FRANCHISE REWIND: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Matrix Reloaded, 2003 (Keanu Reeves) Warner Bros.

“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.”

Sequels come about for different reasons. Sometimes (very rarely) it’s the continuation of a story. Most times it’s a different story with characters from the previous movie dropped in to chart their own evolution. Of course, we know the real reason we have sequels. It was something I briefly considered in my Rocky II review. In theory, it takes less time to greenlight, requires a smaller investment to begin production, has established characters and mythology with which the audience is already familiar, and drives up the studio’s stock price. It’s money in the bank!

It’s also very rare that a sequel will outperform its predecessor. The Matrix Reloaded is one of those exceptions. The movie made over $700 million at the box office (at a little over twice the original movie’s budget, mind you), compared with the original’s gross of $460 million, making it the highest-grossing R-rated (a soft R-rating, to be sure) film of all time until 2016’s Deadpool. In fact a few cuts for some of the blood could easily give both movies a PG-13 rating. Even the bizarre “orgy” scene is tame. The movie’s violence is cartoonish and over-the-top, particularly in a scene where Neo fights not one, not two, but one-hundred “Agent Smiths.”

What The Matrix Reloaded lacks in story, it more than makes up for with bizarre and ridiculous set-pieces designed, it would appear, to impress the audience with how much money could possibly be spent on something so meaningless as a Matrix sequel. The audience may have been bamboozled by this sequel, but at least some of them stayed away when Revolutions was released. This is a classic example of what the filmmakers assumed the audience wanted from a Matrix sequel. The Matrix Reloaded introduces a host of new characters in an effort to expand the empire of Zion.

Gina Torres and Nona Gaye are in the movie for a combined five minutes, and they really don’t look like they want to be there, which is always fun. We assumed with the first movie that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) was the leader of this convenient cult, but as it happens, there is an hierarchy and a political structure. The more important leaders (Cornel West and Anthony Zerbe among them) sit on a Jedi-like council and issue orders like politicians, while there are Commanders such as Morpheus and his girlfriend-stealing rival, Lock (Harry Lennix).

The girlfriend in question is Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith), so at least there is some stupid drama in-between all the endless chase-and-fight and fight-and-chase scenes. If any of this sounds tedious, it’s because it is tedious. Neo meets with the Oracle (Gloria Foster) who tells him he must find somebody called the Keymaker (where’s the Gatekeeper?) so that he can lead them to the “source” of the Matrix. Okay, now the Matrix has a source? It does go right into the movie’s best scene so I won’t give this twist too much of a hard time, but I will say that the script is just one door leading to another while going down one hallway after another.

In fact, there’s a scene in the movie that plays out exactly this way. “Agent Smith” now has the ability to assimilate other characters (including those outside the Matrix in Zion) which makes him unstoppable. Neo and the gang get into skirmishes with a set of twins that look like Johnny and Edgar Winter with dreadlocks, which goes into a high-speed chase on the freeway that culminates in an extravagant truck collision. The Keymaker sends Neo to the “Source,” which is a room filled with televisions and a couple of upholstered armchairs.

Sitting in one of the chairs is The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis). He informs Neo that he was constructed by the Matrix to rebuild Zion once it is destroyed. He’s done it five times before (according to The Architect) and he is destined to do it again. I wonder if this is actually true. It seems like a load of B.S. designed to control and confuse Neo. Or is it possible the machines surmise humans need rebellion and resistance once in a while to make them feel they can control their own lives.

If so, it’s an incredible missed opportunity. Instead, the Wachowskis want to play it slick and give us another traitor, this time in Bane (Ian Bliss). I wish these movies were made with fewer visual effects. I find them distracting on this scale. A sequel wasn’t even necessary, The Matrix Reloaded is an earth-shattering disappointment, and the use of Rage Against The Machine’s “Calm Like a Bomb” (one of my favorite songs) in the end credits was embarrassing. Hey, Wachowskis? You are the machine!

There’s a mass without roofs, there’s a prison to fill
There’s a country’s soul that reads post no bills
There’s a strike and a line of cops outside of the mill
‘Cause there’s a right to obey and there’s the right to kill

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