Black is back! Machine-made, but still awesome

For the 99 percent of you who are so stoked about The Matrix Reloaded that I couldn't keep you away with nuclear weapons, a two-word review will do: awesome, dude!

Rather than leave the rest of this space blank, I can either publish my nitpicking for the benefit of the other one percent or suggest my byline be printed in 72 pt. type. I'll leave the final decision to my editor.

Still reading? (sigh) OK. We remember the groundbreaking effects, much imitated since, from The Matrix and forget there were also some that were pretty cheesy. That's not as much of a problem in The Matrix Reloaded, except that some scenes aboard the Nebuchadnezzer reminded me of Star Trek. Maybe it was just Laurence Fishburne's Shatneresque line delivery. And he used to be such a good actor. (Fishburne, not Shatner.)

Effects are no problem now that the budget is virtually unlimited, especially when so much money was saved by shooting Parts two and three back-to-back. The script is another story. More than doubling the number of effects shots is impressive, even if the effects themselves become redundant when there's little we didn't see in the first film; more than tripling the length of key speeches is flat-out boring.

Some characters exist only to deliver lengthy monologues (which will be extracted by wannabe actors and used to put casting directors to sleep), while other actors (though certainly not the monosyllabic Keanu Reeves) have long soliloquies in the context of their roles. These scenes are meant to provide respite between action sequences, but most are also intended to furnish information. Viewers will be hard-pressed to focus long enough to pick out the plot points.

Sometimes the violent action is interrupted by another kind of action. The love between Neo (Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) remained unspoken until the end of the first movie. Now they're acting like honeymooners, sucking face at every opportunity. They even have a tastefully filmed sex scene that's intercut with a bizarre, orgiastic tribal disco where the inhabitants of Zion, the last free human outpost, react to the news that they're in danger of imminent attack by dirty dancing.

Morpheus (Fishburne) has a potential love interest too, but their action will have to wait for The Matrix Revolutions. It seems Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) left him for Cmdr. Lock (Harry Lennix), with whom Morpheus argues constantly, but there's still a spark between them.

Once again, Trinity gets the movie's first action scene. It ends badly but turns out to be Neo's nightmare, the kind we know will prove prophetic before the movie's over. Neo has accepted his status as The One destined to lead humanity in their fight against the machines who have enslaved them in the Matrix, "a computer-generated dream world."

I share the "Ignorance is bliss" philosophy of Cypher, the turncoat who didn't survive the first movie. How can religious people, who subjugate themselves to their creator in return for a promise of paradise after they die, side with rebels who want to destroy the paradise on earth provided for people who aren't even aware of being slaves to the machines that created them?

When it's discovered that the machines are drilling through the earth's core to attack and destroy Zion, our rebel leaders have just a few days to stop them. They're opposed again by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who has learned to turn others into clones of himself, either by reaching into their bodies or by some kind of remote control. "The best thing about bein' me," he gloats, "there's so many me's."

Neo has to fight these "many me's" in one of the film's highlights, where he begins by facing a dozen Agent Smiths and ends up opposing a hundred. Now that Neo has the ability to fly, as demonstrated at the end of The Matrix, you may wonder why he chooses to stand and fight instead of "doin' his Superman thing" when the fate of humankind is at stake and there's not really time to show off for the sake of showing off.

There's more gratuitous combat when Neo visits the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster) and has to fight his way past her receptionist, who explains afterward, "You do not know someone until you fight them." (A certain breed of machos will relate.)

After a long speech by Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), his wife (Monica Bellucci) says he's a "pompous prick," but for pomposity he has nothing on Morpheus, whose insistence on truth always gives him the moral high road. He says things like, "I believe this night holds for each and every one of us the very meaning of our lives." Never use three words when 10 will do.

Despite its theme, The Matrix Reloaded seems more machine-made than its predecessor, not as well thought out and not having its action sequences occur as organically. Instead of an open ending, there's an outright cliffhanger.

Eschewing a philosophy of "less is more," The Matrix Reloaded goes two steps beyond giving an audience more than they need. It begins with a trailer for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines that makes the "mankind vs. machines" plot sound exactly like the one you're about to see, and ends nearly two and a half hours later with a trailer for The Matrix Revolutions that looks like still more of what you just saw.

Of local interest: Another reason to stay through the credits is to hear, toward the end, the Paul Oakenfold remix of DMB's "When the World Ends" (originally on Everyday).