- Film 1: The Matrix

- The Animatrix:
.. - The Second Renaissance
.. - Kid's Story
.. - Program
.. - World Record
.. - Beyond
.. - A Detective Story
.. - Matriculated
.. - Final Flight of the Osiris /
.........Enter the Matrix

- Film 2: The Matrix Reloaded
- Film 3: The Matrix Revolutions

- Return to Source Documentary:
Philosophy and the Matrix

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The Matrix 2: Reloaded

Region 1
10-disc box set
for North America
Region 2
10-disc box set
for the U.K.
(A trilogy, part 2, starring Keanu Reeves)
  • written and
  • directed by the brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski
  • produced by Joel Silver
  • music by Don Davis
  • 2 hours 18 minutes
Story: Uncomfortably hailed as the saviour of the city of Zion, Neo struggles to discover how much of a choice he really has anywhere in his life. Are all his actions entirely predictable by the enemy machine intelligences? As his quest to counter the latest threat to Zion reveals deeper and more dangerous secrets about the history of the Matrix, Neo must find a way to avert disaster that hasn't already been thought of and countered by his growing number of enemies....

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the film.

This second film in the Matrix trilogy is considerably more challenging than its predecessor, partly by being a bit clumsier artistically, yet it tackles enough new subject matter to remain highly worthwhile, and is possibly the most visually satisfying of the three films.

First a note that if you haven't seen the first film, it would be very hard to truly orient yourself by starting here with this one. The dual realities aren't really presented here in a manner that is easily understood by brand new audience members - instead we dive straight into exploring new facets of them, building on what we learned in film 1. In fairness, film 1 was successful enough that I think the Wachowskis can make this a fair call. The introduction of the main A-plot seems to be a bit tossed off in a dialogue scene.... and certainly makes a bigger impact in the Animatrix segment "Final Flight of the Osiris" and the "Enter the Matrix" footage. Thankfully though, it's not that hard to follow either way.

This feature film does make a suitably big deal about introducing the audience to Zion, something that is diluted when one adds the "Enter the Matrix" footage in chronological order. Strangely, we don't get a new character discovering Zion for the first time, to see it through his or her eyes. Neo has been to Zion many times by now, and has made it his home, which removes one of the archetypical sci-fi explorer duties he had fulfilled in the first film.

Rebel Without a Choice

Where the first film perhaps focused primarily on the idea of "breaking the rules", or at least the ones that seemed most "ordinary", and used the virtual nature of the Matrix as a metaphor for mind-over-matter / thought-manifests-as-reality concepts that ultimately conquered the action-oriented battles, the second film now expands on some of those ideas and focuses on new areas. The biggest theme for film 2 seems to be the idea of choice vs. control, with many major characters like Councillor Hamann, the Oracle, the Merovingian, and the Architect all having major speeches on the subject that impact Neo's thoughts, feelings, and actions in this part of the trilogy. The most profound and interesting part of this dialectic though may be the final ironic twist - that the entire Messiah-centered belief structure that Morpheus has championed and tempted half or more of Zion's population to invest in - falsely believing that it supported freedom of choice - is in fact merely another method of control, specifically the most effective means for the Architect and his fellow machines to maintain control over the human population that fuels them within the Matrix, with one of those fellow machines being the Oracle who can be seen to be pushing this belief system as well. Since I never did invest in the "Messiah" concept, this revelation was in part refreshing.... but the ball of wax in which this is presented to the audience is so dense and difficult to follow that I think its full impact is quite diluted.

What makes it ultimately less satisfying to me is that the trilogy doesn't so much shatter the importance of the Messiah over his fellow man as it does merely re-purpose it. But perhaps discussing that in full requires that we do it in response to film 3. This second film merely wedges a lever into the assumed idea and starts to pull it apart a little. Where the Messiah concept may ultimately end up is unclear from this film alone; we only know it will not follow through smoothly as expected and needs to be re-examined.

Enlightenment and Progress?

My own concept of Neo was, as I stated in my review of film 1, that he should be the first to figure out things like how to manipulate the Matrix to the point of being able to defeat agents, and that he should then teach those tricks to the rest of the people of Zion, and possibly even to those still inside the Matrix. Film 1 ends with the impression that he has finally cracked the problem of standing up to an agent and defeating it, smartly by re-writing its code from the inside out, instead of fighting it in an enemy-centered paradigm from the outside-in. But film 2 isn't really proceeding on those grounds.

In fact, much of the mechanics of in-Matrix agent battles have lost the sense of logic they had in the first film, losing goals and motivation with them. On the plus side, we mysteriously never see any of our Zion-based characters in the Matrix terminating the innocent avatars that have been taken over by agents, despite all the numerous opportunities during all the prolific agent battles. The change is not unwelcome, perhaps the result of a note from the studio or comments by critics, but it does feel completely cosmetic. But in terms of story-logic, I had to wonder why Neo battled the three agents at the beginning in such a standard martial-arts fashion. Does he not remember that that is not how he defeated Smith in the first film? If it is enough to merely knock an agent and/or the avatar he has possessed unconscious to defeat him (and maybe it should be), why did previous Zion crewmembers have no success in defeating agents prior to Neo figuring out how to rewrite their code? At this point, Neo has no idea that Smith has actually turned into something much worse, which is in hindsight the only good reason I can think of why he would hesitate to use rewrite solutions on other agents and teach such solutions to his fellow Zion operatives.

The beginning of Morpheus' battle with Agent Johnson on top of the tractor trailer on the highway was an exciting moment of anticipation for me on first viewing, as I hoped we would see how well Morpheus might have learned the technique of re-writing agents from Neo. But nope, the Wachowskis were more interested in straight fighting instead, and Morpheus' abilities remained significantly below the wisdoms he was seen to teach Neo in the training simulation in the first film.

And so, we get a sense that "physical" battles continue to exist in this virtual world simply because the Wachowskis like them and all the added stunt visual trickery that can be layered on top to make them unique to the world of their franchise. This isn't completely without merit, but it does undermine the concept of thinking our way outside the box to the smarter solution.

Neo's brawl with multiple Smiths seems like an exciting idea, and certainly continues the first film's trend of wicked moves and breakout visual effects. But it doesn't have nearly the motivational clarity that film 1's fight sequences have. What does Neo hope to achieve by continuing this fight as long as possible? He makes no attempt to rewrite any of these Smiths - a strategy which may now need to be re-thought. Does he intend to knock them all unconscious? He's so outnumbered that the idea quickly becomes unthinkable, and he should attempt to retreat and think it over in a scene that gives him someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of. But he repeatedly avoids retreat in an attempt to do.... what? Bring it on, bring it on, and an enraged Smith does.... which tends to put the thinking audience to sleep, particularly on repeat viewing. When an aftermath scene finally occurs, and Neo shares his puzzlement with the rest of the Nebuchadnezzar crew, there still isn't enough articulation and strategizing to tackle the concepts, and the foursome don't rate very highly as skilled sci-fi explorers. And the question of the new Smiths seems to be forgotten until Neo's next meeting with the Oracle in Film 3.

Exploring Exiles, Quests, and Loops

In fairness, this second film can still get away with a lot of its other action simply because it's not all about tackling agents. The film gets much mileage out of its exploration of the variety of older "programs" inside the Matrix, creatures that are neither human-generated sleepers nor agents, but bizarre characters with their own agendas. The Oracle is revealed as one of these, while we add on the Merovingian, Persephone, the Twins and their assorted cohorts, Seraph, the Keymaker, and of course, the Architect. A simple easy-to-follow journey-plot connects our heroes' encounters with these characters and provides plenty of action, while thematic dialogue comments on our protagonists' degree of volition, choice, and purpose as they fulfill this quest that others have laid out for them. Not bad at all. But more and more, dialogue and action both appear to have their own separate corners in the film, each coming in too large an indulgent chunk for its own good, neither category of content really integrating with the other as well as could be hoped. The dialogue in particular is often quite enigmatic, and probably needlessly so. I often find myself rewinding dialogue to recap the subject of a particular sentence, or to be able to replace a pronoun with the actual idea that the Wachowski's are talking about, which shouldn't be necessary if this script had been honed as well as its predecessor.

The entire quest turns out to be a bit of a hoax, which has seen our protagonists behaving like meek and emotionally un-expressive followers lashing out with their violent sides. Thankfully, many of the newer characters have enough life in them to somewhat counterbalance this, with Lambert Wilson's Merovingian working particularly well. Really, these new machine characters own the plot and drive its twists and turns, while the Zion characters and agents bounce around like marbles in a pinball machine and become easily predictable.

One of the film's most rewarding aspects concerns all the various things we learn about the past history of the Matrix, as the various machine characters hint at previous versions and suggest prior methods of dealing with problems that were not as elegant or successful. The crowning pinnacle of all of this is of course the bomb that the Architect drops about all of Zion's behaviour being caught in a very predictable loop, in which the machines always win, and then recreate Zion again from scratch as a kind of safety pressure valve on the psychiatric well-being of the entire human battery population they depend on. Of course, this message is being coloured by the belief-system of the messenger, which in the Architect's case means seeing it in terms of the balancing of mathematical equations. What is perhaps missing from this angle of perception, and what fascinated me most and made me anticipate to learn in film 3, would be more details about how things played out DIFFERENTLY each time through the loop. I would expect each loop to be getting shorter, as the human mass consciousness takes less time to relearn its lessons and produce each anomaly (otherwise known as its next Neo-like messiah). We do learn that Neo had five predecessors, each of which dutifully returned to source to restart Zion from scratch. Morpheus had information about one of them in his recounting of the prophecy in film 1, although whether this was the first of them or the most recent, we may never know. However, out of all of them, Neo is the first to be in love as this final choice is presented to him, and unlike his predecessors, he returns to the Matrix instead to save Trinity. As of that point, the traditional loop is broken and we are stepping foot on new territory, which appears disastrous as Morpheus' world collapses around them all, and doom seems inevitable. These are some of the most atmospheric and unsettling parts of the entire trilogy.

What we don't quite learn here are the reasons why the Architect insists that all humans plugged inside the Matrix will die if Neo doesn't comply with his preferred choice. Sure, it puts pressure on Neo, but considering that the machines would surely prefer their power source to continue to function, and they can still destroy Zion while keeping plugged-in humans alive, how can it be more than an empty threat, as Neo suspects? The real question here might be whether or not Neo's five predecessors created similar mutations of the Smith agent. Is Smith the real threat over the plugged-in humans? Is he part of the repeating loop, or is he a new anomaly? The answer might go a long way to helping us decide if Neo ever does actually stay free of the loop in the long run, or if he just ends up giving in to it a little later than his predecessors.

The Breakout

Film 2's theme of choice vs. control, at least in the way it is played out and debated in the films, seems to deeply depend on the whole concept of the Matrix and Zion being part of a closed system that can be fairly accurately predicted. And perhaps that is where I have the biggest problem with the trilogy. All this is set on our Earth over the next few centuries of our future, yet very little of the Earth's geography comes into play.... and it makes me wonder what in tarnation is wrong with the people of Zion for settling in one silly tube instead of getting out to explore the rest of the planet and, I dare say being such an avid sci-fi buff, how about some interaction with the rest of the galaxy for God's sake? All aliens are glitches in the Matrix? Sorry, not buying it. Does either side of this dystopia, either man or machine, have any capacity for encountering and dealing with outside influences? What would that do to the precious balanced equation that the Architect and the Oracle are so fond of? I would so love to throw an extra-terrestrial monkey-wrench into this mix, and discombobulate the lot of them. Haha.

In fact, this is such an obviously compelling area of growth, it frustrates me to watch the characters continually plug back into the Matrix to consult their precious Oracle and engage in all these fictitious fights. Why would their struggle not be all about writing programs to rewrite code, and send those into the Matrix instead of "themselves"? (Or has Neo sort of done that unconsciously with the new mutated Smith?) I'm afraid I have to deeply sympathize with Lock's position in keeping all warriors and ships fully alert in the outside world, not giving any Bane-disguised Smiths the treacherous foothold they managed to find.

Of course, issues of feasibility and societal decay might be preventing greater growth externally. Too bad such challenges weren't portrayed a little more explicitly in the film. Councillor Hamann points out how much they've grown to depend on machines for their basic needs, machines whose inner workings they no longer understand. How much science was lost in the destruction of mankind? How do the people of Zion relearn the ability to operate and repair hovercraft, or use computers that are more advanced than anything they are allowed to encounter when plugged into the 1999 A.D. limit of the Matrix simulation? Are they all too timid to take a trip to the next continent, or do the machines monitor and control that area as well?

Obviously, I am here piling a lot of options onto the choices for the humans of Zion, which is my intentional counterpoint to the film. If you look closely at the film's discussion of choice, there are often only two choices. The Architect shows Neo two doors. He may sit on the bench or not. He may take the candy or not. There is a hand with the red pill, and one with the blue pill. I absolutely applauded and agreed with Anthony Robbins when he said that two options represented not a choice, but a dilemma. Well put. Want a true choice? Pile on the options! Go for something no one else thought of. Break the damn rules already! I hate pharmacies; I would never learn to swallow something that wasn't supposed to be chewed first. There are no pills.

Beyond Thought: The Higher-Level Language of Emotion

The Oracle really distracts us with something else though, which may not actually be totally unworthy. Any thorough investigation of how thoughts manifest into reality will reveal that sticking with thought alone won't get you very far.... It's like wanting to build a house, and never getting further than deciding you're going to use bricks. If you'd like to plan a few walls and doors and windows and rooms, take it to the next level, and learn what it means to emotionally charge a thought-form or visualization. Which leads the Oracle to reveal how she and the Architect (and reportedly the CIA) can predict human behaviour - as adults many of us become slave to our emotional patterns. A large percentage of the thoughts we have today are the same ones we had yesterday and will have tomorrow, most of which serve to justify the emotions we acted on habitually. The Oracle tells Neo he isn't there with her to make a choice, but to understand the ones he's already made. In other words, his emotional patterns are set, and no matter what thoughts he uses to try to justify, examine, or understand the situation, he will act on his habitual feelings, and manifest his reality based on those thoughts that he can't help charging with emotion. Of course, he could really confound everyone if he starting making his choices and varying his emotional patterns in the moment. And for my money, basically irrelevant choices like sitting on a bench or taking a candy are largely far less predictable than a crisis in one's love life (although, even these are being tainted by Neo's knee-jerk emotional reactions to try to be unpredictable and not manipulated by the Oracle).

It is a pickle, and a larger kettle of fish than we can successfully deal with in one review, there's no doubt about it. On one hand, you want strong emotion, properly channelled, to manifest your thought with all due cooperation from Providence. Perhaps that is more important than remaining unpredictable, or dare I say, being so enemy-centered that unpredictability is desirable. Perhaps we will expand on this later.

All that said, if the major theme of the first film was at all important, in learning techniques for manifesting our thoughts, the real breakthrough obviously seems to me to be that we would not confine such techniques inside the Matrix. There must be ways to manifest thought in the real world as well, and achieving this is ultimately more important.

Lo and behold, after shattering Morpheus' Messiah-centric prophecies, and leaving the protagonists hanging on the edge of destruction, outside their comfortable loop of lies, Neo manages to pull off an example of his usual mind-over-matter control of machine mechanisms, only he does it outside in the real world. I LOVED that small section, which gave me an inkling that the trilogy was in fact headed for something very cool and correct which would not be fully manifested or explained until film 3. Too bad it wiped Neo out though.

What is going on in this moment though? Neo obviously has recognition of the machine control codes and is accustomed to applying some of his thought to rewriting and changing them while he is in the Matrix, stopping bullets, et cetera. He has also just come from being closer to the machine mainframe and controlling software architecture than ever before, a place his 5 predecessors have never returned from. Add to that an element of a sixth-sense, call it ESP, call it remote-viewing or in this case remote-influencing, and I think his ability to rewrite code by thinking about it, which has become a regular and instinctive part of his life, just kicks in and scrambles the machines, taking his brain into the normal Matrix plugged-in state while he's at it. Bizarre. And it would appear that the machines have a counter-measure for that which they may not even be aware of, which kicks in to drive an early segment of film 3. But that's for another time.

Critics' Commentary - Film 2

The critics' second commentary starts off on an interesting note, as they trace the sense of historic anticipation going into film 2, and try to pinpoint the exact moments when their own excitement turned to disappointment. Many of their criticisms during the rest of the film hit home or have some validity, in terms of highlighting items that could have gone up another notch, but for those who enjoy one or more of the genres that "The Matrix" indulges in, we won't really care too much.

I do think John Powers becomes a bit tiresome before it is all over, in that he seems to instinctively feel that if he can prove that something in this film had a pre-cursor in a previous film or previous other work of art, that somehow proves that "The Matrix: Reloaded" isn't good. Who cares? This is an obsession with references gone to the extreme negative. The other critics seem a bit more fair, but the bug seems contagious nonetheless. The big kicker with this is the idea that they can dismiss the blue-world scenes whenever they resemble Star Trek. Well, what the hell is so wrong with Star Trek? It is also good science-fiction, good action adventure, and in its heyday also pushed the boundaries of philosophical ideas. There's a huge cross-over of Star Trek fans and Matrix fans. Proving that the two franchises are similar in some aspects probably points to something that makes them good and popular. I love Star Trek. Matrix fans should too.

Perhaps the most important observation made by the critics is the gulf between the dense philosophical dialogue containing the core ideas, and the action scenes that don't have much to do with the philosophy and aren't very tightly scripted to stay focused on what the characters are supposedly motivated by. They'll point out the blow-by-blow details for you, and it is an interesting listen.

Production Points

Nitpickers may enjoy a good laugh keeping track of the amount of time that Zion has left as the films progress. Lock and company estimate 9 hours at one point in the film, while at the end Neo and company estimate 24 hours. Things are looking up for Zion after all! Add the "Enter the Matrix" footage in a chronology that supports the narrative, and Lock's numbers appear to be even more whacked out.

Musically, this trilogy isn't aiming for the kind of major classical composition that you would find in Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or a Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek, or many other major motion pictures. It draws heavily from popular techno style commercial tracks, while composer Don Davis fills in the remaining space with much more subdued material (although as the trilogy goes on, he seems to take a more active role in creating those techno tracks). But my favourite part of the orchestral portions of the score is definitely the very moving Trinity/Love theme, which gets an absolutely triumphant airing during the big climactic rescue sequence. Very nice!

The end credit sequences of Matrix films are not great, particularly in the music that assaults the audience at the end, and the second film is by far the worst. Enraged atonal shouting isn't something I listen to for pleasure, making me seriously question Wachowski taste and wisdom, particularly whether or not they want to move beyond or celebrate the enemy-centered paradigm.

At any rate, "The Matrix: Reloaded" feels in many ways to be only half a film (or 45% of a film if you add the first Animatrix segment and the Enter the Matrix footage to your viewing as I often do). A full investigation of what's going on here really does require inclusion of the next film in the trilogy, and that is where we will continue.

Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Matrix 3: Revolutions"

This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray as the second film of the trilogy in The Ultimate Matrix Collection.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
10-disc set
for the North American market:
Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

DVD PAL Region 2
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
10-disc set
for the U.K. / Europe:
Region 2 PAL

Highlights of "The Ultimate Matrix Collection" DVD Extras for "Reloaded" include:

  • Philosophers' "in-favour-of" audio commentary by Dr. Cornel West (Councillor West) and Ken Wilber.
  • Critics' "against" audio commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson.
  • "Enter the Matrix" parallel narrative cutscenes and extended scenes (42 min.) filmed for the video game.
  • "The Exiles" featurette (9 min.) interviewing Lambert Wilson (The Merovingian), Monica Bellucci (Persephone),
    Adrian & Neil Rayment (The Twins), Randall Duk Kim (The Keymaker),
    Tanveer K. Atwal (Sati), and Bruce Spence (Trainman) analyzing their characters' philosophies and historical inspirations.
  • "Big Brother is Watching: The Architect's Office" (8 min.) with Keanu Reeves (Neo), Helmut Bakaitis (The Architect),
    Dr. Cornel West (Councillor West), and effects supervisor John Gaeta discussing the making of the sequence and its impact on story & philosophy.
  • "The Burly Man Chronicles" (94 min.) behind-the-scenes of the gargantuan shoot of films 2 & 3 and the "Enter the Matrix" game footage, with optional pop-up links to the "Follow the White Rabbit" featurettes.
  • 21 "Follow the White Rabbit" featurettes (82 min. total), focusing mainly on the contributions of actors or key production personnel such as
    Anthony Zerbe (Councillor Hamann), Roy Jones Jr. (Captain Ballard), and Daniel Bernhardt (Agent Johnson), including:
    • "Upgrades" featurette (2 min.) focusing on Matt McColm (Agent Thompson) and David Kilde (Agent Jackson).
    • "Tribute" featurette (5 min.) covering the 2001 tragedies that led to some last minute re-casting, featuring Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity),
      Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Harold Perrineau (Link), and D.O.P. Bill Pope.
  • "Anatomy of a Shot" featurettes (9 min. total)
  • "Action Match" split-screen featurettes (20 min. total)
  • "The Zion Archives" extensive collection of storyboards, static design art, and full motion 3D pre-visualizations.
  • Theatrical Trailers and TV ads.
  • ...Don't forget there's nearly a full disc's worth of interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff pertaining to film 2 that we're not bothering to detail here.

Blu-ray version:

Blu-ray Extras add:

  • MTV Movie Awards Reloaded
In the absence of a proper Blu-ray release of the Ultimate Matrix Collection in the U.K., this trilogy set appears to be the most popular hi-def version of the films for British amazon shoppers. There are a LOT of differences in the bonus features offered though, so buyer beware.
Blu-ray Region A/1
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
for the North American market:
Region A/1

Region A/1

Bilingual Set

Blu-ray Region B/2
The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Italian Import to the U.K.:
Region B/2

Blu-ray Region B/2
The Matrix Trilogy - U.K.

Region B/2

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Matrix 3: Revolutions"

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