The Matrix Reloaded. Warner Brothers presents a film written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Running time: 138 minutes. Rated R (for sci-fi violence, profanity and sexuality). Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Lambert Wilson, Harold Perrineau Jr., Harry J. Lennix, Randall Duk Kim, Gloria Foster.

Matrix Reloaded, The

I loved The Matrix. So it goes without saying that I was greatly looking forward to The Matrix Reloaded, its sequel (actually, the first half of its sequel; the second half, Matrix Revolutions, will be released later this year). What does not go without saying (if it did, I would not be writing this review) is that The Matrix Reloaded fails to match the original in every aspect except the visual effects, in which The Matrix is handily surpassed. To say I was disappointed would be a gross understatement.

The film's greatest failing is the fact that it is an unfinished product. Many plot points are left dangling, and the cliffhanger ending feels like an intermission for a five-hour epic. Unfotunately, Matrix Revolutions will not be released until November, and this is a huge detriment to what the Wachowskis are attempting to accomplish. However, when it is released, I may change my opinon of The Matrix Reloaded, as the overlying story arc may make it a necessary step in the trilogy.

The Matrix Reloaded begins six months after the events in The Matrix. The population of the hidden city of Zion has greatly increased, due in much part to the three heroes of the orginal: the messianic Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). The machines of the Matrix, in a last ditch effort to win the war, have begun to converge on Zion, hoping to end humanity. The leaders of Zion are preparing for war, and Morpheus is depending on Neo to save the last of the resistance. Characters met along the way include the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), the rogue program Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), his wife, Persephone (Monica Belucci), and the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim). Also making a return is the vicious Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), only this time he has a few upgrades.

Keanu Reeves still can't act, but The Matrix Reloaded does not really need him to. All that is required is that he looks cool, and he pulls that off easily. Carrie-Ann Moss is given surprisingly little to do, and Laurence Fishburne's acting is now much worse than it was in The Matrix. The best performance in The Matrix Reloaded belongs to Hugo Weaving, as it did the The Matrix. He infuses Agent Smith with a wonderful dry wit. Both Lambert Wilson and (especially) Monica Belucci are wasted, but they still manage to impress when on screen.

One of the best things of The Matrix was that it was just as smart as it was technically impressive. Unfortunately, Reloaded is unable to match the intellectualism of the original. Sure, there are many speeches about choice and fate, but they are always long-winded and often pretentious. And while the characters' words may sound impressive, once you get past the complex language and bombastic delivery, it becomes clear that nothing new is being said.

The fight scenes in The Matrix astounded because of their beautiful choreography and intricate "wire-fu" moves. Despite being much more technologically impressive, the fights in The Matrix Reloaded are a large step down from those in The Matrix, in large part because of the visual effects. In The Matrix, the actors were actually doing the kung-fu moves. In The Matrix Reloaded, much of the action in the largest fights are computer generated, and, despite the extremely high quality of the CGI, it is obvious when the live actors become computer generated ones.

But, if there's one aspect of The Matrix Reloaded in which it surpasses its predecessor, it is the special effects. The computer generated actors look better than anything that has been made before, but as I detailed above, not quite perfect. And while there is no reason to expect perfection, it still damages the film as a whole.

For the average movie-goer, I recommend The Matrix Reloaded. For huge fans of The Matrix, I know nothing I say will stop you from going. But when you do go, lower your expectations, and you could be in for a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, I went into The Matrix Reloaded with high expectations. And I was let down more than I could have ever expected.

© 2003 Matt Noller