MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Keanu Reeves (Thomas "Neo" Anderson), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Joe Pantoliano (Cypher), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Belinda Mcclory (Switch), Julian Arahanga (Apoc), Marcus Chong (Tank), Robert Taylor (Agent Jones), Matt Doran (Mouse)
During the first 30 minutes of "The Matrix," a new high-octane, Hong Kong-influenced sci-fi thriller from Andy and Larry Wachowski, you will most likely have no idea what is going on. In fact, it doesn't make a lick of sense.
The Wachowski Brothers, who both wrote and directed this sophomore effort, throw situations and characters at you with the rapid fire intensity of a machine gun, with little or no context as to what it all means. But, when the storyline finally comes into focus, the movie takes off and never looks back. If it all feels like an overcooked comic book, that may be because the Chicago-native Wachowski Brothers used to write for Marvel Comics.
"The Matrix" treads on somewhat similar thematic ground as Alex Proyas' "Dark City," another dark comic book-inspired visual feast that came out about this time last year. Both movies take to task the very notion of reality itself, and whether or not what we perceive to be the world around us really is what it appears to be. "Dark City" questioned our memories; "The Matrix" questions our perception.
The big question has been, "What is the Matrix?" The Matrix is actually a computer-generated dreamworld in which we all supposedly live. Taking a page from James Cameron's "Terminator" films, the Wachowski Brothers imagine a future in which machines rule the world. However, the machines are not interested in wiping out humankind; instead, they artificially breed humans as an energy source. In one of the movie's many extraordinary, eye-popping FX sequences, we are treated to the unsettling sight of giant, creepily insect-like machines with long tentacles harvesting endless rows of egg-shaped pods in which people are growing.
Of course, these people's minds have to be occupied while they are growing, so the machines created the Matrix in which people believe they are doctors, lawyers, construction workers, etc. in the year 1999. The year is actually more like 2199, a fact that computer software designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves)--known by his hacker alias "Neo"--is about to find out. He is contacted by a band of resistance fighters with cool names like Trinity, Apoc, Tank, and Mouse, who want to free humanity from the Matrix. Unfortunately, one of the things never addressed by the screenplay is, what will happen when everyone is freed? Millions of people suddenly realizing that they have been imagining false identities in a world that doesn't exist, and are actually home-grown batteries in fluid-filled pods? Not a pretty picture.
The resistance is led by the mystical Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), and he is determined that Neo is a sort of Christ figure, "The One" who will finally free humankind from the machines. Why Morpheus believes Neo is The One is not addressed, and it is never entirely clear exactly what qualities Neo has that make him special. If anything, it is because when fighting Kung Fu-style in the Matrix, he is eventually quicker and stronger than the others, and he is the only one who is able to take on the Agents, protective programs within the Matrix that look and act like Tommy Lee Jones in "Men In Black."
The Wachowski Brothers are filmmakers brimming with talent and vitality. Their first effort, the fantastic neo-noir lesbian thriller "Bound" (1996) was one of the most eye-grabbing debuts in years. Warner Brothers obviously recognized their talent, and allowed them to pour more than $60 million into "The Matrix." Unfortunately, money can't buy clarity, and it is in this department that "The Matrix" is lacking most.
However, what it misses in logic and precision, it makes up for with atmosphere and energy. Combining the talents of cinematographer Bill Pope ("Bound," "Army of Darkness"), visual effects producer Matthew Ferro ("Alien: Resurrection"), and stunt coordinator and choreographer Yuen Wo Ping (a veteran director of countless Asian action flicks), the Wachowski Brothers have assembled a vigorous fusion of every conceivable bit of classic pulp fiction and modern Gothic style. From the ground-breaking special-effects that make Keanu as adept with his fists of fury as Jackie Chan and send characters running up walls and dodging bullets in slow motion, to the sleek black leather costumes and stylish sunglasses, to the complicated plotline, "The Matrix" is an all-out attack on the senses--visual, aural, and cerebral.
If Keanu Reeves ("Speed") once again makes for a rather bland action hero, it doesn't matter because his character is one of the last things the Wachowskis are worrying about. This lack of interest in character is something of a disappointment, considering what fiery characters they created in "Bound." But, then again, they're aiming for something completely different here, and although it doesn't always make sense, "The Matrix" is still guilty fun of the most visceral sort.
Copyright © 1999 James Kendrick