The problem with The Matrix Reloaded is not one of story -- though it can certainly be said that the Wachowski Brothers' second foray into their sci-fi/martial-arts mythscape is as poorly written as anything from the pen of Monsieur Lucas. (The many overwrought, overcooked passages do, however, benefit from a second viewing, when all of that ''predecessors'' talk makes a bit more sense.) Nor is it one of performance, despite the rotundly stentorian line delivery of Laurence Fishburne, leading a pack of actors who never met a syllable that they didn't feel the need to pronounce hard. And it's definitely not a question of action: Even though the whole look-it's-real-movie-stars-doing-kung-fu thing has lost its luster, the freeway car chase is a logistical wonder to behold (a nice making-of-the-sequence doc is the best part of a sadly anemic DVD; the last thing you want to find at the bottom of the rabbit hole is an ad for the licensed videogame).
No, the problem is Neo. See, in the first ''Matrix,'' Keanu Reeves' wide-eyed hacker learns about the world's true nature and becomes the hero he was destined to be. In ''Reloaded,'' Neo enters the fray like Superman, and when a character can fly at supersonic speeds, stop bullets, bring back the dead, and look really good in designer shades, there is absolutely nothing at stake. Fighting a hundred Agent Smiths is a neat trick, but when Neo can just take off when things start to get iffy, the scene carries no narrative weight. No amount of regurgitated philosophy can hide the fact that, as far as drama goes, becoming is always more interesting than being.