Thursday, May 15, 2003

The Matrix: Reloaded (IMDB) (Netflix)
"Hmmmm, upgrades" pretty much sums up this second segment of the Matrix trilogy. It tells a convoluted story that only Star Wars and Lord of The Rings devotees will fully appreciate, but the fate of humanity is at stake, naturally, and is being played out in two realms—the physical world and the ultimate virtual reality environment called The Matrix. The conceit is that we're all actually living our "lives" in this soul-less simulation, but there's a liberation movement of sorts that has unplugged and escaped to a Dante-esque locale called Zion (stay tuned for that Arab market re-write). Think "sci-fi meets fantasy meets Tron meets Enter the Dragon." Keanu Reeves ("Neo") is the reluctant messiah, Lawrence Fishburne ("Morpheus") the true believer, with Carrie-Anne Moss ("Trinity") as the black-leathered warrior with an oversized heart. And sunglasses, don't forget about the sunglasses.

As an imperfect analogy, if The Matrix were an SUV, the first installment was a Willys Jeep (revolutionary in its day) and the current one a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but lugging a 40-foot trailer of expository baggage behind it. Actually, both had their Lincoln Navigator excesses (I have little patience for elaborate mythologies and Zen koans), but it seems particularly a bit much in Reloaded given how large a dose we got in the first movie, and some of the Zion council scenes seem stolen from recent Star Wars episodes (this isn't a compliment). One exception is Lambert Wilson's bravura take on cause and effect; it takes a Frenchman to pull off this level of pretentious philosophizing.

When it stops telling and starts showing, however, Reloaded rocks, with non-stop, almost overwhelming special effects (in this respect "more is more," including a cloned-many-times-over Agent Smith fight scene that made the audience a bit giddy), some touches of true human-to-human caring, and frequent tweaks of sly humor. The only competitor for an SFX Oscar for will be The Matrix: Revolutions, due in six months. Extra credit will be given to those who can explain why Princeton University African-American Studies professor Cornell West has a cameo appearance.