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The Matrix Reloaded

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The Matrix had such a powerful effect on action filmmaking that it's almost necessary to split action movies into two eras: pre- and post-Matrix. In the four years since the film's release, its gravity-defying innovations have been borrowed by every action movie looking for secondhand flash, and spoofed by every pop-culture-crazed comedy in need of an easy laugh of recognition. Having picked The Matrix's bones clean, these scavengers have turned Andy and Larry Wachowski's big bag of stylistic tricks into clichés. Consequently, for a Matrix sequel to compete in a post-Matrix world, it has to do more than just reload: It needs to haul out new artillery. On a level of pure spectacle, The Matrix Reloaded does just that. An epic car chase, a pair of ghostly twin assassins, and a fight between Keanu Reeves and an army of cloned Hugo Weavings all push the boundaries of special-effects technology, but as the last two Star Wars films prove, eye-popping visuals mean little if they don't serve a compelling narrative. On that level, Reloaded fails. Where The Matrix used Reeves' Alice-like cyber-hacker as a sturdy entry point into a mind-boggling dystopian computer Wonderland, its sequel lacks a grounding point in reality. Instead, it seems to take its cues from the solemnity and pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo of Laurence Fishburne's character, who was saddled with nearly all of the original's creaky expository dialogue. That material is farmed out more democratically in Reloaded, which further chronicles the war between machines and humans and introduces many new characters, almost none of whom make a lasting impression. Then again, the returning cast doesn't excel, either. Reeves' blankness, which was put to effective use in the original, is problematic here, and his relationship with Carrie-Anne Moss, which gave the original a dose of bracing friction, has devolved into a standard-issue love affair. In making The Matrix's leaden answer to The Phantom Menace, the Wachowski brothers seem to be afflicted with George Lucas Syndrome: They're so enthralled by the convoluted mythology of their own private universe that they've lost touch with its human core.