The badass brothers Wachowski are back, and they haven't exactly been slacking. Reloaded nimbly picks up where its predecessor left off, with the newly messianic Neo still on his uncertain road to digital self-fulfillment but having perfected his singular ability to manipulate the Matrix. (He can fly this time around and still fights like nobody's business.) Where the first film succeeded on the strength of its early anonymity, the second launches from a foundation of familiarity. The construct of world-as-computer program is still genius. With Reloaded, that complicated concept gets tweaked within an exhilarating inch of oblivion.
Superficially, Reloaded puts the City of Zion under imminent attack from an overwhelming number of Sentinels; if Neo and his compatriots hope to stop them, they must get the Key, which will unlock the door to the Source. Big picture -- and a la Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys -- Reloaded dabbles with the concepts of cause and effect, predestination and free will. Plus, thanks to the intricate choreography of Yuen Wo Ping and the Wachowskis' gimmicky-but-good camera work and clock manipulation, it just plain kicks ass.
Neo is a role Keanu Reeves was born to play; the Matrix movies take his wooden emptiness and make of it a Zen garden. Carrie-Anne Moss' Trinity and Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus are dutifully slick and stoic. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his arched eyebrow are once again front and center, this time with a nasty replication problem. New characters rock Reloaded, foremost among them Lambert Wilson's deliciously malevolent and very French Merovingian and his underlings, the ethereal, evil Twins (Neil and Adam Rayment).
The beauty of both Matrix films is that they are as beholden to the cold code of a video game as to a mystic sensibility. Not always understanding exactly what's going on and why is just part of the pretty package. Matrix has mind-twisting exposition scenes that teeter on the Dune-esque, but unlike its sandy sibling, Reloaded always pays off with a cool concept to latch on to and even cooler eye candy to make the pain go away.