With the critical, commercial and awards success of ‘The Matrix’, a sequel was inevitable. It wasn’t just a financial need - the world the Wachowskis had created was too intriguing, too inventive to simply be contained by one film. You could feel their vision busting at the seams in the original film, and so it only seemed logical to keep going, to keep exploring the corners of their creation and the destiny of Neo, their everyman hero now given greater insight and power into the struggle between man and machine.
It’s very easy in hindsight to recognise the folly of the two Matrix sequels. In truth, they almost had no hope of completely succeeding - nothing about the original could be repeated, but deviation from the formula wouldn’t be looked on favourably either. Returning to them for their 4K UHD release, the real surprise is how well they actually hold up, certainly compared to the cookie-cutter sequels we have now. ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ and ‘The Matrix Revolutions’ have their faults (many, one could argue), but they’re highly ambitious and visually breathtaking films in their own right. ‘The Matrix’ is a film that is incapable of ageing, but perhaps age hasn’t done much of a disservice to its follow-ups either.
In ‘The Matrix Reloaded, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is continuing to come to grips with being proclaimed The One and what that means for the fate of the free people of Zion, but when it becomes clear that the machines are launching a devastating offensive of the city, the pressure is on for him to find out where he fits in the puzzle. The problem is, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has returned and gone out of control, threatening to destabilise the Matrix and even cause havoc in the real world itself.
For the most part, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ is a pretty damn solid action spectacle, but one that highlights an inherent flaw in the Matrix franchise. Returning to their master creation, the Wachowskis continue to expand the scope and mythology of the Matrix, introducing mysterious new characters and strengthening classic ones. Whenever the film sits in the Matrix, it’s at its best, offering not just richer character and thematic material, but even greater visual spectacle (such as the jaw-dropping car chase that’s still one of the finest on film). Bill Pope’s cinematography takes another notch up, and with the novelty of bullet time behind him, explores a more balletic visual language that’s somewhere between video games, anime and grand opera. ‘Reloaded’ strengthens the mystery of the Matrix, suggesting more complex philosophical forces at work in the psychology of the machines (in much the same ‘Battlestar Galactica’ would a few years later), and in terms of character, narrative and aesthetic, are the stronger aspects of the film.
However, this goes to further highlight the great weakness of the Matrix sequels: Zion and the human world. By comparison, the realisation of the city, so often discussed with reverence in the first film, is a massive disappointment, a derivative hodge-podge of post-apocalyptic clichés populated by forgettable and obvious stereotypes sprouting quasi-Shakespearean dialogue with dull emotional intensity. The Matrix was always going to be the more fascinating world to explore, but there’s little in the Wachowskis' vision of a human utopia that’s appealing, even down to the fact that everyone possesses model good looks. While most of ‘Reloaded’ is set (thankfully) within the Matrix, it opens in Zion, making the first 20 minutes a spluttering stumble towards its thrilling second act. That said, I will say this for the Wachowskis' vision of Zion - it’s a richly multicultural vision without being self-conscious about it, and sees women play as integral a part in the defence of the city as men, creating a future where race and gender is less of an issue. This is one area where these sequels may look more favourable through a contemporary lens.
In its final act, ‘Reloaded’ throws down a number of ambitious narrative gauntlets that, both at the time and now, are pretty tremendous in their ambition and audacity. It leaves the trilogy balancing on a knife's edge, suggesting that the rules that govern both worlds may be about to fall apart. As we would see in the third film, they were provocations almost impossible to resolve, but this is indicative of ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ as a film. It’s ambitious to a fault, at times breathtaking and at others infuriating, but refuses to simply repeat the successes of the first film. As a demonstration of the Wachowskis' ambition though, it may be the most illustrative of the three, making it clear that, even if this wasn’t planned as a trilogy, they’re making as good a use of the opportunity as they can. Time may have not made its flaws any better, but without the astronomical expectation that greeted it on release, it certainly makes what works all the more worthy of celebration.
PICTURE & SOUND
As with the original, the 4K UHD release of ‘Reloaded’ uses a new 4K scan of the original negative as its basis, remastered under the supervision of Bill Pope, and also as with the original, the results are remarkable. The 2160p 2.40:1 transfer is noticeably filmic, sprinkled with a fine grain field, but with a significantly increased level of detail. The worlds of ‘Reloaded’ feel a lot more lived-in than in the first, and this higher definition really shows off the visual texture of the film. Thanks to the HDR boosted by Dolby Vision, colours are also a lot more consistent and subtle than in past releases, making the green and blue palettes of the Matrix and real world respectively more pronounced in their clarity.
It’s ambitious to a fault, at times breathtaking and at others infuriating, but refuses to simply repeat the successes of the first film.
[Side note: I want to give a special thanks to one of our readers who wrote and let me know of the Dolby Vision capabilities of the 4K UHD release of the first film. It had slipped my notice, but it’s always great to hear from our readers, especially when their contributions help make our reviewing of this new format even better.]
The film has also been remastered with a crisp and impressive Dolby Atmos TrueHD 7.1 track that, when compared with the additional (and strangely default) Dolby Digital 5.1 track, offers a far richer and more detailed experience. You really notice the scope of the sound with this one, and how its movement marries with the kineticism of the visuals. Just remember to chose it from the menu before you start the film so you don’t end up watching it with the lossy track.
Repeating their excellent move from the first release, the included Blu-ray features a 1080p 2.40:1 transfer also sourced from the 4K restoration, and while it of course doesn’t have the same depth and detail as the 2160p transfer, is a significant improvement over the original Blu-ray release, and also comes with the Atmos track.
While no new material has been generated for this release, it carries over the enormous collection of extras included on the original Blu-ray. The 4K disc once again features the written introduction from the Wachowskis, along with the Philosophers and Critics commentaries. These can also be found on the first Blu-ray disc with the 1080p presentation of the film, which also includes the In-Movie Experience from the original Blu-ray release.
The rest of the extras are included on a second Blu-ray disc, and there’s a lot to get through. They include:
- ‘Behind The Matrix’ (46:57), a series of standard making-of featurettes looking at the making of ‘Reloaded’ and the multi-medium approach the Wachowski’s took to expanding the universe with anime and video game companions, including the MTV Movie Awards spoof
- ‘Car Chase’ (1:26:07), another multi-part documentary focusing on the iconic car chase through all stages of production
- ‘Teahouse Fight’ (7:04), which looks at the fight between Neo and Seraph
- ‘Unplugged’ (40:26), another multi-part documentary on the Burly Brawl
- ‘I’ll Handle Them’ (17:10), a series of featurettes looking at the Great Hall fight (my favourite in the film)
- ‘The Exiles’ (17:53), two featurettes looking at the new characters in the Matrix and the complex final scene with the Architect
- ‘Additional Footage’, which includes ‘Enter The Matrix: The Game’ (28:17), a look at the making of the companion game, and ‘Enter The Matrix’ (42:31), the additional footage shot for the game that informs events in the film, presented in standard definition
- ‘Sleeping Awake’ (3:43), the music video for the song by P.O.D. written for the film
The only consciously missing material are the trailers and TV spots (mentioned on the back cover), but those were relegated to their own seperate disc in the Ultimate Matrix Collection Blu-ray set, so that may explain their absence here.