Written by J.T. Johnson
Back in 1999, The directors known as the Wachowskis (credited as “The Wachowski Brothers”) released their cyberpunk action film “The Matrix”. It was released in March, before the blockbuster season even began. It was number one in its first weekend before falling off the top spot the next week. However, good word-of-mouth propelled the film back into the number one spot by the time of the film’s fourth week.
It also found a healthy life on home video, which is where I discovered the film with my dad after my brother Jason had recommended that we rent the flick. When we initially watched it, we were astounded by the story, the effects and the groundbreaking action sequences. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), two of the film’s main protagonists, take out a series of guards in the now famous lobby shootout sequence, a scene that dad and I watched over again after finishing the film for the first time.
The movie’s story was also rather unique. Neo is a hacker who doesn’t quite feel like he belongs in the world. Other hackers have felt this way too and have found their answers with the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). When Neo finally meets Morpheus, he learns the horrifying truth.
The world we live in is a fake reality generated by sinister A.I. controlled machines in the distant future. The virtual world that has been created for us is called the Matrix and we are kept there so that the machines can use our bodies as a living power source. Neo is told by Morpheus that he has been searching for the One, a human that a prophecy predicts will rise up to take the machines down and free humanity from the Matrix once and for all.
From there, we see Neo learning Kung-Fu and other necessary skills in order to take on the Agents in the Matrix. These “men in black” figures are security programs that are super powerful and they take out their prey efficiently and without emotion. The worst is Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), a program that hates humans even more than any of the other agents because he sees humans as a virus that needs to be eradicated.
The first and most obvious thing that I must point out after having revisited the film is the fact that this film is 20 years old. It came out long before the rise of social media or the invention of the smart phone. The internet was only just now taking its hold on the world as well.
Therefore, the irony is that the movie is dated by the very technology that it promotes. It is a time capsule of simpler Nokia cell phones and a world before the flat screen televisions and monitors took over. This is okay, though, because right from the start, the world doesn’t feel quite real and this is by design.
There is a techno look to the film that is inspired by cyberpunk pioneers such as Philip K. Dick and William Gibson’s groundbreaking “Neuromancer”. Our heroes are leather-clad, trench coat wearing action heroes. Neo fits the “everyman” role while Morpheus acts as Neo’s Merlin and Trinity is both the film’s love interest and femme fatale.
The movie’s themes are timeless as well. There is a philosophical undercurrent that runs throughout the film. This is also combined with the not-so-subtle Jesus storyline that surrounds Neo on his quest to become the One.
The action, which I’ve alluded to above, is still fun to watch. At the time, it inspired countless imitators. This is especially true of its “bullet time” effects that slowed time down and they were very innovative for their day. For better or worse, the look of the film also inspired other films as well such as 2000’s “X-Men” where we see our mutant protagonists sporting black leather combat suits instead of their more traditional and more colorful costumes.
I should mention that there were two sequels released in 2003 called “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”. Do yourself a favor, though, and avoid these films like the plague. They are not only confusing with a convoluted and often times boring plot, but they also managed to be even more dated than the classic original.
Yes, watching the original film today, it is a bit dated but that’s honestly the worst thing I can say about it. The cast, the story and the well choreographed action is still top-notch. 20 years later, “The Matrix” remains a hell of a unique experience and one that I can definitely recommend today just as much as I could back in 1999.