Friday, August 23, 2013

The Matrix


  Some claim it rips off anime, manga, and comic books galore, yet I think quite clearly it draws on them as distinct inspiration and crafts a loving homage to the entire genre. From Ghost in the Shell, to Akira, The Matrix takes themes and visual cues from some already great material. It used them in a way unseen to the audiences of 1999. It felt fresh and inventive. To realize that a lot of the foundation to this movie already existed in other places, some felt betrayed. I can understand that. However, if anything The Matrix simply brought the cyberpunk sub-genre to the masses. In a flashy Hollywood action movie package nonetheless. The pairing of genres is as good as it had been way back in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A movie which some consider to be one of the best action/sci-fi movies ever. No argument there. I also wouldn't argue having The Matrix tied for that spot.

  The acting is fantastic, the characterization is great, the concept, execution, and action scenes are all top shelf, good as they get. The design is amazing, and the story is pretty damn good too.
Released well over a decade ago and I've yet to have a single gripe about this movie. Even the pacing seems to take all the important pages from the James Cameron book of filmmaking as it escalates to a nail biting climax that still impresses me to this day. I freakin love this flick.  Whenever I'm in the mood, and have the time to sit down and fully enjoy this movie, I feel like I'm watching it for the first time all over again. Every action scene makes me 'wow' and every classic moment is still as awesome as it was the first time around. In short: Its timeless. Its in my top three favorite movies of all time. Which a pretty hard spot to get to.

   I've seen this movie countless times, and if anything this review serves as a reminder to myself and to anyone else who's had this shelved for a while just how awesome this movie still is  Its well structured and very well paced, but the strength of The Matrix lies only partly in its eye popping visuals and iconic imagery.  The reason why this one is so much better than 'Reloaded' and 'Revolutions', and is a great movie in itself, is because in this one: we care.  Its undeniably interesting seeing Neo's journey from a social recluse/computer freak into being this messianic superhero thats supposed to save the world. Its actually emotionally gripping.

   Had they taken a different route and just made the whole focus of the picture the mind bending plot, leaving these characters bland and undeveloped, The Matrix might have been relegated to an experimental artsy movie devoid of any real crowd pleasing power. Thankfully... that wasn't the case.  For once, Keanu's spaced out shtick works here. "woah..."  And he develops into a real on-screen presence. Due in no small part to the amazing chemistry he has with his livelier costars.  His personality evolves through the movie and through the people he's around. On his own, he's such an archetype he's practically a cliche. But thats okay here.

  Its okay, because, The Matrix borrows so much from a lot of other stuff anyways. Anime, hong kong action movies, and generally lots of niche stuff that wasn't incredibly spotlighted at the time.  But it works.  It feels like a live action anime, one of the really classic ones. Shirow Masamune stuff.  The action scenes feel like a classic kung fu extravaganza, and the gunfights are of John Woo calibur. Again, the concept itself is very eastern. It takes some leads from anime like Ghost in the Shell, and Akira, among others. Only, this movie has the budget and muscle to translate that to something live action, and make it a big blockbuster action movie in the process.

 Underneath all it's cyberpunk tropes, and it's messianic overtones, The Matrix is less about saving the world from big bad machines and more about what it means to be human, and holding on to that no matter what.  For any action movie to have its sights set on such lofty depths as such, is a pretty big undertaking. To have it married with insanely expensive cutting edge special effects and a mind bending sci-fi concept is an even bigger undertaking and an insane gamble. On top of the story, special effects, and emotional strengths of The Matrix, we're also treated to some spectacular fight scenes. The movie already does amazing stuff with shootouts and computer effects, and then it comes along and gets even cooler with some hardcore fight choreography. Pound for pound, punch for punch, I still wince at some of those blows. Its still very awesome to watch.

  The Matrix is an impressive achievement no matter how look at it. Every actor cast perfectly, and for once, Keanu Reeves' spaced out shtick really works well here. Lawrence Fishburne as Morpheus is always cool and Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity has excellent chemistry with Reeves as well as looking totally kick ass in all that black leather. But who really steals the show here is Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. He took what could've been a cookie cutter character and made him a menacing and iconic villain thats in full scenery chewing mode. He's unforgettable to be honest. So in short, unless you're allergic to awesomeness, The Matrix is a movie to watch over and over and over. And if you can, watch it on Blu Ray with a kick ass surround sound system to boot.  It's an impressive movie. It may feel a little dated at times, but not that bad. Its own concept makes it plausible that its indeed part of the illusion. Part of the story. The Matrix is timeless. And awesome. Don't forget the awesome.

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