The Wachowski Brothers' sophomore directing debut (after 1996's fabulous
"Bound"), "The Matrix," is a very clever sci-fi film, but perhaps not in
the way you might expect. No, it isn't "clever" for its intelligence or
startling imagination, but for the exact opposite of that. By throwing
into the mix a highly convoluted and complicated storyline, frenetic
action, and almost constantly stunning visuals, its ultimate master plan
is to actually make you forget that it pretty much borrows ideas from
almost every movie of its type ever made. Apparently, as hints of their
desperation to brainwash its audience about its so-called inventiveness,
or lack thereof, the Wachowski Brothers have actually decided to bombard
us with cross references to other past works of film and literature
(namely "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz").
By the halfway point in "The Matrix," the film was tugging me in so many
different directions as it miraculously would make up its own set of
ground rules as it went along, only to contradict them later, I finally
stopped caring or believing anything on the screen. And because of the
fact that it is so complex (but in an empty, shallow way), it would be
difficult to discuss the plot without giving away major plot points, but
here goes. Neo (Keanu Reeves), living in New York circa 1999, is an
office worker by day and computer hacker by night, who begins to get
mysterious messages on his computer screen concerning something called
"the matrix." Soon afterwards, to the warnings of an at-first unseen man
named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Neo is being hunted down by Agent
Smith (annoyingly played by Hugo Weaving) and his group of henchman with
suits and briefcases, because he is the "chosen one" that may obtain the
ability to defeat them. Not only that, but it becomes clear that perhaps
Neo's life really is just a facade for his upcoming actual life in a
different time period, and world.
Confused? If you are, don't worry, because although the movie is
slightly easier to understand than my extremely vague description, it
nonetheless still adds up to very little in the long run. To start off
with the positive aspects of "The Matrix," I'll make a brief list: (1)
the visual effects and "look" of the film is constantly dazzling; (2)
several of the action sequences in the second half, particularly one
involving a helicopter, are exciting and stunningly executed (although
the one mentioned is a clear rip-off of the ending of 1994's Arnold
Schwarzeneggar vehicle, "True Lies"); (3) the film got off to a great
start with its intriguing opening twenty minutes; and (4)
well...um...Carrie-Anne Moss, as Trinity, a woman on Morpheus' team,
shows a great deal of charisma when she isn't shoved into the
background. To me, it was Moss who was the most intriguing character,
not Neo, who is played by the wildly uneven Reeves (this is one of his
weaker performances) and given such highly intellectual lines of
dialogue like "Woah!"
Now for the bad stuff. Aside from the aforementioned direct references
to "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz," the movie also heavily
borrows from "Brazil," "Alien," "Lost Highway," "Terminator 2," and even
the direct-to-video "Puppet Master" series(!). One of the few actual
witty moments came when, in one scene, "Night of the Lepus," a cheesy
'70s movie about giant killer bunny rabbits, was playing on a television
in the background.
I can just imagine the conversation the Wachowski Brothers had
concerning this movie:
Wachowski #1: "Sure, the movie is complete rubbish, but we'll make it
look really flashy and visionary."
Wachowski #2: "But what if the more discriminating audience members are
able to see right through that and immediately catch onto all of the
film's obvious weaknesses?"
Wachowski #1: "Good point. I guess what we'll have to do is make the
story have a lot of twists and turns, albeit shallow ones, and add some
big action scenes."
Wachowski #2: "Good idea. We made the stylish and original movie
"Bound," so it shouldn't be too difficult to come up with some things
that haven't been seen before___"
Wachowski #1: "What are you talking about?! Why use our brains when we
can just steal things from other movies?"
Wachowski #2: "Okay. Now that that's out of the way, don't you think we
should at least set some ground rules in the story so that the audience
will know what can and can't be done?"
Wachowski #1: "Huh? Why would we do that when all we are going to do is
break those rules. That way, we can do whatever we want with the story,
but it doesn't all have to necessarily make perfectly kosher sense."
Wachowski #2: "You're brilliant. And you know what else we should do? We
should even steal a key plot point at the end from some Grimms fairy
tales, like "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty!"
Wachowski #1: "Oh, I see what you're saying now! I agree that would make
a touching, yet happy ending. And to make things even better, we'll add
this ridiculous character called the Oracle, who is a psychic. That way,
whatever she says has to happen, even if we have just killed a
character. We can just bring the people back to life if that's what the
Wachowski # 2: "How'd you get to be so smart, bro?"
Wachowski #1: "Well, you're smart too, and we got that way because of
Hollywood! You see, when we made "Bound," we really had to try hard
since it was a relatively low-budget film and needed a lot of critical
raves to be a success. With "The Matrix," we have a much larger budget,
so if we just throw various "bigger is better" ingredients into the pot
and stir well, this one might very well be a box-office success and make
back its budget."
Wachowski #2: "Yep. After all, look at last year's "Dark City." Now that
movie really was original and a visionary achievement, but also a
box-office bomb. Apparently, those unconventional films that stray from
the confines of a basic Hollywood movie don't do so well. So maybe "The
Matrix" will work better if we also create a visionary achievement, but
in place of originality, we'll simply add violence and elaborate chases
and shoot-outs and kung-fu!"
Wachowski #1: "You know, bro, we make a great team together!"
Wachowski #2: "I couldn't have said it better myself!"
(They shake hands and hug)
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman