Matrix, The (1999) Review

"The Matrix" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“The Matrix” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: The Wachowskis
Writer: The Wachowskis
Producer: Joel Silver
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano
Running Time: 136 min.

By Numskull

“Unfortunately…no one…can describe…what the Matrix…really is.” The Matrix…the movie, not the thing that no one can describe…is a rare thing indeed: a film that got widespread success, a franchise deal (two sequels in the works) and shitloads upon shitloads of money at the box office…AND ACTUALLY DESERVED IT.

Artistically, it lays waste to that year’s other SFX mega-blockbuster, STAR WARS EPISODE I, in every way imaginable (fanboys, no amount of hate mail in the world will change the fact that PHANTOM MENACE was a fucking abomination, so save your energy). Better plot, better dialogue, better action, better acting…despite Keanu Reeves being in the lead role. Reeves just about always has a vacant stare, a slack jaw, and a flat monotone, but in this particular instance it works to his advantage. After all, most people would be more than a little cowed to learn that reality as they knew it was a lie. Stupefied, even…unlike the guy in DARK SHITTY (“So…this city was created by alien powers and all of its citizens have been helpless puppets all their lives. Well, I’ll fix that.”). Also there’s Laurence Fishburne, thee hard-assed spaceship captain from EVENT HORIZON and the hard-assed undercover cop from FLED, who plays the hard-assed internet legend (kind of) named Morpheus. Then we have Carrie-Anne Moss, the token heroine who, as we are incessantly reminded, can take care of herself. I bet she could kick Natalie Portman’s non-swearing, no-flesh-showing ass any day of the week.

But the real star of the show is Hugo Weaving, who plays the villainous Agent Smith and delivers most of his lines as if he has just swallowed a wad of shit-flavored chewing gum but is trying to give the impression that nothing is amiss.

Perhaps “villainous” is the wrong word…I certainly can’t object to the classification of human beings as viruses, but allowing them to go around thinking they’re living their own lives when in fact they are mere livestock seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Why not simply stick them in pens like the cattle they so frequently act like?

The Matrix is probably The Greatest Movie I Almost Never Saw. When the commercials started popping up, the use of Enigma’s song “The Eyes of Truth” caught my ears, the special effects caught my eyes, and the total lack of any sort of clue as to what the movie was ABOUT caught my attention. Remember the commercials from Jerry MacGuire? There were about half a dozen different TV ads, and not a single one of them offered the slightest hint as to its content. “Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise. Show me the money. Tom Cruise.” Typical moviegoers were all supposed to flock to the theaters in droves just because Tom Cruise was in the damn thing and, sadly, most of them did.

The Matrix’s ad campaign pulled basically the same shit…29 seconds of flashy special effects and Keanu Reeves saying “Woah.” Of course I could have looked up some info in the form of printed words, or on the ‘net, but the way I saw it, if the TV commercials couldn’t be bothered to give any relevant facts then the movie simply couldn’t be worth seeing. All flash, no substance, like Independence Day or Armageddon or some shit like that. To Hell with it. I swore up and down that I would never, ever, ever watch The Matrix.

Then came the day Jeremy wanted to go hiking with us. Jeremy is the same Jeremy from my Millionaires’ Express review (Good God I’m shameless), and “us” is myself and my brother. The three of us were going to climb Mt. Norwatuck but we decided to play some Tekken 3 before we did it.

Now, Jeremy and I are probably the two most evenly-matched Tekken 3 players in the universe. Against other people we might hold our own, we might dominate, or we might get demolished. But against each other, we produced matches the likes of which had never seen before. We set it so that there was no time limit and the first one to win five rounds would be the victor, and gave ourselves maximum stamina (140%). Then we went at it tooth and nail until my brother…two and a half years older than myself…was literally jumping around the room, making noises like some small furry animal in an excited condition, and making an entire meal out of his fingernails. Without fail we went neck and neck for the length of the fight, or one of us would get creamed for four rounds and then make a monstrous comeback. When our thumbs turned red and started screaming for mercy, we weren’t even half-way finished yet. There was never an occasion where it didn’t come down to the two of us with four rounds apiece, reduced to maybe 20% life, and going into a mad frenzy of puching, kicking, and blocking which had us both on the edges of our proverbial seats.

But this time, Jeremy wan’t cooperating. As my Anna Williams beat seven shades of shit out of his Eddy Gordo without breaking a sweat, he kept jabbering on and on about this crappy-looking movie The Matrix, how awesome it was, and how we just HAD to see it. I told him my feelings about the TV commercials while Anna broke Eddy’s left arm. Instead of relaying plot information to me, he just kept talking about the obvious influence of HK cinema, citing the shootout in the lobby on more than one occasion. Personally, I’m a definitie content over style type of person where NON-HK movies are concerned, so, to me, all of this amounted to baby shit. Artsy-fartsy camera angles be damned…if the story’s no good, then the movie sucks. Case closed.

When beating up a barely-mobile opponent stopped being fun, I shut the game off and went downstairs to get my hiking stuff. Upon my return to my brother’s room, I was horrified to learn that he had been talked into seeing this movie.

Well, shit. I didn’t want to NOT go hiking. After some small deliberation I decided to break my vow and go through with it (no, I’m not talking about a vow of chastity). Perhaps the mindless violence would be fun if I superimposed Jeremy’s face on the screen everytime somebody got shot. Then I would be in a foul mood for the rest of the day, I would make the ascension of Mt. Norwatuck miserable for everyone, and I would make the descension even worse. Then we would go back and play more Tekken 3 and we would want to destroy each other for real, and then, by God, we would have matches like we usually did.

My resolve lasted until five minutes into the movie.

How, I thought, in AMERICA, can a movie this good be made and have such crappy commercials? Silly question…stupid commercials are aimed at stupid people, and 95% of all people qualify as “stupid” AT LEAST. But for the film’s duration I put such thoughts out of my head and indulged in total escapism. It’s very rare when a moive can make me do that. Neo’s sparring session with Morpheus couldn’t hold a candle to our Tekken 3 matches but it was still pretty spiffy. I didn’t even want to get up for a minute to use the restrooms, but when the pressure in my bladder became unbearable (during the scene where Trinity pilots the helicopter to help rescue Morpheus), I ran…and yes, I do mean RAN to the nearest urinal and, afterwards, gave my hands the most thorough five-second washing they’d ever received. I was gone for less than a minute, but I whispered “What did I miss?” before I even sat back down.

The only scars on this movie’s otherwise fine surface are the soundtrack (featuring such distinguished personalities as Marilyn Manson…groan…) and the hokey fairy-tale twist at the end, in which Neo is brought back from the brink of death because…(gasp, sob) Trinity loves him. Normally this sort of crap would cause me to walk out of the theater, but everything else had been so good that I barely even cared.

I re-played the whole movie in my head whilst climbing the mountain. When Jeremy said he had to “dodge” off the path for a moment to relive himself, I considered sneaking up on him, holding an imaginary gun to his head, and saying “dodge this”, but thought better of it when the tell-tale splash of urine on earth hit the air.

So, now I’ve told you about the day I went to see the movie while hardly telling you anything about the movie itself. The irony isn’t lost on me, but I assume that anyone reading this is already familiar with it. If not, well then why the fuck not? The Matrix is a breath of fresh air in the stale realm of American cinema. Go see it, now. Go go go go go. May the force be with youxxxxxxxxxx may the force be fucked, this is the real landmark flick of 1999.

Numskull’s Rating: 9/10


By James H.

Warner Brothers’ reputation is one that has been waning in the past ten years. Before the 1990s, the had a produced some of the greatest and most influential films. Ones like “Superman”, “Blade Runner”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Enter the Dragon”, and “The Maltese Falcon”. But in the ’90s, they have produced some of the worst movies in history. Those would be ones like “Batman & Robin”, “Wild Wild West” and “Batman Forever” to name a few.

Fortunately, “The Matrix” is not one of the latter. While not being one of the greatest films, it is sure to become influential on most action movies to be seen in the next ten years. In fact, it’s started already, look at the similar, but inferior effects in “Romeo Must Die”.

“The Matrix” is groundbreaking in its visuals and style, but the story and themes presented have been done before and better in Alex Proyas’ “Dark City” and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”.

Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a computer programmer by day and a hacker/computer criminal by night. He is looking for the legendary hacker named Morphius (Lawrence Fishburne). Anyway, things get complicated when it turns out that the world isn’t real, but a computer program.

The film features some great action set pieces, and some nice HK looking fights (thanks to choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping). The look simply amazing. The Wachowski brothers are obviously influenced by John Woo’s style of action (just watch the lobby scene).

The performances are generally well done. The main actors (Reeves, Fishburne, Moss) all do great and fit their characters perfectly. Some of the supporting actors (Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Julian Arahanga) come across as rather wooden and obnoxious (especially Tank and Apoc). However, it is Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith) who stands above the rest, giving us one of the most memorable villains in the last ten years.

“The Matrix” had some big expectations. It was the first of the summer blockbusters of ’99, and it needed to pay off. Luckily, it did. And I think it out-performed every other big-budget summer blockbuster, even the ones that made more money. George Lucas, eat your heart out.

James H’s Rating: 9/10

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