How do you create a sense that the reality we all see and talk about isn’t real, that it’s just an illusion, that it’s an expansive and cleverly devised hoax designed to dupe the masses into some sort of quiet worship of your creation — without even knowing it?
Simple — just create the biggest movie franchise of the new millennium. Then, refuse all press interviews or photography of yourself to promote the upcoming sequel. People will be left wondering if you’re just a reclusive genius, or if you’re just the amalgam of some clever marketing designed to raise the mystique surrounding the year’s most anticipated release, and you don’t really exist at all?
Larry and Andy Wachowski (The Brothers as they’re know) have a cult air all their own that has the fanboys drooling almost as much as the promise of more black leather, ‘bullet time’ and martial arts.
It’s a mystique that’s been simmering slowly in our cultural mindset for four years, its signature look used everywhere from TV commercials to music videos, and now its originators are ready to serve up a second (and much bigger helping) with the release of Matrix: Reloaded.
Part of the two-part ‘conclusion’ to the Matrix story, Reloaded deals (as the filmmakers’ statement says) with Neo’s (Reeves) life, whereas The Matrix dealt with his birth.
Still part of the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar under the captaincy of the samurai-like mystic leader Morpheus (Fishburne), he and star cross’d lover Trinity (Moss) still help battle the forces of repression in the Matrix while a quarter million sentinels (those electric octopus things from the original) burrow towards the city of Zion — the last bastion of human freedom at the Earth’s core.
The race is on for Neo to fulfil his destiny as told by the prophecy and end the war. Of course, not everything is rosy in Zion politics, and Morpheus has to deal with an overly pragmatic superior and convince the council to let him reenter the Matrix and help Neo fulfil his purpose.
The stage is set for mind-bending philosophy and toe-curling action. After the tedious amount of movies marketed as ‘kick ass’ lately, The Matrix: Reloaded wears the term comfortably, looking smugly like it invented it.
In the same way X2 improved on its predecessor, so Matrix: Reloaded contains everything you loved and gasped in awe at in the original — only bigger, better, louder, higher, faster and more awesome. The techniques made legend by the first film (such as the anime-inspired slo-mo bullets and otherworldy kung fu) are better and more frequent, heightening the experience like a drug.
The characters are more fleshed out (and there are more of them), the action sequences are relentless, and the quasi-religious mysticism is turned way up — The Matrix: Reloaded is a Buddhist monk gazing at his navel while blowing away a posse of thugs with an AK-47.
And like X2, which benefited from a much heftier injection of resources after its predecessor blew away all expectations, you can see how much money the (more confident) studio were happy to part with — everything in the original was an appetiser. In fact, awesome scenes of the real world like the Nebuchadnezzar and the Zion were actually intended for the first film but shelved when the budget wouldn’t allow for them.
But if Matrix: Reloaded has a fault, it’s the flipside of its triumph. While it sounds good to send both the action and philosophy through the ceiling, at times Reloaded edges too far down both paths.
The dual themes sat comfortably together in the original, but Reloaded has the potential to polarise audiences. Depending whether you’re there for the musing on cause, effect and choice or to see Carrie-Anne Moss in skin-tight leather riding a Ducatti into oncoming traffic, you won’t be fully satisfied at least some of the time.
Even if you love action and you’re also au fait with philosophical thought on meaning and existence, some of the deeper points the script world explores will come at you too fast to digest.
But Satre or Nietsche never prepared us for the sight of Neo fighting off 100 Agent Smiths, so strap yourself in, open your mind to the visceral as well as the cerebral, and think of it as philosophy with kick.