A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Matrix

January 8, 2011

The Matrix

So we’ve already reviewed one laughably bad sci-fi movie about computer hacking starring Keanu Reeves. Today it is my great pleasure to review the polar opposite. This movie is beautiful, clever, intricately layered, fun to watch and, for me at least, revelatory. It’s not a flawless movie, but it is something that doesn’t come along very often: a smart action movie.

There are so many ways to view this movie. You can, of course just enjoy it as a rip-roaring sci-fi action movie. You can just watch the story of mild mannered computer programmer Thomas A. Anderson who has a second life as a computer hacker using the handle of Neo. Neo has been searching the ‘net for a person calling himself Morpheus because he believes that Morpheus knows… something. Something that he needs to understand. Little does he know that Morpheus is also seeking him out, and when they finally do meet Neo discovers that his world, our world, is a construct. Everything he’s ever known has just been a computer simulation in which he and almost all of humanity is trapped. Morpheus, and his small cadre of freedom fighters, are some of the only humans who are “awake” any more, and he’s seeking a savior he calls “The One.” The One will, Morpheus believes, be able to save humanity from their enslavement by the intelligent machines and programs that constructed the Matrix and trapped all of humankind inside it.

Or you could enjoy the presentation. Siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski (Larry at the time) have masterfully filled every frame of the movie with a slick style that is distinctive and impressive. Of course everybody is familiar with the infamous “bullet time” that they used – a trick using multiple cameras to do slow-motion moves that were at the time impossible. It would just be done with computers nowadays but this was the late nineties and at the time it looked like nothing that anybody had seen before. They also appropriate all kinds of imagery and visuals from other action genres that American audiences might not have been as familiar with at the time. In the making-of and commentary materials they talk a lot about the inspiration they drew from anime. And of course there are the kung-fu wire work fights choreographed by Chinese kung-fu legend Yuen Wo Ping. The art design of both the “waking” world and the Matrix is fantastic and this was one of the first movies I saw that used extensive digital color timing to heighten the other-worldly look. There are so many iconic action scenes in this movie such as the fight in the virtual dojo or the classic firefight in the government building entry corridor – scenes that alone would make for a great movie even had nothing else worked.

Or you could view the movie as allegory with its clear Christ imagery and tale of the resurrection. There are hints and allusions to Neo being a messiah throughout the movie. “You’re my savior, man,” says one character at the very start of the movie “My own personal Jesus Christ.” Of course the allegorical layer is only one of myriad references heavily dolloped onto the sci-fi premise. Sometimes the movie is clever with its script, such as with the brilliant scene when Neo meets the Oracle. She tells him “You’re waiting for something. Maybe your next life.” Then there are parts that are heavy handed but still enjoyable, such as all the references to Alice in Wonderland (and Alice through the Looking Glass since the two are interchangeable for some people.) Sometimes the movie tries to be more clever than it actually is (Neo being the One – Trinity being his love interest) but that doesn’t make it any less impressive that a summer action film should have so many layers of meaning packed inside it.

Or you could enjoy the great cast. Everybody here, and I’m including Keanu Reeves in this, is perfect for the role they’re cast in. Keanu is fantastic as Neo, his sort of blandness being just the thing for an average guy caught up in a world beyond his understanding. He does a lot of looking confused and bewildered here, and it works for him. Then there’s Larry Fishburne as Morpheus, absolutely oozing panache and style our of every pore. Carrie-Anne Moss is the badassed hacker turned freedom fighter Trinity. Not only does she get the first big action sequence of the movie but she repeatedly saves Neo’s bacon throughout the film. I love a chick that can take care of herself and look great doing it. For badguys we have the sinister looking Joe Pantoleano (who also worked with the Wachowskis on their movie Bound) and Hugo Weaving who replaces his Australian accent with a clopped and precise but slightly alien diction as Agent Smith – one of the programs tasked with policing the Matrix.

This movie completely rocked my world, I have to admit. From the very opening scene when Agent Smith ominously declares “No, Lieutenant, your men are already dead” to Rage Against the Machine screaming “wake up!” over the closing credits this is an action movie that fills the screen with amazing imagery and fills my mind with subversive thoughts about the nature of reality. It’s a rare almost impossible to replicate gem of a movie. There was virtually no way that any sequel could possibly be as good – but we’ll get to that tomorrow.

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January 8, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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