There are a few basic rules that all sequels should follow, particularly those in the action genre. A terrific opening sequence for a start, followed by a gentle reminder of the plot from the first film alongside some self-deprecating humour to put the audience at ease and know we are back on familiar ground. But enough of X-Men 2. The Matrix Reloaded dispenses with all of the above and is a film that takes itself very, very seriously indeed, so much so that a better film to compare it to might be The Phantom Menace.
The first major action sequence of The Matrix Reloaded sees Neo (Reeves) battling his nemesis Agent Smith once again. It's impressive stuff, and one of three hugely expensive set-pieces in the film, but it doesn't arrive until an hour of screen time has elapsed. Prior to this we have an hour set mostly on Zion, the last bastion of humanity and one which is under imminent attack from the machines. Unfortunately the great part of this hour is taken up with leaden dialogue largely concerning the political structure of Zion. Council meetings figure strongly (as well as a somewhat bizarre sweaty rave sequence) and the resulting opening makes an eager audience palpably shift in its seats.
This disappointing first hour also fails to tell us little that we didn't know or expect already. In order to avert the attack, the humans are going to have to send out an emissary (Neo and his ship), re-enter The Matrix, and follow some cod pseudo-intellectual rules laid down by The Oracle (Gloria Foster). Thus we are prepared for a final hour in which Neo runs from place to place (while being haunted by dreams of the death of his beloved Trinity) piecing together clues in order to avert the end of humanity.
Admittedly some of these scenes do hit the mark, notably when Neo discovers the luminous Persephone (Monica Belucci) and gives her prissy French boyfriend a timely come-uppance. There is also a spectacular highway chase scene (although worryingly the CGI effects are noticeable at several points).
But these rare highs fail to make up for the fact that this is a ponderous and often slow film weighed down by its own sense of self-importance. Like The Phantom Menace, the film will have a critic-proof audience destined to make it one of the biggest earners of all time, but in the long term it will be seen as a rather weak bridging film before the third part in the trilogy Matrix Revolutions opens in six months' time.