Or is it just the kung fu?
"I feel enlightened," said Chris VanCima, 37, after he emerged from a West Philadelphia movie house yesterday with martial arts and philosophy dueling in his mind.
The first Matrix, released in 1999, depicted a future where smart machines keep the human race trapped in a vast computer program that looks and feels like the real world. This world is the Matrix, and the original film caused VanCima to view his home Internet connection with suspicion, he said.
The Warner Bros. sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, carries a messianic character named Neo (Keanu Reeves) into the deepest reaches of the Matrix, defying every law of physics as - in one jaw-dropping scene - he clobbers about 100 identical men with balletic martial arts.
When it was over, VanCima was feeling oddly optimistic about mankind's chances against our own machines:
"I feel like there's hope. The whole movie it seemed like we were rats in the maze. But we still had choices. And even the illusion of choices gave us faith."
And, he said, "I was very impressed by the kung fu action. . . . That is why I came."
On Thursday, this mix of sci-fi and Hong Kong-style action enjoyed the single best opening day in movie history, taking in $42.5 million, according to Warner Bros. It's the most money any movie has made in a single day next to Spider-Man, which grossed $43.6 million on its second day of release.
Spider-Man, rated PG-13, still holds the title for richest opening weekend, at $114.8 million. The Matrix Reloaded unseated 2001's Hannibal, which grossed $58 million, to take the best-weekend title in the R-rated category.
Written and directed by brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, The Matrix Reloaded will be playing in 100 countries by its third week. Domestically, it's playing at 3,603 locations.
The final part of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions, is scheduled to hit theaters in November.
And despite being rated R, The Matrix redux was a huge magnet for the younger set.
Lance Kalbacher, 14, had seen the original Matrix three times, but on Saturday he was turned away by the Cherry Hill Loews Cineplex in New Jersey because he was too young.
He came back yesterday, armed with a parent.
"It just had me in awe," Kalbacher said afterward.
Kalbacher's father, Ron, took note of a hot and sweaty dance-party scene in the underground city of Zion, but was unruffled.
"It looked like a big orgy. But they panned so fast, that you would almost have to do a double take to see anything," he said, laughing. "My son pointed it out to me later."
Advance-ticket purchasing was rampant as theaters across the region reported sell-out crowds.
At the Plymouth Meeting Cinema, eight of the nine theaters devoted to an advanced screening Wednesday were sold out. Cult fans dressed like their heroes.
"We had one Jada Pinkett-Smith, two Keanu Reeveses and several Laurence Fishburnes," said manager Sharon Wade.
But there was perhaps no better place to ponder the central themes of the film than the Bridge, a futuristic new luxury movie house in University City.
Here, the walls have spacey curves and plasma video screens. Tickets cost $9.75.
And mankind no longer chooses his or her own seat. Seats are assigned by a computer system based on pre-programmed assumptions about human viewing preferences.
Out on the front steps, moviegoer Damon Hewitt was just discovering that he had fallen under the power of this computer seating system.
"I didn't get a seat assignment, did I?" he asked, examining his ticket. ". . .I didn't know that. Row four?"
Contact staff writer Matt Blanchard at 215-702-7814 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.