Such was the popularity of The Matrix that is broke through the sci-fi niche audience and sprawled into the mainstream. It now pervades popular culture on a momentous scale, regardless of the relatively disappointing sequels and questionable games that tarnish the franchise.
It is, perhaps, one of the most visually impressive movies ever made. The Matrix was a cinematic benchmark upon its release, not only for science fiction films, but for all action-orientated movies. I don't think I've ever been as literally impressed with new film-making techniques as I was when I watched my VHS copy of this amazing film. I can't believe I missed this at the cinema, that would have been a truly mind-blowing experience. Dripping with cool in the form of dramatic costumes, revolutionary special-effects and an adrenaline-thumping soundtrack, The Matrix achieved cinematic eminence.
Keanu Reeves portrays Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer who leads a secret life of a hacker under the alias 'Neo'. He is consumed by an urge to uncover the answer to the question: "What is the Matrix?". His perseverance leads him to a mysterious group of rebels, led by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), but not before a terrifying encounter with nefarious 'agents' decked in black suits and the arcane ability to alter Neo's reality. After agreeing to join Morpheus in order to discover the answer to his question, he is shown the shocking truth about the reality perceived by human beings. The Matrix is in fact a computer simulation of life that is broadcast for a human population of the future whose bodies have been harnessed for energy by a rampant self-aware army of machines. During his initiation, Neo is 'unplugged' from The Matrix and becomes aware of the shocking conditions that survivors of humanity actually thrive in deep underground, toward the centre of the Earth, living in constant fear of the machine overlords who span the Earth's surface.
Unplugged individuals are able to jack into the computer-simulated matrix, and their deeper understandings of the programme allow them to bend reality. It is here that the films special effects run riot as Neo learns countless abilities which range from jumping across impossible distances to learning scores of Martial arts disciplines in a matter of seconds. The Matrix is not without dangers however as the 'unplugged' are relentlessly pursued by sentient constructs - the agents - who seek to destroy all those who resist machine supremacy. A rivalry between Neo and a ruthless Agent escalates throughout this film, only to be resolved in a latter movie. The intense hatred between both characters borders on the brutal, and although I prefer viewing this film as a single entity, an idea of the sequels does put into great perspective, just how deadly Neo's foe actually is. Neo's adaptation to life in The Matrix culminates in unbelievable martial arts duels and superb gun fights as his abilities and confidence prosper, eventually leading to the acceptance that Neo is 'The One' - a much prophesied saviour of humanity.
The roles are cast with relatively unknown actors, but the performances are not the strong point of the film anyway. Notoriously wooden Reeves is adept at playing a perpetually confused and dumbfounded programmer who relies heavily on physical, rather than emotional displays of acting ability. He manages to convey a character who eventually gets our sympathies, and come the end of the film we are rooting for him as one of humanities last hopes. In a story filled with treachery, deceit and an extremely ponderous subject matter, our cerebellum is well and truly worked over by the philosophical nature of the plot and the raw, intense action sequences.
Ignore the two sequels and countless spoofs that this film generated, both of which are either either utterly subpar or chronically unfunny. This film is definitely a self-contained masterpiece that requires no further explanation or extrapolation. Perhaps one of the reasons the sequels were so disappointing was due to the fact that they were nowhere near as visually appealing or ground-breaking. I almost feel sorry for anybody new to the franchise, as their opinions may be tarnished by the universe of animation, comics, sequels and short stories that were generated by the success of The Matrix.