Note: This disc appears to be identical to the one included in 2004's The Ultimate Matrix Collection, which is, at the time of this writing, still the only way to get The Matrix Revolutions and The Animatrix on Blu-ray in North America. The first film in the series received a standalone Blu-ray release from Warner in 2009.
The Wachowski Brothers' follow up to the massive success of their 1999 blockbuster The Matrix did huge box office upon its initial theatrical release but failed to set moviegoers on fire the same way that the first film did. The film brings back most of the same characters that made the original film so popular and deals with some of the same heady themes and ideas - and honestly, it's a decent movie in its own right, but it sits in between the first and second chapters of the trilogy and, as such, doesn't quite carry the same sort of impact as the other two pictures.
Picking up roughly six months after The Matrix ends, this first sequel finds that Neo (Keanu Reeves) has proven himself by helping free a multitude of people from the Matrix. He's joined Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in leading the battle against the machines and has managed to develop his powers to truly superhuman levels. Not only is he fast, strong, and agile but he's able to understand the code of The Matrix and, as such, is invaluable in the struggle.
Things seem to be going well for the revolutionaries until they learn that a quarter of a million machines are heading to Zion and, in just three days, will lay waste to all that they've struggled to achieve. Zion and its populace must ready themselves for war as Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are consult with the Oracle (Gloria Foster) to find someone named The Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) who will be able to help them win the inevitable war that looms just over the horizon. Complicated matters are Neo's dreams of Trinity's death, which he fears may be pre-cognitive and a sign of things to come. While all of this is going on, the sinister Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has not been deleted as previously thought and is very much on the hunt for Neo, on whom the future of mankind has hung all its hopes, for he is 'The Chosen One.'
As it was with the other two pictures in the trilogy, a lot of what you will or will not get out of the film will depend on how readily you can accept Keanu Reeves in what is essentially a messianic role. He looks the part and handles the action scenes well, but this style of acting does have its critics and he doesn't always suit the story as well as some might want. Thankfully, he's surrounded by some pretty solid cast members. Laurence Fishburne is great as the cool and calculating Morpheus and Carrie-Anne Moss entirely likeable as Trinity. Hugo Weaving is just as good in this sequel as he was in the first film and manages to steal most of the scenes that he's in, while interesting supporting performances from bit part players like the lovely Monica Bellucci, Randall Duk Kim, Jada Pinkett Smith and the always entertaining Anthony Wong round things out nicely in terms of who does what in front of the camera.
Where the film really excels, predictably, is in the effects work. The film had a huge budget and much of that went to both the digital and practical effects that we see on the screen, and the vast majority of it works really well. You have to suspend your disbelief, obviously, as the film isn't concerned with realism in the slightest, but some of the stunt work and fight choreography (courtesy of the legendary Yuen Wo Ping) is very impressive even if the scores of imitators that came in the wake of the first film (and as such preceded this one) diminish some of the impact to an extent.
The Wachowski Brothers obviously had a lot to live up to with this second film, and on a technical and visual level if succeeds completely. The film is not without its flaws, however. As the 'middle child' of the trilogy the film has to deliver a certain amount of story and exposition and it definitely does but it suffers from some pacing problems and dry stretches. The picture takes quite a while to get going, spending too long detailing life in Zion before getting to the core of the matter and it worries too much about the multiple Agent Smiths than it needs to when you consider how little impact parts of this have on the storyline as whole. The result is a film that isn't quite as exciting as what came before it and while it's admirable that the filmmakers are trying to bring us further into the story's themes, it's also true that there is such a concept of too much of a good thing. Much of what seems awkward and forced in this picture becomes clearer and more important in the third chapter, making the three films far more appropriate to watch and appreciate as an actual trilogy, but judged on its own merits and without the aid of the other two parts, The Matrix Reloaded quite often. Thankfully, the second half of the film makes up for much of what doesn't quite work in the first part by delivering some stand out action sequences and in how it manages to tie quite a few ends together before the end credits roll. This doesn't whitewash all of the film's problems, but it helps us to look past a lot of them. The good outweighs the bad here and it sets up the third and final act quite well - which is really what a middle film is supposed to do, after all.
Warner Brothers' VC-1 encoded 1080p 2.40.1 high definition widescreen transfer of Lost
The Matrix Reloaded is very sharp, detailed and clean boasting great color reproduction and very strong black levels. Detail is strong throughout playback, both in the close up shots where you expect to see it and in medium and long distance shots as well. Texture is much improved over the standard definition release, you'll notice this frequently throughout the movie. There aren't any obvious problems with aliasing or compression artifacts nor is there any heavy edge enhancement to complain about. The colors tend to waver a bit depending in the locations used, as some sets are obviously darker and grittier looking than others, but generally they look nice and natural, even if, more often than not, the movie leans towards a slightly darker color palette and also demonstrate some obvious green and blue color tinting. Objects are well defined, shadow detail is surprisingly strong (which always important but particularly when a movie is as dark as this one) and there's generally not much room for complaint here.
The primary mix on this release is an English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, though alternate language dubbed tracks are supplied in English, French and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound (for some reason this disc defaults to the English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track at start up so make sure you selected the Dolby TrueHD mix from the menu before playback) and Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is a very strong one, with a lot of surround activity both subtle and obvious. The action scenes (the highway chase scene being a perfect example) demonstrate as much range as you'd expect from an effects laden feature such as this but the quieter and more dramatic moments also show off some effective ambient and background noise that really helps to build a lot of atmosphere. Dialogue is always clean and clear and the levels are well balanced to ensure that you'll never have a problem understanding the performers. The score sounds great as well, with each instrument used coming through clearly and well defined and quite distinct.
The extras kick-off with the In-Movie Experience option, which is exclusive to the Blu-ray release. This is pretty much a picture-in-picture track that features input from a huge array of people involved with the making of this picture, from producer Joel Silver to fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping to DP Bill Pope and loads more including all of the principal cast members. With so many participants, you definitely get a very wide and comprehensive look at how this production was put together. We learn what it was like working in front of the camera but also get a really great idea of how technology was used and in what capacity it was used to create so much of the effects work on display in the movie. It's a well put together option that is fairly scene specific and compliments the feature really well as it plays out in front of you. It's a shame that the Wachowski Brothers weren't involved here, but anyone else you'd want to hear from and then some all throw in their two cents.
After that, we're treated to a pair of commentary tracks, the first of which comes courtesy of philosophers Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber. Having a pair of philosophers expound on the film's themes and ideas is a great idea in theory, but here it gets to be a bit dry. They do point out some of the more subtle aspects of the film that you might not catch the first time around and keep it scene specific for the most part, but they tend to drift from interpreting the film to simply relaying what's happening on screening and expressing their admiration for it far too often. The second commentary brings together critics Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson to dissect the film, which they do quite enthusiastically. They discuss what works in the film but spend even more time talking about what doesn't and critiquing the picture. Like the first track, this one dives deep into some of the themes and ideas that the picture deals with and it gets quite detailed at times but we'd have probably been better off with a cast or crew commentary than either one of the tracks supplied here.
From there, we move on to the featurettes starting with Behind The Matrix, a documentary that is split up into a few different sections and includes input from the cast and crew and which covers pre-production work, the influence of the first movie on pop culture, how the film ties in with commercial advertising and the tie in with the MTV Movie Awards show. This isn't the most in-depth piece ever made but it does give us a pretty decent general look at the production's history. Enter The Matrix: The Game is a look at the making of the video game of the same name that was inspired by the movie, which includes some cut scenes from the film and input from some cast members, and it gives you a pretty good feel for how the game can be played from the perspective of two different characters - Ghost and Niobe. There are also twenty-three Enter The Matrix live action scenes included here that were shot for the game. Between the cut scenes and the interviews that are included with the various animators and technicians involved in creating the game as well as those who were involved in other aspects of its production, we get a very detailed look at how it tied into the movie that's actually considerably more interesting than you'd probably expect it to be.
A bunch of shorter, more specific documentaries are up next, starting with nine brief featurettes that explore the making of the Car Chase scene. These segments, which vary in length from two minutes to just over fourteen minutes, explore everything that went into shooting the film's best action set piece and show us all that went into creating it, from the planning to the execution to the filming to the post-production tinkering. It's very well done and really leaves no stone left unturned - if you want to know just how much work went into creating this particular set piece, you won't be disappointed by how thorough this section gets. The Teahouse Fight sequence receives two separate featurettes totaling about seven minutes or so in length. Here we learn how Yuen Wo Ping and a few others involved in the behind the scenes staging of the fight scenes set out to create the most memorable fight scene in the movie and the challenges that they encountered on the way. Unplugged is a collection of five sequences, about forty minutes or so in total, that explore a few different aspects of the production like The Burly Brawl sequence, the involvement of Yuen Wo Ping, the work of stunt double Chad Stahaelski who is rightly dubbed 'The Other Neo,' and how a few of the other action shots were created. I'll Handle Them is a four part section that covers set design and stunt work by giving credit where credit is due to those who constructed The Great Hall and Merovingina's Lair as well as the weapon design work and the involvement of Chen Hu and his team of wirework technicians. The Exiles is a selection of two featurettes that delve into some of the secondary characters' quirks and how they relate to the film and the involvement of The Architect as it relates to the film's big finish.
Rounding out the extras are a P.O.D. music video for the song Sleeping Awake, a theatrical trailer, a teaser trailer, a selection of eight different TV spots, a written introduction from the Wachowski Brothers, animated menus and chapter selection. All in all, outside of a better commentary track, you couldn't really ask for much more in the way of extra features - this is a remarkably comprehensive and very well laid out selection of supplements that cover pretty much anything you'd want them to.
A good film sandwiched in between two more impressive chapters, this, the Wachowski's 'middle child' is definitely worth seeing even if it's likely destined to remain in the shadow of what comes before and after it. The Matrix Reloaded isn't a perfect film, but it's well made, quite entertaining, and often thought provoking enough to work. Warner Brothers treats it right on Blu-ray, affording it an excellent transfer, very strong lossless audio, and scores of interesting and well made supplements. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.