Friday, 18 May 2018

The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded swaps its predecessor's carefully plotted reveals for a ticking time bomb, urging our heroes forward through a series of loosely connected set-pieces. A swarm (shoal? squad?) of robotic squid is tunnelling down into the Earth's core to murder the freed people of Zion. They must be stopped. While Harry Lennix's exasperated, stick-in-the-mud Commander Lock plots a unified, mechanised defence, his love rival Morpheus gathers the cool kids to put all of humanity's eggs in Neo's basket. Raised to the level of a superman at the end of The Matrix, Neo is the rootless heart of Reloaded, a reality-defying monster who has tasted limitless strength yet finds himself butting up against automated wheeler-dealers attempting to talk him down from his privileged position.

While it is commendable that the path The Wachowskis have chosen for their heroes is a little more complicated than a simple rehash of the previous film's leetspeak cop-killers, the messiness their abstractions invite leaves the film feeling acutely directionless, particularly in its first half. Early scenes deal with the wrong kind of exposition, details and directions that pile-up around organic opportunities for the kind of confrontation studios presume keeps an audience awake. Where The Matrix felt fresh and finely tuned, Reloaded reads as churning and overwrought, a rash of scenes desperately seeking some kind of unifying tone or performance. This disconnection is also felt in how Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss' Trinity conduct themselves in private. There is no change in their demeanour, no sense of a secret, jealously guarded interior to their relationship. Given ship rest, they stay buttoned up. Neo remains a distracted waif, while Trinity never shifts out of grim-but-determined.

Even the film's action takes a hit. Neo's newfound Godhood means interactions with basic enemies have a palpable sense of boredom. He isn't fighting for his life anymore, he's batting away the pathetic swipes of children. Again, it's a conceptually pure idea but not necessarily fun to watch. The much-trumpeted Burly Brawl between Mr Anderson and dozens of identikit Hugo Weavings quickly loses all sense of weight and collision, sputtering on as a boring tech demo of Keanu Reeves rendered as a computer generated doll who has lost his stuffing. Above all, Reloaded's fights lack bite. There's none of the sweaty headbutts or ear claps that landed the first film in hot water with the British Board of Film Classification. The Matrix kept an emotional component in its fights. Combatants, regardless of whether they were human or data, expressed pain and frustration, allowing the viewer to get their teeth into a situation. Reloaded repeatedly fumbles this simple premise.

What Reloaded does have though is Lambert Wilson's aristocratic obstacle, The Merovingian, and an incredible freeway chase built around an extended cue of Juno Reactor's pulsing, ostentatious Mona Lisa Overdrive. Merovingian arrives just as the film threatens to go into terminal decline, puncturing the dour, humourless proceedings with a grandstanding slice of smug. His verbal assault then tracks nicely into a feature set-piece refreshingly free from Neo's weary grandstanding. Morpheus and Trinity escort Randall Duk Kim's Keymaker across a seething Autobahn pursued by the police, three new, hunkier Agents and The Merovingian's phantom, albino muscle. The sequence manages to be both breathlessly entertaining and a better expression of each character's physical and psychological disposition than any other scene in Reloaded. Trinity flees relentlessly, whizzing back-and-forth, up and down the packed, panicking lanes, ruthlessly attuned to the task at hand. Morpheus is a human roadblock, a surprisingly spry barrel-chest who plants his feet then refuses to budge.

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