Unlocking the Matrix

An exclusive look at the year's most avidly anticipated film epic.

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    So what happens in Reloaded ? You've been very patient, waiting for four years and wading through 240 lines of this story. You deserve a full description of the new movie. WARNING: The secrets are finally out. Gentler Readers who wish to view the film in blissful ignorance may turn this page now. We'll call you when it's over.

    Reloaded begins as The Matrix did, with green computer code drizzling down a black screen and Trinity kicking beaucoup booty as the Agents pursue her over and off rooftops. She demolishes several drone Guards with a virtuosic fury: fabulous helmet smashes and back-leg extensions. Soon she is hurtling streetward as an Agent blasts away at her. Thwock! One bad-guy bullet hits home. Trinity falls onto a parked car, terminally smashing it and her.

    Neo is jolted awake from this dream, or prophecy, as Trinity sleeps next to him. The Nebuchadnezzar , Morpheus' ship, heads for Zion, the one city on Earth whose humans are not under the spell of the Matrix. Except for Neo's fight with three upgrade-generation Agents, the film's first hour is spent on political wrangling among the Zion elite. Morpheus tangles with his rival Lock (Harry Lennix) and realigns with lost love Niobe (Pinkett Smith). If you thought the Jedi Council debates were the high points of the Star Wars films, you'll love this part of Reloaded . The red-meat brigade will have to wait a bit for their action satisfaction.

    Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), Neo's nemesis, has been busy. At the end of the first film, he thought he had killed Neo; in fact, he was witness to the birth of the hero. Now that Neo has learned to fly, Smith has acquired a trick of his own: this computer virus can invade any form, human or Agent, and take it over. After invading Bane, a Zionite, Smith cuts a gash in his hand. He's fascinated by the humanity he has assumed — by the blood, the vulnerability, the pain. Smith was always more warped than we gave him credit for.

    Neo is summoned by the Oracle and realizes that she's "a program from the machine world." She gives Neo a quest: find the door to the Source. To do so, he must find the Key Maker (Randall Duk Kim), imprisoned by a desiccated French dandy, the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson).

    First, Neo has a date with Mr. Smith — a lot of him — in a courtyard. Neo fights eight, then two dozen, then 100 Smiths. (He's a twist on an Austin Powers villain, the Many-Me.) In the "Burly Brawl," as the filmmakers call this sequence, numerical size doesn't matter. Neo deflects his assailants with his superior pole fighting or by swinging a spare Smith like an Olympic hammer to knock over many others.

    Flanked by Trinity and Morpheus, Neo meets the Merovingian and his luscious wife Persephone (Monica Bellucci). The Merovingian is a Frenchman out of the Bush Administration bestiary: cruel, supercilious, with a love of cursing in French — which he describes as like "wiping your ass with silk." He refuses to release the Key Maker.

    Persephone, livid at her husband's infidelities, tells Neo she will help him — at the price of a passionate kiss. Reluctantly, he gives her one, and she leads the Zion Three to the Key Maker. They are set upon by eight of the Merovingian's goons, including those fierce wraiths, the Twins. Neo grabs some ancient weapons and bests the bunch. Trinity and Morpheus depart for their wild ride with the Key Maker.

    Having survived their freeway adventure, Neo, Morpheus and the Key Maker enter a skyscraper — the building in Neo's Trinity dream. Neo insists Trinity remain behind, to stay alive. "One door leads to the Source," the Key Maker says; he adds that the door will be accessible for exactly 314 seconds. Eventually, after more fighting, Neo finds the right door and walks into a room where an old man (Helmut Bakaitis) sits."I am the Architect," he says. "I created the Matrix. I've been waiting for you."

    Watching the first film, skeptical viewers had to wonder: In a world where nothing was as it seemed, were Morpheus and his band the only realists, or were they the victims of a monstrous delusion? The Architect tells Neo he is a dupe: a false hope that springs among the tiny group of rebels who believe in a superman, a One, as their salvation. The coming of Neo and his five predecessors — for this is the sixth version of the Matrix, the sixth revolt of Zion — was programmed by "the mother of the Matrix." The Oracle.

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