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The Matrix Reloaded
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

The long-awaited sequel to The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, directed by the Wachowski brothers, features most of the same characters and actors. There's Laurence Fishburne as the visionary prophet Morpheus (reminding us in Shakespearean fashion that our little lives are rounded by a sleep); Keanu Reeves as Neo, for the new Jesus or maybe the new revolution, or maybe just a new program; Carrie-Anne Moss is Trinity (the Holy Spirit?); Hugo Weaving, in the most clever twist of the movie, is all the agent Smiths you've ever known (just like the Eminem video of The Real Slim Shady). There are also several new folks, including Jada Pinkett Smith as Captain Niobe, commander of the underground ship Logos-the name of the ship presumably compensating for her stereotyping as an African queen torn between two powerful male leaders (more Shakespeare?). There's also the utterly delightful Lambert Wilson as the Merovingian, representing all things French, which used to mean decadent pleasure through artifice (I'll have to ask my medievalist friend Sharon if the Merovingians had the rep for being especially sybaritic); but which now also convincingly conveys evil to the American public. The French is nicely pronounced, by the way.

In Neuromancer, William Gibson gave us commander Maelcom and his tugboat The Marcus Garvey. Maelcom was the leader of a Rastafarian community of luddites laying siege on Babylon to usher in the new Zion (this movie's underground revolutionary community is also called Zion). Molly and Case, the near-identical boy-girl protagonists of the cyberpunk novel, teamed up with this community to achieve, ultimately and unexpectedly, the liberation of the matrix itself. Thus the novel remains ambivalent with respect to the question The Matrix Reloaded also poses: if we are all creatures of the matrix, is it a good or a bad thing (and can we tell the difference or does the difference even matter)? Gibson clearly had some sympathy for the machine, inviting us to speculate about its post-human subjectivity. In The Matrix Reloaded, its subjectivity is human, all too human, and that's a little disappointing I think-it takes us right back to good guys and bad guys and a very old story, when it might have done something new. After all, the tech stuff is nice and new, if 1999 with a few improvements can still be called new in 2003 (kind of like the military this time round: same old war with new and improved technology).

Which brings me back to the Rastafarian business. The Matrix Reloaded does it again: the new revolution is nature versus the machine, and nature, here as in much of American popular mythology (Stephen King novels come to mind), is Africanized, bodily, rhythmic, primitivist. Even though there are attempts to complicate the picture-the generals and prophets are Black (sounds about right for the US no?), one of the councilors is the African American critic, professor, and preacher Cornel West, and well, yes, Captain Niobe's ship is called the Logos, referring to Christ as the Word-still, the rational masterminds, the wise elder, the youthful heroes, and the bad guys are all white. Movie multiculturalism sure is a bundle of confused contradictions these days.

Sci fi quests often seem to pit the past against the present and call it the future, and maybe this is The Matrix Reloaded's ironic commentary on revolution, that in the name of the future it commits itself to and ushers in an edenic past. On the other hand, maybe this movie's much more cynical and less philosophical than that: it's all tech, all simulacrum, including whatever we mean by Black and White. What's left is the pleasure of the spectacle, the gasp of astonishment at the latest cinematic or digital pyrotechnics and the promise that it will continue. There's a glimmer of real ethical difficulty at one point in the film, couched in an age-old philosophical false choice: is it better to save humanity in general or the one you love? But then it quickly moves on, to be, perhaps, continued. Lovely, even at times awe-inspiring to watch, depressing to think about, The Matrix Reloaded is indeed a movie of our time.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.