The Wachowskis Reviewed #2: The Matrix (1999), The Animatrix (2003), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The Wachowskis give us Neo (Keanu Reeves), a hacked seeking an answer to a question: what is the Matrix? When Neo attracts the attention of uber-hackers Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Lawrence Fishbourne), he has to choose whether to remain in the world he knows or discover the truth about the Matrix. Revelation, bullet time, and deep philosophy ensue.
Here in the year 2017, there is only one question to ask regarding 1999’s The Matrix: does it hold up? With that in mind, I’m going to cover the sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revelations as well as The Animatrix, as for me at least these works inform how I see the original at this point in time.
From that energetic and wonderful opening scene of Trinity Kung Fu-ing Agents and disappearing into a telephone, The Matrix is again drenched in noir. But here are also the trappings of dystopia; grey cubicles and sinister men in suits and black sedans and all of it forged into a coherent whole. In other words, The Matrix is Cyberpunk. It is the best Cyberpunk movie since Blade Runner, and a darn sight more accessible at that.
And yet it is more than simply that, as the Wachowskis thoroughly invoke notions of destiny and fate and providence and heroism. Here is where The Matrix stands unique, as it seeks to find the value in these concepts in an ostensibly deterministic universe. You’ll find reams and reams of discourse on the philosophical underpinnings of the Matrix, but as with most philosophy the question at the heart of it is simple: How do I find a way to live when the events of the universe appear to be laid out regardless?
And while it inevitable reaches some conclusion on this matter, the continual ethos of The Matrix is one of self-agency: You have to see it for yourself, you have to decide for yourself.
And then they made two more. The fascinating thing about the Matrix sequels (and the aspect that I suspect most alienated audiences upon their release) is their attempt to humanise the machines. There’s an interesting parallel to Star Wars here, as the second instalment contains a revelation that upends the established order of things, and the third is concerned with finding a new path towards resolution- towards peace rather than victory. It is this aspect- that machines might have worth as well- that lends a humanist resonance to the musings on determinism and choice.
It’s worth noting that the beautifully horrific Animatrix segment The Second Resistance foreshadows this with the story of the rise of the machines. It’s a mesmerising story and although directed by Mahiro Maeda it is indicative of the increasingly esoteric storytelling technique we will see from the Wachwskis. The other segments of The Animatrix written by the Wachowskis- The Kid and The Final Flight of the Osiris- serve as prologues for the two sequel films. Notably, The Final Flight of the Osiris- which for the most part looks like a first draft of the race to the dock gate in The Matrix Revolutions- is very definitely filmed by a male gaze, and thus serves as a useful measure for how much the Wachowskis do the same.
As a movie, The Matrix holds up incredibly well. The pacing is great, the cast are on point (Reeves’ famed neutrality works perfectly here), the action sequences are beautiful, and the design is incredibly effective. The use of such accessible conventions to pose deep questions and the skill with which they are advanced means Matrix is the first full expression of the Wachowskis ethos.
For the most part. Neo’s powerups have him in god mode by the end of the first film, and so many of the action sequences of the second and third are tedious. It’s possible to see the scene in which he fights a thousand Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving) as deliberately absurd, but in practice it simply drags. Indeed, for much of the second film we sit waiting for fateful conversations while some people get beat up and stuff gets exploded.
At the climax, the Christ imagery is very much on the nose, and much of the celebration- with supporting characters looking to the heavens and thanking Neo- is saccharine.
There’s also a question of how well the portrayal of The Matrix truly unnerves the audience. For all the discussion of the taste of chicken and deja vu, the city and surrounds are deliberately generic (well, unless you can spot all the Sydney landmarks), and so we are never properly convinced that the Matrix might actually be the world we live in.
That ‘rave’ (it’s clear now that it’s an orgy) in The Matrix Reloaded that generated so much complaint works now. It is so rare that what our noble resistance is fighting for is more than telegraphed, and here we get a sequence of loving and dancing and fucking as inherently defiant.
Unlike so many mentor characters, Morpheus is refreshingly earnest. There is no manipulation or strategy here, simply a fervent belief in Neo as The One and a disciplined advocacy that he think for himself.
Again, we get a female character given agency out of proportion with convention. Persephone (Monica Belucci) defies the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and allows our heroes access to the keymaker, without which they would fail. It’s not as significant as Violet’s role in Bound nor as profound as what we’ll see later, but it’s there.
Look out for: Gina Torres, Genevieve O'Reilly, Rupert Reid (that one guy from Blue Healers), Joe Pantaliano, Essie Davis, Matt Doran (the Deathsticks guy from Episode II), Christine Anu, Harold Perrineau, Bruce Spence, Nathaniel Lees, and David Roberts.
So that’s The Matrix. It’s still good, it’s still worthy, and those sequels you’ve heard derided are worth another look.
I truly despise this movie in a way that words cannot describe, but I’m going to try.
So much is my distaste for this movie, that I would infinitely prefer any Michael Bay-directed stupidity to having to sit through this ponderous, pretentious, pointless, over-blown piece of cinematic sewage.
Almost every single scene in this movie fills me with an intense desire to just stop watching it. Upon viewing it recently, it took sheer force of will to continue through scene after scene of stupid, pompous dialog, tiresomely redundant and unnecessary action scenes and a plot so moronically Byzantine it saps your will to live after about five minutes.
As I’ve said before: it sucks being a fan of sci-fi/fantasy cinema. If you’re lucky, you might get 20-40 minutes of a decent sci-fi concept introduced at the beginning of the film. Then, you have to sit through another hour and a half of pointlessly cliched action scenes and other idiotic Hollywood contrivances. Well, here the Wachaowski have upped the ante on even that pathetic equation. They give us, maybe, 40 minutes of genuinely intriguing sci-fi in the first Matrix film, and then follow it up with a full two and a half films worth of mindless action and laughable wire-fighting scenes.
Well, at least it didn’t do very well at the box-office, so I don’t have to worry about feeling even further alienated by a society whose aesthetic in science fiction films runs depressingly, abjectly counter to my own…
Take: at least 442M profit - 587M in 2017 USD - ROI 147%