The Matrix Reloaded is an even better movie than the 1999 original and pushes the boundaries of action filmmaking in a way that has never been seen before.
Let’s get this out of the way, first: The Matrix Reloaded is awesome. How on earth did this movie get such a bad reputation for years after it was released is beyond me. Sure, the story isn’t as tight, or comprehensible, as in the first Matrix film, and the film does spend a heck of a long time plotting for the third installment, The Matrix Revolutions, but as soon as Neo (Keanu Reeves) fights Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) in a sequence dubbed “The Burly Brawl”, which pioneered the use of a virtual camera to craft its setpiece, alongside CGI doubles, the true spectacle begins.
Sure, the CGI looks a tad unrealistic by today’s standards, but every character, whether real or fake, flows with unbelievable precision. It’s quite hard not to get overwhelmed by what media scholar Angela Ndalianis described as “overstimulation” in her book “Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment”, meaning that the CGI effects are so overwhelming in The Matrix Reloaded that, when it was released, they became a new way to stimulate audiences’ excitement. If the first Matrix film paved the way for a slew of CGI-driven motion pictures and showed the world how the possibilities are completely endless to craft incredible imagery with a computer, then The Matrix Reloaded only refined what the Wachowski sisters introduced to even more exciting heights than the original.
The Burly Brawl is the perfect example of this. The first few minutes of the fight scene use real actors and stunt doubles, meticulously staged by the master of martial arts choreography Yuen Woo-Ping, but progressively introduces CGI as Agent Smith continues his multiplication. The shift between practical Wuxia-style action and CGI may be a bit jarring, but it introduces the refinement the Wachowskis will take in future action sequences. As Neo develops more control over his powers and manages to throw many Agent Smith doubles in the air in the most preposterous, but oh-so-spectacular fashion, your brain starts to melt. Not because of how impractical the entire sequence is, and the fact that Neo magically flies now is one heck of a gaping plot-hole, but the sheer spectacle of the action sequence is enough to take your breath away.
The digitization of cinema has brought in a slew of unfortunate trends that plague many of our “big” action films, including, worst of all, an intensification of rapid editing to hide poor stuntwork and fight choreography. So it’s refreshing to see a film like The Matrix Reloaded that shows every single action movie how it’s done and rejects the mere idea of gimping its action sequences. The Wachowski sisters understand that every single fight scene, including every movement done by a live (or digitized) actor, needs to evoke a stimulating response from the viewer in every single step of the way.
I mean, how on earth does Neo constantly keep his cool while he’s being attacked, left and right, by an endless swarm of Agent Smith copycats? The sunglasses probably make Neo cooler than he actually is, but hot damn! He’s able to not only execute a flawless round of Kung Fu without ever much of a flinch but then fly away when the situation is too out of control. Incredible. The first Matrix taught us to throw everything we knew about the universe out of the window, and this one wants us to throw logic out of the window to enjoy the spectacle.
And by spectacle, how about seeing Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) take a sword to rip a car’s tires in a half, and then switch to a machine gun to blow it up? Now, that’s real spectacle, and the almost twenty-five (!) minute-long fight at The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson)’s house, which turns into an insanely good freeway chase, has some of the best action build-up ever put to film. No hyperbole, but it immediately gets your blood pumping as bodies (literally) fly in a ballet-like fashion, until the highway chase quite literally throws everything at us in terms of CGI spectacle. Neo, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Morpheus chase the Keymaker, while The Merovingian’s bodyguards are looking for him. If that wasn’t a bit chaotic, Agent Smith’s right-hand man lands on a car and joins a fight scene that blends gunplay, Wuxia, one-on-one fighting, and multiple foot/car chases. No other movie has been able to successfully mesh these types of action like The Matrix Reloaded, in a way that’s not only insanely cool to watch, but also understands exactly when to switch to a different action style, as opposed to simply throwing them on a wall and see what sticks.
Now, the movie does contain its share of issues when it comes to plotting (it’s a bit hard to figure out exactly what the movie’s about, as it keeps piling on exposition dump after exposition dump) and the scene between Neo and The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) was supposed to pull back the curtain and give us “all the answers” pertaining to The Matrix, but The Architect’s thesaurus of overcomplicated words made the scene ridiculous. But when the entirety of the movie is 138 minutes of spectacle, does the plot really matter? When so much of the movie blows your mind over and over and over again with some of the most dazzling CGI visual effects that have even been seen by a human being, it becomes too easy to forget the bad, because the good (or, in this case, the amazing) outshines it so much.
The Matrix Reloaded is the epitome of cool. The coolest-looking characters do the coolest-looking things inside the coolest-looking action sequences designed to make anyone’s jaw drop for 138 successive minutes. The adrenaline never stops, Keanu Reeves looks effortlessly badass, and Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus gets the best whoa (!) moment of this entire picture. With The Matrix Resurrections now playing in theatres and streaming on HBO Max, which “designs” a new version of The Matrix, with rougher action than the sleekness of this installment, it’s even more incredible to see how Lana Wachowski’s filmmaking style has evolved from Reloaded to Resurrections in a way that feels perfectly natural.
While Reloaded is wild in its action, Resurrections is more off-kilter in its scathing indictment on the current state of movies, while never being afraid of creating a whole new different style of action that the previous three films couldn’t achieve. The Wachowski Sisters have had their share of misses in the past, but their films have continuously pushed the boundaries of how a mega-sized blockbuster should look and feel. The Matrix Reloaded looks absolutely spectacular, and feels like Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s collective hearts and souls were poured into every single frame of this movie. You can feel the passion they both have for action cinema and pay tribute to it in a way that not only demonstrates how far action movies have gotten but celebrates the advancement of digital technology to amplify and refine action, something that was never possible until the day The Matrix Reloaded came out. The Matrix introduced the world with the technology to improve action films, but The Matrix Reloaded demonstrated that idea further. Sure, if you choose to focus on the plot, you may find it “bad”, but if you choose to focus on virtually everything else, it’s one of the best sci-fi/action films ever made, and the best Matrix movie ever. Which pill would you choose?
The Matrix Reloaded was released worldwide on May 15, 2003 and is now available to watch on digital and on demand. Read our review of The Matrix Resurrections.