"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead." --Albert Einstein
In the beginning, there was "The Matrix." Then came "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions." After that came the DVD collection and the individual DVD's. Then the HD DVD collection and the individual HD DVD's. Then the Blu-ray collection. And now we're getting the individual Blu-ray discs. I figure in a few more years we'll be able to buy the "Final Definitive Absolute Utmost Essential Matrix Collection" containing the DVD's, HD DVD's, Blu-ray discs, and maybe even some original film stock, plus all the ancillary bonus discs of "Matrix" extras. Be patient.
In the meantime, if you liked "The Matrix," you'll probably like the second movie in the series, 2003's "The Matrix Reloaded" as well. It's more of the same, with even further nonsense, and it's on high-definition Blu-ray.
Indeed, you might even like "The Matrix Reloaded" better than "The Matrix" since it contains a few new explanatory riffs on a story that left more than a few people confused the first time around. If, on the other hand, you didn't care for the first film and found it merely a load of sci-fi foolishness, special effects, and fight scenes, I doubt you're going to think very highly of "Reloaded," which has an even higher quotient of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo, elaborate special effects, mystifying cast members, and endless fight sequences.
In the first installment we learned that most life on Earth as we know it is an illusion, a gigantic computer matrix of phony realities that we think we're experiencing, while in reality future machines have us all plugged into tiny cell pods. "Reloaded" starts out several months after the first movie left off, the machines are marching against the last remaining human city, Zion, and our hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) is the one, last great hope of Mankind. Fortunately, Neo is beginning to understand his powers and vision a little better now than in the first film, and he is more capable than ever of taking care of himself and his new world.
While I've never fully appreciated Reeves as an actor (except in "The Devil's Advocate" where he played the perfect innocent foil to Al Pacino's devil), Reeves does an adequate job here as the ex-computer nerd turned mystic hero. Also back are Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, not so mysterious this time around but just as strong a presence; Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity, whose role and involvement with Neo the filmmakers have expanded thanks to the popularity of the pair in the previous episode; Hugo Weaving as the evil Agent Smith, this time there being more of him (literally) than ever; and Gloria Foster as the Oracle.
New to "Reloaded" are Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, a Captain of the resistance fighters; Harold Perrineau as Link, an operator on Morpheus's ship; Harry J. Lennix as Commander Lock, a military leader of the resistance; Anthony Zerbe as Councillor Hamann, a political leader of the resistance; and Helmut Bakaitis as the Architect, the creator, the godlike father of the Matrix. Even former world-champion boxer Roy Jones, Jr., shows up as a grim-faced good guy, Ballard, who, ironically, does no actual fighting.
New as well is the script's exploration of free will, choice versus fate, and destiny, all of them pursued to some small extent in the story. Unfortunately, most it only leaves things muddled. New, too, is the notion that in order to defeat the machines, Neo must reach "the Source," and to do so he must go through the "Keymaker." Shades of "Ghostbusters." And probably the silliest scene in the film is one where the fate of the world hangs on a single kiss! Where was the editor when we needed him?
But it's the visual appearance and action in "The Matrix" films that audiences find most compelling, and it is here that the Wachowskis top themselves. Yes, there are more turns and twists to the plot to follow and fascinate and perplex, but there are more visually stunning sets, too, more impressive CGI, and more spectacularly impressive fight sequences than before. Of course, none of it seems as fresh or imaginative as it did in "The Matrix" because back then it was all so new and inventive. Our having seen such things done again and again in other movies since "The Matrix" has taken some of the edge off the flying stunts and the slow-motion special effects, too.
But you will still find some things of interest. Probably of most regard will be the infamous freeway scene, one of those ultimate car chases that go on forever and destroy about 800 vehicles in the process. It's moderately exciting no matter how familiar it may seem (and it seemed particularly familiar to me since the filmmakers shot it close by where I live). Indeed, even though the whole of "Reloaded" seems more like a fantasy video game than a sci-fi flick, it's so remarkably well done, most people probably won't notice.
I still can't quite say I found Keanu Reeves all that persuasive as a lead character in "Reloaded," nor did I find much in the way of high spirits or good-natured humor in the movie. What's more, there's the overlong duration (138 minutes) of "Reloaded" to consider, the relentless pacing of its fight scenes, and the constantly grim tone. It's a pall that hangs over the whole picture.
Yet there is still much to enjoy about "Reloaded" in its daring appearance, its goofy premise, its nonstop action, and its general feeling of wonder. "Reloaded" is fun stuff for sci-fi/fantasy buffs, well made and entertaining even if it tends to become more than a little static along the way with all its similarly constructed battle scenes. So don't even try to figure any of it out. Just look, listen, and do your best to appreciate it.
For a film so dark as this one is, the Blu-ray colors and definition stand out in the VC-1 encode. The screen dimensions measure 2.40:1, and using a dual-layer BD50 the transfer looks practically flawless. The colors run stronger to purples and blues than to its predecessor's greens and yellows, and the detailing and object definition seem crisper than ever. Imagination? I don't think so; it's excellent in any case, among the half dozen best live-action movies in HD I've ever watched.
If you want to enjoy the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 option, you'll have to remember to choose it at start-up (assuming your playback equipment can decode it), since the default audio on the disc is regular Dolby Digital. Everything about the sound, lossy or lossless, is exemplary: the frequency range, the bass, the dynamic response, the impact, you name it. And the 5.1 multichannel spread makes this special-effects-laden, sci-fi extravaganza a sonic joy, the discrete signals sounding pinpoint accurate. The surround channels place ambient and background noises all around us, sometimes hardly noticeable except subliminally or subconsciously, to make the overall environment vivid and lifelike. Moreover, the TrueHD is cleaner and more robust than the regular Dolby Digital, which seems slightly brighter and more constricted.
The Blu-ray disc for "The Matrix Reloaded" contains all of the extras we might expect, including a picture-in-picture "In-Movie Experience" and several audio commentaries. The commentaries include one by philosophers Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber and one by critics Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson, who go on and on about the film's possible real and metaphysical connotations.
Among the further extras are "Behind the Matrix," which includes four segments: "Preload," a twenty-two minute, behind-the-scenes production overview with the cast and crew explaining their part in the filmmaking; "The Matrix Unfolds," a five-minute look at the influence of "The Matrix" across movies, games, anime, and the Internet; "Get Me an Exit," nine minutes on the commercial advertising inspired by "The Matrix," like the Samsung phone used in the movie; and the cutest bit in the extras department, "The MTV Movie Awards Reloaded," nine minutes of fun and parody. After that is "Enter the Matrix: The Game," on the making of the video game, with a series of scenes from the game; a music video, "Sleeping Awake," by P.O.D.; and a theatrical trailer, a teaser trailer, and eight TV spots.
Additionally, there are segments called "I'll Handle Them," seventeen minutes on weapons and fighting; the "Teahouse Fight," seven minutes on the famous fight scene; "Car Chase," close to an hour-and-and-half of featurettes, nine in all, on "The Freeway Chase" from storyboards to models to actual shooting, probably more than you ever wanted to know about the intimate details of filmmaking; "The Exiles," seventeen minutes on "The Exiles" and "The Architect's Office"; and "Unplugged," a forty-minute section on "Creating the Burly Brawl," with Master Wo Ping and others.
Finally, we get a written introduction by the Wachowskis; thirty-six scene selections; bookmarks; a guide to elapsed time; English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.
Life is filled with marvelous uncertainty, and movies like "The Matrix" and its continuations, far-out and bizarre as they may seem, are probably nothing compared to the genuine magic and mystery of the real universe. Until we learn more, savor these films in their gorgeous high-definition picture and sound, and consider the mixed blessing of possibly living in a dream.