The Matrix Reloaded (2003, The Wachowskis)

I’m trying to think of something nice to say about The Matrix Reloaded. None of the returning good guys give bad performances? None of the leading returning good guys? Like, Gloria Foster’s back and, while she doesn’t give a bad performance, it’s an utterly charmless one heavily leveraging her charm in the last movie. But she’s gone from Black grandmother saving the future to… something else. The something else is a third act reveal without Foster’s participation, but the one scene she does get definitely changes the trajectory the first movie promised.

Reloaded takes place approximately six months after the first Matrix. In that amount of time, Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne have changed their outfits—Fishburne’s got a different leather jacket while Reeves goes with a cloth cassock. Carrie-Anne Moss still does the whole shiny leather thing. It might make for a great scene if they had any personality or character relationships. But there’s not a lot of character in Reloaded for the trio.

Other than Reeves and Moss being lovey-dovey and trying to find make-out time when they’re not busy saving the world. Or when people in the real world are begging Reeves to save their relatives from the Matrix. Or when they’re bringing alms to Reeves. Plus, Reeves is having dreams about Moss dying, which is how the movie starts—a lengthy action sequence with Moss falling to her death before Reeves wakes up scared and sad. He has other ominous dreams, which seem to be really happening, but he never acknowledges his prescience. Even when he and Foster talk around it.

All Fishburne gets in the character development arena is… ex-girlfriend Jada Pinkett Smith’s new boyfriend, Harry Lennox, is willing to destroy the future of humanity because he doesn’t like how Pinkett Smith used to like Fishburne. Pinkett Smith’s terrible, but Lennox is a whole other level of bad. He’d be comically bad if he weren’t actually ruining the scenes. Pinkett Smith doesn’t get enough to do to ruin them. Lennox does get enough and does ruin them.

Though the Wachowskis’ bewildering, seemingly ready for pan-and-scan composition doesn’t help. Maybe they were just bored with the political goings-on too. Lennox is the human resistance army commander and doesn’t think Reeves is the Matrix messiah, though it’s never clear why except to make Lennox more of a dick. The human settlement stuff is weird in a bad way. The only time the Wachowskis show any interest in it is when there’s a sex scene for Reeves and Moss (who apparently can’t do it on their ship because Fishburne and new crew member Harold Perrineau are around) intercut with a very sweaty dance party. Hundreds of scantily clad humans bumping and grinding. Only not the politicians who run the future settlement. Thankfully. Not sure I wanted to see Anthony Zerbe getting down with his shirt off, dripping in sweat from the subterranean heat.

Zerbe’s the council member who isn’t sure Reeves is magic but will risk it. There are some weird optics in having old white guy Zerbe bossing around all the Black people who do the work in the future city. The optics worsen when old white lady Robyn Nevin shows up and does the same thing. Because even though the council itself is diverse, it’s only those two people talking. Well, them and Cornel West, who’s a Black man, but he just parrots Niven and Zerbe. The entire subplot with the survivor city is terrible, even though it’s the de facto A plot since they’ve got thirty-six hours before the machines kill them all. Lennox wants all the ships protecting the city, but Fishburne and Reeves want to go up and into the Matrix. Specifically to see Foster, who drops some big truth bombs on Reeves, which he apparently never tells Fishburne about.

Do Reeves and Fishburne actually have any scenes together? Do they have any conversations before the epilogue? They’re around each other, they have an action scene or two in each other’s company, but they don’t have a character relationship. No time for that sort of thing in Reloaded.

The film’s a series of pseudo-intellectual monologues, seemingly divorced from the first film’s mythology—Matrix Reloaded owes more to TRON in that department than it does to its predecessor—and tedious, pointless action sequences.

Hugo Weaver comes back as a rogue agent—meaning the Matrix is after him too—who can self-replicate, so Reeves has to fight dozens of Weavers at a time for absolutely no narrative reason. The scenes just slow down the plot and create bad set pieces (Reloaded feels like three different sequel ideas glued together).

But those Weaver sequences manage to be more consequential than the eventual main plot for Reeves, which has him confronting one peculiar computer program after another. Including Lambert Wilson, who decided to affect a horny Frenchman for his Matrix avatar, much to wife Monica Bellucci’s displeasure. But Bellucci’s also got her issues.

Wilson’s got a gang of cyberpunk thugs who will fight Reeves and company. They’re not worth talking about, even though the Wachowskis try to make them more interesting by implying they started out as vampires and werewolves or some nonsense. It’s just terrible. Most of them are gone after the first too-long fight, with only Neil and Adrian Rayment sticking around for two set-pieces. I don’t want to get into the Rayments, who are terrible actors in terrible roles, but one could spend a lot of time on all the things bad about them. Maybe not even starting with them being white men with dreadlocks, but definitely getting to it.

So much lousy acting, whether Lennox, Pinkett Smith, Zerbe, Ian Bliss, the Rayments, Perrineau (who’s profoundly lacking in charisma just like his predecessor, Marcus Chong, in the last movie), Nona Gaye as Perrineau’s pointlessly overbearing wife, Collin Chou as Foster’s bodyguard (a computer program who needs to fight a man to see if they can be pals or some nonsense). Helmut Bakaitis has a singularly important part and is godawful.

It’s a terrible sequel, a terrible movie.

Even the returning crew from last time—cinematographer Bill Pope, composer Don Davis—who did excellent work there do bad work here. Pope can’t light for all the green-screened composite shots, and Davis’s score is bad.

Last thing—the CGI models for Reeves. He’s got some Superman-esque flying going on, and whenever he does it, there’s some terrible CGI head on the model.

Nothing the Wachowskis do in Reloaded works, but none of it seems like they care if it works either. It’s the pits.

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