The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Any time I declare that I think The Matrix Reloaded is a better film than The Matrix, I’m met with shocked looks and expressions of disbelief. And, to this day, I can’t understand why. The action is better, there’s more going on with the story and the characters and expands the philosophical concepts. It’s a sequel that builds magnificently upon its predecessor and while it’s not flawless, I think it’s a better film.

I think the core reason I like The Matrix Reloaded is that the film better melds philosophy with the characters of the film. No longer are the exploration of ideas a lecture by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), but a number of characters bearing down upon Neo (Keanu Reeves) and expressing their own ideas, trying to get him to lean to their way of thinking and understanding the universe.

Neo is most interested in the words of The Oracle (Gloria Foster), who offers him advice on how to proceed. She poses him with choices, but since she can see the future, Neo is caught in the conundrum of wondering if she already knows what will happen, what’s the point of not telling him what to do? She presents it almost as free will, but if the decision is already set, why should there be any choice? Is there even such a thing?

This is something Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) takes to an extreme as he has now been set free from the control of the machines. Now a free agent, he finds that his existence lacks meaning because things can only have meaning if they have purpose. He proposes that with purpose, there is no freedom, which suggests that true freedom robs meaning from existence.

Morpheus also believes in purpose, but more in the lines of fate, that things are preordained to be such. He’s a character often aligned with the idea of faith, believing that even though he may never understand the why of things, that there is a greater purpose beyond it all. It’s a bit ambiguous as to whether this belief is actually in Neo himself, or the notion that there is something else out there orchestrating events for the good of mankind.

And then, there’s the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), an independent program in The Matrix that has considerable power. His ideology boils down to one constant, that every action has a reaction. This is simply a universe of causality, nothing more. While he embraces this notion wholeheartedly, what he fails to see is his own reactions lead to an undesirable action, showing the inherent limitations to his own ideology.

In this regard, The Matrix Reloaded finds a way to alleviate the biggest problem facing the original film, fully integrating the philosophical ideas throughout the film’s story and it its characters. This leads to a much more ideologically satisfying conclusion to the film as it also delves into the notion of what separates the humans from machines.

And while the series proves once again that it can deal out some fantastic action, it’s the characters and their ideas that make The Matrix Reloaded a rich experience. Hearing Agent Smith deconstruct existence in order to perpetuate his petty actions or listening to Neo’s conversation with an influential character provokes deep questions about our universe while also pushing forward one of the finest sci-fi films of the last decade.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing