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'Matrix'

'Matrix' part 2 offers amazing effects, sly satire

Thursday, May 15, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

George Lucas knew he couldn't duplicate the visual thrill of the first time we saw the Millennium Falcon jump into hyperspace in "Star Wars." So when that moment arrived in the sequel "The Empire Strikes Back," the movie toyed with our anticipation by having the device malfunction twice before finally whisking the ship away.

Computer hacker Keanu Reeves, above, and Laurence Fishburne, below, and a zillion special effects are back for "The Matrix Reloaded."


whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com


"The Matrix Reloaded"

Rating: R for sci-fi violence and some sexuality.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishbourne, Hugo Weaving.

Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski.

"The Matrix Reloaded" faces a similar conundrum. There's no way it could re-create the mystique of 1999's "The Matrix."

Like "Star Wars," the first "Matrix" influenced a great many action movies. Its groundbreaking special effects have been endlessly imitated and now surpassed. The martial-arts choreography has become more familiar to mainstream audiences thanks to films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The Japanese anime sensibility has become a programming staple on American TV.

So what can filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski do for an encore? Why, they can create new, bigger and more amazing effects. They can take us deeper into the mysteries of their creation and, in so doing, begin to make some sense out of it. They can play the film's religious allegory for all it's worth.

They can write characters who are more than just archetypes -- well, OK, the Wachowskis can do only so much.

But what they do is impressive enough, at least for some. Many of the early fan reviews on the Internet are calling "The Matrix Reloaded" a disappointment because it is more conventional than the first film. For all of the reasons listed above, how could it not be?

Yes, the martial-arts sequences are more computer-reliant and perhaps less imaginative. Yes, when we finally get to see the promised land of Zion, we wonder what the fuss is about -- it looks like the Post-Gazette Pavilion relocated in Fraggle Rock. And, because there is one sequel yet to come, the movie has a limited sense of closure.

But you'll forget about all that once you get to the 14-minute freeway chase scene, which piles one mind-boggling image upon the next, throwing in new elements and martial-arts stunts until you can't imagine how there could be any more, only there is.

And try to get past the monotone delivery of the explanatory dialogue to hear what is being said -- and catch some of the smirks in how the Wachowskis say it.

But first, a recap -- which is more than the movie gives you. If you didn't see the first "Matrix" film, you don't want to go into this one cold.

Keanu Reeves is Neo, a computer hacker who is anointed The One by a band of rebels, led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who claim to know the truth about reality -- mainly, that it isn't true. Although nothing is definitive in the first film, the idea is that what we consider reality is in fact a computer-generated fake, concocted for our diversion by Machines that have become self-aware and literally feed off humanity.

If you know that much, "The Matrix Reloaded" goes down much easier. The plot is relatively simple. Those humans who have escaped The Matrix reside in the aforementioned Zion, a subterranean city. The Machines have launched an attack that threatens to destroy the city and its inhabitants.

But Morpheus believes The One can save Zion. Neo consults the Oracle (Gloria Foster), who says he must penetrate the core of the Matrix and confront whatever he finds there. But he keeps having nightmares in which his lover and fellow soldier, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), appears to be mortally wounded.

In other words, Neo faces some hard choices, even though someone declares that "choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without."

And, as the Oracle tells him, "You didn't come here to make the choice. You've already made it. You're here to understand why you made it."

However obscure it might have been in the first film, the religious allegory all but shouts at you this time. And if the movie's equivalent of God has a personality as dry as a studio executive's imagination, the Wachowskis display some sly wit in other areas.

Take, for example, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), the stone-faced, dark-suited nemesis whom Neo killed at the end of the first movie. Well, he's b-a-a-a-ack and in volume. He has the ability to turn other people into duplicates of himself. Think of him as the embodiment of dull conformity infecting the public like a virus and you get the idea.

Then there's the snobby Frenchman (Lambert Wilson) who shrugs off our heroes when they seek his help. His name is Merovingian, which was also the name of a dynasty of Frankish kings from the sixth to eighth centuries. His wife (Monica Bellucci) is named Persephone. In Greek myth, she married Hades. Draw your own conclusions.

I know, you're not there for Greek myth. You're there for Matrixology. You're there for Neo fighting 100 Agent Smiths at once. You're there for the camera and the characters gliding in and out of traffic on the freeway, over trucks and under them. You're there for kung-fu fighting. You're there for the kind of sensory overload that the Wachowskis specialize in -- dazzling imagery, visual effects, sound and fury, signifying whatever you want it to.

You're there for a movie franchise that makes Keanu Reeves seem like the coolest cat in whatever reality he may inhabit. Call it what you will, but "The Matrix Reloaded" qualifies as bravura filmmaking.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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