The Matrix (1999) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence and brief language
Running Time: 136 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano
Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Screenplay: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Review published March 16, 2001
The Matrix is a very easy film to like, perhaps easy to like too much, as there are some people who view it as an exalted religious experience, and to them I say, , "Lighten up, guys." Most people can take this for what it is, pulp science fiction churned into a comic book blender, with a liberal helping of kung fu flavor and relentless action, in short, probably every type of story the Wachowskis thought were cool growing up, and I suspect most boys still do today. It's popularity is easy to see, as it has a riveting premise, unquestionable intelligence, and a literary bent to pay homage to "The Bible" and "Alice in Wonderland", to give the impression that there is a depth to the idea and concepts that this film only scratches the surface of.
Although initially met with a few groans, particularly from the male component of the audience, Keanu Reeves (The Devil's Advocate, Chain Reaction) actually contributes more than he detracts as the naive but gifted protagonist of the film, Thomas Anderson, aka Neo. Neo works for a large software company, but is a computer hacker on the side, and quite a good one at that, selling off information for a price to anyone who might want it. That is until one day his world is rocked when he is shown that the world of 1999 isn't reality, but actually a computer simulation designed to lull humans into a feeling of complacency while their actual bodies are being harvested and used as batteries for the artificial intelligence they helped create. A mysterious man named Morpheus (Fishburne, Event Horizon) believes Neo is "The One" who will save all humanity, as foretold to him by The Oracle, so he shows Neo the truth about his surroundings and trains him in the ways of The Matrix in the hope that humanity can prevail against the machines.
Undoubtedly, The Matrix is a brilliantly-conceived and extremely memorable sci-fi action powerhouse that delivers the goods and a whole lot more. After their smash debut in the altogether different but equally smart Bound, the Wachowskis have not slipped into the safe and secure with their second release, crafting what would become a national phenomenon once it was all through. Although there probably isn't a wholly original concept in the mix as a story, it's the unique way in which the Wachoskis have blended the multitudinous genres that is the testament to their prodigious creation. However, cinematically, the look and feel of the film is actually where the originality lies, with a style of gun play that is arresting to behold, and almost exhilarating to admire.
For most of the film, it's sheer perfection, with impeccable timing, terrific storytelling elements, and an endlessly fascinating concept that is richly fleshed out as the tale unfolds. Only the last twenty minutes of the film does the weight of the ambition begin to sag, as the action takes over, and the somewhat hokey nature of the characters and situations becomes a bit too over the top for its own good.
Still, why bother nitpicking one of the best films in the worlds of science fiction and action, a marvel of special effects and conceptual mastery that goes to show that if you put as much time into a screenplay as you do into special effects, great things can happen. The Matrix is about as ambitious a film as there's been in quite some time, and credit the Wachowskis for succeeding in almost every one of them.
-- Followed by two theatrical sequels in 2003, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, as well as a spin-off, The Animatrix (also 2003).
©2001, 2003 Vince Leo