Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Everybody has entertained the suspicion, at one time or another, that there's something going on with the world you don't understand. What if that was true? What if the feeling pestering you "like a splinter in your mind" was more than just a feeling? Would you look for someone to show you the answer, someone to show you a look at the real world behind the "world that has been pulled over your eyes?" You might if you were Neo.
Neo (Keanu Reeves)(or more properly Thomas Anderson) is a programer working for a "respectible software company" with a normal life including helping his landlady with her garbage. On the other hand he is an operator in the modern cybernetic underworld called Neo. He's looking for someone, someone named Morpheus, with the answer to his question: what is the Matrix?
After a throughly unpleasant brush with a bunch of Feds led by the uber-sinister Agent Smith (The Lord of the Rings' Hugo Weaving) -- they dress like Feds, at least -- Neo finally encounters Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew. Most notable among them the formidable Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who is introduced to the audience in the beginning of the movie. Morpheus offers Neo/Anderson a simple but momentous choice: The Harsh Truth or The Comfortable Lie. Neo chooses the truth.
The Truth. The truth is that everything Neo (and presumably the rest of us as well) sees is a computer projection. The truth is that the year is something like 2295 and the world has buckled under a tragic war with the thinking machines created by humanity. Humanity lost. Now humans are slaves to the machines serving as... batteries.
Morpheus has retrieved Neo from his machine prison because he thinks Neo is "The One". A sort of messiah figure predestined to put a final end to the endless war between humanity and it's former servants. That's Morpheus's hope ... but he's been wrong before...
"The Matrix" is a member of a somewhat small sub-genus of Science Fiction movies you can classify as Cyberpunk. The term is borrowed from print works such as those authored by William Gibson. Previous cinematic examples include "Blade Runner" and "Johnny Mnemonic". It's also a hybrid member of the much vaster genus of Kung Fu movies. It is (as far as I know at least) the world's first Cyberpunk/Kung-Fu movie.
As Neo moves from hairless man-fetus to fully resurrected man he discovers the ugly verities of the world that surrounds him. The surface of planet Earth is a stormy, cold, dark place devoid of sunlight. Humans hide in old sewers, flitting about in dogged out ships, constantly on the run from the soldiery of the machine world. The only safe place, not seen in this movie is the human city Zion hidden deep underground. The main method of combat used by the forces of humanity involve jacking into the Matrix where they try to free as many as possible from the illusion. They are pursued by Software Agents, like Smith. In the Matrix aware humans can do remarkable things, things real humanity could only accomplish with wires and computer generated graphics ... leaping tall buildings, dodging bullets, that sort of thing. If you get killed in the Matrix, however, you're dead in the real world as well. Bummer.
"The Matrix" spawned two sequel movies, an ancillary animated film collection and the customary brace of video games for various platforms. It was written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. They are clearly influenced by the Chinese/Honk Kong Kung Fu movie tradition which emphasizes action and kinesis occasionally at the expense of such extras as plotting and characterization. "The Matrix" is similar to these films in many ways. both good and bad.
One of the problems presented to most Science Fiction Genera movies is exposition. Sci/Fi movies usually have to come to a stop somewhere along the way and explain exactly what the Hell is going on with the story. "The Matrix" handles these exposition sequences quickly and with some style combining action with the explanations but can leave viewers with a question or two left over.
This is very much a special effects movie. Many of the scenes, almost all of the action scenes contain some sort of CG optical work (even if it's just wire removal). This movie brought a new generation of SFX techniques to feature film audiences. The 360 degree "Bullet Time" process was so effective it quickly became overused and passe. It's true that effects-heavy movies can quickly become eye-candy fiestas sacrificing story, characterization, etc., on the alter on one more effects gag. While "Matrix" flirts with this from time to time, it generally stays on the right side of the line. The neat trick here is that due to the fact that things inside the Matrix aren't really "real" all of the effects and outlandish stunts "work" within the context of the script. Also the relentlessly dirty, grim, industrial and worn-out look of the "real world" of Morpheus's ship the Nebakanezer serve as a jarring contrast to the whiz-bang of the digital world inside the Matrix.
The cast is a puzzlement. Laurence Fishborne does a decent job as the driven and focused Morpheus. Hugo Weaving is tremendous fun as the very model of a sinister, man-in-black government agent. Carrie-Anne Moss does a good job of alternating between the black leather buzz-saw in shades Matrix-Trinity and the substantially less glamorous Real World-Trinity. Joe Pantoliano who plays the oily Cypher, a gangster movie veteran is makes you wonder from the get-go. Gloria Foster is excellent as the Oracle, a cryptic resident of the Matrix who tells you what you need to hear. The other members of the cast are perfectly adequate but tend to blend into the background.
You know who that leaves, right? Mr. Reeves. The puzzlement is Keanu. I think we can all agree here that Keanu Reeves cannot even act. I've talked about this elsewhere. Keanu Reeves is in an elite class of actors for me, Actors I Ought To Hate But Don't. Other members of this class include Richard Gere and George Clooney. For various reasons I think I should dislike them but I've never disliked a movie I've seen them in. While Reeves oaken acting style was a grotesque, chuckle-inducing misfire in, for example, "Bram Stoker's Dracula", somehow his projection of stiff confusion fits a man having Messiah-hood thrust upon him. Somehow...
"The Matrix" is pretty much sex-free but it makes up for it with extra handfulls of comic book style violence. Parents and the sensitive should beware the mild swearing as well.
Now, on to the DVD extras... First of all, there's the usual audio commentary, etc. But, here's the thing... Ummm...
OK, a little background first. The Wachowski Brothers were newcomers to big-time movie making when they made "The Matrix". They're comic geeks so they are, by definition, at least a little odd. They're also a little on the aloof side, I actually like that, media 'hos can go die as far as I'm concerned. I really didn't know much about them until just recently. Then I heard the news on some radio show (might have been Glenn Beck")... It seems...
Brother Larry left his wife and is now the slave of Ilsa Stix (real name Karen Winslow), "A well known sado-masochistic dominatrix." He's having a sex change, too. Isn't that special?
I didn't need to know all that. (I still nurture hope it's all an internet hoax.) (Update: no such luck.)
The thing is that the Borthers are all over the making-of feature on the DVD. I had such a hard time taking them or anything anybody said about them seriously. All I could think was, "which one's the girl?" I'm messed up, I know. Particularly sad was Carrie-Anne Moss, in full Trinity regalia sitting on the set and gushing on about about what "regular guys" they are. Stop it, Woman!, I kept thinking, Don't dig that hole any deeper!
It just goes to show you: you can know too much about something.
Anyway, shorn of all the painful dross above, "The Matrix" is an excellent film. It even delves into big-think type stuff now and again. Is there fate? What is the relation between memory and reality. Stuff like that. This sort of stuff never slows down the plot, though. Unless you're an old-school slug, a terrible movie snob -- or over-estrogen-endowed -- I think you'll probably enjoy jacking into "The Matrix".
(Note: normally I don't bother reviewing movies with more than a hundred or so reviews before me. I feel that there's probably little I can add at that point. However, as I've already reviewed "The Animatrix" and I'm going to review the two sequels (eventually) I've decided, for completeness sake to go ahead and review Movie One of the Matrix series. If you care...)
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Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older