First reaction: Matrix Reloaded is fantastic. There’s as much depth here as there was in the first, with some new themes and many expansions to the first.

Some questions:

  • Why 314 seconds in the Source? John 3:14 (“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up”)? Or pi? Or a nod to id Software’s Commander Keen game (314 was Commander Keen’s IQ)? After all, the Wachowski brothers are known for their gaming…
  • Persephone. Not sure I get the connection yet, but clearly she’s presented as a vampire of sorts. Having the vampire clips on the TV behind her, the silver bullet, the sword fights, the baroque architecture: very Dracula.
  • Niobe. Not sure. Like Persephone, factors heavily in the Illiad.
  • The Merovingian. Not sure.
  • Commander Locke (update: he’s listed in the credits as Lock, not Locke, so maybe I’m off here), most likely a nod to John Locke. (Key theme: “comprehension is not required for cooperation”.) Note: Locke (the philosopher) is also known as the “philosopher of freedom”. Wonder how that jives with Lock’s stumbling in combatting the sentinels? Interestingly, the counselor giving Lock his comeuppance was played by Cornel West.
  • Architecture. Architecture is clearly a theme: the key to destroying the Matrix is a building, about which there are peculiar characteristics that render it vulnerable (“like any system, it has a weakness”). The restaurant where they meet the Merovingian has some clear Frank Lloyd Wright design influences (remember that the Wachowskis are from Chicago), and Neo’s ultimate confrontation is with someone/something named The Architect.
  • One, 1 and 101 proliferate. No surprises there.
  • Far from subtle, the notion of choice and purpose are central to the film. Humans’ choice is their defining characteristic, says Neo – and it is the “anomaly” in the Matrix that could lead to its downfall, says The Architect. That we would each have a purpose – and that the purpose might be, as in the case of the key maker, to help destroy the Matrix itself – suggests a driving force outside of the Matrix that governs the Matrix. This is of course a bit counterintuitive – if we have a purpose that is predestined, do we choose it or is it chosen for us? If the latter, by whom?
  • To that last question, my wife had an interesting suggestion: what if, towards the end of the film, Neo can now control the environment outside the Matrix? When he massages Trinity’s heart, you see the code in the Matrix but you see his bones on Trinity’s monitor on the Nebuchadnezzar. That doesn’t follow what we know (or think we know) about the Matrix: the Matrix is a representation of what we are in the “real world”, not the other way around. When the sentinels approach (and they’re no longer in the Matrix), Neo is able to destroy the sentinels. This is possible only if he’s obtained power – and control – outside of his ability to manipulate the Matrix.

I definitely want to see the scenes with the Merovingian, the Oracle, and the Architect again. Each reveals far more than I caught in the first viewing. While I agree with a few of the points that David Edelstein makes in today’s Slate (he adored the first, was underwhelmed with Reloaded), I’m ultimately more forgiving than he is. There’s more to this than we can pick up the first time around, and there was no way they could make lightning strike twice. This is a good successor to the first – but not surprisingly, it’s not as “new” as the first was.

Stay through the credits, by the way – the trailer for Matrix Revolutions follows. And that’s really the message: Reloaded is less a film on its own than a middle act in a trilogy.

At the conclusion of Reloaded, we’re left right back where we were when Trinity approached Neo:

“What is the Matrix?”

If anything, the answer is far less clear now than it was at the end of the first.