The Matrix Reloaded: Why Bother?

Multiplying cast members clog up the reload, but this Matrix is still a killer.

"Choice is an illusion," a somber dude observes in The Matrix Reloaded (which opens Thursday, May 15 at the Neptune and many, many other theaters). Filmgoers will make Andy and Larry Wachowski's trilogy a billion-dollar franchise by Christmas (part three, The Matrix Revolutions, opens Nov. 7). This is fated. Nothing you, a mere human, can do will stop it. Your job is not to change fate, but to understand what you do. Good luck understanding the colloidal suspension of anime, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, John Woo, and Skywalker Ranch woo-woo that is the series' plot. But here is why you will open that door and gaze transfixed at the whole Wachowski-athon: Keanu Reeves looks unbelievably cool doing slo-mo kung fu backflips in that long black jacket and shades that give his eyes the simulation of intelligence, sending hot lead spiraling prettily through space, or halting a horizontal hail of bullets with a calm Zen palm. Like Tim Burton emancipating Batman by immersing him in a weird personal world, the Wachowskis have set comic-book movies free of deadening cliché³ by succumbing swooningly to an idea addictionthe most bizarre philosophy ever expressed in a blockbuster film, more abstruse than The X-Files. Reloaded presumes you know all about the basic idea, seen in the first Matrix in 1999 and not really explained here: Keanu is Neo, who discovers that his ordinary American life was just a computer program plugged into his brain by an evil Machine. He joined the rebels led by his mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in the heroic Machine-fighting citadel of Zion. In Reloaded, he leaves Zion's underground citadel (a good movethe place looks drab, like the Waterworld set after sinking to the center of the earth and growing mold), plunging back into the Matrix's world of illusion to kick Machine ass and find out what it all means, anyway. Neo is more successful in the ass- kicking department. With a little help from Morpheus and his spray-on-leather-clad main squeeze Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Neo clobbers diverse characters: 100 replicas of his nemesis, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving); dreadlocked albino twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment) resembling Milli Vanilli dipped in flour; and the many Machine-made minions of Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a pretentious faux-Frenchman wiz ze most outrageous accent since John Cleese in ze Holy Grail. If you loved the original Matrix bullet-and-air-chopsockey ballets, you'll love them againand yet not much is added by adding a cast of hundreds, and something is lost. "The best thing about being me is, there's so many 'mes,'" boasts Agent Smith. But scary as it is to see him plunge his fingers into somebody's chest and cause dark glop to enclose the victim and convert him into a Smith clone, it's not half as scary the second time, nor the umpteenth. To see a throng of Smiths fight Neo is sort of repetitive, and nothing really distinguishes any of the Smiths from the pale-faced Rastas or any of the other baddies. For all their bravura technical virtuosity, the bad guys are forever in imminent peril of turning into one of Dr. Evil's all-too-anonymous henchmen. One expects Nigel Powers to pop up and demand that they stop punching Neo and just fall down and die. Even Neo's ultimate nemesis doesn't pack much punch, ultimately: Helmut Bakaitis's character the Architect (of the Matrix) is grandiose yet bland, making him blandioseif the Architect is this dull, I'd hate to meet the Accountant. The best fight is the 14-minute climax on a large freeway built so that the film could destroy 110 cars without collateral real-world damage. If you like Neo and Morpheus doing slo-mo backflips, you'll love Trinity doing backflips on a motorcycle, especially when she hops off and sends the bike flying into Machine headquarters as a blossoming fireball. Perhaps hypocritically, Neo and company do their most impressive work when equipped with machines. PROBLEMATIC AS THE multiplying baddies are, they are a lesser problem than the multiplying good guys. Seraph (Collin Chou), the bodyguard of the Oracle (Gloria Foster), who tells Neo's fortune; the Matrix-thwarting Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim); and the faux-Frenchman's bored wife, Persephone (Monica Bellucci), are utterly unresonant additions to the Matrix mythology. The new members of Morpheus' Zion army are just so much fussy plot obstruction: Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Councillor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe), and more supernumeraries too superfluous to mention. Most of the scenes set in underground Zion are dead, derivative, and dumb. It's supposed to be a cross between Chartres Cathedral, the Christians' catacombs, and a Thai beach town the night of the full-moon- mushroom-and-Mekong-rice-whisky orgy, but it is the airless tomb of drama. Don't get me wrong: There is galvanizing drama when the fight shifts to Matrix-land, a sustaining tension. The trio of Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity is dramatically intelligible and altogether absorbing, with pace-goosing help from the vaguely Scotty-like home-base hacker/air traffic controller Link (Harold Perrineau). If George Lucas paid as much attention to propulsive storytelling as the Wachowskis, he'd be even richer than he is. But there's no getting around it: The Matrix Reloaded is less than The Matrix revivified. The first one's existential what-is-reality drama gave the fantasy a firmer structure. The idea soup was tangierthis time, when the Oracle appears to advise Neo, she's lost her uncanny nimbus and basically has nothing of consequence to say. The mumbo-jumbo monologues go on way too long, like a five-minute koan. We know Neo's powers are virtually unlimited, making the protracted fisticuffs seem needlesswhy doesn't he whomp them all in one fell swoop? It's marvelous to see Neo do what a colleague calls "his Superman thing"leap from the pavement to whoosh across the heavens, haughtily turning solids into wavy fluids in his wake. But once you've seen him up the power ante sky-high, his rope-a-dope down in the ring seems lesser. Neo and The Matrix Reloaded have Superman's dramatic problem: too much power to find a fit rival. But when The Matrix Revolutions comes out in November, I'll be at the front of the line. You can't fight fate. tappelo@seattleweekly.com

 
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