When The Matrix first came out in theatres in 1999, I saw it right away and walked out thinking, "Eh, I guess it was all right." Truth is, I didn't quite get it. I guess I was so lost in the flow of information that I didn't actually take the time to piece together just what it was about.
So I borrowed the DVD a couple of weeks ago, in order to catch up on the story so I could make some sense out of the upcoming sequels. To my surprise, I not only figured it out, but I found it to be a cracking good yarn. Or at least a fascinating idea. Up went my expectations for The Matrix Reloaded. Then down they went when friends of mine who rushed out to see the sequel on opening day returned with negative reports. Which, in the end, was okay, as that way I had no idea what to expect.
Frankly, I found the first half hour or so of Reloaded pretty bad. The Wachowski Brothers, buying into the importance of their own myth just as George Lucas did when he started trotting out the second trio of Star Wars films, seem to believe that not only can they change the rules of their own storyline with little regard for their original setup, but that, of course, bigger is better. So they not only give us a lot more special effects, but also, unfortunately, a much bigger cast.
One of the good things about The Matrix was that it was really about just five people: neophyte Neo, his mentor Morpheus, action chick Trinity, villainous computer program Agent Smith, and turncoat Cypher. With a nice little cameo from Gloria Foster as The Oracle and half a dozen very minor supporting characters. But here in Reloaded we are quickly introduced to a score of fellow freedom fighters living in the groovy underground human kingdom of Zion, who dress like Star Trek: The Next Generation peasants and intone things dramatically, so we're supposed to care about them. But their dialogue is wooden, their relationships soap operatic, and most of the performances lean towards ham.
Fortunately, things pick up when Keanu & Co. return to The Matrix to do battle with Agent Smith, who has now become something of a rogue agent and has picked up the ability to clone himself infinitely, which makes for some nifty visuals and wacky fight scenes. The Wachowskis get creative and add a host of new villains, a subset of Matrix denizens who are best described as "hacked programs". It trespasses into Tron territory, maybe, but it nicely complicates the world they created.
Once again, I didn't comprehend a lot of the mumbo jumbo, especially towards the end, but in between the lame opening (which even includes a rave) and the perplexing last act, there are some spiffy action set pieces that will please the crowds. Outside of the core cast (including Foster), the Wachowskis also bring back their entire creative team, which means The Matrix Reloaded visually feels very much an extension of its predecessor. Only Laurence Fishburne seems to have changed (read: got fat). Anyway, I was about as impressed as I was the first time I saw The Matrix, which means in 4 years I may watch the DVD and really dig what the Wachowskis are doing. In the meantime, I have only moderate expectations for the concluding Matrix Revolutions.