Directed by: The Wachowski Brothers || Produced by: Joel Silver
Written by: The Wachowski Brothers || Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano
Music by: Don Davis || Cinematography: Bill Pope || Editing by: Zach Staenberg || Country: United States, Australia || Language: English
Running Time: 136 minutes
It has guns. It has slow-mo. Whenever you mention The Matrix to someone even remotely familiar with popular cinema, what are the first things that come to mind? The nature of pop culture’s influence, the passage of time, and people’s notoriously short memory show us that art, even well made and well known art, inevitably gets reduced to a few key phrases, cliches, or descriptions. For the
Brothers Sisters Wachowski’s The Matrix, what their work is most famous for are intense, nail-biting action sequences that pay homage to the influential work of John Woo and other Hong Kong action cinema, as well as trendsetting slow-motion special FX. And it does have all that — but, oh, does it have so much more.
The Matrix is sometimes dismissed by film snobs as merely popularizing overrated anime-stylized action and FX, further encouraging waves of less creative, poorly written action flicks to follow. While I agree that it gave rise to countless lower-budget imitators (for which it is not responsible), The Matrix is anything but a one-trick pony. For one thing, The Matrix deals as heavily in religious and science-fiction philosophy (particularly cyberpunk ideology) and allusions to ’90’s pop culture as it does in slick, sci-fi action. The whole premise of the film is an examination of Rene Descartes’ evil genius theory, the brain-in-vat thought concept, numerous themes behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and many, many other complex ideas. While it does not pick one particular idea and dissect it as thoroughly as, say, the “fall from grace”-theme in Citizen Kane (1941), The Matrix’s thematic breadth and diegetic universe are far more ambitious. It explores dozens of themes throughout the course of its story, and instead of being bogged down by all these philosophical bells and whistles, the movie becomes all the more rich because of them.
As for its action, which is the trait casual fans are most familiar with in regards to the The Matrix — it is, quite frankly, outstanding. For all its countless ideological concerns, The Matrix remains an action film in its purest form. The film takes its time getting to the action, letting the script build steam while fleshing out its characters and their conflicts — a perfect example of veteran pacing and good writing. But when we finally do get to the action, boy oh boy, does it deliver. Few movies have come close to replicating the action of The Matrix (Equilibrium  is one of the few that comes to mind). The shootouts and fistfights have such a fresh, original flavor, and are so well staged that it’s hard to watch many other action films after seeing this. It blends the genres of science-fiction, Hong Kong action flicks, spaghetti westerns, anime, and post-apocalyptic fiction for maximum excitement.
Of course, much of The Matrix’s philosophical, violent genius would’ve gone unappreciated and its legacy reduced had it not executed the most basic elements of storytelling and characterizations. As amazing as the Wachowski Brothers (er, siblings) are at building a world so paranoid, nightmarish, fantastical, and yet still believable, and as fluently as they mix hand-to-hand combat with bullet-time spectacle, they remain faithful to some of the most tried and true character archetypes in classical storytelling. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is perhaps one of the most resilient, memorable, and relatable fish-out-of-water main characters from the past few decades, and the intimate supporting cast around him, including the wise mentor/older brother-figure, Morpheus (a passionate star-making turn by Laurence Fishburne), and the tough-as-nails tomboy/sidekick/love-interest, Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss), have gone on to become household names for good reason. And of course, let us not forget Hugo Weaving’s magnum opus role as one of the coolest villains in all of science-fiction and action cinema, Agent Smith. His cold, violent demeanor and intimidating presence have been matched by few antagonists before or since.
The Matrix is the thinking man’s action movie, but it is just as much the action-junkie’s experimental picture. I’ve long believed that the majority of the most popular films ever made are not cultural or genre specialists, but rather philosophical generalists that offer the best of both cinematic worlds. They are insanely entertaining while sacrificing no amount of artistic merit for the sake of mass-audience pandering. Films like The Matrix have both brains and brawn, are both emotionally and intellectually complex as well as street-savvy, and they stimulate all corners of our brain, from the primal to the philosophical. They are genre-blenders in the best way possible. In this light, it is easy to understand why this movie spawned a thousand imitators and why it will continue to do so in the future.
The Matrix is so influential and frequently referenced in popular culture and, more importantly, is so well made that it has to be required viewing for fans of cinema — not just the hardcore ones or the action-junkies. Not only does it pay homage to classic genres of the past, it set the tone for action movies and political cinema of the future. If you think you know what The Matrix is but still haven’t seen it for yourself, trust me —- you don’t know its genius. To go down a rabbit hole like this one, sometimes you have to put all preconceptions aside and just take the damned red pill.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Matrix boasts a screenplay that not only paces its action effectively, but focuses on the human element of its plot and utilizes a wide variety of philosophical and moral concepts to its advantage. This is a sci-fi action film that is as much, if not more, brainy than it is brawny, and considering how gorgeous it is to watch in motion, that’s saying a lot. Keanu Reeves may be a wooden, goofy actor in most roles, but he’s golden here as the awkward computer-hacker who transforms into humanity’s savior. The Wachowski
Bros. Siblings demonstrate Hollywood’s greatest homage yet to Hong Kong-action cinema.
— However… Reeves’ limited emotional range remains, as does some of the story’s on-the-nose foreshadowing.
—> HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
? This film introduced me to Rage Against the Machine. Best end credits song ever, that’s for sure.