No sequel could have lived up to 1999’s The Matrix. With one film, the Wachowskis changed action cinema forever. When the filmmakers announced they were following up their iconic film with two sequels, fans flipped, but when those movies hit theaters within five months of one another, people didn't know what to make of them. Both Reloaded and Revolutions were criticized for being bloated and overreaching. But are the Matrix sequels really worthy of such detestation?
Rather than using the Matrix trilogy to remake the original film twice, the Wachowskis instead decided to take the best parts of The Matrix and twist them into new kinds of sequels. These movies don't just follow in the footsteps of their predecessor - they turn the story upside-down and inside-out. While they resemble the original, they're still completely new.
If you don't want to spend two hours watching a mind-bending, philosophical action movie, but you still want to feel the jolt of an action sequence that makes other movies feel like child’s play, queue up the opening sequence of any movie in the Matrix franchise. Matrix Reloaded, in particular, delivers on this front.
The film's opening sequence follows Trinity as she runs from an agent, mostly in bullet time. The transition between Trinity’s phone call and her jumping out of a high-rise building is particularly thrilling. This is the first of many shocking moments in Reloaded and Revolutions, and it reminds viewers that the Wachowskis didn't lose their step after the original film.
The opening sequence of Revolutions is a direct continuation of its predecessor, and while it's not absolutely action-packed, it does foreground the parallel between Neo and Agent Smith by demonstrating that they can both exist inside the Matrix without being plugged in. Also, we get to meet the new Oracle, which is significant, even if it's not clear why until later in the film.
The main criticism against the Matrix sequels is that they're bloated and only attempt to replicate everything that made the first movie great. The sequels are definitely full of ideas - some of which aren't fully fleshed out - but they're hardly copies of the original. Both follow-ups, specifically Reloaded, either invert many of the original film's themes or subvert them through overt parallels.
For example, Reloaded opens with Trinity outrunning an agent, only to be shot in the stomach, causing her to smash through a car. Not only is this a bold departure from the events of the first film, but it's the last thing the audience expects. The final moments of Revolutions show a black cat - something the audience believes is a bad omen - but instead, the cat is picked up by Sati, a computer program in the form of a child.
The films even take the core theme of the original film - the importance of free will - and twist it by showing that Neo has been living out the same life, and that he's followed the same program six times in a row. While the sequels do look like the original film, that appears to be the Wachowskis' point.
All of the Matrix films are philosophical tomes hidden inside action movies, but while the first film has a spartan cast of about six or seven people, the sequels feature an enormous cast of different ship crews, people standing in for lines of code, and members of the Zion government.
The Wachowskis ensured that Neo's fellow freedom-fighters represented the diversity of their audience. There are people of multiple ethnicities and genders onscreen, which differentiates the sequels not only from action films of the time, but from those of today, as well.
These choices may be read as a criticism of the casting system that places only Caucasian actors in big-budget movies while passing over actors of color. The increased diversity of the sequels' casts is also a more realistic snapshot of the world's population.
Both Matrix sequels feature a variety of action. Reloaded ends with a three-act fight scene that culminates in Morpheus fighting an agent on top of a semi-truck. Because it's a Wachowski movie, it doesn't just end with Morpheus standing over his antagonist - instead, the truck crashes head-first into another truck as Neo flies Morpheus to safety. It's one of the most triumphant moments in the entire trilogy.
Revolutions is known as the more philosophical of the two sequels, but it has just as much - if not more - action as Reloaded. The second film in the trilogy may have a fight on top of a moving truck, but Revolutions ends with a giant mech battle, which parallels Neo beating up Agent Smith on an entire planet of Smith clones.