Matrix Reloaded, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 27, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Matrix Reloaded, The (4K UHD Review)

Director

The Wachowskis

Release Date(s)

2003 (October 30, 2018)

Studio(s)

Village Roadshow/Silver Pictures/Groucho II Film Partnership (Warner Bros.)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Matrix Reloaded (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

The Matrix Reloaded is the second chapter of the Wachowskis’ epic science fiction/cyberpunk trilogy set in the word of the computerized Matrix, where Machines have enslaved the bodies of Humans by tricking their minds as to the true nature of reality. Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity are all back, along with a rogue's gallery of new supporting characters. And things have gotten a little more dicey for them. It seems the Machines have upgraded and mass produced themselves for a final, all-out assault on Zion, the Human enclave hundreds of miles beneath the Earth's burnt-out surface. They're right over Zion and they're drilling down fast. As if weren’t bad enough, the software agents in the Matrix too have been upgraded, particularly Agent Smith. Smith is itching to get his digital hands around Neo's neck and he's got the power to do serious damage now. But Neo has gained in strength too, having vastly improved his mastery over the “rules” that govern the Matrix. So Neo and his friends regroup in Zion to plan their defense, while awaiting a message from the Oracle... a message they hope will lead them to the key to stopping the Machines once and for all.

As cool as all of that sounds, The Matrix Reloaded isn’t as good a film as the original, which had a purity and elegance that’s lacking here. The sheer density and visual spectacle of Reloaded feels like an exercise in style over substance. The many, many fight scenes tend to go on too long, so that you're drawn out of your immersion in the story. But style over substance isn’t quite correct; there are some very significant concepts being played out here, it’s just that their complexity is significant and the story delivers them in quick hits then blazes over them in a hail of bullets and wire-fu. Don't get me wrong... they're all pretty cool. But they can't compete with the emotional impact of the first film. There's a point in the set-piece battle between Neo and a hundred Agent Smiths where the characters suddenly become all digital, so the fight moves can be made that much more incredible. But you can tell exactly when none of the characters you're seeing aren't real anymore, so a lot of the sense of jeopardy in the scene goes away. Throw in an extended rave scene in Zion, full writhing bodies, and it becomes tougher to appreciate this film as anything but spectacle on a vast scale.

Tougher… but not impossible. There's definitely some good stuff here. The production design is fabulous and the VFX is mostly excellent – a good thing given that there's so much of it. The story is rife with cultural and literary references, seemingly all of it serving symbolic purpose. The cast fills out their roles admirably, with a number of new additions, notably Monica Bellucci as the sensual Persephone. Keanu Reeves is once again stiffly perfect as Neo – the guy was born to play this role. And it would be impossible to review this film and not give a nod to the delightful Hugo Weaving, who plays the role of Agent Smith to the absolute hilt here. I did use the words “a hundred Agent Smiths” a minute ago, and believe me, every last one of them tears up the screen.

Like The Matrix before it (and you can read our review of that film in 4K Ultra HD here), The Matrix Reloaded was shot in Super 35 using Panavision cameras and finished on film (with VFX shots rendered at 2K), though the freeway chase sequence was actually finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate. The original camera negative (and master internegative for visual effects shots finished on film) were scanned in 4K and remastered under the supervision of the film’s director of photography, Bill Pope. The DI for the freeway chase scene was presumably upsampled to 4K. The resulting 4K master was graded for high dynamic range in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and the resulting image is presented on Ultra HD at the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Once again, the increase in fine detail and texturing over the previous Blu-ray transfer is quite noticeable, especially given the film’s vintage and the slightly lower resolution of its visual effects shots. The film’s moderate grain structure remains wonderfully intact, but image definition is crisp and tight. The digitally-processed look the film has previously suffered on Blu-ray is gone; this actually looks like a proper film experience. HDR strongly benefits this film, making shadows genuinely black while giving the highlights a lovely sheen and the brightest areas of the frame an eye-reactive pop. The grade also restores the film’s proper color timing. The Blu-ray suffered from a constant green push that was off-putting. To be fair, the film is meant to have a cool green-blue look in certain scenes (the freeway chase for example), but not constantly. Now, the coloring is more varied and natural, as it should be, and the wider color gamut lends a greater degree of nuance. This image is very pleasing and it’s fair to say that this film has never looked so good before, even if you experienced it in a theater in its original release.

Audio on the 4K disc is available in a new object-based Dolby Atmos lossless mix. The first thing to note is that it’s not the default option when you press play, so be sure you switch to Atmos in the menus when you start the disc. Once you do, you’re treated to a sonic experience of breathtaking quality. The staging is at once natural and highly immersive, with tremendous dynamic range that extends from the quietest moments, featuring subtle atmospheric cues, to thunderous bombast in action scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the surround panning and movement are smooth and precise. The height channels afforded by Atmos extend the field vertically to greatly enhance action moments, including Trinity’s fall from the building, the “Burly Brawl,” and the freeway chase. The pulsing electronic music in the Zion rave scene sounds full and rich. Like the Atmos mix on The Matrix in 4K, this is a reference-quality experience. Additional audio options include 5.1 Dolby Digital in English, French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, Polish voice-over, Russian, Thai, and Turkish, with 2.0 Dolby Digital in Spanish and Portuguese. Optional subtitles include English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Dutch, Castilian Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

The Ultra HD disc offers a trio of extras, carried over from the previous DVD and Blu-ray release. They include:

  • Written Introduction by The Wachowskis
  • Philosophers Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber
  • Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson

All of this is good, but the Philosophers Commentary is the real standout. It’s totally worth your time, and remains one of the more original and interesting special features ever created for DVD. My appreciation of this film has grown a little since I last experienced it on Blu-ray, and this commentary is a big reason why. It helps you to realize that there is still a great deal more going on with this film intellectually underneath all of the spectacle that you might think upon first viewing.

In addition to the 4K disc, there’s a 1080p HD Blu-ray version of the film included in the packaging. But this isn’t the previous release; it’s a new Blu-ray mastered from the 4K scan. This is a night-and-day difference over the previous release, as mentioned, which appeared digitally-processed and featured an excessive green push in the coloring. Detail is far more refined now, coloring is more natural, and there’s no visible compression artifacting. This disc too includes the new Dolby Atmos mix. If I had to choose, I would always take the 4K UHD. But if you’re HD only, this is absolutely a Blu-ray worth upgrading to.

The movie Blu-ray has the same three features above and adds the following, again carried over for the previous Blu-ray:

  • In-Movie Experience

Once again, there’s also a second Blu-ray of special features that includes the following (in the original SD):

  • Behind the Matrix (4 featurettes – 46:57 in all)
  • Car Chase (9 featurettes – 86:07 in all)
  • Teahouse Fight (2 featurettes – 7:04 in all)
  • Unplugged (5 featurettes – 40:26 in all)
  • I’ll Handle Them (4 featurettes – 17:10 in all)
  • The Exiles (2 featurettes – 17:53 in all)
  • Enter the Matrix: The Game (28:17)
  • Enter the Matrix (23 scenes – 42:31 in all)
  • P.O.D. Sleeping Awake Music Video (3:43)

All of these features are in English, but there are English subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and many other languages too. This represents most of the content from the previous Blu-ray release, but not all. Missing are the Reloaded/Revolutions teaser, the Matrix Reloaded trailer, and 8 TV spots. It’s also important to point out that neither of these individual 4K film releases, nor The Matrix Trilogy in 4K Ultra HD, includes The Animatrix or The Matrix Experience from the previous The Ultimate Matrix Collection Blu-ray box set (reviewed here). It’s possible that The Animatrix could be released on 4K at a later date, but it’s unlikely that The Matrix Experience content (The Burly Man Chronicles, The Roots of The Matrix, The Zion Archive) will appear elsewhere, so you will likely want to keep that BD box set if you have it. You do at least get a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code on a paper insert in the packaging.

Though a great deal more dense and conceptually laden than the original film, The Matrix Reloaded does have much going for it. But that’s not necessarily apparent upon casual viewing. Thankfully, Warner’s new 4K Ultra HD release is strong enough visually and sonically that it made me eager to revisit Reloaded and give it a second chance. I’m glad I did. Add the bonus of a remastered Blu-ray too and fans should be thrilled with this release. You get your money’s worth here. Recommended.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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