Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Matrix (1999)

For better or for worse, The Matrix was probably the most influential action movie of the 90's.  While things like Terminator 2 early in the decade made big breakthroughs in special effects, The Matrix took things to an entirely new level.  In the years since the film was released the action genre has sort of been depleted a little by overuse of CGI, erratic editing and just a general sense of "been there, done that" to things.

That's not to say there haven't been good action movies, it's just that most of the really good ones I've dug have decided to go against the style that our feature today made so prevalent.  With that in mind, I thought I'd take another look at The Matrix to see how it holds up.  Not bothering with the sequels (because I like myself too much to watch them again) so let's get in the wayback machine and travel back to 1999.
  • Quick rundown of the plot for those who haven't seen it: Keanu Reeves is destined to be the chosen one in a battle to free humanity from the grip of a bunch of computers that have enslaved the planet.  Laurence Fishburne is on hand in the mentor role and there are stacks of inventive f/x sequences amidst an interesting cyberpunk storyline.
  • Fantastic opening sequence with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) escaping from some cops along with a few villainous Agents led by Smith (Hugo Weaving).  Weaving is terrific as the bad guy and I gotta say that even after it's been done to death by parodies and cash-ins, the way the Wachowskis shoot the action sequences is still fantastic.
  • Unlike a lot of the stuff that followed, there is a clear sense of geography to the sequences in that you can tell where the hell the people are and what the hell is going on while still maintaining the kinetic pace the film relies on.  Good thing too since the story, while entertaining, isn't exactly original.
  • Keanu Reeves was actually a rather brilliant casting choice.  Neo is supposed to be a rather bland programmer by day-hacker by night type and if there is one thing Reeves can knock out of the park, it's coming off as ordinary.  He's also a rather good action star when given the right material and directors (or directors in the case of this film).  It also helps that he spends most of the movie observing and learning, not really doing any true action stuff until the last thirty minutes.
  • The rest of the cast is solid with Fishburne doing a good impression of Yoda is he were as huge bald guy with cool shades and Joe Pantoliano having fun as a traitorous slimebag.
  • Interesting philosophical stuff in the script though to be honest, I think the film is a little too obtuse for its own good.  There are some interesting things, mainly from the Oracle character played by the late Gloria Foster but the payoff is rather muted, though that could just be that when it comes time for the payoff, the film suddenly remembers its a Joel Silver production and it ends to up the action quota.  Not complaining at all really, as the action scenes are really well done.
Outside of some pacing issues (the relative lack of humor sort of hurts it as well), the film still holds up pretty well today.  It's a relatively smart science fiction/action movie and it can be watched quite easily without one feeling the need to slog through the sequels.  The stylized filmmaking, complete with wire work-assisted action scenes and some decent enough CGI makes it certainly one of the more energetic action films of the late 90's.

More importantly, The Matrix changed the way blockbuster filmmaking was carried out with more of an emphasis on special effects wizardry (which is saying something considering what has been going on since the late 70's) and a more stylized feel to everything.  The Matrix had a decidedly huge impact on the action movie that is still felt today to an extent.  The sequels may be forgettable, but the original is still a damn fine piece of movie magic.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.