"Guys we've got a movie, and it needs a Messiah Figure. A guy who can save the world. Who can you think of that would fit the bill?"
"Charleton Heston?" "Bill Maher?" "Ted Nugent?" "Keanu Reeves?"
"You mean Ted? Excellent."
I figure this exchange has happened a few times in Hollywood. How Keanau keeps getting to be the guy that saves the world is beyond me. But he did a good job this time around. He's a little plastic, but thats just how he is. Fortunately, it doesn't matter, because the world that he is in is completely engrossing. You will sit down and for 2 hours and a few minutes, be completely entranced by The Matrix.
This is a great movie. I won't spoil it and tell you what "The Matrix" is, but you'll figure it out pretty early on. And its an interesting and convincing concept that actually works. Its ideas picked and grabbed from all sorts of sci fi, and it will appeal immensely to many of us.
The world is a strange mish mash of pseudo mysticism or spirituality. Lots of techno-babble stirred in. And the scary thing is that it works. And it works really well. Its a dark world, and a confusing one. But it all pretty much sorts itself out in the first half hour and then you can enjoy a pretty entertaining ride.
A general, non spoiler summary is that Neo (Reeves) is a slightly rebelious [h|cr]acker not happy in the system. He is lured around and eventually joins up with a rebelious band of cyber badasses out to save the world. They have mega technology. They have a space ship. They run from robotic spiders. They have unlimited weapons and virtual reality Kung Fu training simulators. And if you've seen the trailers: Super Powers. But it gets a lot crazier.
So some of the acting is a bit wooden. Some of the fx are a bit campy. Some of the jokes are sad. But these tiny flaws will slip by almost unnoticed because most of the fx are seamless. Most of the jokes are just right. And while some of the fighting is cheesy, other parts are quite exciting. This movie makes good use of many fx that we've seen in commercials for years, and somehow ties them together with a plot that is interesting. The philosophy and stuff gets a tad heavy at times, but not to badly, just a little bit fluffy.
2 hours, and I don't think I blinked.
I'd write a longer review, but frankly I don't want to spoil it for you. And I'll warn you that Katz's review will spoil some of the big surprises, so keep scrolling or hit that back button if you don't want to know...
In science fiction, and in the mythology of computing science, it's believed - remember Ray Kurzweil and his "Age of Spiritual Machines" -- that as we race towards more powerful computers and machines with artificial intelligence, eventually there will be some cataclysmic Omega Point at which everything changes, especially the fundamental situation of people in the universe.
Engineers, scientists, developers and programmers don't dwell on Omega Point theory much, at least in public, but it's a staple in the literature of computing as well as science fiction.
And here it is again as the centerpiece of the "The Matrix," the stylish, highly entertaining new geek action thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. The movie asks the question: what if the world were run by evil computers who bred humans only as an energy source?
What if only a handful of humans knew the truth, and the rest lived in a world where reality was altered by an artificially-brilliant monster which created a virtual dream world in which nobody could tell what was real and what wasn't, if people believed they were living lives, but weren't?
This is the Omega Point and it's the world Neo the hacker suddenly wakes up to. He's led to the now inevitable Leader of the Rebel Forces (Fishburne), and they go after the humanoid machines. Naturally, they are represented by agents, evil and powerful NSA-style Men In Suits (attention Hollywood: can we come up with some new bad guys?).
This movie is a geek feast, with echoes of "Terminator," "Alien," "The X-Files," "200l: A Space Odyssey," and "Star Wars." Maybe a bit of Jackie Chan and "Walker, Texas Ranger," too. Heroes and villains kick-box their way across the universe, driving each other through windows, walls and virtual space. This movie, made by the Wachowski Brothers, is made without apology by and for nerds and geeks. The real villain is a "neural interactive simulation," a concept familiar to computing types, therefore one the film doesn't even feel it needs to to explain.
"The Matrix" is a smart, strange, complicated movie, one that takes techno-cinematography to new and classy levels. The beginning of the movie has an almost gothic, truly creepy feel to it. "The Matrix" also has a truly dark premise, eerie, new, imaginative and startling special effects, and a pace like a high-speed download.
And for once, the familiar arguments about technology, humanity and the future are intelligently presented and argued. Artificial intelligence machines - AT's - have gone to war with humans in the 21st century and won, and are setting about to literally suck the life out of humanity (Neo is shown the skeletal remains of civilization hidden beneath the virtual ground). Neo, the Everyman hacker is cast as the messiah, called upon to save the earth with the help of various raggedy geeks, nerds and a battalion of laptops with high-resolution monitors.
As Neo, Reeves is a well-meaning mono-man, likeable but almost one dimensional. All his life, he's known something is wrong with the world, but he could never put his finger - or keyboard - on it. Now, he gets to know. This movie is a very knowing geek fantasy. Neo, a software programmer, had a dual (but no social) life. By day, he's a programmer, by night a lawless hacker. He and everyone else speaks in the stuffy language of the future, which is to say nobody uses contractions. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Trinity, the equally grim and business-like super-hacker babe who guides Neo to his'yes!?destiny.
Whenever the movie tilts towards the clunky and heavy-handed ("I can show you the door," intones Rebel Leader Morpheus to Neo at one point, "but you have to go through it yourself" it self-corrects with real wit and dazzling effects.
There are some fun geek fantasies: the only time Neo smiles is when martial arts programs are being down-loaded into his brain. Later, a rebel hacker and fellow geek generously offers him some intimate time with a virtual blonde in a red-dress he's created as a software training program.
The mysterious Zionist Oracle, the source of all wisdom to whom every good guy and human must trek, turns out to be a chatty, grandmotherly black lady baking cookies in her kitchen.
For most of the movie, Neo doesn't believe this Messiah stuff and riddled with the expected self-doubts and unwillingness to use his powers, a/k/a, his "Force." But once he does get religion, it's with a vengeance: in one of the campiest scenes of any recent sci-fi movie, he and Trinity download an arsenal of black weapons, along with superhuman powers, floor length leather jackets, a black chopper, and enough Kung Fu moves to take out a battalion of humanoids.
Bullets, bodies and shell casings literally rain from the skies (even bullets are stylish in this movie), buildings blow up, humans and androids both die and resurrected with regularity; and everybody goes back and forth between the real and virtual world so rapidly and fluidly that the movie very nearly invokes the experience of being online. The martial arts stunts approach choreographed ballet.
"The Matrix" is a sci-fi thriller, and a great one. Since it takes care not to take itself too seriously, it's not a good idea to give it more weight than it deserves. It doesn't explain itself to nerds, geeks and computer users - it's made for them. And any movie that leaves you disturbed, riveted, entertained, and then thinking when you leave the theater, is well worth the trip. firstname.lastname@example.org