"The Matrix Reloaded" is so full of "stuff", so brimming with ideas and images, that one barely has time to recover between each sequence. In essence, it tries to be so much that in the end I felt somehow mixed about its overall result.
To be sure, "The Matrix Reloaded" is involving and diverting, but it tests your patience with a somewhat bloated and bizarre introduction. The audience is introduced to Zion through magnificent special effects shots. The central characters are all there, and immediately we are reminded of the romance between Neo and Trinity. However, instead of taking care of re-introductions in a quick and orderly fashion, we are subjected to a seemingly endless rock video-type dance party, intercut with a sex scene between the two leads. I have to admit that I was not expecting this from a Matrix movie, and I am not entirely sure it works. Perhaps something can be said of this blatantly sexual imagery, and how this is what makes us human (or some crap like that), but a few seconds would have sufficed to make the point. Instead, the audience is treated to a good chunk of film that resembles something from MTV, only with an R rating.
There is another rather pointless scene in which a character explains how chocolate cake can have an orgasmic effect upon a woman. This is illustrated in a strange and graphic special effects sequence that seems like it would be more at home in a Ken Russell movie. Whatever point that is being made by this scene could surely have been done in a more subtle manner, or simply alluded to in a less trashy way. Eroticism is fine in certain contexts, but I really felt that in the midst of this film it just seems out of place. Perhaps I am being prudish, but it simply did not work for me.
There is action galore throughout "The Matrix Reloaded". There are several major sequences that take up plenty of screen time and totally achieve the goal of diverting and entertaining. However, the first film had a degree of urgency and danger with regard to Neo, who had not developed his powers fully. This time, Neo is totally unstoppable, and while I enjoyed the martial arts scenes for the effects, choreography, and sheer energy, the outcome was all but too clear. The Wachowskis recognize this for the car chase, the true action centerpiece of the film, and place Trinity and the always fantastic and engaging Morpheus in the line of danger. All of the action is very much over the top, and while I did get a kick out of it, it felt as if everything else had taken a back seat to the explosions. The original Matrix used action and effects to tell the story. This time, it is well-known by the filmmakers that most people are filling theatre seats to see how the new sequences will top what came before. This approach does not translate into a better film, and as result, a degree of understatedness has been lost in exchange for bombast and flashiness.
As with the first film, the question of what exactly the Matrix is allows for plenty of mind-bending, barely logical plot twists. I am amazed at how well this premise allows for interesting narrative switches. There are still dangers and threats, and a set of rules which limit the characters, but the potential for suprises is very much present. But no one should expect to be as blown away as when they saw the first Matrix. There is a lot of familiar ground recovered, but thankfully the plot does not slavishly ape what came before.
The performances by the leads are very much as strong (or as weak) as they were the first time around. Laurence Fishburne is fabulous, serving as the solid center around which everyone else orbits. Carrie-Anne Moss is as wooden as she was in the first outing, but not unlikeable. Keanu Reeves is still barely getting by, but frankly I do not mind him in the role. Most of the secondary characters are really not all that engaging, and even though various romantic subplots are introduced, I could really care less about any of them. Perhaps a less cliched approach would have done better to introduce some humanity into the story. Instead, we get a series of soap opera-type love triangles and a stupid subplot involving a new character who struggles between his duty to Morpheus and his duty as a husband.
There are a lot of problems with "The Matrix Reloaded." Sure its a good time at the movies, but the story could have been told far more effectively without cliches, sleaze, and somewhat superfluous special effects. There is a great movie in here, but it is somewhat buried under flourishes of mediocrity. Is it worth your movie fare? Yes. Is it as good as the first one? No. But then again, few sequels are. While it may not be as awful as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it is definitely not the Empire Strikes Back.
6.5 out of 10.