Friday, May 14, 2010

#12 The Matrix (1999)

"An action film that has defined a generation"

The Matrix is one of those movies that has really come to define not just a genre, but a generation. With its cool visual effects, exhilarating action sequences, and awesome kung-fu, it has raced through the imaginations of every teenager and young adult since it first premiered in 1999. I remember watching this movie when I was 9 years old when it was fresh out of the theatres – it was the first movie I saw on DVD, and was the first movie I watched in surround sound. At that time I didn’t really understand what was going on in the film, but thought the kung-fu scenes were pretty awesome. This was my first time seeing the original Matrix all the way through since I first saw it those 10 years ago, and now it feels like I’m seeing a completely different movie. I appreciate the action films all the more now (especially now seeing its impact on the whole action genre), but can also appreciate the story and the philosophical aspects of the film.

The movie opens with a stream of green numbers and a female voice in the background. She’s making a phone call, and is talking about a guy. Suddenly she realizes that the phone is being traced. It’s too late, however, as the cops are already at her door, and she is brought into custody. We are then taken outside the building, where the police chief is talking to what would appear to be some FBI agents. They tell the chief that, because he went in too early, the woman will escape. Suddenly we are taken back to the lady, who, through some dazzling kung-fu moves, manages to fight off her captors, and breaks off running. We follow her through one very cool chase scene, ending with her answering a phonebooth, and getting sucked into the phone, just avoiding getting run over by one of the FBI agents, who was pursuing her with a garbage truck. How’s that for an opening?

The film then introduces us to the main character, Neo, who is played by Keanu Reeves. Neo is a computer programmer by day and devious hacker by night. Eventually he gets caught, and is brought into questioning by the same FBI agents we saw earlier in the film. Weird stuff happens, resulting in them putting a bug in his stomach. Neo then wakes up, implying it was all a dream. Later that day he meets up with a reputable hacker named Morpheus. Morpheus tells him that everything is a lie, leading to one of the most famous parts of the film, where Morpheus gives him a choice between two pills – a blue pill, which will return him to his ordinary life, or a red pill, which will allow him to continue to find the truth. Neo obviously takes the red pill, and Neo is shown the truth about life. The truth is that life is an illusion. Humans created AI in the early 21st century, and after an inevitable robots vs humans war, the robots ended up winning, and enslaving the human race to feed off their body heat as energy. The world we live in is a virtual reality to prevent the humans from resisting, and this virtual reality is called the Matrix. A number of humans have managed to escape the Matrix thanks to the efforts of a man everyone calls “The One”, and these humans have settled down in an underground city called Zion. From here, freed humans can hack into the Matrix to find and release people from its grip.
The main plot of this movie is that Morpheus believes Neo to be the second coming (possibly because his name is an anigram of one?), and Morpheus takes it upon himself to unlock Neo’s potential; It is revealed that The One is capable of bending, or even outright breaking the rules of the Matrix (physics, gravity, etc.). During this process, one of the freed humans betrays Morpheus to a group of programs, called “Agents”, whose job it is to uncover and destroy any freed humans trying to hack into the Matrix (These are the FBI agents we saw earlier in the movie). These Agents are super powerful, and can do cool things such as dodging bullets and punching through walls. The Agents capture Morpheus, and it is up to Neo and Trinity (the woman from the beginning of the movie) to rescue Morpheus. There’s much more to this movie, and if I tried to explain it all, it would take way too long, but I think I get the idea across.

The acting in this movie is ok. Keanu Reeves gives off the kind of performance you would expect from Keanu Reeves (bland and boring are the words I would use). I found the performance of his love interest, Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) to be equally uninspiring. The real show stealers in this film are Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), whose performance in this film is just legendary, and the primary antagonist in this film, Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving). The direction in this film is very good, and the cinematography is incredible. There are so many cool shots in this film. One of my favorites is when Morpheus is offering the pills to Neo. It is done through the reflection of his pince-nez sunglasses, which show the red pill in one lens, and the blue pill in the other. The special effects in this film are just awesome. This is the film that truly popularized “bullet time”, and has many cool explosions. The depiction of the robots is also quite well done.

The action sequences in this movie are also well done, and downright riveting. One thing I particularly like about the hand to hand sequences is, rather than doing the traditional Hollywood thing and just showing the actor’s faces, this movie keeps the camera back, and shows the audience the full picture, truly highlighting the well-choreographed scenes. While doing this, however, the film still keeps us close to the characters. The stories of the characters are engaging, and you will find yourself emotionally attached to the characters, making it really exciting when Neo triumphs in the end.

Overall this film is well done. While I had problems with some parts of this film, namely the bland acting from the 2 most important characters, and several auxiliary ones, overdone shots (I dug the slo-mo, but they did it way too much), the film has really come to define the action genre, and this is why the film is on the list, primarily. So many things this movie popularized – bullet time, slow motion scenes, running off walls – have come to be action film clich├ęs. This movie has really defined a genre. Another case can be made, I think, for the philosophical aspects of this film. The film goes the way of Blade Runner in that it asks the question, “how do you know you and what you see are real?”, and goes to explain a lot of supernatural phenomena. Although you might shrug it off after the movie is over, it really is a question that stays with you. The film is also interesting in how it plays with fate and faith, which come to be huge parts of the film. Overall, this film has excellent action sequences, and plenty of killing, but at the same time it asks some very probing questions that leave you asking questions, which is very rare in action films.

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