When we left off with The Matrix (1999), it was with Neo (Keanu Reeves) telling the titular alternate reality that he was going to be freeing more people from their mechanical enslavement. After a four year hiatus, we got The Matrix Reloaded (2003). Very little is said about what Neo, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) had been up to since last we saw them. Between the vagueness of the intervening years and what had been said at the end of the first one, I am not sure we needed a sequel. However, Hollywood is going to be Hollywood, meaning if they think they can make a buck they will put the most ridiculous swill on the big screen. There are innumerable examples of film executives’ fever dreams completely bombing in the box office. While The Matrix Reloaded did quite well, it is so silly to watch almost twenty years later that it will make you wonder why we took this story seriously at the time.
To make matters worse (for this reviewer), The Matrix Reloaded is told slightly out of order, though you would not know it immediately. Neo is dreaming of Trinity fighting her way through a facility somewhere, bursting through a building window several stories up with an agent on her heels, and being shot and killed on the way down. Picking up on its predecessor, Trinity and Neo are now a couple, and Neo is disturbed by the visions he receives. Putting it aside for the moment, we learn that other members of the human resistance against the control that is the Matrix have gathered to discuss a new threat. The machines have apparently begun drilling down to the last remaining human city, an underground labyrinth known as Zion, and home to them all. Understandably, they want to defend that place. However, another potential danger is revealed within the Matrix. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), a program dedicated to policing their digital fantasy land and thought to have been disposed of by Neo in the previous film, is apparently alive and well. Not only that, but he has the ability to imprint himself on anyone else within the Matrix, and he wants revenge on Neo. What is making matters more difficult is the fact that the Oracle (Gloria Foster) is silent at a time when she is seemingly most needed. Neo, in particular, is searching for her unsuccessfully. Even though Zion had ordered all their ships and crews back to the city due to the approaching machine army, Neo asks that one ship stay behind in order to await word from the Oracle. When they get back to Zion, Commander Lock (Harry Lennix) voices his disapproval of those like Morpheus who believe in prophesies and are willing jeopardize the city’s defenses in unproven theories. Over his objections, when word finally arrives for Neo to meet the Oracle, Morpheus is given permission to leave once more. When Neo confronts the old woman, more answers are given. For starters, the Oracle is yet another program, and therefore potentially part of the system against which they are fighting. Still, she tells him that he needs to go to the “Source,” where the path of the One is destined to end. It involves a convoluted series of steps of tracking down people with ridiculous names like the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) and the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). They need the Keymaker to open the door to the Source, and he is being held hostage by the Merovingian. After action sequence number 5,349, they obtain the Keymaker and Neo is able to get to the Source. There, he meets another tritely named character called the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), who apparently is the person who created the Matrix. During their tete-a-tete, it comes to light that Neo is the seventh person to assume the mantle of the One, and that it is part of a cycle of destruction and renewal. His entire life, in other words, is another system of control. But because the Oracle’s main piece of advice to Neo has always been to make up his own mind about things, he decides to not go along with what the Architect tells him he needs to do. Instead, he bursts out of the door and flies to where Trinity is, thus intervening in the vision of her death he had at the beginning. He then proceeds to literally save her life by reaching into her body and restarting her heart. It is the result of Neo once more choosing the human race instead of what the machines want him to do. We close the film with the machines catching up with Morpheus’ ship and Neo stops the attack in the real world, which renders him unconscious.
There are times when you can be unconscious while watching The Matrix Reloaded and not miss anything. As I mentioned in my review of The Matrix, the deep philosophical ideas are constantly being cut short in their exploration by the tiresome action set pieces. These are the moments at which it is safe to take a short nap, or get a snack, or do your taxes. If you have seen its predecessor, then you will see nothing new in the fist fights or gun play in the sequel. Many will argue that when Neo fights Agent Smith and all his clones it is something different, but is it really? It is the same two people punching as in the first one, there are just more of one of them. There are also more car chases and explosions. Yawn.
What I am interested in seeing more of in The Matrix Reloaded is when the Oracle talks about faith and choice. Christian Faith is also about choice. When God created us, He gave each and every one of us a special gift, that being free will. It is a gift, but more often throughout history, and films like The Matrix trilogy speak to this fact, it has been a curse. Agent Smith tells Neo that when he had been obliterated by Neo, he had a choice between accepting deletion or loading himself back into the Matrix. Doing so, for some unexplained reason, unplugged him from any directive from the Matrix and the ability to copy himself. Whatever. The point here is that he exercised his ability to choose to continue doing evil. Neo is the mirror opposite, and the next film explores this idea even more. The reason God gives us this ability rather than just making us with an innate belief in Him is because when you choose God, it gives that act added meaning. You can see this with Neo. Every step he takes along his path is fraught with implications not only for himself, but for the people around him. I get it. The Matrix is an action film. Still, I am not satisfied when after he has these major revelations, they are quickly shoved aside in order to get back to the kicking and punching.
There is nothing special about The Matrix Reloaded. It takes ideas that were put forward in The Matrix and begins the process of beating them to death that concludes in The Matrix Revolutions. If you must see these films, watch the first one and forget about the rest. They get progressively and needlessly more complicated. I appreciate films that try to be more high-minded, but the action tends to make it fall flat.