The Matrix Reloaded has already generated so many words, in magazines, newspapers, and, especially, on the internet, that it is difficult to know what is left to say about it. It is easily the most hyped movie of the year. In the four years since the original Matrix was released, the series has accumulated Star Wars -level cultural capital. The Matrix has even managed to transform Keanu Reeves, the addled star of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure , into a cyberpunk icon, replete with priestly vestments, kung-fu, a girlfriend shrinkwrapped in black leather, and sexy Mafioso shades. Matrix film-style, especially its innovative "Bullet Time" photography, has become ubiquitous, infiltrating all manner of media, from Mountain Dew commercials to the art-house smash Amélie . The original’s release on DVD is widely viewed as the moment when digital vanquished VHS as the format of choice for home viewing, so the economic influence of The Matrix franchise is probably immeasurable. According to Joel Silver, the series’ giddy producer, public awareness of the sequel a month before it was released was at an unprecedented 30%; in other words, Reloaded was bought and sold well before it even came out, making it a virtual blockbuster, sprung from the real-life Warner Bros Matrix .
All of this means that the movie itself, in terms of its storytelling, performances, etc., is maybe beside the point. Frankly, it is impossible to really see The Matrix Reloaded , even while you’re watching it. There wasn’t a second of its running time when I didn’t feel as though I was less a viewer with individual tastes than simply an anonymous part of the total Matrix phenomenon, jacked into the state of the art, where traditional aesthetic quibbles must be suspended indefinitely. Clearly, the Wachowski Brothers have given the script substantial roots in classic sci-fi literature and film, from Dune to Blade Runner to William Gibson. But this is movie making now, where every frame morphs into a video game and a thousand pages of cybertext as it whizzes by. The Wachowskis may have written and directed it, but The Matrix Reloaded actually belongs to the avid fans who are, right at this moment, hammering out footnotes and exegesis in chat forums on the web. Some are trying to sort out plot details, like how did the ominous Agent Smith know Neo was going to be in that park at that time, and why can’t Neo stop the Sentinels when he’s not in The Matrix, and what does it really mean that Neo is an "anomaly," and so on.
The answers to these questions are left in limbo, as The Matrix Reloaded ends with a real cliffhanger, prepping us for the forthcoming Matrix Revolutions , the third and final installment of the series, due in December. A last chapter may be dubious consolation for those of us so dazed by Reloaded’s portentous stew of Baudrillard-For-Beginners speechifying and mind-boggling FX that we lost the plot completely. For us, at least, there is the pleasure of a sly, seductive scene starring Monica Belluci as some sort of cyber-age femme fatale, and an exhilarating last act car-chase, the best of its explosive kind since Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You can find this review, along with other reviews of past and current film, theater, and opera, on our website, at wfiu.indiana.edu. In the meantime, this is Jonathan Haynes, reviewing movies for WFIU.