The Matrix turns 25: Keanu Reeves’ seminal film is that rare sci-fi movie where nothing is dumbed down | Hollywood

The Matrix was released 25 years ago this weekend. The Wachowskis’ genre-mashing masterpiece has been one of the most influential movies of the modern era, influencing not just the way movies are made, but leaving an indelible mark on society itself, for better or worse. We rewatched The Matrix to see if it still holds up. So put on your dark glasses and answer that ringing phone, we’re going back into The Matrix. (Also Read: A glamorous glitch in the Matrix)

Keanu Reeves made a comeback in style with The Matrix
Keanu Reeves made a comeback in style with The Matrix

It was the year 1999 and the Y2K bug was all over the news. Humanity had already grappled with the idea that technology in the form of nuclear weapons could end us, but that was hardware. The Y2K bug was the first time that we as a species wrestled with the idea that software, or a few lines of code could have drastic real-world consequences. It was in this zeitgeist that a relatively small, barely-anticipated movie called The Matrix was released.

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The trailer, while visually interesting, did not do too much to differentiate it from the slew of reality-bending thrillers that were being released at the time, like The Thirteenth Floor and Dark City, among others. Dark City especially was startlingly similar to The Matrix, and the latter even reused some of the Dark City rooftop sets for the opening Trinity sequence. The Wachowskis were not a known commodity, having only one film to their name, and while Keanu Reeves was a star, he was very much in a downswing after following up the blockbuster Speed in 1994 with a string of flops like Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction.

Watching the movie today, I was instantly transported back to the first time I watched it at the erstwhile Sathyam Cinemas in Chennai. The audience exploded with shrieks and spontaneous applause when the camera swirled around Carrie Anne-Moss’s Trinity halfway through her crane kick. It’s still as exhilarating 25 years later, and that is true of all the human-led action sequences. Almost all of the big setpieces work like gangbusters which is a testament to both the action choreography (from Hong Kong Master Yuen Woo-Ping) as well as the Wachowskis’ ability to use action to advance characterisation and plot.

The special effects in the action scenes hold up in most cases, especially the bullet-time effect and the Asian art of wire fu. The only effects that have aged (and badly) are the real world sewer sequences with the Nebuchadnezzer and the Sentinels. The Wachowskis’ smartly deployed their mid-size $60 million budget on the right elements, with only two production-heavy sequences – the assault on the Agents building, and the subsequent helicopter escape.

Coming to the story, there’s nothing particularly new here. The ‘chosen one’ narrative is one of the oldest and most overused stories, most recently seen in the Dune franchise. If Paul Atreides is Neo, then the staunch believer Stilgar is Morpheus, and Chani’s kiss of life is the same as Trinity’s. But in the case of the Wachowskis (as well as Denis Villeneuve), it’s not so much about what the story is, but how it’s told, and that’s where The Matrix succeeds – with oodles of style and a groundbreaking new visual language that’s as exciting today as it was in 1999.

In today’s world, it’s almost impossible to imagine a narratively complex sci-fi movie like The Matrix starting in medias res with no opening scroll or expositional voiceover. That’s a sign of the Wachowskis’ confidence in their storytelling, and the structure of their screenplay. Even the infamously dialogue-hating Villeneuve had to resort to Florence Pugh’s Princess Irulan narrating the events of the first movie into her journals for the Dune sequel.

And let’s not even talk about the countless straight-to-streaming sci-fi movies flooding Netflix and Prime Video every week. Meanwhile, the Wachowskis don’t condescend their audience – they demand attention, and reward audience trust. It’s refreshing to rewatch a movie like The Matrix where nothing is dumbed down and spelt out for the viewer.

Do yourself a favour and skip the latest generic forgettable streaming release. Instead, take the red pill and see what great cinema looks like.

 

 

 

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