Dan took us out to see Matrix Reloaded today. I was suitably impressed. It's glorious eye candy with interesting ideas. That's the short review. I would recommend it to any person who appreciated The Matrix, not just on the eye-candy level but on the deeper questions it raised. There is a story here, and it's worth seeing.
There are plenty of reviews out there which say that this movie doesn't measure up to the first Matrix. I think the most accurate review is from I Feelafel who says the first hour drags a bit, but the second hour really kicks into gear. The Eleven Day Empire notes that the rave scene in the middle goes on too long, but I appreciated its inclusion, the glimpses I got of Zion, and how the human civilization has adjusted to disaster. There's a good mix of races on screen, and small touches that fleshed the movie out nicely.
However, I think most people who complain about the second movie not measuring up to the first are actually complaining that the movie industry has caught up to the visuals and effects that made the first movie so groundbreaking. The Matrix Reloaded does not stand out in the crowd in the way The Matrix did, and of course the effect is going to be disappointment.
I don't believe The Matrix Reloaded should have attempted to equal the groundbreaking nature of the first film -- for one thing, it couldn't possibly, and for another, the story isn't just about the visuals. Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are locked in the battle between the remainder of the human race and their massive artificially intelligent foe. The outcome of this battle will have tremendous repercussions on the human race. Throughout both movies we're faced with the questions of "what is real" and the second movie starts to bring up the question of choice and the nature of free will.
The third movie, Matrix Revolutions, is going to have to settle these questions and decide whether or not the humans can take control over their own destinies. These questions will not be answered in bullet time. Joe Clifford Faust asks, "What are [the people of Zion] going to do with the sudden influx of millions [try billions] of people who are too weak to move on a planet that is no longer capable of supporting them?" The answer is, I think, that they can't, and they won't try. I don't think it's what Neo wants at the back of his head, either. The people of Zion may decide, if pressed, just to blow everything up and leave billions to rot, but if I were Neo, or if I were the Matrix, I would see that the only long term solution is to wake all the humans within the Matrix up, and then give them the keys of the car.
The human race, powering a limitless virtual reality world that each individual controls (or, at least, controls a part of); possibly, a human race that is collectively intelligent. This is one possible ending of the Matrix trilogy that I can see. These and others don't rely on groundbreaking special effects. They just rely on special effects that service the story. The fact that they look nice is secondary, or should be.
So, a movie that is as decent as the first Matrix. I give it **** out of *****. The one star off is for the movie's shocking disregard of human life -- a complaint that I had with the first movie. Really, when people are getting blown to pieces, helicopters are flying into skyscrapers, and cars are being crumpled on the highway, should our immediate reaction be "ooo, pretty!"? In a film that is about the value of human control, it's surprisingly dehumanizing.