It is not fair to think The Matrix sequels would be as impactful on the culture around it as the first instalment. A flash in the pan is only possible once in a blue moon, and hoping to engage with that superb style again is just not possible. The Matrix Reloaded follows on from a story that benefitted from its open ending. That clarity of there being more to the story was a realisation we understood, and an expansion we did not need. All The Matrix Reloaded can hope to do is expand on the exciting fight scenes and universe found in the final high point of 1999.
But to improve on such an experience is nigh on impossible, as both Lilly and Lana Wachowski were soon to discover. The Matrix Reloaded is far from the quality of the first in the series. But, why would we need quality when we have quantity? The follow-up to the first in this trilogy is not an untimely or uninteresting piece, but one that struggles to find its voice. There is no identity it can share with us here that either ruins the quality of the first or instigates a desire or need for a sequel. In this awkward middle ground are all the familiar faces of the first, from Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ interesting character dynamics and chemistry to the ever-engaging Laurence Fishburne. He does not have as much mystery to him in this follow-up, though, for his dynamic intrigue was solved in the first. The Matrix Reloaded still powers through as though he held such charms still, but it is Hugo Weaving who finds himself to be the most interesting of the lot.
Most of that comes from his antagonism, though. When you have dialogue and its sole purpose is plot navigation, there is a loss of subtext and intrigue. There are no stones overlooked here, every single one is analysed with great, pained passion. We are never given the sense of intrigue or unrest that can be found in the best of features. That unrelenting desire to discover something for ourselves along the way is lost, not because The Matrix Reloaded has nothing of that calibre to offer, but because The Matrix answered all the major questions. Whatever else is left is just housekeeping. Enjoyable housekeeping at that, but not relevant or all that resourceful. The bulk of the heavy lifting is done, and now the Wachowski’s give us the clean-up phase. We have washed the dishes, seen everything there is to see, and now, timid as ever, they place their cutlery in the drawer, making sure we admire each and every spoon.
There is no harm in that, to some extent. The Matrix Reloaded is a fun and free film that encapsulates all the great moments of the first, just without the desire to linger on the minds of its audience. Highest-grossing does not mean the highest quality, and while The Matrix Reloaded marked the financial high of the series, it marks the lowest ebb of its artistic qualities, which feel sloppy and underwhelming at times. As though reinventing the wheel were bad enough, the major casualty here is the rehashes of older moments in the series. Trinity (Moss) opens both features, yet the quality difference between the two is stark, obvious, and worrying.