And the answer is — Yes! This is the movie the fans of the original “Matrix” were hoping it would be. This movie has electrifying fight scenes, an audaciously dystopic vision, zillions of explosions and car crashes, a steamy love scene, and visual effects that raise the bar from the first one as much as the first one raised it from everything that had gone before. And yes, this is the movie that will rock the box office for the forseeable future.
No refreshers to bring us back into the world of the original “Matrix” — this movie literally starts with a bang as a woman in black breaks into some sort of secured facility and fights off the guards. We are back in the world where the machines use humans for fuel, lulling the humans into thinking that they are living mundane lives so that they will not realize that they are merely an energy source. Only a few humans know the truth, and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) believe that one of them, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is “the one” who will defeat the machines. The scenes shift back and forth between Zion, the city where the humans who resist the machines live and the illusory “city” maintained by the computers called The Matrix.
It has been four years since the first movie was released. This second chapter is like the “Empire Strikes Back” with very, very cool sunglasses — it is a transition to the big finish in the third movie, which was filmed at the same time as this one and which will be released in November 2003. This is the bridge between the chapter that sets up the conflict and the chapter that resolves it.
As in the first one, the great strength of the movie is the visuals, which are brilliantly imaginative and at the same time essentially right. They exist in a fully-realized world we can believe in completely. Every detail is perfect — the bug-like spaceships, the grubby equipment, the pile-up of GM cars on a freeway, a decadent nightclub, an urban courtyard, Neo’s fabulously cool frock coat and sunglasses — every rivet is exactly what it should be, with the exception of the cutesy/earthy Ewok-ish clothing in Zion.
The action sequences will knock your socks off. Episode One’s Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has learned how to multiply, and Neo has to fight a hundred Smiths, each with its own version of Weaving’s magnificently cocked eyebrow. Real-life twins (and black belt karate instructors) Adrien and Neil Rayment play dredlocked albinos who can turn themselves into ghost-like wraiths out to destroy our heroes. And then there is a heart-stopping 14-minute chase and crash scene on a freeway. Still, just as with the first one, the most powerful scene doesn’t have fancy special effects or explosions. It’s the conversation between Neo and the Oracle, played with endless warmth, wit, and spirit by the late Gloria Foster.
The movie also taps into epic questions of destiny, causality, identity, and choice. So if the dialogue is not spectacular and there is more attitude than acting and the adoring devotion of Morpheus and Trinity to Neo gets a little dreary, who am I to quibble? I am sure there are viewers out there who will find a way to make sense of it all and who will be happy to explain when the laws of physics are suspended and when they are not. I could not, but by then I was enjoying the movie too much to care.
Parents should know that the movie has intense and prolonged violence and peril including guns and martial arts. Characters are killed (sometimes more than once). There are a few four-letter words. There is a deeply romantic sexual encounter (briefly graphic, both nude), brief nudity in a secene with group dancing, and a crude oral sex joke. Minority and women characters are strong, brave, loyal, and intelligent.
Families who see this movie should talk about some of the character’s comments about destiny and choice. Is choice “an illusion created by those with power?” Humans, who created the machines, are now trying to wrest back control from the machines. Whose choices led to that conflict? Is Neo “the one” (hint: both words have the same three letters) and what does that mean? Who or what is the Oracle?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and some of the movies that inspired it, including the classic silent film “Metropolis” and the brilliant “Blade Runner.” Note: stay through the endless technical credits to get a glimpse of some of the scenes in the upcoming “Matrix: Revolutions.”