Perception: Our day-in, day-out world is real.
Reality: That world is a hoax, an elaborate deception spun by all-powerful machines of artificial intelligence that control us.
Mind-warp stunts, Techno-slammin’ visuals, Mega-kick action. Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne lead the flight to free humankind in The Matrix, the see-and-see-again cyberthriller written and directed by the Wachowski brothers (Bound). The Story sears, the special effects stake out new moviemaking territory – the movie flat-out rocks.
The Matrix 8.0
eyelights: Carrie Ann Moss. the core concept. the stylish look. the innovative special effects.
eyesores: Keanu Reeves. the plot holes. the incessant and needless action. the absurdly stagey martial arts. the dated CGI. the saccharine love story.
“There is no spoon”
Much like “The Terminator’, The Wachowskis’ ‘The Matrix’ is one of those rare landmarks in cinema, a visionary genre classic that has changed the game. It resonated enough that its impact could be felt throughout North American pop culture for years after. There’s just no escaping it: everyone has seen ‘The Matrix’, a derivative of it, and/or has been exposed to something that has been influenced by it.
It was probably just a question of timing, really: dystopic visions of the future had existed for ages, but The Wachowskis landed this film right at a moment in time when computers started to become sophisticated, when virtual reality brought up very real existential questions. Further to that, the internet was rooting itself in everyone’s lives and we were becoming more connected than we’d ever imagined before.
Could ‘The Matrix’ have been as popular ten years prior? I’m not so sure. It wouldn’t have been the same motion picture, for starters, as it depends on late ’90s technology to fulfill many of its ambitions. Stripped of this, it would nonetheless have been a terrific film, and likely would have been popular with a certain subgroup of the movie-going public, but I highly doubt that it would had such a wide-ranging effect.
The first time I saw this was on DVD. My boss raved about it and insisted that I take home his copy and watch it. I was intrigued and immediately gave it a go. Naturally I loved it. Who wouldn’t? But I had already seen ‘The Thirteenth Floor‘ and felt that it addressed the notion of virtual reality in a more engaging way (ironically, ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ was released only two months after ‘The Matrix’ but was ignored).
What I preferred in ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ is that it is a murder mystery and it leaves us hanging until the very end. It challenges not just our perceptions but also our intellect. I suppose that I like it because it’s more cerebral. ‘The Matrix’, on the other hand, is more visceral: it’s rife with actions sequences, eye-catching visuals and pulse-pounding music. In truth, it’s no wonder that the masses loved it.
All it’s missing is a little sex to truly seal the deal.
I’ve seen ‘The Matrix’ a few times over the years and I enjoy it every single time. I even bought the series boxed set on DVD and later upgraded to blu-ray. I bought all the soundtracks, motion pictures scores, derivative compilations, and even some of the work of the artists I discovered through ‘The Matrix’ trilogy. I’m a fan, there’s no denying it. But there are aspects of the picture that leave to be desired.
Look, the guy can’t act himself out of a wooden canoe. We all know that. But I was under the impression that he was okay in the role of Neo, that his numbness informed the character somewhat. Wrong. He’s plain bad – especially when flanked by Lawrence Fishburne and Carrie-Ann Moss. How can an actor be so emotionally-stunted and make it? I have no idea. At least he can do the ridiculously over-dramatic action moves relatively well. But I wish that Warner Bros. had given The Wachowskis their first choice, instead: Johnny Depp.
The Action Sequences
For some people, action is the main draw of the picture. To me, as in ‘Inception’, the approach here is narrow-minded. These people exist in a computer-programmed world where they can do whatever they want, and are chased after by A.I…. and all any of them do is fist-fight and shoot at each other? Surely there could be more to this picture than just beating the crap out of each other, right?
It’s silly: everything in ‘The Matrix’ is an excuse for yet another action sequence. When it was time to download knowledge into Neo, they decided to that they might as well skip the other stuff (even though that could easily take place off-camera) and start with hand-to-hand combat. Which make no sense whatsoever, contextually-speaking. Naturally, afterwards, they just had to practice it.
Look, even if circumstances made it impossible for them avoid combat, why does it always have to be martial arts and guns? ‘Inception’ made the same mistake: it takes place in a world of limitless possibilities, so why don’t they use other weapons (even laser guns, if they MUST have guns), invent powers for themselves, use their environment in their combats? Why the limited scope?
And then there are the super-stagey martial arts. WTF. I mean, Bruce Lee was a show-off, and yet these people are caricatures of what he was physically able to do. Honestly, there’s no reason for anyone to be so showy when they fight: it’s as moronic as shooting your gun sideways. Sure, it may look impressive, but it’s also ridiculous and contributes nothing; in real-life terms, it’s pointless.
I know this isn’t real life: it’s a film. And it takes place in a virtual reality environment. Well… back to my point: why stick with guns and fisticuffs, then? Be creative for goodness sake! Our culture is so saturated with gun violence that we can’t seem to think outside that framework much of the time. There’s got to be something other than shooting the crap out of each other, no?
Sigh… tell that to Christopher Nolan.
(As a point of reference, I’m not against guns in our entertainment. Dirty Harry has a nasty gun, and he uses it effectively – and I’m massive fan of the series. What I hate is that our collective imagination is stunted to the point that guns are always the answer and that violence is an essential part of our entertainment – even in stuff that is geared towards children.)
The Plot Holes
- Let’s start with the obvious: Given what the resistance is trying to achieve, wouldn’t they want to blend into their environments more, for fear that they might be found out? Nope. Here, they dress flashy, wear sunglasses at all times, and try to act cool. They are screaming for attention. And yet, somehow, they can go about their business unnoticed.
- On similar note, when Neo and Trinity go out to rescue Morpheus, why didn’t they just discreetly infiltrate the place, instead of going in through the front door whilst carrying a bunch of guns? Answer: for more action, of course. And why not just carry two guns and hundreds of clips for them? Answer: it’s not as cool as tossing their empty guns everywhere.
- Speaking of action, these guys can land on top of a building and somehow crush the roof under their weight (!), but when Neo falls a gajillion floors down, the ground is like rubber: his weight doesn’t break it. Nor does it kill him, like bullets would. Um… what’s up with that? Is it just the way that the jumping software is programmed, for some ridiculous reason?
- Now, ‘The Matrix’ has established that the mind is more powerful than anything else: there is no spoon, Neo is told, and he can bend it at will. So why can’t they just fly up a building, open locked doors and/or go through walls? Why do they have to wait for an elevator or take the stairs? It seems silly to be all powerful, but being confined to the lift, no?
- So the resistance is able to look at the coding that makes up the matrix and know what is happening inside of it. If that’s the case, why can’t the AI? Couldn’t they read the construct in the same way and just recode things at will? Given that they are the original programmers and/or that they host this reality, wouldn’t I make sense to just do that?
- The resistance is only able to get out of the matrix by answering a phone call. But we never see them arrive in the matrix. They certainly don’t walk out of phone booths. So where do they pop up? And why phones? Technically, it could be anything, so why that? But, knowing this, why don’t the AI simply remove the phones from this constructed reality?
- Going into the matrix requires plugging in. This usually requires the assistance of someone else. So how did Cypher ever manage to meet with Mr. Smith on his own? Even if he could do it by himself, given his close proximity to everyone else, surely someone would notice. At the very least, wouldn’t they see him plugged in and/or be able to read the code?
- Why did Neo get flushed out of his pod in the real world? Given that the AI are aware of a human insurrection, wouldn’t they simply kill escapees like him and feed them to the others instead – especially since it’s been established that the pod human are fed dead ones? So it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever that he would be allowed to escape – on any level.
- And don’t even get me started on the notion of using human beings as batteries. Given how much we need to consume and how much we excrete, we sound like the worst possible batteries in the world. But, somehow, the machines thought that we were excellent sources of energy and a great start to any dystopic day. Human beings: part of your good breakfast.
The Requisite Romance
I know it’s important to give women a bone when they’re being dragged into an action movie by their dates, but there are two problems here: Firstly, there’s the assumption that all women want is romance. Secondly, did we need to have a romance develop between Neo and Trinity? Couldn’t they simply have developed friendship and respect?
And if you must give people romance, at least make an effort to cut the cheese (!). Seriously could they possibly have written more gag-inducing lines than in those last few moments: “The Oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man… the man that I loved would be The One. So you see, you can’t be dead. You can’t be… because I love you.”
And yet, for all its flaws, I remain a fan of ‘The Matrix’. A mild one, at least. It may not served up brilliant writing, but it’s a stylish, visceral motion picture that brings to the fore some fascinating concepts. But it could certainly have been done better, more intelligently: there are other pulse-pounding sci-fi films that don’t flub some of their key components along the way (ex: ‘Star Wars’, ‘Terminator 2’).
Plus they don’t star Canoe Reeves.
Date of viewing: November 7, 2014