Danny Westhorpe, 23, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

• Film Reviews » The Matrix
9/10

"I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it."

1999 was a terrific year for movie lovers. We had the magnificent Fight Club, the glorious American Beauty and the superb Boys Don't Cry. Few films were more technologically impressive and thought provoking though than The Matrix. The cult masterpiece led to a couple of inferior sequels, several hugely entertaining video games and some frank discussions between fans about “what is real?” The hype all started somewhere though, and that’s at the beginning with the best film in the trilogy. The Wachowski brothers managed to weave an addictive plot together with some of the best action scenes in cinema history, creating a thrilling ride that has since been copied, but never bettered.

The plot opens with Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a computer hacker under the alias of “Neo”. The lonesome figure is desperate to learn the meaning of the cryptic messages referred to as The Matrix that keep popping up on his computer. Fellow hacker Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) arrives and tells him that the infamous Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) holds the answers he seeks.

The truth is quickly revealed, the world Thomas Anderson thought he knew is no more. The Matrix is in fact a simulated reality and the real world is an altogether much bleaker experience where a war between humans and machines rages. Morpheus believes Neo is “the one”, a prophesised figure who can end the war for good. Only with true faith however, can Neo fulfil his destiny, triumph over the sinister Agent Smiths (computer programs designed to eliminate any threats to The Matrix) and save the real mankind.

Hugo Weaving gives a strange but enjoyable performance as the primary antagonist, Agent Smith.
Many elements of The Matrix (including the green code) have become a part of popular culture in this century.

In terms of acting talent, The Matrix’s principal four cast members each bring something unique to their roles. Keanu Reeves shines as the shy and confused protagonist who becomes stronger (both mentally and physically) as the film draws on. Laurence Fishburne looks impressive from start to finish as the wise and mysterious mentor while Carrie-Anne Moss is excellent in both the action scenes and emotional segments. Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith) gives the most powerful performance though. He oozes power and emotion whenever on screen and his facial expressions and body language are spot on – all the more difficult when you realise that in essence he’s playing the role of a computer program. The supporting cast are adequate with strong performances from the likes of Joe Pantoliano and Gloria Foster, but it’s the principal cast that take and deserve the majority of the credit.

While the film was released over a decade ago now, the special effects still hold their own against anything of late. The instantly recognisable bullet time, slow motion effects are mesmerizing to look at, while the clever camera work makes the bending and breaking of the laws of gravity look not only breathtaking, but one hundred perfect believable. Another instantly recognisable effect, the green, scrolling code has also stood the test of time and is as awe-inspiring now as it was all those years ago. The visual effects in general are one of, if not the, films strongest points. Sci-Fi often needs top quality effects to turn a script into reality, and The Matrix doesn't disappoint in that area.

The films best scenes come early in the film, before the endless action takes over and while the premise is still fresh. Neo's training scenes are often forgotten or overlooked, but feature some of the best combat and really give a feel of what the film is actually about – reality and simulation. The scenes also help strengthen the relationship between Neo and Morpheus, pupil and master and show the scope of the matrix and what the characters are capable of.

My favourite scene though features the all to brief appearance of The Oracle. Gloria Foster works wonders in the short time she's got and the scenes are such a change of pace to the rest of the film. While the outside world is dark, dreary and destroyed, the oracles home is light, bright and homely. Some of the movies best dialogue is on show here, not to mention the now common knowledge spoon bending act. It's an all to brief scene that really helps break up the action and instead reinforces that the film isn't all just slow motion fight scenes, but science fiction done well and right.

The soundtrack is a healthy mix of original music and mainstream acts. Fast paced and heavy tracks by the likes of Rammstein, The Prodigy, Rage Against The Machine and Rob Zombie blend well with the action scenes and make for more thrilling and enthralling fights. With the original music, a much subtler tone can be heard, reflecting the sense of mystery and question that the film often asks of itself. Composer Don Davis focused on the theme of reflections when putting together the score, to “reflect” the idea of actual reflections, which appear prominently throughout the movie. It was a clever move by Davis, and paid dividends as the Oscars with two of the four awards won coming in sound categories.

Reeves and Moss don't have the greatest chemistry, but their romance is thankfully a fairly small plot point.
"Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth."

The main complaint people seem to have with the film is the old case of style over substance. Some critics argue that for every wonderfully choreographed fight or bullet time marvel, it's just a bunch of well-dressed idiots beating each other up to a shallow storyline. However this reviewer doesn't share those sentiments. The cool clothes, shiny guns and special effects all add to the experience, but if you stripped those elements away you'd still have a deep and powerful plot that never stops engaging the viewer.

One annoyance I do have is the ending. The best films, including ones that are planned as a series, leave the viewer with closure and finality at the end. The Lord Of The Rings did it superbly and the Harry Potter films did it quite well (which was made even tougher by splitting the last film into two). The original Matrix doesn't do this. There's a tiny bit of closure after the final dramatic fight but as Neo delivers his closing monologue, all you can here is “SEQUEL, SEQUEL, SEQUEL” shouting over the top of it. This isn't too much of a problem if you watch the fairly decent Matrix Reloaded straight afterwards, but as a standalone film, the ending isn't great.

If you're a fan of Sci-Fi then the chances are you've already seen The Matrix and are among the countless people that think of it as a cool and sharp acheivement. The Wachowski brothers have done an outstanding job of taking an extraordinary and altogether impossible premise and drawing you in. You feel every punch, gasp at every jump and really do start to question both your own existence and the world as we know it. The best science fiction films take the implausible and make it seem probable. The Matrix does just that. So much so that after watching it you'll want nothing more than to grab some black attire and start running across walls with “Killing In The Name Of” blurring in the background.

Copyright © Danny Westhorpe, 2014. All rights reserved.
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