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USA 1999
Directed by
The Wachowski Brothers
136 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Matrix

Although at heart it has a familiar aliens-take-human-form-to-control-the-planet scenario, what carries The Matrix, and which still sustains it, is the execution, a dazzling mash-up of sci-fi tropes and action movie spectacle stylishly dressed up with cutting edge SFX and smatterings of portentous philosophizing and Biblical referencing.

Keanu Reeves plays Thomas Anderson aka Neo, a computer hacker recruited by a cell of cyber-rebels, led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to fight aliens who have hijacked reality and replaced it with "The Matrix” a computer simulation designed to keep humans in a state of subjugation. Thus it turns out that instead of being 1999 as Neo thinks, it is actually 2199 and a trio of super-bad Agents (headed up by Hugo Weaving) have been sent to terminate Morpheus and his rebel band.

Whilst the notion of a State which holds its citizens in thrall is hardly new (the classic statement being Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), the Wachowski’s approach is more epistemological than political with the narrative taking place on two levels the “virtual’ world of 1999 and the “real” world of 2199.  But whilst the premise is intriguing as it progresses the film loses any intellectual sophistication it might have promised instead merely re-iterating the “Is he The One” question about Neo’s Messiah status and morphing into a hipster fight-to-the-death action movie.  Somewhat ironically, this turns out to be the film’s strength.

Owing much stylistically to Tim Burton’s Gothic take on Batman (1989) The Matrix relies heavily on darkly foreboding visuals, swooping camera-work and an amped up soundtrack to take us in a vertiginous ride to an extended and quite brilliant set-piece (eat your heart out QT) of kinetic violence as Neo with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) as his helper (and, of course, eventually, romantic interest) go head-to-head with The Agents, who were obviously impressed by The Blues Brothers wardrobe choices.

Unsurprisingly, the film was followed by two sequels The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions both released in 2003 which, sad to say, followed the usual law of diminishing returns.




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