Chances are “The Matrix” is one of those franchise that feels to be this generation’s Star Wars with its “original story” and “unique commentary” about the saturation of technology. Its gotten so popular that it spawned two sequels and has remained a crown jewel in science fiction. As a teenager, I never really saw The Matrix or even thought of it as anything of interest. I do recall seeing bits and pieces on a television airing and thinking little of it. Now that I’m older and trying to catch up with the times, I can finally say how lackluster this truly was. Perhaps that came out as harsh. The correct term is underwhelming.
The whole idea is that we are living in a dystopian future where humans are being used as an energy source for machines. Instead of just using us at batteries, they create a dream-like reality for us to thrive in so we don’t notice. However, a group of rebellions lead by a cryptic man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) try to survive the octopus-like mechanical beings called the sentinels. There only hope is a computer hacker named Tom Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who goes by the name “Neo” and sure enough wakes up to see the world around him and show how much can change.
And that’s very much the whole move in a nutshell. One minute we’re given a philosophical talk and the next a big action scene takes place. For a movie set in a post-apocalyptic, its very unoriginal. Machines against man is a concept that has been done to death more than once ranging from episodes of The Twilight Zone to The Terminator movies. In fact, we are not presented enough space to soak in the atmosphere. Most of the time, everything is set on this ship scouting through the pipes and we only see glimpses of this desolate wasteland but not enough to soak it in. We get shots of the sentinels “harvesting” crops of human life in these pods but it feels like forced shock value. These are good concepts but there isn’t enough for us to understand this ragged and trashy future.
Ok, what about our cast? Surprisingly, I found everyone to be way too monotone. With a place full of danger, you think they would be aware of their surroundings but instead speak in a way that makes me wonder if they took too much valium. And nowhere near is that more present than Reeves who acts cold and doesn’t show much interest in this vast world he is waking up to. Even Hugo Weaving as an Agent that is part of the Matrix program seems uninteresting as he barley shows any emotion. All he does is act menacing in a deadpan way that almost feels comical. They try to force in some development about him wanting to escape the Matrix but it just comes off as tagged on even when it already near the end.
The only reason I feel this movie was a hit is in part of the action scenes and its look. This was the film everyone was talking about with its “bullet time” action that more perfected compared to previous films that attempted it. And with a bizarre green tint that plagues the scene, it looks flat and too lifeless. I get what the Wachowskis are trying to do by making an alternate reality look cold and mechanical but it just comes off as stale looking with too many greens and blacks. And in terms of the action, there’s really not much that stands out in my mind. All I remember is a helicopter bouncing off a building and again, the bullet time scenes. There is not really much to talk about here.
In fact, why was this labeled as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made? Sure it has some ideas but they are not fully fleshed out. I just feel these were elements done better before. Still, I guess if it wasn’t for this entry, there wouldn’t be this big demand for dark and gritty anime stylized movies and shows. But I felt cheated and disappointed in the long run as I expected this grand epic and instead it just felt dull and boring. With too much philosophy at play, The Matrix think its trying to be innovative and different when really its just a bore to sit through. I remember attempting to sit down and watch it finding myself midway feeling really tired of the exposition and over the top stunts. I’m sure viewers thinking differently of my words and I don’t blame them.
The sequels, however, are a different story. “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” appear to be the ones that fans really say is where everything goes downhill. Leaving much to be desired and much left unanswered while a lot is giving an unbalanced edge that doesn’t match the preachy tone of the first film and its dream vs. reality along with its “chosen one” storyline. And I’m going to be dead honest, I went in thinking I was going to hate these two films. I was disappointed with the first film so there was no way my interest would carry through these two. But much to my surprise I found these two entries were in fact ok. Just ok.
“The Matrix Reloaded” is the one fans seem to be dead split on. And I agree, it does go all over the place at times but I feel it expands on the world of Zion and The Matrix a little better. With a great invasion on the rise, Neo has to find a way to save its people but find some problems on the rise. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is back and has the ability to clone himself multiple times while his gang tries to find the truth behind this strange reality and who exactly created it. I’m going to start off by saying there is a lot of philosophical talk that takes up a lot of running time. From candy to choices to even one about the pleasures of cake. They really go wordy with this one and it feels about overkill as the first film.
The only reason I feel its a tad improvement is really the eye candy. The action scenes in the first film felt too standard where else here, the stakes are raised through the roof. We get Neo fighting off tons of Agent Smith clones thanks to advanced CGI technology (which at times can look a bit video gamey) and most memorable a chase sequence on a highway causing much havoc and for me nearly saves the film. Its a shame seeing when they try to have characters talk, it feels like filler that could have been cut or worded different to be more interesting. There’s this whole scene where Neo has to get some information from this girl and in order to do it, he has to kiss her like his lover and it feels like a good 10 minutes. Again, some of elements they talk about is really baffling. As said, there’s this scene where they meet a restaurant patron in the Matrix who goes on at one point about the pleasures of eating a slice of cake. But the viewer today can see it as more of flatulence joke considering the way its executed. Its hard to explain the scene in words but apparently, he symbolizes the will of choice to a person eating cake and then it cuts to a CGI animation show its results. The way its done looks more like passing gas than it does a sense of pleasure which is just mind boggling for a movie that wants to be taken seriously.
And then we have “The Matrix Revolutions.” Many where disappointed but after seeing what this franchise was, I can’t say I was too surprised. I went in with low expectations expecting to hate it. There are some elements here and there which make it at least worth a once watch but I can’t say its a good movie much all the rest of them. It continues off where Morpheus and crew are trying to prevent a massive invasion of the sentinels breaking into their base but there’s some troubles ahead. Neo is stuck in a weird part of the Matrix that could be an allegory for limbo, Agent Smith infects someone who is able to escape the Matrix and make some trouble and speaking of which, tons of Angent Smiths slowly start to take over the Matrix.
There is clearly too much going on with the focus all over the map and not well constructed. Even worse is how little attention is paid to Neo throughout this movie. There’s this build up in “Reloaded” to him being a greater asset but its only explored in the final 30 minutes of the movie. In fact, stranger is the set up of this movie as we get much talk and little action while the final hour is set on the huge battle between man and machine. In a way, it makes me wonder how it would have been if both movies were re-edited together seeing “Reloaded” concludes on a cliffhanger. Which brings me to another problem. Both movies are not stand-alone films. Unlike sagas like Star Wars or Back to the Future where each entry feels like a stand-alone in some way, The Matrix sequels are too woven together like a mini-series. No wonder as they were released the same year.
In order to understand “Revolutions,” you had to have seen “Reloaded.” Even then, most of the things they were building up for this “explosive finale” doesn’t give you everything. The question of how Neo uses “some” of his power outside the Matrix is left unanswered as much a strange twist where they try to make the machines the misunderstood good guys but its very tagged on. Again, not much can be said on the action. In all three movies, I can’t think of a time when a certain actor stood out to me like they were really selling this franchise. Its like the others. Cold, dull and monotone to an uninteresting drag.
Again, entertainment value is made up for in that last hour. There’s this big battle that feels strange seeing man are using machines to fight against machines but its not too bad. The bigger highlight for me is the final fight between Neo and Agent Smith. That is what won me more. This is what these movies should have done. Combining poetic imagery with martial arts as the two duke it during a thunderstorm of binary code. At least there is “some” artistic license while doing something visually impressive. But is it enough to save the franchise? No.
Like I said, The Matrix films really tried to be groundbreaking and new were in hindsight, they really aren’t. When it tries to be wise and talk about like a Christopher Nolan character study, that is where it bugs me. Its feels like its trying to be smart and clever when its not. Its making its own themes more obvious as if it was asking to be analyzed on the spot. The only thing that holds up for me is the action scenes, at least in the sequels. Its obvious this was meant to be seen on a big screen or in an IMAX theater and perhaps that is where its more deserving. But at the end of the day, when you need engaging characters, a universe that is unique to look at and a story that is at least good, this is not what I think of in looking for those qualities. There’s a fanbase for this and I won’t act like they don’t exist but to for me, this is one franchise I can personally do without. I’m glad I saw it just to get an opinion but if I wanted stylized atmosphere and over the top mayhem, I’ll just watch anime.