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Dueling Reviews: Two Takes on The Matrix

Review by Justin Felix

Written and Directed by the Wachowski Brothers (Andy & Larry).
Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne.
Rated R (contains lots of violence and profanity) 144 mins.

Synopsis: A computer hacker who goes under the alias "Neo" discovers his entire world is an illusion operated by Artifical Intelligence to keep humanity enslaved when he comes into contact with the enigmatic "Morpheus," a ship captain leading a small group of human rebels against "the machines."

Comments: Any coherent discussion of The Matrix, one of the best theatrically-released science fiction films in recent years, must inevitably reveal certain plot points of the film itself. Instead of ruining some of the surprises of the film, just trust me, stop reading this review, and go see it for yourself.

Still reading? Either you've already seen The Matrix or you have issues with authority. In either case, let's proceed, shall we?

Every so often, a film comes out that I'm so impressed by, I want to see it again after the final credits roll. Whether it's because of special effects (the Star Wars trilogy), identifiable characters (Heat), or just genuine "offbeatness" (), I return to theaters with someone else and enjoy the movie again. The Matrix is another such movie. Having seen it twice, I wouldn't even mind seeing it for a third time in the next few weeks. The Matrix is of a very rare breed in Hollywood: it's visually stunning, intellectually stimulating, and highly entertaining. I don't mean to suggest that The Matrix is the be-all and end-all of filmmaking; in other words, it does have a few flaws. The Matrix, however, is a definate crowd-pleaser and well-worth the price of an evening admission, something I can't say, unfortunately, for most other films I've seen lately.

The Matrix stars Keanu Reeves as the main character, Neo. People who don't like Keanu won't mind his presence here too much. In a strange way, one doesn't remember his dialogue all that much. He seems to project an image rather than an actual character here. Occasionally, Reeves mangles one of his lines. When Morpheus demonstrates a reality-bending ability by leaping skyscrapers, for instance, all seriousness shatters when Keanu blurts "Whoa" in typical Bill and Ted fashion. The casting of Keanu, though, was probably a wise choice; he lends some much-need humor to the rather dark overtones of the movie's look and story. Laurence Fishburne is the real star of the movie. The experienced actor, who once played Othellp against Kenneth Brannagh's Iago, is terrific as the cool-headed Morpheus, Neo's (and the audience's) guide through the movie's somewhat complex plot.

Perhaps it is the central premise of the movie which impressed me the most here. Without it, The Matrix would be little more than violent eye-candy with lots of cool-looking special effects. The Wachowski Brothers, originally comic book artists before turning to film, have penned a fascinating science-fiction premise about the nature of our reality. Many critics, while praising the film, faulted it for a confusing storyline. While what's going on is not immediately clear as the movie begins, it does get explained, mostly by Morpheus, as the movie proceeds. Neither I nor others I've talked to who have seen The Matrix found it particularly difficult to understand. Once again, I'm hesitant to discuss too much of the plot; half the fun of the movie is discovering what the Matrix is for yourself.

The special effects are top-notch. Credit the Wachowski Brothers for coming up with a storyline that at least allows you the ability to suspend disbelief as the FX blowout finale unfolds. Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity (Neo's love interest) defy gravity, leap buildings, dodge bullets, and run through visually stunning sets of exploding debris in one of the best-filmed shootouts in recent memory.

Although The Matrix is rated R and contains many scenes of graphic violence, that violence is often very surreal and fantastical. Despite its rating, I'd say The Matrix is fine for many of the younger crowd. For the past three weeks, it has been doing extremely well at the box office. Perhaps The Matrix is satisfying people's anticipation, for the time being, of a certain big science fiction film set to be released next month: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. On its own ground, however, The Matrix is a very good film. Definately check this movie out on the big screen!

Rating:

(Out of five)

All of Justin's film reviews are archived at The Internet Movie Database

Review by Jason Morrison

For months now you've seen the previews--Keanu Reeves flipping about, buildings shredded by machinegun fire, as Laurence Fishburne tells us "Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." It's a great tagline, implying you must see the movie-no substitute.

But my guess is you weren't too concerned with what the Matrix is when you saw the preview. And you're probably not going to the theater with an insatiable desire to decipher the Matrix. That's because you were too busy watching the incredible snippets of action and special effects from the preview, not worrying about the most promoted plot mystery since "Soylent Green." And rightly so.

"The Matrix's" greatest asset, by far, is the incredibly slick, artistic action and effects. Not only does Reeves' character Neo run up walls through a barrage of shrapnel with seamless computer manipulation, but the camera angles and pace are consistently brilliant. It's one of the rare science fiction films where nothing looks cheesy and every single scene would make a really great poster.

The plot, you ask? Well, I wouldn't worry about it that much if I were you. The story basically cobbles together some standard sci-fi lines on the way to a well-meaning but somewhat obvious message. By the way, why is it that comedies and romances can recycle story lines, and sci-fi can't? Not that I want to see 20 "Star Wars" rip-offs, but sci-fi is the only genre where this is really considered. Though "The Matrix" hardly rips anyone off, there's nothing very new or novel in it.

Reeves is programmer Thomas Anderson by day, hacker Neo by night. Though he's got a good job and a promising future, something seems to be missing-but he's heard around the net about something called the Matrix. No one seems to know what it is, but it seems pretty important.

A message on him computer gets him to follow some of his seedier clients to a party where he meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), a famous hacker who hasn't been around for a while. She's quite attractive, can jump 30 feet and has a handle on this Matrix thing so Neo is interested. When the police come to his office building, a mysterious voice over his cell phone tells him how to get away. When he can't bear the heights to get on the scaffolding, he's taken into custody and interrogated by some strange, secret-service looking agents. After they do some really weird crap to him, he wakes up-was it a dream?

Nope. After Trinity picks him and pulls metal creatures from his abdomen, he's convinced there's more going on than meets the eye. He meets Morpheus (Fishburne) who gives him a choice-learn about the Matrix and leave his life forever, or take a pill to forget it all ever happened.

I guess there really wouldn't be much of a movie if he were to just forget and go home, huh?

He takes a pill and wakes up in a watery tube in the middle of a nightmarish cityscape. He's sucked through more tubes and eventually picked up by Morpheus on his hovership, where he learns the truth-the "real world" is only a computer simulation, where nearly the entire human population is distracted from being used as batteries by evil machines. Kind of a downer, right? Not really. Neo can now download Kung Fu directly into his brain and is said to be the One, the human who is the key to defeating the machine empire.

Okay, yes, I know, shades of "Terminator." And more than one episode of "Star Trek." And "Dark City." But what ensues is a 45 minute-long gunfight and Hong Kong-style action film so beautiful you'll hardly notice.

The film at least tries to be interesting at points. One of the evil agents explains that the first Matrix was a perfect world, but humans would not accept it and kept trying to wake up. An Oracle gives Neo an augury that may or may not be true, or may have been designed to motivate him despite himself. And there's a lot of talk about fate-so much, it almost seemed adapted from a Greek tragedy.

But the film cannot surmount one basic flaw in the design: too much is given away too quickly. As soon as Neo is out of the battery pod, they pretty much explain the whole entire thing to him-the Matrix can be explained, you just need a few visual aids. In fact, Morpheus could probably get the idea across to half of humanity with a well-designed Power Point presentation and a laser pointer.

But that's really the only flaw. Even the acting ranges from good (Fishburne) to perfectly acceptable (Reeves), with the directors seemingly never even trying to exceed Reeves' range as a cool, smart-looking squinty guy. The actors deserve extra kudos for doing the martial arts scenes themselves-they're no experts, but they must have worked damned hard to get that good. One big treat for me were all the moves telegraphed directly out of Bruce Lee movies-a nice homage to the man that made such incredible fight scenes possible.

The technological achievement of this film is on a par with Jurassic Park and Twister, but whereas those films created monsters and tornadoes to good to be fake this film manipulates actors with no awkwardness. This is the first film to do so without looking cut-and-pasted in my experience, and a lot of it probably has to do with the way directors Andy and Larry Wachowski paced and arranged their scenes. It's what the world would be like if John Woo were omnipotent.

This is the kind of film that gains a lot from the theater experience, so my advice is if you're not an action or sci-fi fan in general but still curious (you should be) see it now rather than waiting for the video. No one is going to leave the theater to write a literary criticism of "The Martix," but I bet you'll want to flip off a wall or two.

Rating:

(Out of five)








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