It has taken four years and more than $300 million to get the giddy charge out of seeing the words ''The Matrix'' and ''Summer Movie Preview'' in the same sentence. Four years of script work, special-effects tinkering, basic training, and travel. Four years of pregnancies, births, injuries, and deaths. Four years of toiling to deliver the first of two sequels to the 1999 film that shoved ''Star Wars'' aside and changed the way movies look and sound.
But our Neo nightmare appears to be over.
When last we saw ''The One'' (Keanu Reeves), he was threatening the machines that enslaved humanity with extinction and soaring into the sky. In ''Reloaded'' the machines are poised to strike back: Learning the location of Zion, the last human city, they dispatch a massive army to squash the resistance forever. This first sequel follows Neo's pursuit to stop the machines and decipher his ominous dreams about his girlfriend and fellow rebel, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). ''There is the introduction of many more characters. The world is vastly expanded,'' explains Hugo Weaving, who returns as the nefarious Agent Smith. ''It's far more complex.''
That's one way to describe one of the largest cinematic undertakings ever. The Wachowskis' two-year production stretched from Alameda, Calif. (where they built an entire highway for a car chase), to Sydney, Australia. Along the way it weathered the deaths of Gloria Foster, who played the first film's Oracle, and Aaliyah, who was set to costar as a character named Zee (she was replaced by ''Ali'''s Nona Gaye). In addition to both films (''The Matrix Revolutions'' is due in November), the brothers were also busy overseeing a videogame -- featuring more than an hour of exclusive movie footage -- and a series of animated shorts titled ''The Animatrix.''
''I could care less about how big it is,'' laughs Pinkett Smith, for whom the Wachowskis wrote the part of tough-talking pilot Niobe. ''I know you're sitting there like, That's some bulls---. But I just knew what they were trying to do from the gate. I just thought, This is where it's at.''