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The Matrix Reloaded

How do you follow up 1999's The Matrix? It's been a long time since a single film had as much effect on pop culture as The Wachowski Brothers' genre-bending phenomenon — and before a single frame of The Matrix Reloaded was shot, it was already one of the most anticipated sequels of the last decade. And while Reloaded is certainly flawed in comparison to its predecessor — trading in the intimacy of the first film for a much more sprawling production, and losing some of the magic in the process — the end result is nevertheless nearly as entertaining as the groundbreaking original. The Matrix told the tale of Neo (Keanu Reeves), who underwent a transformation from hermetic nerd to the savior of mankind — the vast majority of humankind being trapped in "The Matrix," a computer simulation of real life intended to keep the human mind occupied while the computers use their bodies as fuel. Neo, we're told, is "The One," a figure prophesied to end the war between humans who've "unplugged" from the Matrix and their robotic oppressors. In Reloaded, his journey is to discover how to use his virtual superpowers to fulfill his destiny. Six months have passed since Neo took his first flight, and the amount of minds "freed" from the Matrix has increased exponentially. Most of Zion — a sort of high-tech tribal city of freed humans living near the Earth's core — look to Neo as a savior, but others are skeptical. And the machines are tunneling down to kill them all. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) believe in Neo to the degree that they'll risk anything to get him back into the Matrix to fulfill his "prophecy." Gloria Foster returns as the Oracle, the spiritual guide of the human resistance, and the only one who truly seems to know how Neo can end the war. (Foster will be sorely missed from Matrix Revolutions, having passed on before her scenes for that film could be shot.) Meanwhile, Hugo Weaving brings a cool wit to his reprise of the iconic "Agent Smith" role: Smith's apparent death in the first film has freed him from the shackles of the machines he serves. He claims to feel a "bond" with Neo — always showing up (rather too coincidentally) to spoil everyone's plans — and can now clone himself like a virus. Smith tries to clone himself onto Neo, in fact, and what the filmmakers dubbed the "Burly Brawl" battle ensues — Neo taking on dozens of Smiths before flying away from the unending onslaught. The cast is much larger than the original, with several new players having a say in the fate of humanity: Harold Perrineau Jr. joins the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar as their new operator, Link, replacing Marcus Chong's Tank as Neo's number-one cheerleader. Sing Ngai plays Seraph, the Oracle's guardian. The Keymaker, played by Randall Duk Kim, is a program capable of gaining access to the backdoors of the system, and ultimately to the mysterious "Source." The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) is an eccentric bit of powerful old code with an affinity for blondes, whose wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci, seen here filling out a dress like few others in cinema ever have) seems helpful but is surely serving her own motivations.

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The aforementioned "Burly Brawl" is an odd blend of sophisticated fight choreography and awkward effects work as Neo takes on endless Smiths, which, like Reloaded's freeway chase, was hyped to no end before release as "the next big thing." The Burly Brawl and chase may not have hit that mark, but both scenes are certainly well-executed and highly entertaining — even if the shifts to all-CG characters are a little distracting. One notable problem with Reloaded is the effect that the cross-media blitz had on the actual film itself. The Wachowskis left cruicial scenes out of Reloaded, scenes that would have made the film better, details that flesh out their larger story (which concludes in 2003's The Matrix Revolutions). And the rub is, you can actually watch these missing scenes — if you buy the Animatrix anime shorts and the Enter the Matrix video game. But if you're not willing to cross-promote, the film's weak in several areas. The discovery of the machine's plot to dig to Zion is covered wonderfully in the Animatrix short The Final Flight of the Osiris — which surely would have been a powerful way to begin Reloaded. Thanks to hype and expectations, Reloaded leaves viewers with decidedly mixed feelings. And the filmmakers seem to have some mixed feelings of their own: Whether you choose to view it as a state-of-the-art special-effects bonanza or a philosophical debate on the freewill of mankind, the Wachowskis have attempted to create a film that will entertain both camps. From Yuen Wo Ping's beautifully choreographed kung-fu battles to the metal and fireball-filled freeway chase, there's no shortage of popcorn-flick action. But the constant exposition will confuse many viewers. By augmenting the action with a blend of philosophical ideas on the importance of man's ability to choose their fate — and perhaps more importantly, the power of understanding why choices are made — Reloaded breaks from the formula that made its predecessor so successful. Still, it's an entertaining sci-fi epic — if you don't mind some talking every so often. Warner's DVD release of The Matrix Reloaded features a sharp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. There is no commentary track, nor any feature on par with "Follow the White Rabbit" from the initial disc of the first film. On the second disc is a "making-of" documentary entitled "Preload." An enlightening feature on the freeway scene documents how the ballet of flying metal was created. "Get Me An Exit" is an annoying, but thankfully brief, piece on the product placement and advertising surrounding the film. "Making the Game" documents the "Enter the Matrix" video game, and the "MTV Movie Award" short is on hand in case you didn't catch it the first time. The original trailer for Matrix Revolutions is included at the end of scene selection, allowing the viewer the opportunity to skip the end-credit music, which tortured those wishing to get a glimpse of the sequel during the theatrical run. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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