This year marks the 20th anniversary of the film that gave us bullet time, Neo and the song Closer. Or was that Ne-Yo?
Considering it established the aesthetic for 10 years of slow-mo, green-tinged action movies, inspiring everything from Resident Evil to The Apprentice (and its American version President Evil), not to mention its own lifts from Ghost in the Shell and Blade, it’s impressive how original and fresh The Matrix still feels. Despite these countless imitators, no other film has so seamlessly and excitingly combined philosophy, sci-fi, kung fu and body horror to produce moment after iconic moment, Mr. Anderson.
Set in a dystopian future where humans are harvested by machines and plugged into a computer simulation, the complex plot is illustrated through remarkably visual exposition, making the 2+ hours fly by (in leather boots). Messianic prophecies notwithstanding, the movie makes sense in terms of both its story and ideas (many of which are increasingly endorsed by physicists, philosophers and neuroscientists), living comfortably in the realm of sci-fi without getting bogged down in religion like the sequels.
Meanwhile the pill-popping hackers look cool in their dark glasses and slide-out phones, with memorable performances from Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano and Matt “Tastee Wheat” Doran. And although Keanu Reeves was only cast as Neo after the role was turned down by a list of actors as long as his coat (including Will Smith, Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock), it’s hard to picture anyone else saying “Woah” with such conviction, his natural gormlessness better suited here than the sequels when Neo’s meant to know what he’s doing.
This potent mix of cyberpunk action and Cartesian philosophy makes for a pretty perfect film, dealing with the question of reality alongside other turn-of-the-century movies like eXistenZ and Fight Club, whose office scenes it closely resembles. Even the Wachowskis’ pulpy dialogue (“Guns. Lots of guns.”) and mixed Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz metaphors add to the fun sense of genre fusion, along with an inextricable industrial soundtrack that features The Prodigy, Deftones and Rage Against the Machine.
20 years later it still looks amazing, thanks to done-for-real stunts and Jujutsu, so good in fact that you wonder why the Wachowskis became so… hack.