Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre
The Matrix Reloaded (2003): 5 out of 10: This is it, the sequel to The Matrix. Man, this is going to be good.
The cracks show early, with some missteps here and there. The highs are higher (The Matrix Reloaded has the best action scene of the three films) the lows are lower (The Matrix Reloaded has the worst talking villain / this is what the movie is about scenes in almost any film I have seen). It comes up with some great ideas (The Merovingian and Persephone) and some awful ones (Zion, The Architect). It is more interesting than the third film but also more frustrating as one can see the potential only to see it squandered.
The Good: There is plenty of good in The Matrix Reloaded. Let’s start with The Merovingian played by Lambert Wilson and his wife Persephone, played by Monica Bellucci. What delicious characters.
The Merovingian is hinted as being a previous version of Neo in a previous Matrix that was filled with vampires and werewolves and ghosts. His wife Persephone is his Trinity.
The Merovingian speaks French because the swear words are more fun, serves a woman cake that forces her to orgasm, has bathroom sex behind his wife’s back, and employs albino ghost twins and werewolves as bodyguards. (Some people think the guards are vampires, but silver bullets kill them, and if Richard Benjamin’s disastrous assault on George Hamilton in Love at First Bite taught me anything, it is that silver bullets are for werewolves.) Oh, and he could not be more wonderfully dismissive of our heroes.
His wife Persephone is ever his match as she kills one of his werewolf bodyguards because she is upset with his restroom tryst, forces Neo to kiss her properly to get a hostage released, and wears an outfit that makes more than the characters in the film question reality. (In the sequel she wears an even more revealing outfit that must have been made from unobtainium.)
These two are exactly what The Matrix Reloaded needed, proper villains for Neo and company. We can see that the machines and Agent Smith, even in higher numbers, are no match for our Superman/Jesus but perhaps a former Neo surrounded by supernatural creatures, and even more dangerous a seductive wife, could provide an actual test.
The fight and car chase scene that follows Neo’s engagement with The Merovingian and Persephone is wonderfully staged. Neo is taken out of the picture, which allows real stakes as the rest of his crew fights agents and the supernatural on a high-speed highway chase. A special shout out to the albino ghost twins, who really should have been in both this movie and the sequel more.
Hugo Weaving doesn’t get as much credit for his performance in this film as I think he ought to. The script often has him go three places at once, and yet he is always unmistakably Agent Smith. It is an example of an actor holding the ship steady as the character goes off the rails. (Great, now I am mixing metaphors like The Architect.)
The Bad: I would love to tell you that the car chase scene above is the most memorable scene in the movie, but two others stand out even more. One I will cover under The Ugly. The other is the Zion rave.
There have been a surprisingly large number of films released with Smell-O-Vision, AromaRama, and Scratch and Sniff cards. (The latest being 2011’s Spy Kids: All the Time in the World advertised as being in 4d with AromaScope). The Matrix Reloaded isn’t listed on the Wikipedia page of films with this special effect. It should be. I could smell that rave in Zion. It was a scent that would have been regarded as too foul for John Waters’s Polyester’s Scratch and Sniff cards.
If the Wachowski siblings were going for a specific effect, say that one toilet in Trainspotting, I would praise them for brilliant filmmaking. They clearly are not as this scene is interspersed with a PG-13 sex scene of Neo and Trinty, all of this set to techno music. This cacophony of sex and sweat goes on for about ten minutes. By the end of that ten minutes, I was ready to root for the machines.
One Jason Voorhees is scary. A hundred Jason Voorhees would be honestly comical. Despite Hugo Weaving’s best efforts, Agent Smith isn’t frightening in large numbers. In fact, what happened to all the Agents in this film? They are not the threat that they were In the first Matrix. Before we were told if you see one, you should run. Now they seem to be standard mooks.
I understand that Neo has turned into Superman/Jesus, but everyone else on the Nebuchadnezzar has also gotten into the act. Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus aided by a katana and some questionable green screen effects defeat the agents while riding on top of a truck, and Carrie-Anne Moss’s Trinity is now kicking them here and there. (Trinity has also developed the habit of doing backflips even when there is no discernible reason. In one scene, the gang is leaving a subway station and Trinity backflips over the turnstiles, which are unlocked in that direction… because you don’t have to pay to leave. )
The upgrade of Neo, matched with the severe downgrade of the agents, leaves a power imbalance that makes his action scenes dull. Neo looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting off toddlers in Kindergarten Cop when he battles the fifty Agent Smiths. (It is no surprise that the best action scene is the one where Neo is not there. Come to think of it, this was also true for The Matrix Revolutions.) Compare this to the original film where Neo was front and center in all the great fight scenes. They made him too powerful and invulnerable for us to care anymore.
The Ugly: I swear if Monty Python made the Matrix that whole scene with The Architect would be precisely the kind of thing they would end the film with. A pretentious blowhard is explaining everything you had seen before.
“Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre,” is a close match to the scene, but there is a bit of their International Philosophy soccer game in there as well.
Yup, The Architect scene is, in a nutshell, an unironic Monty Python sketch to end the movie. Much like the Zion rave scene, they were not going for that, but that is what we got.
In Conclusion: The early 2000s are littered with poor sequels. The Matrix Reloaded is not the most disappointing sequel in history. It’s no Alien 3 or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That many things work and there are glimpses of what could have been creates a frustrating, though with time, melancholy, experience.
One suspects that the Wachowski siblings don’t trust their audience enough to simply show and not tell. One also suspects that the Wachowski siblings enjoy their own philosophy statements more than making an entertaining and coherent film.