The Matrix mixes the Buddhist philosophy that the world is mere illusion, with the speed-induced paranoia of Philip K. Dick and the mirror-shades flash of William Gibson, so that super-cool dressed-in-black heroes can mercilessly mow down everyone in their way with machine guns, whilst remaining heroic. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a computer hacker known as Neo, is inducted into an outlaw hacker group, led by the sombre Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). There, he is befriended by the coldly sexy Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss), and learns the mind-blowing sinister truth about a world thats really run by faceless suit Agent Smith (Hugo Weaver). When Morpheus is kidnapped by Smith, Neo and Trinity must attempt the impossible, and rescue him.
Writer/Directors the Wachowski Brothers are fan boy gods. The Matrix's love of kung fu films, superhero comic books, pre-Titanic James Cameron and destruction for its own sake are plain, as is their desire to make something that takes cyberpunk deadly seriously, and makes its audience feel not only cool, but the coolest, just for watching it. It's all highly entertaining, polished, cleverly thought out, and moves with such sleekness that it's hard not to be swept up in it. Neo is remade as a cool assassin, tiny insect eye sunglasses, and black clothes marking him out as one of an elite. He stalks around and looks cool, his clothes, hair and glasses much more important that his character. The Matrix lacks emotional depth, but has great iconic power. The constantly present sunglasses are great power symbols, so much so that when I saw the film, Neo's damaging of Agent Smith's Ray-bans caused a girl to whoop delightedly.
The silliness of the characters names, the use of dated buzzwords, and the slight air of self-importance don't detract overly from the film's successful mix of action and thoughtful science fiction. Even when Morpheus has to spend fifteen minutes explaining the sci-fi premise to Neo, not a second drags, as zooming special effects are thrown up on screen in quick succession, and Morpheus keeps it all simple for the kids: no techno-babble here. Using mythic story structure cleverly gives The Matrix a solid foundation, while still leaving lots of room to indulge in endlessly extended fights and shoot outs, as the old story of a young man leaving the ordinary world to seek adventure in a new world plays out one more time.
The films key CGI effect (bullet time, which lets the camera make a 360 degree move around a frozen image), is now yawningly old fashioned, but The Matrix has also just about weathered this and the many recent film and TV parodies (a sure sign that its attempt to be iconic has succeeded) and remains a highly satisfying movie, and with a conclusive enough finale that it can stand apart from any sequels. 8/10
Thirteenth Floor, The
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