Back in 2003, anticipation for The Matrix Reloaded was high; a sequel to an instantly iconic, paradigm-shifting sci-fi adventure that had a premise more prescient than anyone could have imagined.
What’s more, the Wachowskis weren’t playing it safe with their follow-up, instead they had doubled down, directing two sequels back-to-back.
The Matrix Reloaded pushed the boundaries of the original movie, complicating the mythos of the Matrix, setting Keanu Reeves’ Neo on a Jesus-style journey, and concluding with a cliffhanger that left everyone waiting.
While some critics embraced Reloaded's heady themes, The Architect, and its spectacular non-stop set-pieces, others were more critical, Entertainment Weekly even called Reloaded one of the worst sequels ever made.
Frankly, that’s an unfair assessment, but there’s one scene everyone can agree on really is bats*** wild: the shark-jumping Zion rave.
Let’s set the scene: after dreaming that Carrie-Anne Moss’s Trinity will die, Neo (Keanu Reeves) awakes outside of The Matrix. He’s aboard a ship with Trinity and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), and they soon learn that machines are coming to Zion, the real-world home of those who have escaped the computer programmed Matrix.
They head back to Zion and Morpheus stands above his people, gathered like a festival crowd, and tells them that the machines are heading to their home, and that, to prepare, they must “shed their fear” of the enemy.
“I stand here without fear because I remember that I am here not because of the path that lies before me, but the path that lies behind me,” he tells his disciples. It’s a rousing speech capped off by Morpheus declaring that, tonight, they will “tremble these halls of earth, steel, and stone.”
“Tonight, let us make them remember that this is Zion, and we are not afraid,” he bellows.
Were you none the wiser, you may expect some sort of ceremony or celebration to follow. Maybe, at a stretch, you’re imagining a few people dancing to tribal drums around a fire and perhaps Neo and Trinity are talking about how Zion must not fall.
But no. The Wachowskis have the people of Zion raving to a techno track by the electronic group Fluke. A propelling synth, thudding bass, and heavy drums sound out as Harold Perrineau’s Link and Nona Gaye’s Zee get sweaty among the underground stalagmites.
The rabid, barely-dressed crowd launch themselves into the air like dolphins putting on a show at an aquarium. And perhaps strangest of all, Neo and Trinity are having sex somewhere completely different, and the shots are spliced over the rave, juxtaposing the bodies gyrating on the dance floor.
The cringey scene does nothing to progress the story. You could argue that the dancing represents Zion’s people embracing their humanity in the face of robotic destruction, but, really, the Wachowskis just want you to vibe out and watch their exquisitely crafted and immensely expensive music video.
It’s the sort of world-building you don’t expect to see in a science-fiction film, let alone during the first act of a movie. Imagine if, at the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo rescued Luke from the freezing cold of Hoth and then, sensing that Darth Vader was coming, the Resistance decided to have a wild party to get his attention.
However, while The Matrix Reloaded’s rave makes little sense other than showing just how far out the Wachowskis were willing to push the boat, it remains an iconic moment in cinema. On Twitter, this year’s Coachella closing set by Skrillex, Four Tet, and Fred Again was compared to the Zion scene multiple times.
SYFY looked back at the “madness” of the stand-out moment, questioning whether it was "the goofiest WTF moment in a sci-fi movie ever". Over on Reddit, you can find recent deep-dives into what the scene means on a deeper level – one argument about it showcasing the sorts of base desires, sex, and dancing, are what make us human is particularly compelling.
Love it or hate it, the audacious, shark-jumping scene is part of The Matrix Reloaded’s legacy – so take a red pill, strip off your clothes, and get your rave on.
The Matrix Reloaded is streaming on NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership.