American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Commander Lock: "Not everyone believes what you believe." Morpheus: "My beliefs do not require that they do." Characters are always talking like this in "The Matrix Reloaded," which plays like a collaboration involving a geek, a comic book and the smartest kid in Philosophy 101. Morpheus in particular unreels extended speeches that remind me of Laurence Olivier's remarks when he won his honorary Oscar--the speech that had Jon Voight going "God!" on TV, but in print turned out to be quasi-Shakespearean doublespeak. The speeches provide not meaning, but the effect of meaning: It sure sounds like those guys are saying some profound things.
That will not prevent fanboys from analyzing the philosophy of "The Matrix Reloaded" in endless Web postings. Part of the fun is becoming an expert in the deep meaning of shallow pop mythology; there is something refreshingly ironic about becoming an authority on the transient extrusions of mass culture, and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) now joins Obi-Wan Kenobi as the Plato of our age.
I say this not in disapproval, but in amusement. "The Matrix" (1999), written and directed by the brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, inspired so much inflamed pseudo-philosophy that it's all "The Matrix Reloaded" can do to stay ahead of its followers. It is an immensely skillful sci-fi adventure, combining the usual elements: heroes and villains, special effects and stunts, chases and explosions, romance and oratory. It develops its world with more detail than the first movie was able to afford, gives us our first glimpse of the underground human city of Zion, burrows closer to the heart of the secret of the Matrix, and promotes its hero, Neo, from confused draftee to a Christ figure in training.
As we learned in "The Matrix," the Machines need human bodies, millions and millions of them, for their ability to generate electricity. In an astonishing sequence, we saw countless bodies locked in pods around central cores that extended out of sight above and below. The Matrix is the virtual reality that provides the minds of these sleepers with the illusion that they are active and productive. Questions arise, such as, is there no more efficient way to generate power? And why give the humans dreams when they would generate just as much energy if comatose? And why create such a complex virtual world for each and every one of them, when they could all be given the same illusion and be none the wiser? Why is each dreamer himself or herself, occupying the same body in virtual reality as the one asleep in the pod? But never mind. We are grateful that 250,000 humans have escaped from the grid of the Matrix, and gathered to build Zion, which is "near the Earth's core--where there is more heat." As the movie opens, we are alarmed to learn that the Machines are drilling toward Zion so quickly that they will arrive in 36 hours. We may also wonder if Zion and its free citizens really exist, or if the humans only think so, but that leads to a logical loop ending in madness.