Stars: *** out of Four
Summary: An iconic film that changed action movies and sci-fi for the internet age, ‘The Matrix’ features strong performances, good writing, and indelible personality.
Review: As my arbitrary limit for declaring a movie “classic” is 10 years, the revolutionary action film ‘The Matrix’ can now be reviewed. Awesome.
Though still relatively young, ‘The Matrix’ left such a deep impression on pop culture that its acceptance as a classic was inevitable. Being this new, though, prevents it from experiencing wide acclaim from “them”; you know, the embodiment of the critical zeitgeist. That won’t stop me, though.
‘The Matrix’ is technically the first chapter in a trilogy of films (I have not, to date, seen the sequels), it stands out and on its own. Like the first released film of the ‘Star Wars’ series, it remains a satisfying experience whether you’ve seen the sequels or not. Like another recent classic, ‘The Truman Show’, ‘The Matrix’ is a blend of sci-fi and philosophy, specifically Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (which, if you still haven’t read it after my ‘The Truman Show’ review, you need to go do so now). This film takes a bent towards action, and pure, undistilled, all-natural dystopia, expressed through dark scenery, a ‘used universe’ setting, and green hues. Since the “real world” as we know it is a virtual reality in ‘The Matrix’, they can get away with all sorts of cool abilities and plot devices while avoiding direct application of magical tropes. The primary influence behind the film, and the reason for the reality-bending abilities, is Japanese manga and anime. Several popular ideas from those media make their way in, most prominently the trope of “The Chosen One”, in this case, Keanu Reeves as Neo.
So the idea is that humanity is enslaved by machines (Many people, myself included, have jokingly said that this is where the ‘Terminator’ franchise is going chronologically). They are hooked into a dream world, which prevents them from suspecting the possibility of their entire lives being controlled by malevolent computers. The very idea is nightmare fuel, and it can be very disturbing to watch the construct that keeps people hooked into the titular Matrix. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If ‘The Matrix’ wasn’t terrifying, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. So, anyway, some people are outside the Matrix, and are attempting to free those within. Eventually, a computer hacker named Thomas Anderson contacts them, and is rescued from the Matrix. What the rest of the plot wrestles with is the question of whether or not Mr. Anderson (Mr. Aaanderrson! Sorry, carry on) is the One. Turns out his real name is Neo, and that he is the One. But it’s the getting there that’s the fun part.
The cast all meshes well. I can’t think of any characters that I would consider a waste of film. The highlights are Laurence Fishbourne as Morpheus, the man that Neo contacts when he’s discovering reality, and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith (Mr. Aaanderrson! Don’t worry about me, I just need coffee). Agent Smith is not technically the main villain, since that is the Matrix itself, but he is the personification of the machines in the dream world. And he is effective. His speech towards the climax about the machines relationship to humanity is chilling and memorable.
There’s a lot that can be said for the special effects. I don’t think there’s been an action film since ‘The Matrix’ that hasn’t tried to capture its flavor in some way, or just outright ripped it off. Though it didn’t invent it, it made the “bullet time” effect beyond popular, and it even showed up in ‘Superman Returns’ 7 years later. Now that’s iconic.
How about music? Don Davis. The Propellerheads. “Spybreak”. Awesome. Marylin Manson? Not so much.
The biggest stumbling block, especially for the more conscientious among us, is the murky spirituality. Which I won’t defend, but I don’t have a moral problem with it… it’s fiction, and it isn’t outright offensive or evil. The second biggest is the tone (which is dark) and the gore (which is occasional), but you can chalk that up to being an R-rated movie. The same with the language.
Really, ‘The Matrix’ is a good film. Not one of the very best, but good. Good enough to be iconic, good enough to be full of truth and interesting ideas, so that’s good enough for me.
And one more time: Mr. Aaanderrson!