by Michael S. Goldberger
If you venture out to see “The Matrix Reloaded,” a typical sequel that trades on the original’s popularity but which delivers hardly more than special effects razzle-dazzle and little of its creativity, please hope that it isn’t raining. You see, wearing a sandwich board that gives away the ending, I’ll be stationed outside your favorite movie theater.
Such is my displeasure with the Brothers Wachowski, Larry and Andy, creators of the franchise who so brazenly set us up for a Part#3 in October 2003, with a cliffhanger finale and the succinct message: “To be concluded.” It’s the cinematic equivalent of panhandling.
Of course the guy in the sandwich board and the slicker (in the event of rain) may not be me. I actually may be in some ratty room perched high above someone’s worst Orwellian nightmare of a futuristic military-industrial complex, hooked up to computers that just make me think I’m protesting in front of the theater.
You see what we’re dealing with here? We’ll never really know, will we? What’s real, that is. And that’s precisely the philosophical DNA that powers the Wachowskis’ money-making creation. It capitalizes on that temporary but frightening thought that has at one time or another crossed almost every thinking child’s mind. It’s the fear that he or she is the only real person alive…that everyone else is an actor, merely living out their lives for his or her convenience. Well, this expands on the egocentric idea. Gee, I don’t know if I can fit all this on a sandwich board.
But in any case, there’s a discomforting irony at work here. Check it out.
At its core, the film is about one of civilized man’s greatest paranoias: Technology as the Antichrist. Why, even before the invention of the wheel philosophers feared that these gizmos and gadgets we continually conjure might one day either ruin or rule us. Certainly SUVs will on both counts…especially Hummers driven by those really Napoleonic sorts. But this is the ultimate scenario a vast, self-perpetuating, ever-mutating computer program that threatens the extinction of the human race.
And here’s the really important part…the aforementioned irony. Sad but true, for the greater part of the audience that “The Matrix Reloaded” will attract, the film critic is beside the point…just another infidel outside the loop: i.e.-”What does he know? This stuff is awesome.
In short, like Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Neo (Keanu Reeves), star-crossed lovers trying to fight the good fight somewhere between the diodes and silicon chips of the brave new world which aims to annihilate them, “The Matrix Reloaded” figures to obsolesce me. Yet, also like them, there is this great will to survive to perpetuate my species, to insure that film critics will have a place in the future. So I trudge on despite the film’s philistine onslaught of mindless special effects, MTV-inspired incongruities, seemingly endless spates of computer engineered karate fights and a purposely convoluted storyline.
Yet these are dangerous times at the Rivoli. Perhaps after the sandwich board stint I’ll lay low for a while…maybe hop a freight, learn to play the banjo. But rest assured. Borrowing from Tom Joad’s soliloquy toward the end of “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere there’s a movie playing. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight so people hungry for a good plot can get some intellectual food for thought, I’ll be there.
Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy because he doesn’t think “The Matrix Reloaded” is the bomb, I’ll be there. I’ll be there in the way filmgoers yell when they’re mad, because they’ve been ripped off by a money-grubbing, sequel-happy industry. I’ll be there in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry for a good animated film and the show is about to begin. And when people are once again served up the quality comedies and dramas they deserve – I’ll be there, too.
However, before setting out on said crusade, good form dictates that I complete this review. And thus while it will probably come as no great surprise to readers not blinded by the media aura that surrounds such blockbusters, be advised that for all its cutting edge flexing and posturing, “The Matrix Reloaded” suffers from the usual garden variety sequelitis that has plagued many an original film idea. With issue #2, the novelty wears thin. What should be new is actually the same old, same old.
Once again, Keanu Reeves’s Neo, fashionably attired in black, full-length Nehru coat, fights the good fight. It’s man against machine. Wait, though, before you pass judgement. There may be some good machines computer programs like The Oracle (Gloria Foster) sympathetic to the cause. And if so, what’s her motivation? Can she be trusted? But even if it turns out that there exists a friendly splinter group, don’t get too comfortable. In this unspecified year, man isn’t so advanced that he’s resolved all conflict among his own kind.
In fact, the human rabble that celebrates with a rather primitive war dance following a pep talk from leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) makes one wonder how this civilization has survived at all. To boot, we learn there’s an internecine rift between Morpheus and the powerful Commander Lock (Harry Lennix).
Rumor has it there’s a woman at the root of their enmity. Well, at least that’s original. Cutting through all the, er, high-tech baloney, to put it nicely, the Wachowskis’ second installment is as arrogant as the youthful conceit it seeks to please. Its mumbo-jumbo vocabulary is a sort of Pig Latin for disciples who feature themselves exclusive members of a private club.
It is abstraction for abstraction’s sake. Instead of a compelling story with a beginning, a middle and an end, it is one visual oxymoron followed by the next. It is Technicolor ambiguity as entertainment…Dali for the masses via Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” And you don’t have to be a banjo-strumming, freight-hopping film critic to realize that, although titled “The Matrix Reloaded,” the box-office phenom will leave you feeling rather empty.
Still, devout fans will be more or less pleased. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to unwrap and rehash the lore with their ilk. That’s a good thing. Of course, they’d buy tickets now for October’s part three if they could. I’ll be ready with my sandwich board.
“The Matrix Reloaded,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski and stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne. Running time: 138 minutes
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