The Matrix (1999): A Sci-Fi Wonder Drug

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the final review series of 2021, “The Matrix Reviewed,” where I talk about the critically mixed “Matrix” trilogy. Based on the major opinion from critics, “The Matrix” is a franchise with a great first movie, but some inferior sequels. But then again, sequels are not often as good as the original as the old saying goes. Today we will be talking about the 1999 film “The Matrix,” which has become a classic amongst sci-fi fans, and one of the most parodied movies of its era. Tell me you haven’t seen a movie reference one of its slow motion gimmicks. “Shrek” immediately comes to mind for me. Either way, it is time to review the film! Enjoy!

“The Matrix” is written and directed by the Wachowskis and stars Keanu Reeves (Point Break, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Laurence Fishburne (Event Horizon, What’s Love Got to Do with It), Carrie-Anne Moss (Dark Justice, F/X: The Series), Hugo Weaving (Babe, The Interview), and Joe Pantoliano (Godzilla: The Series, Risky Business). This film is about a man who is taken to an underworld where he is given a couple of choices, the blue pill or the red pill. He chooses the latter, allowing him to discover the truth about his world, and the depths of an underworld controlled by an AI. In a journey of universal discovery, where he is prophesized to become “the one,” Neo must embrace the inner-workings of the matrix while also surviving against a team of Agents.

“The Matrix” may be one of the most significant films I have talked about on Scene Before, not just on an objective level where many consider it to be one of the best films in its genre, but it is also a personal goldmine for me. For the record, I first saw “The Matrix” at age 12, and was enamored by it. “The Matrix” was the first ever R rated film I’ve ever watched. Looking back, it’s a tamer R rated flick, but it has its reasons to be rated R from language to blood to some disturbing images. “The Matrix” is one of those films that I have always appreciated. The film released in 1999 and upon multiple rewatches, it never shown any sign of aging or deterioration over the years. 1999 was honestly a fascinating year for visual effects between this film and “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” while “The Phantom Menace” has some cool shots, a lot of its renderings feel pixelated by today’s standards. “The Matrix” feels immersive, detailed, and glamourous. The film came out in 1999, and even today, it is one of the first things I think of when it comes to virtual reality. It is a world that looks almost too good to be true, but also legit enough that it can have kinks and characteristics that separate it from the real world.

Let’s talk about Keanu Reeves as Neo. I have to say, compared to some of his earlier performances such as Johnny Utah in “Point Break” and as Ted in the “Bill & Ted” films, this is a completely different outlook for him. And you know why? Because in those movies, Reeves’s characters have a nearly built-in, natural charisma. When I watched “The Matrix” once or twice or when I thought about it as a younger individual, I always thought that Keanu Reeves played such a stoic character, and I thought that made him appear limited in terms of his acting ability. If I had seen those other films first, which I did not at the time, it took me five years to get from seeing “The Matrix” to seeing “Point Break,” I probably would have had a different appreciation for Keanu Reeves as a performer. There are times throughout the film where Neo feels like a random pawn in the middle of the chessboard while everyone else is super-expressive. In fact, here’s a good comparison. You ever play a video game like “Portal” or “The Legend of Zelda” where the protagonist doesn’t talk? That’s what Neo feels like at times. He’s one of those characters that you may grow to like, but he may not be as outgoing as everybody else. I do think if I were writing or directing “The Matrix,” I would make Neo a tad a more expressive, but he has his moments. I even like the little supposed nod that his character gives to “Bill & Ted” during the “first jump” scene.

In all seriousness, if you take the dynamic performances of Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, Joe Pantoliano as Cypher, and Hugo Weaving as the fearsome yet handsome Agent Smith, you have all these incredibly directed performances surrounding one that quite frankly, wasn’t BAD, but it felt like it was in a different space compared to everyone else. I mean, I guess Trinity sort of felt the same as Neo performance-wise in ways, but nevertheless. Maybe if I watch the film again I’ll feel different.

Also, can we talk about Gloria Foster as the Oracle? I love all my grandparents equally, but if I could have anyone else as my grandma, I think the Oracle would instantly come to mind. I could occasionally go for some real, brutal foreshadowing followed by some delicious cookies. Can’t go wrong!

The Matrix (1999) - IMDb

To me, the performances are not exactly what makes “The Matrix” so freaking spectacular. At the end of the day, it comes down to the action. When it comes to sci-fi, “The Matrix” may just have some of the single best action sequences in the genre. The kung-fu sequence where we see Neo and Morpheus in the dojo is ultra-exciting. Not only does it properly showcase and foreshadow the obstacles Neo may have to face in his journey, but it’s just a slick looking fight! I remember watching this for the first time years ago and being awe-struck by Neo flipping in the air showing himself off. This fight opened the doors to a digital environment. What happened here felt greater than reality. I also love the whole badass slo-mo bullets trend this movie does from time to time. I do think there is such a thing as an overuse of slow motion in film, but “The Matrix” makes it look jaw-dropping. The fights involving heavy gunfire are intense and action-packed. There’s a big shootout in a lobby where you see chunks of the wall flying everywhere, it’s like if the bullets were flying into a concrete birthday cake! If this movie had no dialogue and were judged solely on visuals, it would be a 10/10.

“The Matrix” does a really good job at making you feel like you’re either in the real world or the virtual world. The most noticeable difference is the color grading. Whenever you’re in the real world, there’s this pale blue feel, which partially makes sense because that’s probably where Neo would have stayed if he had just taken the blue pill, but of course, he didn’t. Plus, blue, at least in this instance, presents itself as a rather depressing color. It’s gloomy and sets a banal atmosphere. Inside the matrix, you’ll see that everything is green, and every time that green tint is on screen, it feels super vibrant and noticeable. It doesn’t just match all of the code on screen, but it’s also attractive to the eye. It makes you want to be a part of this other world.

I’m gonna talk a bit about the climax, but I will also keep some details hidden for people who have not watched the movie yet, which you definitely should. The climax of “The Matrix” allows us to see Neo’s arch fully realized, it does what a climax should do in a movie like this. Take everything we saw from earlier stages of the protagonist’s journey and unleash it all in one satisfying conclusion. Some ways may be predictable, but there is one built up piece that was foreshadowed that plays out in a way that I think some people will not see coming. I won’t say what it is though.

The Matrix (1999) - IMDb

I will say though, one of the other things I like about “The Matrix” is that despite being in a vast world where there are less physical or emotional consequences than our reality, it does an okay job at making you feel like there are real stakes involved. There are real emotions, real stories, and despite hyping up reality just a few notches, the film manages to bring itself down to earth every once in a while. It feels weird to say especially with a character like Neo showing little emotion from time to time, but there are also times where he shines as someone who wants something. That’s what all protagonists do, right? They want something. I think the want in “The Matrix” is decently explored.

The Matrix (1999) - IMDb

In the end, “The Matrix” is one of the most badass movies I have ever seen. It is a fun film to watch, and it FLIES BY. It is a film that never feels slow. There’s always something going on! Before I forget, I also need to shout out Don Davis, who composed the score for the film. Unfortunately, he has not been that active in the realm of film composing, but “The Matrix” has a score that by the end, becomes a thing of delight. It’s intense, fast-paced, and might even be good for working out at the gym or going for a jog. I do think Keanu Reeves’s performance could have been better, but I do not know if I should put most of the blame on him, the Wachowskis, or maybe both sides. Again, if I were in the director’s chair, I would handle this matter differently, but that’s just me. Either way, I’m going to give “The Matrix” a 9/10.

“The Matrix” is now available on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film will be shown for a multiple night engagement in IMAX as of the week I’m writing this, the week of December 7th and 8th, 2021. It is also available to stream on HBO Max.

KEANU REEVES in Warner Bros. PicturesÕ and Village Roadshow PicturesÕ provocative futuristic action thriller “The Matrix Reloaded,” also starring Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. ©2003 WARNER BROS. – U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA. ©2003 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LTD – ALL OTHER TERRITORIES (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED USED BY PERMISSION). PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION

Thanks for reading this review! Be sure to tune in next week, December 12th, because I’ll be talking about “The Matrix Reloaded!” It will be the talk of the town during my next installment of “The Matrix Reviewed!” Stay tuned! If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or a WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Matrix?” What did you think about it? Or, what is the first R rated movie you have ever watched? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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