First, an admission. I went into The Matrix expecting a bad film. I was extremely biased against it, for several reasons. First and foremost is the starring presence of Keanu Reeves. After his horrific performances in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Devil’s Advocate, I knew I would be exposed to a series of monosyllabic commentaries with each passing revelation within the film. I wasn’t disappointed. The Matrix contains such vintage Keanu lines as “Woah” “Okey-Dokey” (four syllables, there), and “No!” Great stuff. I’m as big a fan of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as anyone, but that’s really the only role Mr. Reeves is made for. He should have gone on to star in a series of goofy twenty-something direct-to-video beach romps, like National Lampoon’s Spring Break: movies where the psychogically damaging effects of his inability to change expression–even when under extraordinary levels of pain (even Shatner thrust his arms out)–can only harm the members of society as emotionally and intellectually defunct as himself.
All right, now that my anti-Keanu rant is over, I’ll mention the other points that biased me against the movie. I’d heard something about the plot, and went in thinking it would be similar to Dark City. It was–even more than I thought it would be, in both style and plot. I’d also just recently seen Blade, and some of the effects in Matrix come from the same stock as those in the vampire film. Finally, I hate Keanu Reeves. Did I mention that already?
However, The Matrix did have something going for it, in my mind. I’ve been following Roger Ebert’s slowly growing fondness for comic-book style movies, and the impact he believes they will eventually have on the film industry. Citing Dark City as the flagship of these new films (he picked it as the best film of 1998, and even contributed two hours of uncompensated commentary to the DVD edition), as well as Blade and Spawn, Ebert has finally come to value what legions of film geeks (myself included) have for years. In any event, I had recognized The Matrix as being from this family of films (as Ebert indeed supported in his review, which I read afterwards), and in that respect, I knew it might hold some promise.
A film review is always tough without a summary. The Matrix, as a film, would suffer from too much exposition, so instead I’ll provide a vague outline. Reeves’s Neo is a brilliant computer hacker and society-shunning geek who, for some reason, has heard of something called the Matrix and is looking for it. He hooks up with an equally antisocial and darkly garbed woman named Trinity (Carrie Ann-Moss), and is soon confronted with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, slumming it), the apparent emissary of this Matrix thingamabob. Morpheus tells Neo, as you’ve doubtlessly heard dozens of times on the ads, that “the Matrix is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Without getting too more explicit than that, Neo decides to open his eyes and is plunged–quite literally–into the “real world.” What follows from there is an interesting experiment in questioning the nature of reality that ultimately deteriorates into a cliched action extravaganza.
Now, to give you some idea of my experience of watching this film, take the scene where Morpheus and Neo meet. The dialogue here is just terrible. Awful. To make matters worse, Fishburne swipes Kiefer Sutherland’s stilted speech patterns from Dark City. I saw this movie with two friends. One was giving it the benefit of the doubt. The other was laughing so hard, biting his hand to keep the noise down, that tears streamed down his face. Needless to say, I joined in with the latter. Thankfully, my 6’8″, 250-lb friend who was trying to listen didn’t break us both in half on the spot.
Upon reflection, and after reading Ebert’s review, as well as those of several other sources, I’ve decided that I didn’t really give The Matrix its due. It’s not just the valid points these critics make; I’m the type of person who has a difficult time taking a hard-line, fully polarized opinion of anything, particularly in disliking something.
I’ve spent enough time harping on the bad points of The Matrix. What about the good ones? Well, the stark similarity to Dark City, in terms of plot, can be somewhat minimized with the information that the Wachowski brothers wrote it way back in 1993, possibly before Alex Proyas even set pen to paper on City. Seen in that respect, The Matrix is as original as any sci-fi film fare is these days–perhaps more so. Stylistically, while there are lots of parallels with the dark tones and special effects of City and Blade, Matrix is cooler than the former and smoother than the latter.
Overall, in this group of neo-comic-book style films that Ebert mentions (the Batman films are excluded because they’re more a refined and jazzed-up version of the type of film created by the Superman series than a member of this new generation), my personal favorite is Blade, followed by Dark City, and then probably The Matrix before Spawn (Todd McFarlane may be a great artist and make cool toys, but he is an awful writer–I’d almost put Spawn in the same sub-genre as Batman). So I’m giving
the film its due. If you’re into science fiction films, then you might as well see this–I don’t think there’s going to be any other good sci-fi flicks this year, do you? I didn’t think so.