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The Matrix Reloaded
Image: Warner Brothers

Film

20 Years Later: The Matrix Reloaded was Underwhelming, but Still Underrated

The second Matrix film, released 20 years ago this week, received a middling reaction when it first arrived in theaters, but it’s been rehabilitated to some degree in the years since.

Revisiting The Matrix: Reloaded

The story that’s often told about the first two sequels to The Matrix, both of which arrived in 2003, is that moviegoers had been blown away by the original Matrix in 1999, only to be somewhat baffled by the second and third films, directed as always by the siblings now known as Lilly and Lana Wachowski. 

The Matrix Reloaded, which arrived in May of 2003 — 20 years ago this week — was particularly slammed at the time as confusing and unsatisfying. Some mocked its rave scene in Zion and noted that it barely had enough plot for a full-length feature film. 

In more recent years, however, Reloaded has undergone a bit of a critical reappraisal. Both sides of the equation are right: Reloaded isn’t nearly as good as the first Matrix, but it’s much better than its initial reputation. 

Image: Warner Bros

The plot of The Matrix Reloaded picks up not long after the end of The Matrix. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are now full-on lovers, and they have succeeded in freeing more people from the Matrix. 

We finally see Zion, the first film’s oft-mentioned homeland of the resistance, and that’s where the famous rave scene takes place. The primary villain is still Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who has developed the ability to replicate himself- which leads to that famous scene in which Neo is fighting dozens of Agent Smiths: 

The Matrix Reloaded

And that’s not even the film’s best action sequence, an honor that goes to the amazing highway chase scene: 

Sure, the plot is a series of MacGuffins, in which Neo needs to get to the “source” of the Matrix, which requires a key, held by the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), who is himself imprisoned by the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). It leads up to the final scene, in which The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) explains the true nature of The Matrix and gives Neo a final choice. And yes, the ending is a bit unsatisfying and plagued by mumbo-jumbo. 

And even more than that, The Matrix Reloaded is missing the shock of the new that the first movie had, which blew so many minds in 1999. The effects are outstanding, no doubt about it, but they’re not quite as groundbreaking as what we had seen in the first Matrix. 

The third Matrix film, The Matrix Revolutions, followed that same December and mostly left audiences even more confused. And that was it for the Matrix series, until the arrival 18 years later of The Matrix Resurrections, which combined a more mature and universally beloved Reeves with even more modern special effects. Resurrections flopped, indicating that any further revisiting of the series is unlikely, although it was probably the best Matrix film since the first. 

That said, there’s a lot to be said for a film with two truly great action sequences, that further built out the world established by an all-time classic. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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