Many reviews (here and in the press) have tended to go one way or the other. Some have lavished praise on this film claiming it as a milestone and even better than the original, others have hated it and laid into it heavily. I'm not wanting to sit on the fence but I do feel that both camps have valid points and that the answer is somewhere in the middle. The main reason I found it hard to get into this film was the heavy tone it has now developed. Seemingly the same bug that the Star Wars movies have caught (taking themselves too seriously) the matrix appears in danger of getting in a bad way. The plot here is quite straightforward and not as twisty as the original however it is delivered as if every line of dialogue was profound. This really sucks the life out of the film as it is not profound but rather borders on the pretentious at times due to it's delivery.
I suspect that this was spotted and so the film is unnecessarily cluttered with minor characters that detract from the central tale. And so screen time is given to Link and his wife as well as a seemingly pointless speech from Merovingian. This makes it feel baggy and also slightly unsatisfactory when these strands appear to go nowhere but only fill time. Also the plot is a little too complex (all this rogue programme stuff) and isn't delivered in a user friendly way it is not always clear what the significance of certain things are until later in the film and even then it is uneven. However both these criticisms will be countered if, in Revolutions, these strands are brought together and minor characters in Reloaded are shown to have a bigger input.
On the plus side the action is very good. I must admit that it wasn't as exciting as the original mainly because the plot wasn't as involving to me I need a good story generally to get into the action side. However in honesty the action still looks great and is a real leap forward from the Matrix a great blend of wire work and visual effects. Occasionally the special effects are slightly wanting (in Neo's fight with Agent Smiths it is clear when it is a visual effect rather than the real thing) but these are minor quibbles compared to some sterling work. The car chase on the freeway may be a very easy way to get an action scene but it still works very well and is exciting. The only downside to it is that I felt that an action scene should have been part of the end of the film instead the `big' scene occurs a good 20 minutes before the end of the film. The actual cliff-hanger itself doesn't really work and it could have done better with a general downbeat ending like Empire Strikes back had did it think I needed a reason to watch part 3? I'm already there!
The acting suffers from the same problems as the plot it is all too heavy. The clearest way this is seen is in Fishburne. In part 1 he was very good, especially when he exposed Neo to the matrix with a mix of playful wit and serious touches when they were needed. Here in part 2 he seems to be mistaken that he is playing Othello again. Watch him speaking to the crowds at Zion, he really plays it like he is playing Moses or something. In fact all through the film he is very heavy even compare his big fight with his previous face-off with Smith in part 1, there he was human and vulnerable here he is more like a rock and less fun for it. Moss is also serious but she was in part 1 too so it's not so noticeable. Reeves is good and at least adds some humour but he plays it very serious again. The additions add colour but are mostly distractions. The support cast in part 1 were merely there, here the film feels it has to develop them to make a rich tapestry but the end result is it feeling too stretched. It's hard not to watch Pinkett-Smith and feel that her character is more to do with the video game than the film itself. Happily Hugo Weaving is fun and is back with his old sneer, while the twins are good value despite having minimal plot impact.
Overall it was always going to be hard to follow up the first film. There the plot was gripping and it is difficult to make the growth of Neo's powers as interesting as his discovery of them was. I enjoyed the film but just felt that the almost biblical significance that it tries to give itself was it's undoing luckily the action and style was it's salvation. Hopefully I will watch Revolutions and see how Reloaded works better in hindsight. Without that knowledge, many of the plot strands appear to be left loose. If I watched this as a film by itself then it would be irritating if the conclusion to the trilogy can get back to the enjoyment and tone and spectacle of the matrix at it's best then this will be a much better film in company of it's brothers. Far from perfect but I don't see how anyone can totally write this film off.