Yes, it's a sequel, so I shouldn't expect much. But, unlike the first one, they spent a hideous amount of money promoting it as the end-all, be-all of movies and so I think any over-expectations were the responsibility of those who wrote/directed/produced the film.
Note: I didn't say acted, I felt the acting was extremely good.
I must encourage almost everyone (who can handle an "R" rated movie) to go see this, unless you want to be left out of the coffee shop and water cooler conversations next week.
However, if you only see 2-3 movies this year, I wouldn't put this one on your list. The primary reason I would put it in the top 5-10 is that it is a cultural phenomenon.
It wasn't a bad movie, as movies go, nor certainly as sequels go. However, after the Matrix, I expected more from The Matrix:Reloaded.
WARNING: From here down are spoilers
With that warning laid down, let me tell you what I thought about the film specifically.
Although I haven't seen the third one yet, I predict that once I do, I will confirm my theory that "The Matrix" could have and should have been a duology with this plot line. The primary reasoning behind this is that in a duology, you set up the systems, characters, and scenery in the first movie and then before it ends you provide a killer revelation that leaves people wanting more.
In the original "Matrix", they left you wondering what is going to happen in the rest of the war (battle movies do that well). In a duology, the second film provides a further revelation, usually a pair of battles and a conclusion. In a trilogy, the second film provides a further stunning revelation along with one or two additional battles. In a series, the second film provides a story that can be understood by any poor schlep who is brought in off of the street even if they don't quite understand the mythos.
Reloaded doesn't quite fit any of these molds. It's certainly not self- contained, because it doesn't provide a complete story in the second film, like Bond or Star Trek films do. It doesn't fit the duology mold because it doesn't provide a much-needed ending. And, it doesn't fit my description of a trilogy, because it has only one significant battle and two week revelations (I call them the independent revelation and the systemic revelation, because I don't want to unleash that much of a spoiler).
This, combined with the lame, interrupting "To be concluded" ending, left me feeling like the only reason the second movie was released separately from the third (since they were filmed basically at the same time) was that everybody wanted to bilk the public for an additional ticket and DVD price.
These just didn't have me the way they did in the first film. Part of it was the copy-paste property of the villains (in the Smith case), and part was the tendency to use close-up instead of long shot photography for a lot of the filming. I really enjoyed the cinematography of the original fight scenes, but for many of them found them to be flat (with the exception of the fight on the stairway).
Further, watching Neo fight is no fun. You know he isn't going to die because there will be a third film, and it will contain him. Thus, no matter how many baddies you send at him, you know he is going to prevail. To this end, the only fight that really had me in its grip was the car chase/fight scene with Trinity/Morpheos and the keymaker against the world. That was a great sequence and made most of the sitting around through this film worth it.
I don't understand how this fits in to the film or the mythos, except as an excuse to grab an R rating with some bump and grind. However, because of the audience I saw it with, I may have missed an essential piece of interactivity necessary to thoroughly understand (and enjoy) that scene.
Over-done Zion effects
There were a number of effects in Zion that seemed unnecessary to me. In particular, the "engineering level" seemed unnecessary. The same discussion (which, in the end, focussed on heat, water, and electricity) could have been held in a garden level with a grove of trees and a small brook in order to show the dependence and artificiality of their own world. But, I didn't write or direct, so perhaps I missed something.
The existing characters were handled pretty well, but there were few interesting revelations or expansions. The understanding of Morpheus's beliefs and position in society was nicely done, and that justified the initial temple scene (which, unlike the rave scene, I liked). I don't understand the purpose of the annoying child and why everybody was annoyed by him. That seemed unnecessary to show how revered the characters are (that is handled in a number of other places) and seemed to add an element of unnecessary cruelty and disregard to the characters that seemed out-of-place. Perhaps more back- story would have helped that, but it left me wondering about its purpose.
The only issue I have with the film here are the "plugs", why did they come back? Didn't they get removed in the first film (except for the one at the back of the head)?
Generally, I liked the music in the film, and it made the long, less interesting, fight scenes bearable. Unfortunately, a number of them were long enough that I fell out of the film and was able to ponder whether the music added or detracted from that and determined that I felt it was certainly additive.
The French Dude
I liked him, his wife, and their part in the play. As a single quest-step in a longer film, they would have been a really nice addition (think the fish- freezing robot in Logan's Run, or any classic Bond film's villain interaction).
By the way, I don't believe that everything is bad about the franchise. I like the animated matrix shorts and will gladly go out and plunk down money for the DVD. By all accounts, the game is brilliant. The same kind of ground-breaking stuff from the first film.
I think the film is going to kick butt at the box office and is going to have a lot of fans. I'm going to be forced to buy the DVD and go see the next film to see how the sequence ends. And, it wasn't a bad ride for $5.25 after a long week at E3. However, I was expecting better.