Review: The Matrix (1999)

A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.

Thomas A. Anderson is a man living two lives. By day he is an average computer programmer and by night a hacker known as Neo. Neo has always questioned his reality, but the truth is far beyond his imagination. Neo finds himself targeted by the police when he is contacted by Morpheus, a legendary computer hacker branded a terrorist by the government. Morpheus awakens Neo to the real world, a ravaged wasteland where most of humanity have been captured by a race of machines that live off of the humans' body heat and electrochemical energy and who imprison their minds within an artificial reality known as the Matrix. As a rebel against the machines, Neo must return to the Matrix and confront the agents: super-powerful computer programs devoted to snuffing out Neo and the entire human rebellion.

Review

There aren't many movies I watched in the theatre twice – let alone on the same day - but immediately after the credits had rolled (and still pumped up by 'Rage against the Machine'), I queued up for the next screening of 'The Matrix'. I was so blown away by that film, I feared - and probably rightly so - that I hadn't caught every detail of what I'd just seen. I later found out that many of my friends had had a similar reaction to the film, and I know virtually no one who liked the film and didn't watch it at least twice. It's simply one of those rare films that are so rich you just have to watch them several times.

In structure, style and concept, 'The Matrix' was ground-breaking; it marked the first time the visual style of Manga comic books and Anime such as 'Akira' or 'Ghost in the Shell' had been successfully translated to a live-action film. Apart from 'Blade Runner', which has a totally different mood and pace (but is also a masterpiece and visionary film-making), there simply hadn't been anything even remotely like it. The jaw-dropping action sequences have such a raw, gripping energy they feel like an adrenalin overdose, but unlike most action films, they never overshadow the story; on the contrary - they enhance it and make complete sense within that universe.

As for the story itself, I think this is one of the most original, fascinating Sci-Fi tales you'll likely ever see on screen. Clearly inspired by Japanese Anime and Manga yet also by authors like Isaac Asimov or Philip K. Dick, the story about humanity's war against its own creation, machines of an artificial intelligence that have evolved to the point where they have become the dominant 'species' and vastly superior to their creators, could take place in the same world as 'Blade Runner' or 'The Terminator' - albeit several hundred years later. But there is also a mythical, even religious undercurrent to the story; the themes of a prophecy, a "liberator" or even a "messiah" make 'The Matrix' transcend the Science-Fiction genre and become even more unique.

'The Matrix' was a watershed moment in filmmaking – in every respect – and even though two inferior sequels have left a bit of a stain on the film, they can't distract from what an uncompromising and hugely influential masterpiece this is. Sci-Fi movies that were released after 'The Matrix' have tried very hard to achieve a similar look and tone, but the original still owns them all. 10 stars out of 10.

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