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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Matrix Reloaded (review)

Neo Unplugged

What is the Matrix? If you have to ask, just take a blue pill and put a cold cloth on your forehead and go lie down and take a nap, cuz there’s no way you’re gonna be able to catch up here. The Matrix Reloaded jumps head-first without explanation into, well, it’s kinda too much to go into. See The Matrix (if you haven’t already) and if it kinda blows your mind and you think it’s kinda brilliant in its metaphor of VR enslavement as the culture of conformity and you think the almost balletic, beautifully choreographed violence is kinda amazing even if it’s incredibly un-P.C. to say so and you kinda hate yourself for getting such a thrill out of the showers of shell cases like a gently tinkling spring rain, then you’re ready for Reloaded.

The Wachowski brothers — Andy and Larry, who wrote and directed — get bigger and smaller here, expanding the physical world Neo explores, zooming down into Zion, the last human city, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis crossed with Saruman’s underground orcworks, and zooming in on Neo’s personal, existential confusion as he starts to figure out what it means to be The One just as he gets a shockingly rude awakening as to what Someone Very Important thinks it means to be The One, which is pretty much nothing neither we nor Neo could have guessed. And you can sorta understand the almost religious fervor with which some youngsters are approaching Neo and his plight — just try getting a ticket for a show this weekend — because the Wachowskis rather ingeniously distill centuries of metaphysics into pithy moments of crisis for Neo: How can an Oracle, or Neo’s terrible premonition of the future, exist in conjunction with free will? What does it mean to have free will — if indeed we do — when your choices are limited? What does it mean to be alive? What is freedom? All questions we keep exploring because no one has come up with a satisfactory answer, maybe, and yet questions a smart, geeky kid (or grownup) can’t help picking over, like your tongue working at a loose tooth, or picking at a scab. Can’t be good for you, thinking so much about things like this that make your brain hurt and make you want to go crawling to a bowl of Haagen-Dazs or in search of a good hug or to play with the dog or something else viscerally comforting.

Perhaps perfectly understandably, then, Zion is a deliciously hedonistic place, all those people free of the Matrix and plugs and ports and cables and wires and just celebrating in the most pagan way they know how. It struck me as silly at first, just for a brief moment, how the sort of religious service that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne: Event Horizon) leads, bucking everyone up for an imminent attack by Sentinels that he and his fellow ship captains are trying to forestall, turns into a giant rave, all bodies dancing and caressing and slipping against one another to the beat of throbbing drums. And Neo (Keanu Reeves: Sweet November, The Gift) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss: Chocolat, Red Planet), so madly in love and in lust, all electric and unspoken and communicated just in how they look at each other, sneaking off to make love. It’s tingly and sexy and not in the least dirty or nasty or silly — of course this is how you’d worship being alive and free. Though I have my suspicions about what’s going to happen in Revolutions that may render all this sadly moot.

You have to appreciate, too, how the Wachowskis use their actors as objects of corporeal, fleshly loveliness. Zion is simply packed with beautiful people, and then there’s the luscious Monica Bellucci (Tears of the Sun, Irreversible) as a rogue Matrix subroutine called Persephone — and there’s a geek’s wet dream right there: bytes and babes — but it ends up not feeling like just another Hollywood fantasyworld in which there are no ugly people but just as a pleasantly orgiastic feast of human life as more than just having a brain to be plugged into a computer — if The Matrix was about mind over matter, then Reloaded is about acknowledging the flesh as inherent in creating the mind.

Keanu Reeves is very pretty, too, of course, and he should get down on his knees and thank the brothers for giving him an iconic place in movie history, one that takes the best advantage of his masculine beauty and physicality, giving him the chance to look amazing in those priestly black robes and be all imbued with the power of a minor god. Neo’s kung-fu is even stronger, here, and so is the Wachowskis’, who pull off a massive, 18-minute car chase that’s simply astounding. But the surprise is the humor in the action this time out — the highlight of the film may well be the battle between Neo and a newly powerful Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Babe: Pig in the City) that’s like a martial arts flick directed by the Marx Brothers. It’s A Night at the Opera‘s stateroom scene gone kung-fu, and it’s one of the funniest and most audacious things I’ve seen onscreen this year.

Only six months to Revolutions… Only six months to Revolutions


MPAA: rated R for sci-fi violence and some sexuality

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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