Kyle does The Matrix

matrixposter“There is no spoon.”

The Scoop: 1999 R, directed by Andy & Larry Wachowski and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss.

Tagline: What is The Matrix?

Summary Capsule: The world’s not what it appears to be, as a group of cyber-fighters jack with evil computer AI.

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Kyle’s Rating: Enough time has passed that I can admit (metaphorically) that there IS a spoon, but that’s okay

Kyle’s Review: Way back when, in my original review of The Matrix, since I came in as a third opinion on the film I felt like it was okay that I focused on the creative controversies surrounding the film; namely, the The Matrix was a mostly blatant rip-off of the comic book series The Invisibles by my mortal god, Grant Morrison. I sort of blurred over whether or not the film itself was any good (back then it was a phenomenon, as you may remember), vented my rage, and walked away from the proceedings.

Years passed. Years that, unfortunately for The Matrix trilogy, saw the release of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Films that arguably sank any legitimate chance for The Matrix to be considered an all-time classic film trilogy; though some remember one or even more of the films as fond filmic memories, by and large they are also-rans that don’t get discussed more, though they will surely prove to be hugely influential to emerging artists once we all have a little more time to look back upon the situation (I’m talking decades now for all those pop cultural wounds to fully heal, or at least properly scab over).

But this is Fight Week here at MRFH, and that allows me to view The Matrix through a whole new lens. As a fight-filled sci-fi action movie, there aren’t many films I think I would rather watch than The Matrix if I’m looking for some background noise that’s predominantly fights and pure visual awesomeness to look up at and be distracted by. As mentioned below in the Intermission! section, the leads went through four months of Kung Fu training in order to properly pull off the fight scenes. And that’s where this movie will truly shine for all-time. If this is your first Matrix movie, you have to rep the fights!

Because honestly, no matter how elaborately-staged the gun battles may be, it’s the hand-to-hand combat that stands out in your memory. I still get a thrill to this day in the final subway battle, as Neo and Agent Smith fire fruitlessly at each until, empty guns-to-heads, they (and we) realize that this fight is going down mano-a-mano. Throat pokes, blocks that flow organically into punches, kicks and leg sweeps: this is the stuff The Matrix‘s legacy is founded upon. It’s the first time where you truly start to buy into the narrative idea that Neo just might be The One after all for keeping up with Smith, though Smith’s relentlessness is a credit to the tension and to Hugo Weaving’s amazing performance.

The determination to have the actors themselves gain enough knowledge to pull off legitimate fight scenes was a brilliant one, and allows The Matrix, even in its faded glory, to maintain a proper distance from most modern action films on that front. Blame the Bourne films or lazy reliance on special effects and quick-cutting, but so many action films in recent years have completely dropped the ball by shooting Michael Bay-esque fight scenes where the question isn’t whether or not the actual actor is valiantly attempting to stage a proper fight, the question is what the hell is going on? Films like Quantum of Solace and even Nolan’s Batman films take justifiable knocks for scenes of the hero apparently triumphing over those who wish to do him harm, though you can’t tell what exactly he did to win the fight nor who exactly he was fighting (or how many there were). I’ll defend Quantum more than the rest, as I agree with Roger Ebert’s assertion that James Bond is not an action hero per se and we are more interested in seeing the Bond moments (drink orders and casually successful hook-ups, predominantly) than in seeing Bond dole out bodily harm (which would disturb his stylish clothes anyway, which might disrupt subsequent Bond moments), but when Batman, Jason Bourne, and others of their ilk bring the pain in murky, barely-glimpsed ways, something is very, very wrong.

That’s where, hopefully, The Matrix‘s influence will endure. The circular shots of Neo, Trinity, and Agent Smith suspended in the air, so we get very clear information about their relation to their opponents and get a sense of just how the impending ass-kicking is about to go, are a stylish choice that are not always necessary, but their intents always should be. Impressive as it may be when our action heroes take down their enemies at lightning speeds, it’s much more entertaining to see, feel, and comprehend the impact of every punch and kick thrown. I can’t think of a single offensive or defensive move made in The Matrix that wasn’t wholly obvious in its intent. That’s not just careful visual storytelling, that’s brilliant fight orchestration and choreography.

Most people remember the skintight costumes and the admittedly-genius use of bullets and their expended shells as the primary attributes of The Matrix as a violent visual ballet. But to fail to remember its dynamic fighting, supported by exemplary work and dedication by the cast and crew on every level, is to do The Matrix a great disservice. While the sequels kind of pulled the story way too far into murky philosophical waters (and overdid the computer effects to essentially create a cartoon in multiple places), the original Matrix film should be one of the first you think of as a great modern fight movie. Just because watching the later sequels is like being in a fight (that you’re losing due to intense body blows, mostly to your stomach and gag reflex) shouldn’t diminish that The Matrix, above all else, is one heck of a violent fight-y movie!

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Justin’s Rating: Keanu… I forgive thee of thy past transgressions!

Justin’s Review: I’ve always been a big fan of cyberpunk-style movies. There are so few made over the years, and when they do come out, they typically bomb (Johnny Mnemonic, we bid you adieu). The problem is not a lack of good ideas or intent; rather, the limited budget such films receive deny them acting talent or the special effects they desire.

Say goodbye to those days, as the last year of this century plugs us into The Matrix. It’s a story within a story, unraveling and intriguing, and probably the smartest sci-fi mind flick since Total Recall. You have your basic hacker Neo (Reeves) who is somewhat unsatisfied with his life. He comes into contact with a group of underground cyberterrorists who show him that the world isn’t what it appears to be… instead of the late 20th century, it’s actually a couple hundred years past that, and computers have enslaved humanity in a giant computer program called “The Matrix”. I won’t give away more of the plot here, but suffice to mention that there IS a plot, and it’s a doozy at that. The second time I saw this movie, I caught so much more. It’s nice to see films like this.

When I first saw this film, I had little heads-up to how good it was going to be, and I dragged a couple friends who knew nothing about it. By the time it was over, my friend’s girlfriend was literally shaking from the adrenaline rush, and we couldn’t shut up about how awesome it was. You don’t get many movie experiences like that.

Plot aside, The Matrix shines when it comes to fighting and special effects. I know, you’ve probably heard about the “dodging bullets” scene and the way-cool intro fight (where Trinity, among other acts, jumps up to perform a kick, the camera freezes, rotates around the room, and then real time snaps back in). I am such a sucker for good special effects, and I was not disappointed. They keep the film alive and fresh; for instance, during the whole movie the characters leave the matrix via telephones. But the filmmakers never showed how this was accomplished until the end, as a nice little FX treat to the patient among us. It was extremely pleasant to see the filmmakers with a seemingly endless bag of tricks, not being content to just use a couple over and over again, but wanting to surprise up all the way through.

The atmosphere is rich and literally sucks us in to this brave new world. I love the green tones used in the opening scenes; the grimy sewer system of the future; even the polished corporate offices. It’s all so stylin’.

Despite my praise for this film, there are some quirky stupid notes that I kept noticing. The Kung Fu fighting styles of Neo and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, doing a much better job than Event Horizon) just seem out of place. My friend Lance and I laugh every time we see Neo pulling the “weight lifter arm flex” move. And what’s with that newspaper flying across the subway prior to the fight? Was there a small tornado that just blew up?

Also, I know that sunglasses in films (see Men in Black, et all) look trés cool, but I’m almost getting sick of their extreme use. It’s a movie cliche that no one’s dared to call filmmakers on yet. In this film, you get thinking that the characters can’t actually see worth crap unless they have their shades on, even if it’s in the middle of the night. Once they don their shades, they become Mr. or Mrs. Badass. In these sorts of films, if you don’t wear sunglasses, you might have much improved vision, but you’ll be labelled a wimp by both the good and bad guys. We’re going to start an epidemic of people wearing sunglasses everywhere, and that spells “walking off ledges” to me.

Finally, the end (this is not a spoiler, really) where Neo flies up toward the camera like Superman really felt cheesy. But stupid points like these are easily forgiven in such a great film.

Acting: good, some roles are terrific (Agent Smith, Morpheus, Trinity), some less than par or undeveloped (Neo). It’s not the most intellectual or heart-rending film you’ll ever see, but it’s sophisticated enough to give anyone pause. And then pull us back in for another viewing.

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PoolMan’s Rating: ManohmanohmanohMAN! I LOVE this movie!

PoolMan’s Review: Those of you who have read me and Justin’s little war over Blade Runner know what I like about sci-fi: its ability to tell a human story using technology as a vehicle, NOT an excuse. The best of all sci-fi tells us things about ourselves using a previously unheard of way of life. But where the difference of opinions in the two head Mutants differed before, I’m happy to say they now agree. The Matrix is top notch, and man, do I love it.

I won’t rehash any plot here really either, because it’s the storyline that kept me jumping in my seat for a lot of this excellent film. (I will humbly suggest that there are some very biblical themes in this movies, mostly centering around the Christ-like Neo. Look at his immaculate conception, his ability for seeming miracles, and his “death” near the end…) This movie’s story really, really jumps. Things that make precious little sense at the beginning of the movie are very clear later (like why Trinity jumps in front of a truck to answer a ringing phone), and the backdrop story as a whole is very compelling. I could only find one small hole in the plot, which I chalk up to dramatic necessity. (here’s a hint. How would Cypher ever get in contact with an Agent?) Still remarkably good (far better than the previous Reeves cyberpunk film, Johnny Mnemonic).

Plot aside, this movie has two other immediate traits that make me love it. First, the casting is exquisite. Lawrence Fishburne is great. He’s got a wonderful, smooth, deep voice, that really lends a lot of credibility to his character’s traits. I love Carrie-Anne Moss in this movie (yay for a great Vancouver actress!) as the distantly sexy Trinity. All the characters are played to a T, including the dark-spirited Agent Smith. And yes, folks, even Keanu does a really good job. Okay, we chuckled in unison at his “Whoa” for the roof jumping scene, but for the most part, he looks good in the role.

The other thing I really got into was the inclusion of martial arts training for The Matrix. The kickboxer in me was squealing in delight, watching the furious fist and foot battles between the humans and the Agents, and the whole thing was very presentably done. I really want to stress as a still pretty amateur martial artist that some of the moves in this film are VERY difficult, but they’re done with style and confidence; very impressive. (But you’re right, Justin, it gets a little funny watching the pre-fight “I’m gonna git you sucka” Karate Kid-style Kung Fu stretches… quite amusing.)

Oh, I’d be remiss not to state the obvious: the visuals in this movie are astounding. The shots of the future, the fight scenes, the bullet dodges… they’re all really well done, and appropriately so. Plenty of eye candy in this movie, but strangely enough, I mentioned it last… I have to admit, the visuals in the trailers are what got me out to the movie, but the advanced story is what brought me back.

When I put this into my Pick of the Week, it was the day after I’d seen it for the second time in the theaters. The second viewing is key to truly wrapping your head around this storyline. There are so many parts you miss the first time around, no matter how smart you are. (Did anyone pay any attention the first time they heard Switch refer to Neo as “Coppertop”? I thought not. I started laughing the second time I heard it, cause it’s so wonderfully well used, and carefully hidden.)

The Matrix just moved up into my Top Movies list, for sure. I’d actually put it in the same company as Star Wars without flinching. If you read this while it’s still in theaters, treat yourself and catch it. If you’re too late, well, hey, rent the video and head home where the popcorn’s cheap.

As first dates go, this was a keeper.

As first dates go, this was a keeper.

Intermission!

  • Morpheus gets shot in the leg by an agent, then proceeds to not let him bother him for the rest of the film. Now that’s class.
  • Trinity’s chest is shiny! Speaking of which, there are no more chicks writing for this page. Why, God? Why?
  • Sets from the film Dark City, including rooftops, buildings and others exteriors sets, were used in this film. The rooftops that Trinity runs across at the beginning of the film are the same ones that John Murdoch runs across in Dark City.
  • The scene in which Neo meets the gifted children in the Oracle’s apartment is an homage to the similar scene at the end of Akira.
  • There are numerous references to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
  • When Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity return to the building after visiting the Oracle, the piece of music that plays is called “Threat Mix”. Later, when in the same building Morpheus fights Agent Smith, the musical piece is called “Exit Mr. Hat”. Both “Threat Mix” & “Exit Mr. Hat” are anagrams of “The Matrix”.
  • When Neo is in the elevator on his way up to see the Oracle, to his right one can see “KYM” carved into the wall. This apparently refers to Kym Barrett, costume designer. OR it could be MRFH’s Kym!
  • As Neo runs through the old lady’s apartment near the end of the film, we see an image on the TV of a menacing man in a black suit coat. The image is that of one of the Number 2s from the TV show The Prisoner.
  • Trinity’s room number is 303 (“trinity” 3). Neo is The One and number of his apartment is 101.
  • The name of the company Neo works for is Metacortex (cortex = part of the brain)
  • The book Neo hides his computer discs in is called “Simulation and Simulacra”. The chapter where they’re hidden called Nihilism. Nihilism often involves a sense of despair coupled with the belief that life is devoid of meaning.
  • The blocking moves Neo uses against Agent Smith upon his realization of being “the One”, are the exact same techniques Daniel LaRusso uses against Mr. Miyagi upon his realization that he has in fact been Karate training in The Karate Kid.
  • Paul B writes in: “Is it just me or was there a joke tucked away in the scene where Cypher is eating in the restaurant with agent Smith? Cypher say he wants to be rich and famous, like an actor, but doesn’t want to remember anything. Agent Smith then refers to him as Mr. Reagan. Could it be that he was referring to ex-president Ronald Reagan? He is rich and famous, and an actor, and has a disease which is best known for destroying a person’s memory.”
  • Micro writes in: “When Agent Smith finally shoots Neo and he slams his back against the wall and collapses, we see smeared blood on the wall…fresh blood. If you look closely you’ll notice that the blood is already there even before he gets shot. This is presumably due to the fact that they had to reshoot the scene more than once since we’re only humans and we don’t always get it right the first time.”
  • At the end of all the credits, the URL for the homepage is provided, and a password, ‘steak’, is supplied. There’s a ‘secret’ link on the page that requests a password.
  • Before shooting the fight sequences, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving spent 4 months training/learning Kung Fu from a Korean master.
  • For the English major in all of us, “Neo” is an anagram for what, peoples?
  • According to some crew members, Keanu Reeves was really vomiting as shown in the film when his character Neo leaves The Matrix for the first time. It was because of a chicken pot pie he ate, apparently.
  • Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity) played Liz Teel in the TV series “Matrix”.
  • It’s my understanding that for the “shootout in the lobby scene”, Carrie Anne Moss had only one attempt to do her inverted run and jump off the wall, and it was the only take of the day. There are NO special effects in that shot. The little pieces flying off the wall, Trinity flipping all over the place sideways… it’s all very real. I wouldn’t have believed it if not for having seen it at a second degree black belt test a few weeks ago. Very cool.
  • Just M writes in: The martial arts director was Yuen Wo Ping from Hong Kong, who also directed the actions in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His team of Chinese martial artists train all his actors/actresses for several months, six to eight hours a day, before the shoot so they look believable on screen and can actually handle the action sequences. I’ve read from some news site that Keanu has since the film, claims that he “knows” martial arts and actually challenged someone.
  • By the middle of 2002, the famous “Bullet Time” sequence had been spoofed in over 20 different movies.

Groovy Quotes

Morpheus: Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
[Neo’s eyes suddenly wander towards a woman in a red dress.]
Morpheus: If you are not one of us, you are one of them.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

Agent Smith: Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.

Morpheus: What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

Morpheus: You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that’s not far from the truth.

Morpheus: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

Oracle: Ohh, what’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?

Oracle: You’re cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.
Neo: Who?
Oracle: Not too bright, though.

Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?
Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

Neo: I just thought… you were a guy.
Trinity: Most guys do.

Morpheus: The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Tank: So what do you need? Besides a miracle.
Neo: Guns. Lots of guns.

Trinity: Neo… nobody has ever done this before.
Neo: I know. That’s why it’s going to work.

Neo: I know kung fu.

Lieutenant: I think we can handle one little girl. I sent two units, they’re bringing her down now.
Agent Smith: No lieutenant, your men are already dead.

Morpheus: You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.

Choi: Hallelujah. You’re my savior, man. My own personal Jesus Christ.

Trinity: Dodge this.

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