USA Today (US), May 13, 2003

Re-enter the reloaded 'Matrix'

Reviews have been mixed, but Reloaded is virtually guaranteed to capture the biggest debut for an R-rated film, exceeding Hannibal's $58 million in 2001. Though it's unlikely to dethrone Spider-Man's three-day debut of $114.7 million, it has a good shot at beating the five-day, $110.1 million mark set by Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. "Right now, I'd take the biggest R-rated film and see where it goes from there," says Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman.

In this section, USA TODAY's Scott Bowles chronicles the characters and world of The Matrix Reloaded. For those who never saw The Matrix or for whom it's been a while, USA TODAY catches you up on frequently asked questions and key characters.

Old hands

Many original characters in The Matrix died in the line of duty in the war against The Machines. But these key players are back for more in Reloaded:

Thomas A. Anderson/Neo (Keanu Reeves)

Last time: Neo was taken from his job with a software giant when Morpheus discovered him and realized he could be his people's savior.

This time: Plucked from The Matrix world, Neo is leading the battle against The Machines. He increasingly struggles with his purpose and with being seen by the others as a messiah, particularly when he has other agendas in mind — namely his love for Trinity. Still, it's hard to doubt his No. 1 status as his powers grow exponentially, including some Superman-like abilities.

Real story: Reeves, like his character, seems to understand the bizarre world created by the Wachowski brothers as well as anyone, and he says it isn't that complicated. "The first film was about the birth of a hero," he says. "The next two tell the story of his life. You can read as much as you want into the stories, but that's what's really at the heart of it."

Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne)

Last time: Morpheus was a teacher and mentor to Neo, helping him hone his powers.

This time: As captain of the Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus is both an army leader and a spiritual one. He believes that Neo is the lone weapon in the battle against The Machines and is willing to disobey orders to prove it. He also is a past love of Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), captain of the ship Logos, which gets him in hot water with Zion military brass.

Real story: Fishburne insisted that Reloaded's 14-minute highway chase scene not die on the editing room floor. "We spent so many days filming that I wanted something to show for it," he says. Filmmakers spent 45 days shooting the sequence and built a set a quarter-mile long to replicate California's Highway 101.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss)

Last time: Trinity was a rebel without a hunk ... until she met Neo.

This time: As Neo's true love and one of the hottest soldiers of Zion, Trinity is never far from the action. She senses that Neo is worried about her fate but can't get him to open up. She displays a bit of a jealous streak when the crew comes upon the beautiful Persephone (Monica Bellucci).

Real story: Moss wasn't as gung-ho as Fishburne about the freeway chase. Though much of it was handled with computer-generated effects, Moss was called on to commandeer a motorcycle at 45 miles an hour without a helmet. "I had a few concerns with that scene," she says. "Mainly, that I might get killed." Moss says she stopped trying to grasp all the layered references of the franchise years ago. "I told the (Wachowski) brothers to give me the script and a sense of the scene. I don't need all the religious and literary references."

Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving)

Last time: Smith was the primary anti-virus of The Matrix, leading the chase of Neo and the rebels

This time: Now Smith is a rogue program. After losing his last fight with Neo, Smith brings new powers — and a new attitude — in his hunt for humans.

Real story: Weaving initially was hesitant to take the role "because I didn't want to just be known as Agent Smith. He's a villain, and he's a bit strange." Now he accepts his fate. "There are a lot worse things you can be recognized for. This is an important movie to a lot of people, and actors are in the business to make those kinds of films."

The Oracle (Gloria Foster)

Last time: The Oracle surprised Neo by telling him he wasn't The One — for now.

This time: The Oracle continues to give Neo distressing news, and she's as elliptical as ever. She does reveal a bit of her true nature, however, and still gets the funniest lines.

Real story: Foster, 64, died from complications of diabetes as filming wrapped on Reloaded. The Matrix and the real world won't seem the same without her.


New faces

The Matrix may feature an illusionary world, but it did wonders for its stars. Keanu Reeves became huge, Carrie-Anne Moss became an A-list star, and Hugo Weaving was the new face of evil. USA TODAY's Scott Bowles presents a few actors who may reap the rewards of the sequel.

Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith)

Smith auditioned to play Trinity in the first movie but didn't get it. In Reloaded, she plays the captain of the ship Logos. Niobe was once Morpheus' lover, but they split up after Morpheus received some troubling — and undisclosed — words from The Oracle. She has since taken up with Commander Lock, head of Zion's defense forces. But she still has feelings for Morpheus, which causes bad blood between the men.

The Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim)

Who would have thought that the one who held the secrets to the twisted world of The Machines ran a little key shop downtown? He's small but fearless, and his rescue triggers one of the movie's biggest action sequences. He also gets the most obvious line in the film. When rebels spring him from his cell, which holds roughly 1 trillion keys, he says with a straight face, "I am The Keymaker."

The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson)

As if Americans needed another reason to root against the French, we now have The Merovingian. He loves his wine, his women and cursing in French. He also holds The Keymaker hostage. For those who want to look more deeply into the movie's meanings, start here: The Merovingians were a dynasty that ruled France from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

Persephone (Monica Bellucci)

Beautiful, headstrong and not a bad shot, Persephone is The Merovingian's wife. She is intrigued by Neo and fed up with her husband's philandering. Decked out in white latex, Persephone can tell a lot about someone's honesty with little more than a kiss. "She's a vampire of emotions," Bellucci says. "She has none of her own left, so she needs to experience the feelings of others." She also needs silver bullets for her pistol, but that's all we're going to say.

The Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment)

The hippest villains this side of Agent Smith, The Twins are killing machines who can vaporize and move through walls and floors. They work for The Merovingian and effect ghoulish faces when they're on the prowl. To squelch an Internet rumor: Though pale and white-haired, the actors are not albinos. They are, however, twins, black belts and martial-arts instructors in their native London.

The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis)

The most intriguing character since The Oracle. The Architect seems to know what is going on in Neo's world, and it doesn't look good. But what if The Architect's words are the greatest illusion of The Matrix?

People to watch

The Matrix Reloaded includes several bit players who might become more prominent in The Matrix Revolutions. A few of the characters to watch:

Commander Lock (Harry Lennix). As commander of Zion's defense forces, he has the least enviable job in the movie: a good guy you don't care for. He barks orders, doesn't like Morpheus and doesn't believe in Neo. What does Niobe see in him, anyway?

The Kid (Clayton Watson). Reloaded reveals only that Neo saved The Kid, who is now forever his lap dog. Wide-eyed and a bit goofy, The Kid comes from The Animatrix online series.

Cain (David No). He is just like any other loyal rebel soldier until he tries to leave The Matrix a little too late. Now he's enamored with the sight of his own blood and thrilled to see Neo in person. We won't give too much away, but his name has got to be a clue.

Councillor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe). He seems to have the best interests of Zion in mind and seems to have faith in Neo's growing powers. But he sure does tout the benefit of machines a lot for a guy whose city is battling them to the death.

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