The Matrix Reloaded is a slightly different film than the one that inspired it.
Because of this, the immediate emotional reaction it triggers may differ. Where the original was a subversive journey through a green-tinted virtual world that unfolded with the precise nature of a blooming flower, the first portion of the ultimate conclusion turns that flower into an onion, densely packed, layer upon layer, refusing to completely unravel. And then there’s that cliffhanger ending to consider, an abrupt break in the reel that will leave you partially unfulfilled and wondering why. Does this mean that Reloaded wasn’t another satisfying chapter in the Matrix saga?
Well, hell no…for nearly two and a half hours, Reloaded kicks your ass.
However, all pop thrills have their price.
The good is the immensity of scale that the film operates under, and the ambition that’s driving it. The filmmakers have created a large world, brimming with strange visuals and landscapes, and they’re quite interested in showing it off. The last human city of Zion looks and feels similar to most of the futuristic, tech-reliant environments we’ve seen before, but manages to deliver a distinctive flair with its ironic dichotomy between mechanical dependency and primitive trappings.
The action scenes are quite simply…ridiculous, serving as wish fulfillment for anyone that’s ever wanted to experience a living comic book. You’re going to see something and latch onto it, claiming it as your favorite visual moment of the piece, and the next scene follows only to change your mind. The visual geniuses that have constructed these sequences don’t cheat, cranking the speed and complexity of their work up a notch, just when you think they’ve run out of tricks to pull. No other film delivers such an intense kaleidoscope of pulse-pounding effects. No other.
But that’s something everyone will likely agree on. You gotta respect Neo fighting off dozens of Agent Smiths, or Morpheus going toe to toe with an Agent on the back of a speeding semi, if only because they had the balls to even try it.
Now, the story on the other hand…well thus begins passionate debate.
I’ve seen the movie twice already, and feel barely competent enough to offer this review. The script and narrative are at times incredibly dense and convoluted, as characters speak and taunt with circular logic, and whether this is by accident or design, it can lead to a couple of definite eyebrow-raising moments that can prevent you from falling seamlessly into the story. Was I the only one who missed that the Merovingian had vampires in his crew? The exiled program comments that things are “completely out of control,” and the smirking man isn’t kidding.
While the first film lays out everything about the Matrix, Reloaded exists to tear down our conceptions of it, dropping small clue upon small clue that I barely registered until the second viewing. Talk of predecessors, choice, and purpose nearly sped past me in what should’ve been slow recovery periods after being violently assaulted by special effects. After a second viewing, Reloaded felt like a deeper film than originally advertised. The problem being of course, that in most cases another viewing shouldn’t be necessary to rasp the most fundamental points of a narrative, which in this case, was that after nearly five hours of material, the central question, “what is the Matrix,” still hasn’t been fully answered. Which is perfectly acceptable if the film would just say that instead of wrapping you in circular conversations that strongly suggest, but never confirm, what should be directly transmitted. I think some of the “point” can be lost in the translation, and not everyone has the unnatural obsession with the material to comb through and learn its meaning…at least our interpretations of its meaning.
Also problematic is middle-child syndrome, which turns Reloaded into a piece that doesn’t have to introduce itself, nor fully explain itself. The players and their stage is set, and whatever doesn’t fit will slot into the third. They warned you everything was going to smell half finished, and they weren’t lying. Matrix Revolutions has a lot of explaining to do, and there exists the possibility that Reloaded will shine much better as a result.
From a bottom line standpoint, the movie is an incredibly enjoyable film that contains some of the hottest action scenes ever put to lens, while simultaneously expanding and laying waste to the original mythology that birthed it. The whole affair will likely leave you dazed and partially confused, as the information pounds at you on the heels of visual effects that will leave you panting for breath. It’s unrelenting and unapologetic, and will likely take repeat viewings to fully comprehend, leaving much to be resolved in the final chapter. But don’t get it twisted. The shit it hot. Whether you want eye candy, or something dangerously layered that deserves peeling, Matrix Reloaded is gonna bring it.
Four out of five bullets, saving the last one for the resolution.
In other news, a lot of good books dropped last Wednesday, and based on a bit of First Look evidence, more are on the way. Hesitant as I am to pick favorites, here’s what I thought stood out…
Three Strikes #2 (Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir/Brian Hurtt)
Because pinning down one narrative voice just isn’t enough, the writing pair of DeFilippis and Weir continues to prove that their ability to create dichotomous sympathy for two principal leads in Skinwalker was no fluke. Rey Quintana and Noah Conway are developed as reluctant adversaries, and though deep down I think we want Quintana to beat the case, Conway is perfectly justified in his actions, a man that’s simply doing his job, and how could we begrudge him that? The series continues to present an interesting look at the consequences of even the smallest of mistakes, and though at this point Rey is responsible for most of them, the conspiracy theorist within suspects that Noah’s desperate efforts at catering to his daughter, despite the potentially dangerous nature of his profession, will come back to haunt him later on down the line. We need more comics like Three Strikes on the stands, stories with something truly unique to say and a clever method of doing so.
Ultimate Spider-Man #41 (Brian Michael Bendis/Mark Bagley/Art Thibert)
They did it again. By focusing the lens on the incredibly realistic teenage romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, the title hits another apex. For months, we’ve been strung along by the “Will Peter and MJ get back together” sub-plot, and this issue marks a definite conclusion to that story, while sending the relationship into its next evolution. Anyone that’s ever been in love, or due to puberty induced hysteria, thought they were, will find something relatable here. If that isn’t enough, there’s the looming presence of the arc’s major villain, a teen named Geldoff that appears to have all of the power but none of the responsibility. And then there’s the ongoing costume problem providing a sly sense of humor to the whole thing. It’s teenage superheroics at their best as Bendis and Bags prove that even after forty issues, they haven’t even begun to lose steam.
Sleeper #5 (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips)
If I read the latest Diamond chart correctly, and it’s quite possible that I didn’t, Sleeper should be movin’ far more units than it currently is. You’d think that having one of the strongest creative teams in comics would be enough for these people. That perhaps the clever premise of an undercover operative trapped within a criminal organization run by super-villains would function as enough of a hook. Eye of the Storm has thus far excelled at giving the readers what they claim they want, truly original takes on familiar ground, but the numbers don’t seem to support this notion. Just means we know something they don’t. In an industry filled with creative vibrancy, Sleeper still manages to distinguish itself with its unique blend of criminal elements, conspiracy theory, and gritty superheroics. More of us should be supporting this book. There’s still time to start.
Global Frequency #8 (Warren Ellis/Chris Sprouse/Karl Story)
It just keeps getting better. The only constants in this title that welcomes a revolving cast and a revolving art team, are the characters of Aleph and Miranda Zero. In this issue, Zero has been captured by domestic terrorists that mean to torture her for the information they’ll need to shut down the Frequency. Apparently, what they’re unaware of is Zero’s high tolerance for pain and low tolerance for bullshit. As likeable and pragmatic as Miranda’s become over the months, Ellis is able to show her for the unflinching force that she is, and cast a large net over her entire rescue campaign as there are more operatives on the Frequency than ever before, and they’re all working to locate the “awkward bitch” in charge. Another inspired tale topped with one of those Brian Wood covers that I’m getting used to.
Avengers #67 (Geoff Johns/Olivier Ciopel/Andy Lanning)
I think it’s safe to say that I’m enjoying this latest Avengers arc. With the United States revealed as those responsible for the bacterial outbreak that’s already killed nearly four hundred people, the only thing left is to raise the stakes even higher. Johns provides the fairly “exclusive” target of the bio weapon, drops AIM into the mix, takes out a couple team members, and infects another. The artwork from Coipel continues to spar with Johns’ performance, as both seem intent on being the main draw here, which has spawned impressive showings from both creators, providing all the reason in the world to pay attention to the Avengers. This squad comes with an expiration date, so just sit back and enjoy it while it lasts.
Inhumans #1 (Sean McKeever/Matthew Clark/Nelson)
Sean McKeever and Brian K. Vaughan are engineering a hostile takeover of the Tsunami line. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this title, but McKeever and Clark drop us into a definite alien environment, minimizing the culture shock by giving us a protagonist that’s doing something we’ve all done at one point or another…dream of a greater purpose. Young San has waited and trained his whole life for a destiny he’s confident will arrive, despite the fact he’s yet to undergo the rite of passage known as Terrigenesis, that will unlock his true genetic potential. San’s final purpose is one he never expected, and the crippling disappointment and embarrassment he feels brings true emotion into the mix, and if McKeever continues to spotlight the obvious humanity displayed from a race of begins called the “inhumans” he’ll have another Tsunami hit on his record to go along with Sentinel, and match Vaughan’s current tally on the pseudo-imprint.
Okay, next week I’m considering the unthinkable…a skip week. Big and very likely aggravating apartment move coming up this week, and don’t want to rush the 100th column. That’s right people, I’ve done almost a hundred of these and I’m quite honestly as shocked about it as you are. On June 9th (two weeks from now) Ambidextrous 100 comes through with a piece called Barrier Method, a column detailing the past, the present, and possibly even the future of this forum and the fortunate soul who writes it.
See you soon.