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In between, just about everything that happened before happens again. What was novel in The Matrix is now comfortably familiar as the saga encourages further participation by elaborating the rules and geography of its various realms. Much time is spent in the somewhat multiculti People's Republic of Zion. Perhaps in mocking reference to critical theorist Slavoj Zizek's celebrated prophecy that Zion, or at least the Desert of the Real, would turn out to be another computer-induced illusion, this funnel-like settlement resembles nothing so much as a steel-girder matrix. Meanwhile, the Matrix proper is riddled with mysterious doors, corridors, and backstage areas. Reloaded, it appears as less a sinister virtual reality than a video game arena swarming with rogue programs, rival computer codes, and systemic anomalieswhich is to say, as a vast elaboration of a conceit put forth by the DOS-era Disney relic Tron.
The unconvincing nostalgia for "reality" that characterized The Matrix has been unsentimentally dropped. Live with it. Dispensing with the red-pill question, despite the introduction of a half-dozen new charactersnot counting the madly multiplying Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, hissy as ever), Reloaded flirts with an excess of drama. As hacker Thomas Anderson turned possible messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his grim-faced, vinyl-clad guardian angel Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) lock lips at every opportunity, Reloaded is sexier, or at least sweatier, than its precursor. Even the solemn rebel-rebel Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) gets to make eyes and flash his chrome-dome at spunky Captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Further romantic complications arise when unwilling Neo is compelled to bestow the Kiss of Passion on the agent moll played by Monica Bellucci (some hardship!) in order to find the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim)a concept imported from Ghostbusters.
Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary
Directed by Guy Maddin,
from Mark Godden's ballet Dracula
May 14 through 27, at Film Forum
Love has scarcely rendered Neo expressiveor susceptible to the usual verbal abuse offered by the now replicated Smith: "Missster Anderson . . . still using all your muscles except the one that matters?" (nyaaah-nyaaah). No less impervious to opinion than Neo's bullet-proof Gardol shield, Reloaded will likely make enough money to balance George Bush's budget. But I suspect it may also divide its fan base. Even more than Blade Runner (a commercial flop in its day), The Matrix captivated multiplex hoi polloi, dark-planet true believers, and ivory-tower mandarins alike. But where The Matrix was a heady cocktail of gnostic Zen Philip K. Dick cyberpunk '60s psychedelic bull, well spiked with high-octane digitally driven Hong Kong action pyrotechnics, those elements reloaded soon separate out. The refreshing draft of effervescent movie magic leaves a sludgy sediment of metaphysics.
The latter may be less than brain-buzzing; the former is something else, thanks largely to genius fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping. The scene wherein the luau drums begin calling all Zion to get down and partya word that scarcely does justice to the world's biggest ravepales before the array of skyscraper swan dives, midair moon walks, tabletop two-steps, nunchuck cha-chas, perpendicular push-offs, sidelong cartwheels, and trampoline freezies that Master Yuen has contrived for the film's human stars. But for pure video game shock and awe, the most exciting sequence is a prolonged freeway chase with helmetless Trinity riding her motorcycle against traffic as cars pile up and scatter all around like autumn leaves.
Still, Reloaded aspires to more than mindless sensation. As the writer-directors of a high-tech, computer-spawned movie with a technophobic cyber-dystopian premise, the Wachowski brothers feel obliged to acknowledge the obvious paradox by hinting that machines are neither wholly good nor entirely badthus setting up the revelatory cyborg symbiosis perhaps to arrive before Christmas with The Matrix Revolutions. As Neo wonders if he is indeed the One and what it is that One is supposed to do, the Wachowskis rehearse the ever gnarly conundrum of free will and determinism. An obnoxiously rational French program (Lambert Wilson) holds forth on the implacable relationship of cause and effectbut as an intuitive Kantian, Neo suspects that causal relations only appear to be causal. While these notions never get sufficient screen time to induce a Philosophy 101 migraine, faithful Morpheus can always be counted on to explicate the basic narrative. Like the gigolo in Top Hat, he believes that chance is but the fool's name for fate.
The Oracle (Gloria Foster) may be the mother of the Matrix, but the Matrixdefined in the original movie as "a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control"is clearly the mother of all metaphors. Can it be read as the Society of the Spectacle? Capital? An improved version of Socialist Realism? An updated Parallax Corporation? The National Entertainment State? Zizek's Big Other? Hardt and Negri's Empire? Baudrillard's Precession of Simulacra? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. The matrix allegorizes the new totality of the media world. Who is free not to participate? (As the movie tells us, "Everything begins with choice." As in, I choose to breathe; therefore I am.)
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