no. I really enjoyed the fight between Neo and Seraph (The Oracle’s guardian). I also enjoyed Trinity’s attempt to get The Keymaker out by motorcycle. However, beyond that, my enjoyment was fleeting: the twins in the parking garage, the whole floor of that building exploding. And these scenes had to compete with fiascos like that Agent-Smith-a-thon. I felt like I was watching the commercial for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic all over again! When things got hairy, Neo’s skin lost all its texture, its shadows… They looked like plastic figures! It really annoyed me, knocking me right out of the scene.
Of course, the action sequences weren’t the only source of my annoyance. In fact, this movie’s low of “Kiss me in front of this snazzy urinal or you’ll never find The Keymaker” was beyond annoying; it was really disappointing. From Trinity and Neo’s game of Count-the-sockets to Electric Circus “Live from Zion” to the (cue slimy, French accent) “Let’s see what’s under that dress of yours, yes?” scene, The Matrix Reloaded was often crass. And while that’s to be expected of most movies these days, The Matrix wasn’t like most movies; with scenes like “the woman in red,” it set a classy precedent.
Some may say that my criticisms are unfair, that expecting The Matrix Reloaded to stand on its own is unrealistic. After all, they covered a lot of ground in the first movie; why tie the director’s hands by making him repeat it? My answer to those people is that if this story can’t stand on it own – without the background of the first installment – is it really worth telling? My first thought upon hearing about a Matrix sequel was, “Who wants to watch a story about a god?” In the back of my mind, I knew they would have to come up with a knockout if they hoped to avoid, “Don’t miss our next installment: God runs out of toilet paper… on holiday Monday!” The Matrix Revolutions may be that knockout; we’ll know in a few short months. If so, I suspect that most of The Matrix Reloaded will be remembered as the chaff on an exceptional, two-part story.
John L. Jarvis is a writer working out of Ottawa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.