America film’s sudden obsession with the nature of reality continues in this immensely influential film. The Matrix also gives us one of purest representations of cyberpunk on celluloid (though there was a brief rush of not-very-good entries in the late ‘90s).
The Matrix is probably about as universally seen as Star Wars among sf fans by now, though I seem to remember it taking about a year for the film to really land in the universal pop culture consciousness. It did well enough in the theaters, but when it came out on DVD (when the format was still relatively new), everyone had to buy it. By 2001, every movie this side of Merchant Ivory Productions looked like The Matrix. Anyway, the delayed reaction is the only reason I can come up with for why this film didn’t win the Hugo. I mean, Galaxy Quest is fun, but…The Matrix!
Rewatching it this time, I was struck by the film’s simplicity. It has a reputation for complexity, and there are some subtleties, and the world is fairly ingenious (even if the human battery thing makes no scientific sense). However, the movie follows a three act structure quite nicely. Act 1) Neo meets the mysterious Trinity and gets chased by scary guys in suits. Act 2) Neo journeys to reality, trains and learns about his destiny. Act 3) Neo has his showdown in the Matrix. Many bullets are fired.
Actually, some of the morality of the film has always bothered me…the heroes kill a lot of innocent humans (especially cops) over the course of the film. They’re not really left with much choice, but I’ve always wanted at least a “darn, killing all these innocent people sure does suck.” On the other hand, bam pow boom! Action is fun! My only other complaint is how humorless the movie is, sometimes I really miss the charisma of a Han Solo or Indiana Jones in…well, pretty much every sf movie since the ‘80s ended.
I think The Matrix still holds up pretty well. I agree with the consensus that the sequels are terrible, with the second film being uneven and the final film being a messy disaster, but they haven’t sullied the first film for me. The acting is passable (Fishburne is a real presence and even Keanu Reeves gets his best role outside of Ted Logan), but the visuals are truly amazing and the action choreography is unparalleled. It’s still fun, and there’s just enough substance for the film to transcend guilty pleasure. It’s a great sf film experience, even if it does spawn some terrible knock-offs and sequels.