I never much liked The Matrix overall. Two stars. Great look, but weak characters spouting horrible dialog. Nifty Philip K. Dickian concept, but poorly executed. Still, there was enough in it that I liked to make me hope that the sequel would be an improvement.

The Matrix Reloaded gets three stars on your standard Ebertlike scale, and has me rooting for the forthcoming third and final chapter, Revolutions. The acting is still mostly flat, but what are you going to do when Keanu is the star? The man has a not-quite-there look that is apparently contagious. We’re not here for the acting, anyway; we’re here for the look, which is mostly great, the special effects, which are mostly fantastic, and the trippy what-is-reality theme, which gets a few new layers added to it this time around.

The characters in Reloaded spout fewer sentences that sound high-minded but are ultimately meaningless. One of my biggest questions about the first movie — “Why the hell does the Oracle live inside the Matrix?” — has been answered in a clever and unexpected way. The other big question — “Why the hell can they only exit the Matrix where those precious old-school rotary phones are?” — remains unanswered. It is very nice to have Monica Bellucci in the film, but every time I see her now, I think of her role in Irreversible and I shudder inside.

Always the type to miss key details regarding minor characters, I needed the very last shot prior to “To Be Concluded” explained to me.