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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Matrix: Reloaded
The Matrix: Reloaded
Warner Bros. // R // October 14, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 1, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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(movie review written 5/03)

In 1999, Warner Brothers released "The Matrix". While the studio initially didn't have a great deal of confidence in the success of the film, the footage that was coming out of the Australia-based production was generating massive buzz for the picture. The Wachowski Brothers were the directors and writers. I'd guess that the majority of those who had seen their first feature, the small noir thriller "Bound", could definitely see a bright feature for the two. Despite that film's small budget, their visual style was extraordinary (the "Matrix" films use several of the same crew members) and the performances were terrific. The trailer for "The Matrix", a beautifully edited and thrilling clip that didn't give away too much, made audiences stand up and take notice. The result was a film that grossed a remarkable amount for an R-rated film, finding success both domestically and worldwide.

I liked the first film, although didn't quite love it. I appreciated the well-written story, enjoyed the advanced visual effects and liked the attempt to add philosophy into the middle of a sci-fi picture that could have simply been an action-fest. However, I've never felt that last part was entirely successful: the first feature never quite smoothly integrated the philosophical aspects of its story enough, making for somewhat uneven pacing in the middle.

The success of the original feature had the studio eager to greenlight two additional pictures and certainly, this is one time where that was quite agreeable - there was obviously potential for more tales of Neo (Keanu Reeves). The second and third features, however, reportedly cost somewhere around $150m a piece, which is a large jump from the budget of the 1999 original. This invites thoughts of visual effects overload - a sequel that uses its mega-millions to throw everything at the audience in the hopes that some of it works.

Thankfully, "The Matrix Reloaded", in my opinion, is not only bigger than the first feature, but better in some ways. The philosophical aspects (not the which, but the why is a big part) that took up a large part of the middle of the first feature are integrated into the story here in a way that I felt was largely smoother. Once again, some of the philosophy gets repetitive and once again, its not terribly deep, but at least some of it is rather thought-provoking here and there.

Early in the film, we find out that the last of humanity, lead by Neo (Reeves) has been more successful than ever in freeing humans from their enslavement in the Matrix. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) still believes that Neo is "the one" who will lead humanity to victory in the battle against the machines. However, some of those who live in Zion (the last city that holds humanity, built underground) believe that their only way to stop the machines (who, as the story opens, are burrowing their way towards Zion) is by military force.

The first hour also holds several other issues. The love between Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) has grown stronger. A female captain named Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) re-enters Morpheus' life, although on the arm of another - one against Morpheus's belief that Neo will save them all. Neo visits the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), who once again offers guidance under layers of philosophy. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) makes a return appearance, only this time, Neo has quite a few more Smiths to contend with.

The second hour largely concerns attempts to free the Keymaker, who holds the (you guessed it) key to unlocking further understanding of the Matrix. If it seems like I'm not giving much away about the story...well, I'm not. "The Matrix Reloaded" entertained and often surprised me (especially towards the end) for its 150-minute running time and it's best for viewers to find those surprises out on their own.

The film does have flaws, although I didn't quite view some of them as such. "The Matrix Reloaded" may be an instance of trying for too much with not enough time. I'm sure that there was a limit for this film's running time to ensure the most screenings per day. However, an additional 15 minutes (more or less) might have helped fill in some scenes and add some additional character moments. Personally, I was able to come to my own conclusions about sudden events, but I felt that this was a well-paced and engaging film and that I would have gladly sat through another several minutes in order to go a bit deeper into the story or characters.

Some of the subplots could have gotten more focus, and Reeves and Moss are good enough together that I would have liked their romance to have a bit more screen time. Some of the supporting characters are so well-played in their few minutes (Bellucci is phenomenal and Pinkett-Smith is quite good) that I would have liked to have seen more of them, although I suppose they're maybe featured more in the third film.

Some aspects of the first quarter of the film are rather cheesy, as well. The most noticable instance of this is a dance sequence that seems to be endless and doesn't add anything much to the story. The residents of Zion, gathered together in a cavern, are told that the machines are burrowing down into the ground towards them and that they will have to face a massive battle. What do they do in response? Prepare? Nope, dance. A dance sequence, accompanied by what might not be considered the best of techno, seems to go on for something like five minutes. To be fair, there's some cutting to Neo and Trinity doing their own thing, but the sequence didn't work for me. Although meant to a celebration of humanity, the techno backing and slow-motion didn't convey that terribly well.

The effects of the first film were revolutionary on their own, leading to an invasion of copy-cats and even a few spoofs (a "Simpsons" bit involving Bart delivering menus still remains the best of those). This time, the effects budget has been upped considerably, leading to two enormous sequences (Neo fighting a crowd of Smiths, as well as a giant highway chase sequence that's larger than I could've imagined), as well as several smaller sequences. Rather than the action largely at the beginning and end, as it was in the first picture, there's quite a bit of action (both large and small) nicely spaced out throughout the picture. I liked the choreography of the fight sequences here even more, as it seemed even more elaborate and graceful. Although some moments employ a CGI Neo, the CGI characters in this feature were more convincing than a couple of moments in "Harry Potter" and other films that have employed the occasional CGI version of a character. Once again, I liked the look of the second feature (many of the remarkable talents behind the camera, such as cinematographer Bill Pope, return again here), and appreciated the design of everything down to the smallest details.

The acting is generally good, once again. While many still continue Keanu Reeves to be a mediocre actor (and, I admit, some of the "Mad TV" spoofs where the actor opened his own acting school were simply priceless), I can't imagine a different actor in the role of Neo. Fishburne is still wonderfully commanding as Morpheus and Carrie-Anne Moss is dynamic and compelling as Trinity, although she really doesn't seem to get quite as much focus here. Jada Pinkett-Smith, Harold Perrineau Jr and Monica Bellucci all manage to make an impression in a relatively small amount of time, which makes their lack of screentime all the more disappointing. Hugo Weaving is delightful as Smith, once again bringing his dry, darkly funny delivery.

Yes, "The Matrix Reloaded" does end with a "To Be Concluded". The third - and likely final - picture will be released to theaters in November. While some have complained that it is an "abrupt" ending, I was very pleased with how it concluded this section of the story. The film does end in a way that leaves us hanging, but lets just say that its not in the middle of a terribly intense sequence. The result was an ending that was satisfying for this part, while also heightening my excitement for the next feature.

Those who did not see the first one or don't remember the details should seek out the original before seeing the sequel, as the story jumps right in with no explanation of the events of the original or much of what's happened since. Overall, I found this to be a very satisfying movie. "Reloaded" offered generally good continuation of the story, unbelievable visuals and well-choreographed action. Although not without some concerns, I was entertained throughout. Recommended.


The DVD

VIDEO: "The Matrix Reloaded" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is simply stunning, possibly aided by the fact that all of the extra material is located on a second disc, leaving the film by itself on a dual-layer disc. Sharpness and detail are exceptional - definition throughout is consistent and remarkable, with fine details nearly always clearly present.

Flaws? Well, there really aren't many, if any. A tiny bit of edge enhancement was spotted a couple times, but it was so minor and brief that the couple of instances are hardly worth mentioning. The print is in pristine condition, with not a speck or mark on it. No compression artifacts were noticed, either.

The film's unique greenish/bluish color palette is quite perfectly portrayed here, with no concerns. Black level remained rock solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate. This is certainly a first-rate transfer that will impress many.

SOUND: "The Matrix Reloaded" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. Since the three "Matrix" features share the same sound designer (Dane Davis, who has worked on such films as "Swordfish" and "Treasure Planet"), one can be assured that all three films share the same "vision" when it comes to the sound design. Viewers of the first film will be familiar with some of the "signature" sound effects, too.

However, "Reloaded" is certainly a much bigger, bolder experience sound-wise than the award-winning soundtrack of first film. Surrounds are put into play much more frequently and maintain a near-constant presence throughout the picture. With more action this time around, there's plenty of instances where sound effects pan around the room or ping between speakers. In fact, I appreciated hearing the film's soundtrack in the close-up environment of a home theater to hear some of the sound work that I'd missed in a large auditorium, such as the word "inevitable" coming from all sides when the multiple Agent Smiths pile on Neo during the fight.

Sound quality is certainly what one would expect; strong, deep bass accompanies both much of the sound effects and Don Davis' score. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood throughout, with all the elements well-balanced in the mix. Certainly, "Reloaded" will have an easy time becoming the new sound demo for many home theater owners.

EXTRAS: The extras in the set are included on a single-layered second disc. There is no commentary, although I suppose that's to be expected, given the fact that directors the Wachowski Brothers have expressed their desire to not explain the films, they were probably working on completion of the third film and, well, response to the somewhat sparse commentary on the first film's DVD wasn't too positive. I'd also like to thank Warner Brothers for making straightforward menus. A few studios lately have been making needlessly multi-layered/multi-leveled/plain complex menus, and this certainly could have been one of those instances.

Preloaded: This is a fairly ordinary 22-minute "making of" that does finally get going a little further into the documentary. It starts off with the obvious - all involved talk about how they signed-on happily (well, duh.) and how great it was returning to make the second feature. After all the "happy talk" is out of the way, the documentary finally starts to go into detail about the fight training that the actors had to undergo before production. After that, the piece touches on the visual effects work, storyboarding and costume design.

Matrix Unfolded: A brief, 5-minute featurette that gives a "Matrix" overview, including information on the videogame and "Animatrix" features.

Highway Chase: Clearly far-and-away the best supplement on the disc, this thirty-minute documentary follows the Wachowski brothers and the film's crew through production on the film's famed highway chase sequence. We get interviews with the visual effects supervisors, the stunt coordinators and even are taken through aspects of pre-production and planning for the scene. Then the documentary moves into production, the scariest aspect of which is certainly Carrie Anne-Moss trying to learn to ride a motorcycle good enough to do so safely without helmet for the scene. We also watch as the stretch of freeway used in the film is being built (they couldn't find a usable stretch of freeway in the US that could be shut down for the film).

Give Me An Exit: Uh, the making of the phone and Poweraide drink ads. Seriously. That's all this is.

MTV Movie Awards: The parody - starring Sean William Scott, Wanda ("I'm the Oracle, dammit.") Sykes, Justin Timberlake and a brilliant Will Farrell - that opened the MTV Movie Awards this year. Uncensored version.

Also: Promo for "Animatrix" and brief featurette on the video game. No trailer.


Final Thoughts: Some gave "Reloaded" a mixed reception, but I found it to be an entertaining continuation of the "Matrix" trilogy. The performances are quite good and certainly, the remarkable visuals reflect the increased budget the sequels were working with. As for the DVD, the extras are somewhat lackluster (the "Highway Chase" documentary being the main highlight), but the audio/video quality for the film presentation is nothing short of outstanding. Recommended. Release Date: 10/14/03.

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