Four years ago, an unsuspecting populace entered theaters and became enveloped in the world of a film unleashed with nearly zero anticipation. Those audiences viewed what has become part of the new cannon of blockbuster action films. The story and visuals the masses were privy to became one of the most beloved, most sampled and most analyzed cultural phenomena at the end of the century.

That same blessed thrall of moviegoers everywhere finally finds fulfillment in one of the most highly publicized and anticipated sequels in cinema’s history: “The Matrix Reloaded.”

Directors Andy and Larry Wachowski reset the bar for action/fighting/science fiction films with the release of the original “Matrix.” Innovative fight choreography and the debut of bullet time forever changed cinema. Stiff, realistic brawls and normal explosions were no longer enough – if it didn’t have the style and flash, it wasn’t worthwhile. In every facet of the mass media, from movies, to commercials, to music videos, 360-degree photography was a must.

Always envisioned by the brothers as a trilogy, the success of the first film provided both the want and the means for the follow-ups. The public spent years salivating for more, and the studios doubled the funding to provide newer, sleeker special effects.

For those select few who neglected to see the first installment, don’t expect an introduction. Fantastic visuals fill the opening scenes in bullet time intermixed with quick cuts of the ever-beautiful Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) battling agents, climaxing with a seemingly fatal bullet wound.

Soon enough, the action cuts off as Neo (Keanu Reaves) awakens from the nightmare. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his slim numbered crew return to the last human haven of Zion to discover that the machines are burrowing down from the surface for a final battle to destroy mankind. For the first time, we discover that doubters exist amongst the population as to whether Neo is truly “the One.”

Certainly the Wachowskis’ penchant for action becomes apparent in the Zion scenes, because the film drags terribly and loses focus in the time spent dawdling in the sacred city. Plot becomes muddled in endless questions that find no answer and the annoyingly contraction-less speeches of Morpheus. Superfluous scenes like the rave juxtaposed with Neo and Trinity inter-coitus are devoid of pertinence and, therefore, do little more than prolong the time between each amazement.

Finally, Neo receives a message from the Oracle, and the ship returns to the outer world. Back in the Matrix, Neo receives instruction on how to fulfill his destiny, and the story resumes with the purpose of finding the Keymaker to open the door of light.

Re-enter Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Defeated by Neo, Smith went into exile instead of submitting to self-destruction. Back to exact his revenge/duty, he now has the uncanny ability to replicate himself using any human form within the Matrix. This brings about the incomparable and aptly-named “Burly Brawl.”

Expectations abound, this fight sequence is nothing short of breathtaking. Fans and everybody else will find the anticipation shattered and bested beyond what was once deemed impossible, much thanks to fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping and his team. Not only does the pioneering Universal Capture process make each individual Smith snarl and grimace look unquestionably real, but also the battle, the choreography and the cinematography incomparably one-up the original. Luckily this translates into forgiving the fact that the scene itself is pointless to the story other than to reintroduce the specific anti-Neo.

New characters like Monica Bellucci’s Persephone, the Twins (Adrian and Neil Rayment) and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) are more than welcomed, adding interesting subplots to rejuvenate the story after its initial lull. The other highly-discussed chase sequence, not to mention the altogether more-real-than-Superman flying of Neo, and the climactic finale twist and turn “Reloaded” into a worthwhile and meaningful extension of the Wachowskis’ amalgamation of philosophical questions, anime and numerous other influences.

Although “Reloaded” does provide a strong case to stand on its own, it finds fault in having neither a beginning nor a concrete denouement. Since the brothers originally planned “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” as one story broken into two movies, audiences must suffice with what basically serves as little more than a two-plus hour preview for “Revolutions.”

Hopefully viewers will be satisfied with the open-endedness of the story. The onslaught of eye-candy makes even “The Matrix” look dated, and I even found myself saying “Wow!” at some points. Even though the story struggles through the first hour and falls short of its intricately woven predecessor, the questions posed linger long after the end, and the payoff makes it all worthwhile.

Rating: 4 stars

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