Movies of 1999 – Part 1

Continuing with my theme of movie re-reviews, I’m going to rewatch movie from my teenage years to see how they were as good as I remembered.

First up: The Matrix.  Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, this cautionary (?) tale of the future is one part Terminator, two parts Neuromancer/cyber punk with Kung Fu action for an added kick. Sound complicated? A pseudo- intellectual robot apocalypse made fans fall love with this movie, but are they still enamored with the idea?

For those of you still plugged into the matrix, the movie is set in the distant future. Robots have enslaved the entire human race, save for a small group of cantankerous rebels. The majority of the human population has been inserted into a machine that uses our bodies natural energy (heat, pulse, etc) to power our robot overlord’s infrastructure. The people in the machine are hooked up to a giant virtual world set in what seems to be 2002. Why 2002? I’m not sure, but the robots realized our bodies produced more energy if our minds were kept stimulated and somewhat happy. It seems like running a giant server and coming up with sustenance to feed this giant human power plant would defeat its purpose, but we’re suspending disbelief here.

Anyway, the resistance needs to free people from this virtual world so they can fight the robots in the real one. And they do this by plugging themselves back into the matrix and causing problems. Actually, that plot point is kind of lost on me. Other than freeing people, why would they need to go back into the matrix? They fight these computer programs known as agents, but the agents are only there to stop these rebels that are logging back in and try to keep other computer programs from going out of whack. In fact, why would the robots even allow access to the matrix over a wireless connection as they do in the film? Everyone else is hardwired into the system.  That seems like a convenient security vulnerability for the human resistance to exploit. Must have been a Microsoft robot that designed that system.

So the resistance is looking to free the right person because there has been some crazy prediction of a messiah. Enter Keanu Reeves. He learns kung fu, dons a black coat with matching sun glasses and proceeds to kick the crap out of every adversary in this virtual world. In the end, he saves the day. The end of movie implies he has started freeing more people and is in control of the matrix.

This decade old movie holds up surprisingly well! The special effects don’t detract from the movie, the action is still top notch, and the plot is engaging. Of course I’m speaking as a biased individual – I saw the movie when I was 16 or so, I’m male, like sci-fi and kung fu flicks, I log into virtual reality sessions pretty regularly (World of Warcraft) and think that explosions are cool.

I would say every sci-fi action movie from this point on tried to imitate the action sequences from this movie. From the frozen frame three-dimensional bullet time to the wire action stunts, this movie significantly raised the bar for American action movies. As for cultural impact, we still see references to taking the red or blue pill and people hypothesizing if they are plugged into the matrix or not.

The Matrix retains its “must see” status. The sequels, however, do not add much to the story’s continuity. While the special effects and action sequences are worth watching, the plot seems to move away from the existentialism of the first one in favor of a martyr’s tale of sacrafice. Yawn.

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