*******Spoilers for The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions*******
Rewatching The Matrix Reloaded this week made me not only love and appreciate The Wachowski’s sequel even more, but made me realize just how much we underrated just about everything in this movie.
The Matrix Reloaded might be a better movie than The Matrix. At the least it is trying to do more at every turn, as most sequels do, but at every aforementioned turn the film might surpass its predecessor. Now, don’t get me wrong, The Matrix is an amazing movie, that might deserve to always be mentioned above Reloaded just for its sheer innovation, but Reloaded is a near perfect sequel that does plenty of innovating on its own.
The Matrix perfectly blends the Christ figure story with a sci-fi twist, but Reloaded flipped everything on its head when it throws doubt into the film’s prophecy at almost every turn; even going as far as to question its religious roots as a whole. We discover that The One, Neo, the Christ Savior of the world is actually just the six iteration of a mathematical anomaly inherent to the programming of the Matrix. He is a byproduct of the illusion of choice in the world, a means of control of humanity and is meant to, ultimately, be exterminator, not savior, of the human race. It’s pretty fucked up. It is a middle film of the trilogy, and one that expertly casts doubt and confusion for our heroes as they move towards their conclusion in the next film. Religion as a means of societal control is not a new idea in art, but to lay it right in there, in one of the most anticipated sequels of all time, took some guts by the Wachowski’s; especially after the first was heralded as such a fantastic Christ parable.
In the Merovingian, the film takes some swipes at the upper class, but also is shaming the peasant like sheep that are the humans along the way. Here we have an example of the worst of humanity, the Merovingian is a super rich, cocky, rude, French and sex crazed white guy, who thinks his power allows him to just about anything, to anyone. It’s appalling. But. When he starts dressing down the humans, our heroes, about how lost and clueless in the world, he isn’t exactly wrong. The Merovingian has seen this all before, he is cocky because he knows he can be, he’s untouchable in the world, and his scenes feel like the Wachowski’s are firing a wake up call at the regular guy’s head; we can’t let these guys keep controlling everything in the world. This portion of the film is usually panned as the worst part of the film, but I think the Wachowski’s nail exactly what they are going for. Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are just caught up in the Merovingian and his wife’s, Persephone, marital drama, pawns in a game of manipulative chess, and that’s exactly what it feels like. Sure, our heroes could have just busted into his place, stole the Keymaker and been on their way, but the Wachowski’s get to have a little fun, while setting up a couple of characters for the final film. It begins seeding just how insignificant the humans are to this whole world, how they are an afterthought to the machines running everything, and while I get why some people might be like “What?”, the film rewards them with about 15 to 20 minutes of non-stop insane action afterwards.
To paint the human race as foolish beings, clinging to their religion to save them as their world is literally about to be wiped out and mocking their status as third class players in their own world, the Wachowski’s were perceptive of the Republican haze the Bush-era dreamed our world would live in. But how were they able to get this much subversive material into the most expensive movie ever produced at the time? They delivered everything someone could hope for in a Matrix sequel; and then some.
The messaging discussed above is all bonus for fans of the sci-fi genre, [and I didn’t even dive into the architect scene (which plays much better years later, edited well against the Trinity/Agent fight)], but at its heart The Matrix Reloaded is balls to the wall action movie for a good chunk of its runtime. It even has a “get to know you” fight, instead of a more traditional trust building conversation. Yes, the Zion scenes are a bit unexpected on a first viewing, but as a set up for the setting and stakes of the final film, it feels more essential and moves along a lot quicker once you know why these scenes are here. Inside the Matrix, the Wachowskis barely stop to breathe, bouncing back between some philosophical conversations and some insane fight sequences. The opening scene is both a foreshadowing dream and a throwback to original’s Trinity centered opening, except everything is bigger. Yes, seeing her go into slow-mo and the camera swinging around her was awe inducing on first viewing in The Matrix, but motorcycle tossing back flips with a perfectly framed explosion landing take the cake for me. And the whole film feels like the Wachowskis taking everything up a notch from the first film.
We quickly get another fun little fight with Neo vs. the upgraded Agents, and this does a nice job of not only establishing the Agents as a thing, but that Neo can still handle them quite effectively all on his own. This early scene also quickly establishes how Agent Smith’s new virus state is always just around the corner and how he can take over bodies in the Matrix. The Wachowski’s quickly establish the new rules of the Matrix and the characters in it without a line of exposition, leaving Hugo Weaving room to start just chewing up the scenery as an unplugged Smith. The get to know you with Seraph is also another great bit of visual storytelling by the Wachowski’s, establishing his role as a protector of the oracle and his capability as a fighter in a scene that echoes the dojo fight in the original.
The Wachowskis start to flex with the next big action scene, The Burly Brawl, which sees Neo fighting a 100ish Agent Smith’s all at once. One bit of information that you have to dig into a bit with these Matrix sequels is that I think Smith is only as strong as the person he replaces? So for every Agent he overtakes he has the strength of that Agent, but a joe schmo on the street, not so much. I think this is reflected in Revolutions when he takes over the Oracle and Smith is as high as a kite over the power he now has. This explains why one Smith could hold his own against Neo in Revolutions, the Oracle version, but Neo could take on dozens of them at once in Reloaded.
This fight, wrongly, catches a lot of flack for the CG implemented here, but I have to stand up for it. It still looks pretty damn good. Yes, the render is a little plastic, but it holds up. And most of the fight is done practically anyways! Plus, all of the choreography is great, beautifully framed at every turn, with the fight just continuing to escalate every minute or so. This a long fight too, with Reeves, Weaving and a bunch of Smith doubles pulling off some great, fast paced, action that shouldn’t be as disregarded as it is by so many. The CG in this fight is better than most of the CG Black Panther suit fighting we’ve gotten in his MCU appearances, and those films wish they had the action choreography and filmmaking eye of the Wachowskis. This is truly one of my favorite action scenes of all time, and is better than the lobby shootout and Neo/Smith fight of the original; which are both excellent in their own right. Just because something does something first, doesn’t mean it’s always better.
The film continues to take things up a notch when it stacks another epic fight for Neo, against a bunch of the Merovingians rouge programs, and follows it up with one of the Top 5 car chases of all time. The Neo fight is all centered around combat with a bunch of gnarly hand-held weapons, with he and his opponents jumping and flying all around a giant grand staircase. Again, the Wachowskis eye, Bill Pope’s cinematography and Yuen Wo Ping’s choreography perfectly meld into a ballet of violence over an extended period of time. We don’t get action fight scenes like this anymore. Do we? Neo is in charge, but feels challenged. The fight never feels like guys waiting to take turns, same for the Burly Brawl, as Neo is constantly assailed and Reeves sells the ability to fend off all comers. He doesn’t get enough credit for his action work in these films.
The Freeway Chase is a whole other animal compared to the Burly Brawl, coordinating cars, CG and geography as they loop around a highway set that they built for this movie. Throw in a fight on top of a semi, characters changing vehicles, weaving a motorcycle in and out of practical and CG traffic, there are so many moving pieces in this sequence; and every beat works. The camerawork chasing Trinity and the Keymaker on a motorcycle is about as thrilling as it gets; and the filmmaking is all to thank for that. I also love the semi fight because Morpheus is outmatched. He isn’t all of a sudden better or stronger, humans are outmatched by agents and the fight feels more desperate and a struggle for him verses Neo. The score is pumping you along with the thrills as crazy amounts of cars crash and fly around our heroes; it’s almost like the Blues Brothers in here at times. The effects work and dynamics of the phasing twin henchmen of the Merovingian gives the front half of the car chase its own style and flavor (plus a car hopping agent or two), before turning into something else with the motorcycle pursuit, then topping it off with the semi fight, this one action scene has three sections that, taken individually, would be probably the best action set piece of almost any other film. It’s awe inspiring at it’s heights and thrilling as hell at its “lows”.
This prolonged action break rivals the first films finale, but I think a lot of people were thrown off by how the Wachowski’s send you out the door; with the Architect and saving Trinity. The lead up to the Architect is a masterclass in editing, overlaying and intercutting the Keymaker laying out his plan as we watch it unfold as well, it’s great stuff, but the Architect scene itself has grown on me a lot over the years. For one, people remember it as this long, droning scene of exposition all on its own, but the Wachowski’s do a fine job of intercutting Trinity’s fight with an agent. She, like Morpheus before, is outmatched, and she is just fighting for her life and straight into the prophetic dream Neo has. All of this plays into the decision making of Neo with the Architect, with the reveal that he is actually the sixth version of “the One” being a really underrated twist in modern sci-fi filmmaking. I love Reeves’ performance, both in the TV’s surrounding him and calmly calculating out what the Architect is saying, we too have to be zen like Neo take all of this information in.
I also remember people taking it to the film over saving Trinity at the end of this film, her death delayed until near the end of Revolutions, and I have to agree with that consensus as well. Yes, the constant making out in the film is a bit ridiculous. We get it, they are in LOVE!!!!!, but Neo being able to do this totally fits in with the canon of the film. He is a god in the Matrix and she is the reason he decides not to give in to the machine’s demands and save humanity over one person; of course he is going to do everything to save her!
The Matrix Reloaded has only gotten better with age and is an example of what we should want from a franchise sequel. Takes more chances narratively, is smart and tops the set pieces at every turn. There is so much to chew on in Reloaded, I suggest you go back and give it another go.