The Matrix Reloaded

cert 15

Let's admit it. This sequel to the smash-hit Matrix - the second of what producers Warner Brothers now airily claim was the trilogy envisaged all along - is not as good as the original. It hasn't got that enigmatic feel, and the recondite philosophy of the Matrix, once so beautiful and strange, is now a tiny bit camp.

But what a joy The Matrix Reloaded still is: exuberant, original and droll. How strange that some pundits affect to dismiss it, while rolling over for the cynical franchises of X-Men, Spider-Man and George Lucas's Star Wars prequels. It's a film that will have red-blooded cinemagoers pantingly clambering off the ride at the end and staggering over to the queue for tickets to get straight back on again. This is largely due to an extraordinary freeway chase sequence towards the end of the movie that was accompanied, when I saw it, by a loud wheezing noise in the auditorium: the sound of me hyperventilating with excitement.

This is the all-new, fighting, flying, exploding upgrade to the 1999 model - with some soppy kissing too. Keanu Reeves is Neo, the neophyte among a defiant band of humans fighting an oppressive race of machines that have enslaved homo sapiens, and he is on the threshold of entering into his spiritual inheritance as the One who will save mankind. Laurence Fishburne is the massively calm and virile Morpheus and Carrie-Anne Moss plays the PVC-clad Trinity, now Neo's love interest. Neo at one stage appears to call her "Trinny". Another strange kink for British audiences is that sometimes it sounds as if Keanu's character is called "Neil" and Trinny is talking to him in a glottal-stopped cockney accent.

Neo and the others are defending the humans' last redoubt, a city called Zion: a name that would appear to rule out any peace process with the invaders. Directors Andy and Larry Wachowski seem not to have considered the conspiracy-theory potential in this unguarded choice of name. But it's here that humans celebrate their continued freedom with a giant underground party, smeared with woad. In another room, Neo and Trinity make passionate love, made bittersweet by Neo's melancholy premonition of Trinity's doom. And Neo has something else to contend with: his old adversary, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), has replicated himself 100 times for combat sequences that resemble a punch-up in a hall of mirrors.

This movie certainly reveals who the real Matrix star is: Carrie-Anne Moss. Trinity is a magnificent creation, swooping and curling through the air in black liquefaction. She jabs and stings like a jellyfish, devastatingly sexy in a weirdly heterodox way and of course only naturally erotic in combat. Did the Wachowskis subliminally suggest, in their title, the word dominatrix? Trinity and Neo's sex scene, in which their nudity is expressed as obliquely as in a shampoo commercial, is actually tame by comparison. Moss's face is light years away from the Tara Reid babe template for Hollywood stars. The sharp nose, the pale scholar's brow, the jet-black hair slicked away from the face by gel and martial sweat - and the overwhelming impression of intelligence - make Moss the biggest star of the screen.

The Matrix Reloaded delivers in skipfuls what its fans want: superbly stylish and distinctive martial-arts sequences from choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping and visual effects designer John Gaeta, mind-bendingly contrived in various freaked-out combinations of post-apocalyptic urban locations. There is also, for the undergraduate section of the Matrix fan base, plenty of cogitating about existence, with Keanu's brow furrowing over the nature of "choice", an ambitious emphasis that has caused the Matrix movies in some quarters to be taken really very seriously indeed.

The skinny-latte philosophising may be cumbersome, but it's part of the conviction with which the Wachowskis create their movie's distinctive eco-system. More worryingly ropey are the senatorial meetings of a sort of Starfleet Command in Zion, which look very Phantom Menace. Agent Smith's self-duplication is the centre of a very witty fight scene, but it makes Neo appear to be suffering from - whisper it - an attack of the clones.

And there is another problem: the fact that Neo is now able to fly: what Link (Harold Perrineau) pre-emptively calls his "Superman thing". Neo reacts to this new skill with the same deadpan reserve he shows all the other incredible things in his life, and so it's difficult to tell how he feels about that or anything else. But it amplifies a problem latent in all wire-fu. If you can fly, then why do you have to fight anyone? Fighting is for people burdened by the normal constraints of flesh and blood and gravity; if these are abolished, then surely nothing is at stake? Theoretically, the answer is yes, but in practice, the combat spectacles and particularly that final chase are just so viscerally exciting it doesn't matter: action on motorbikes, cars, and a fight on top of a moving container truck.

All that, and a diverting gallery of minor figures including a new character called Persephone, played by Monica Bellucci, who to Trinity's chagrin demands a kiss from our bashful hero. It all adds up to 138 minutes of very high-quality entertainment: and it's not often the time whizzes by as entertainingly as this.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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