Despite being a movie that hinges entirely on the concept of what technology and computers could accomplish in at the tail end of the 1990’s, The Matrix has aged surprisingly well in its seventeen years of existence. In fact, the concept of having an alternate persona or even an alternate world nestled within technology feels very much like an idea of the moment considering how prominent Twitter,. Tumblr and Facebook are in so many peoples lives. The plot of this super fun movie is similarly timeless, taking Joseph Campbell’s conventional Heroes Journey plot structure and adding in dashes of kung-fu and technology paranoia for good measure.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) is your typical lead character in one of these archetypical heroes journies; a normal dude who discovers he’s destined for something greater (he’s kind of like Emmett from The LEGO Movie). Neo has spent his whole life going through the humdrum motions, but when he’s contacted by a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), he learns the shocking truth of his world. Humanity has been taken over by machines who use human beings as batteries while placing them in a simulation to make them believe their world is going about its normal business.
Awakened to the truth, Neo teams up with Morpheus and a ragtag group of humans in the real world in their efforts to fight back against the machines. The Matrix goes heady in its plot, questioning the very fabric of reality itself in numerous story threads. But the lofty themes it weaves into its story manage to live in harmony aside the characters, with neither element overwhelming the other. Similarly, the world-building of this vast universe is handled quite well and I have a hunch that’s because The Matrix decides to keep things small in scale for its story. Keeping things in a more self-contained environment means there’s not a ton of world-building even needed in this tale, which is far from the only virtue to be found in the smaller scale of The Matrix’s story.
The Matrix doesn’t concern itself with a “big battle against the machines”, but rather focuses its story almost on a coming-of-age tale of Neo learning the true nature of reality and who he truly can be. It’s large in scale thematically but the script realizes that such character development doesn’t need to be complimented by swaths of pointless big-scale spectacle to be successful. Hell, the climax of this movie is just a hand-to-hand brawl between two guys (Neo and Agent Smith played with awesome arrogance by Hugo Weaving) in an abandoned hallway…and it works like gangbusters!
It’s no secret why it works so well too, the finale hinges on character dynamics effectively previously established as well as engrossing and cool-looking action. These are the basic storytelling elements so many summer blockbusters this year forgo entirely that The Matrix utilizes amazingly well. Also, let this movie serve as a strong reminder that Keanu Reeves is a fine actor, I really don’t know where this whole ‘he’s so one-note” thing comes from. Maybe his post-Matrix movies leaned too heavily on his personality in here which is perhaps where the whole preposterous idea that Keanu Reeves doesn’t have range came from, but regardless, he’s great here and the same goes for Carrie Ann-Moss (hey, it’s Hogarth from Jessica Jones!) and Laurence Fishburne.
The best of the cast thought is Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith, an antagonistic individual whose able to keep a composed exterior that attempts to mask a not-so-concealed loathing for humanity. That scene where he tells Morpheus about how much he hates the stench of humans? Awesome stuff that only Hugo Weaving (whose no stranger with playing memorable bad guys in Wachowski Starship movies) could pull off so well. He’s just another part of The Matrix that’s certainly working like gangbusters and makes it easy to see why this movie was so revolutionary back in its day and still flourishes as a piece of top-notch blockbuster filmmaker in 2016.