The Matrix Reloaded

dir. Wachowski

Opens Thurs May 15

Various Theaters

Of course, if you're planning to see Matrix Reloaded, you already know its fabulous premise. Humankind is enslaved by machines, plugged into a complicated computer program called the Matrix that simulates the "real" world. While the mind is occupied, the machines tap into the human bodies, drawing energy from them like a Duracell Battery. Keanu Reeves is Neo, or "The One," a powerful warrior who, along with a small group of freed human rebels, is fighting to destroy the Matrix, and liberate humanity.

But you remember all that. You remember how concisely the original film explained it, and you remember the fun of watching Neo realize his powers, and then master them. Most of all, you remember being tremendously satisfied. It is that satisfaction that gnaws at you now, makes you a bit skeptical about this ultra-hyped sequel. For in the wake of perfection, what's left to tell?

The answer: not that much. With the incredibly interesting concept of the Matrix basically laid out, Matrix Reloaded is forced to focus on a much more banal subject: war. Turns out that along with the crew of the first film, there's a whole underground city of human rebels (the City of Zion) all working towards freeing their enslaved brethren from the machines. Unfortunately, Zion is small and the machines are big, and Neo and his crew find themselves in a race against time, trying to find and destroy the Source of the Matrix before the machines destroy Zion.

The brothers behind the film, the Wachowskis, work hard for as much intrigue and mayhem as the original Matrix. The characters talk endlessly about fate and choice, the love between Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) heats up, more psychobabble from the Oracle (Gloria Foster) ensues, and of course Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) resurfaces, this time with the ability to replicate himself--a cool touch, even if his existence in the movie is questionable. Having been killed by Neo in the original, Smith explains he is back to wreak havoc because... he wants to. Not because the Matrix program needs him to, like it did in the first film, when he served as a sort of virus protection device against things like Neo.

That sense of "want" hangs over Matrix Reloaded like a cloud. In The Matrix, Agent Smith was a necessary part of the story's arc; here, he gives Neo an excuse to kick some more ass. The filmmakers and the fans wanted him back, so he is back. People wanted more philosophical bibble-babble from the Oracle and others, and so there is more, even if it's all just a dull rehashing of the ideas perfectly expressed in the original.

Instead of being organically connected to the special effects and action sequences, the story and philosophy behind Matrix Reloaded is more like rubber cement, gluing the technical wizardry together so it doesn't come out of nowhere. And yes, that wizardry is as amazing as you're hoping. A scene where Neo fights off an army of cloned Mr. Smiths will go down as one of the great martial arts sequences ever filmed. And the climactic scene involving a chase between the humans and a bunch of bad guys on a freeway is truly amazing.

Make no mistake--there are discoveries to be made here; feats of technical virtuosity that will thrill and delight. The Wachowskis remain the most exciting big-budget filmmakers in the world, and Matrix Reloaded only disappoints when compared to the original, which matched the razzle-dazzle with fantastic storytelling. The first film needed to be made; this second one clearly wanted to be made, and the difference is powerful. One felt like fate, one feels like a choice, and as the Oracle tells us in Reloaded, that choice is not what's important, but why it was made.