The Matrix Reloaded

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The plot thickens in “The Matrix Reloaded,” while the dialogue gets heavier and the special effects get more expensive. It is no better than its groundbreaking predecessor — its cyclical structure of leaden philosophical conversation followed by techno-scored butt-kicking, repeated repeatedly, is disappointingly formulaic — but it is certainly awe-inspiringly cool when it wants to be, which is most of the time.

The film gives no recap, assuming instead that all viewers have either recently seen the 4-year-old “Matrix” or have insanely good memories. When it begins, Neo (Keanu Reeves), now experiencing Jesus-like popularity and responsibility, is weighed down by the prospect of fighting the machines that have enslaved mankind — 250,000 representatives of which are now heading for Zion to put down the Neo-led rebellion.

Once again, he is mentored by Morpheus (the coolly eloquent Laurence Fishburne), and once again he seeks guidance from the Oracle (Gloria Foster). His heady conference with her is the film’s last stop in Legitimately Deepville before venturing into Pretentiousland, where it wallows for some time. Brother writer/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski have read a lot of writings by a lot of German philosophers, and this film demonstrates those great thinkers’ usefulness: They have none.

Through it all, Neo is plagued by nightmares in which his beloved Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) meets an untimely end at the hands of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Smith, I should add, now has the ability to replicate himself, and Neo can fly. Why? ‘Cause it’s cool, I guess.

The film has two action centerpieces, both as thrilling as anything you’re likely to see without the aid of hallucinogens. One has Neo fighting an army of Smith clones, a sequence that resembles a video game right down to Keanu Reeves’ waxy, inexpressive face. The other is, of all things, a car chase. Has it come to this?

Neo says, “I wish I knew what I’m supposed to do” early in the film and repeats variants of it often, generally letting the weight-of-the-world attitude make his demeanor even more sullen than usual. This is a dour, dreary action hero, almost capable of dragging down a film that is supposed to be, I think, fun.

Another line typical of the film is uttered by a minor, random character: “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.” That explains a lot about the movie’s concept, which is to show as much high-flying martial arts combat as possible. This is done with extraordinarily advanced special effects and giddily exciting fight choreography. The film is not as smart or deep as it thinks it is, but it’s twice as exhilarating.

B (2 hrs., 18 min.; R, scattered profanity, brief partial nudity, some fairly strong sexuality, a ton of action-related violence.)

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