So I waited four weeks after the premiere to see The Matrix Reloaded; is that long enough to escape the obligation to give SPOILER warnings? Probably not. Go take the red pill and come back.
If I shared many fans’ and critics’ misgivings about the anticipated sequel, it was due to the high expectations set by the first film and hard experience with sequels and "bridge movies." It’s been almost 30 years since the first summer blockbuster, and our jadedness is approaching the encrustation of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s hard to fault anyone from pre-concluding that a film so riddled with marketing strategies should have been necessarily hobbled in its ambitions for creative complexity or narrative consistency. And after Twin Peaks I have always been chary of series whose mythologies were episodic in conception rather than elaborated from a comprehensive vision which governs every chapter.
What I don’t have patience for are objections that there was too much exposition or too much time spent in dirty, boring Zion. Such gripes imply that the chief attraction of the first film—and, therefore, the reason why anyone would want to watch a sequel—was the masterfully-choreographed fight scenes and the attendant reality-bending special effects. Never mind that what distinguished The Matrix from every other action movie in the post-CGI 90s was its first-rate science fiction premise: Philip K. Dick meets The Terminator. Surely, goes the whinge, we should have less exposition in the sequel, not more. This is anti-intellectualism at its most breezy.
The Matrix movies are, after all, studies on the nature of motivation, so it’s probably helpful that some screen time is set aside for the characters to, you know, acquire some. Whether one feels that, when they finally did arrive, the action and effects sequences lived up to, surpassed, or disappointed the standards set by those of the first film, I am happy to report that they did not intolerably distract from or confuse the delicately layered conflicts between the various theories of Reality and Purpose offered by Neo’s many antagonists (and make no mistake, everyone’s an antagonist). The pacing problem alone was immense; the necessarily euphemistic Architect scene had to maintain tension, impart complex tone-shifting exposition while preserving the possibility that the Architect might be maliciously deceptive, and provide a germ of catharsis for an otherwise anti-climactic film. No wonder they decided they couldn’t wait longer than six months to release The Matrix Revolutions.
The Architect tells Neo that there is nothing new(neo) under the sun, and the same applies when science fiction dabbles in theology. Ken Mondschein does a fair job of explicating the classical religious roots of the cosmology constructed by les Frères Wachowski, and Martin Marprelate provides a logical framework for many nagging questions about motivations. What I find intriguing is that this may be the first version of the "world created by Satan" in which humans are Satan; we created the machines which created the Matrix, after all. This puts quite a different spin on those who, like Cypher (and, to be honest, many Matrix fans), would prefer to be plugged into the Matrix; if God let Satan create the deceptive material world to tempt us into sin, it is our duty to resist, but if we did it to ourselves, then the option to bliss out on the Matrix’s many pleasures loses some of its dishonor. (While it is probably inconsistent with what we know of and can expect from the Wachowskis’ plan for the (or this) One, I remain fascinated by the suggestion that the Merovingian is a previous incarnation of the One. Why such an entity would survive (or be preserved) after the last Reload of the Matrix is unclear, but the Architect moves in mysterious ways.)
Of course, I can’t help but note that my favorite detail of the Architect’s revelation is that Neo is the sixth incarnation of the One.