No one in their right mind could have known what we were about to behold when the Wachowskis dropped arguably one of the most influential sci-fi movies ever called…
It’s been 20 years and that movie still holds up in terms of storyline, fantasy, cinematography, and my God, those special effects. It changed the way action movies were shot, stories were told, and franchises were made.
Say what you will about how the trilogy came to its (anti) climatic end, but this film took us all on a journey challenging every one of us to reconsider the world in which we live and look at it a little differently.
The Wachowskis took a metaphor and gave it life. What if life was determined by a single choice — it is, and we make many of them to propel us on our individual paths. However, what if it all started with a pill?
Would you take it? And, which one would you take?
We meet Thomas Anderson, a rather inconspicuous computer hacker who spends time breaking into back doors for a nice side hustle. During his escapades, we learn he falls upon some interesting news but possibly a volatile conspiracy theory–like the “Mustache Theory” with Henry Cavill or something about a “Snyder Cut.”
The theory is that life as we know it is a rouse, a masterful and genius mouse trap developed by a cryptic demigod so that we fuel some ne’er-do-well campaign of cloaked evil in what is called “The Matrix.”
(Who comes up with this crap anyway? Brilliant.)
Along this journey of reading code like it is the Sunday Funnies, he learns about the leader of this alleged resistance, Morpheus, and his chief cohort, Trinity. His rebel gaggle of martial arts breakers of gravity is set on a course to unveil what the Matrix really is to the rest of us.
It’s at this point where you could begin counting the metaphysical and biblical overtones. The Wachowskis must have a King James Bible highlighted on every page, because trust much of that was used to develop this cyberadventure.
The world as we know does not exist and there are truths that far outweigh the stress of daily life that very few actually see. Hmmm…
This pseudo form of virtual reality takes us all on a journey from which many of us still enjoy. There is a “system” and a greater “truth”. Our choice is either, well, let’s borrow a phrase sometimes read in books:
If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:19)
You’re in this world, Neo, just not completely of it.
Five minutes into the movie, we see Morpheus’ leather-clad terror, Trinity, show us precisely what is going on and what we are about to behold. The chick crawls up a wall like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, only it’s because she is defying the laws of a world to which she doesn’t belong.
The police are not the problem. It’s these guys who look like some stunt double film rejects from The Blues Brothers. They are known as ‘Agents’. They are also aware of the system because it’s their job to enforce it and keep, as Morpheus says, “the wool that has been pulled over your eyes–that you are a slave.”
The only way to battle these guys in this virtual reality is to enter the Matrix and beat them at their own game. To do that effectively, Morpheus needs someone, the ‘One.’ (Insert your Messianic reference here.) Fortunately for the casting of the movie, he believes that to be Thomas Anderson.
Of course, he finally convinces Mr. Anderson to leave ‘Wonderland’ and take the red pill. Training begins and that is where we learn what this real world is and how we live in it.
He upgrades training and thinking by plugging in and downloading a few files. This is where the genius of the movie happens because someone had to think of this, envision this, and understand where we were all going by faith — just holding Neo’s hand for the ride.
This movie, and its countless amount of its tricks, had never been done before. Think about that. No one ever considered making a movie the way the Wachowskis made this one. Today, they are made in the same fashion annually.
Take the bullet scene–super slo-mo was already a thing but what became known as “bullet time” and panning 360 degrees to show what is taking place in a world around us was unbelievable. And now, we see it every Sunday during football games.
Before The Matrix, fight scenes were as perfectly choreographed as only martial arts masters in Hong Kong planned them. So, bring over a supreme master Hong Kong fight director, Yuen Woo Ping (Drunken Master, Fearless, Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill), and give him a Hollywood budget.
He trained the actors for six (hard) months before stunt training and fighting ever began behind the camera. The only way to make these actors look like masters of the martial arts was to make them masters of the martial arts. And Keanu Reeves was already a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu and Krav Maga (and salty at it), so Master Woo Ping had a canvass.
What he was able to do with all of them with preparation and philosophy changed the approach to how fight scenes were filmed from that point forward. Meticulously choreographed with people already understanding what is being asked of them. Kinda like this short fella with a flair for dancing, screaming, and fighting in San Francisco did it in the ’60s and ’70s.
And, do you realize all those nerd Blu-Rays in your collection at home are the direct result with how The Matrix was marketed? It was six months after the movie was out in theaters. Audiences were still buzzing. People were still imitating “Bullet time” and then the announcement came — you can own it on this newfangled DVD thingamajig.
That’s all it took and the movie soared to become the first to sell 1 million copies on DVD. Sure, other films were there first, but The Matrix made it an absolute necessity for any studio’s cash register.
Lastly, The Matrix did something else never dared before– multimedia.
Star Wars had toys and opened up how to market to multiple demographics with sheer brillance, but The Matrix knew the toys were coming. How could they develop a following that went beyond the endcaps at big box stores.
First, The Animatrix was published. The animated shorts can usually be found in some second-hand video store these days, but when they came out, it was groundbreaking stuff. Then, one of two video games came out to continue the trilogy in the minds of people who really care about reading code, gamers. Finally, there was an entire comic book series that was birthed as a result of the movie.
Yes, we have a CBM, but in reverse.
It had the makings of one of the greatest trilogies ever (and yes, we have a bracket coming about that very soon). Then, the second and third lost the magic of its progenitor. Reloaded had arguably one of the best car chases in cinematic history. We saw Neo fly and agents multiply. There was great stuff in there, but you could say the story got in its own way. Much was the same for Revolutions as only the die-hards went to see that in the theaters.
Yes, the story culminated in bonafide spiritual fashion as Neo sacrifices himself for… Zion?! However, it was very much of the same as the Wachowskis tried to outdo themselves scene after scene. The premise is a wonderland of emotion, but the trilogy may not be a favorite.
Despite popular opinion, there is no denying the power this franchise had on Hollywood (or Keanu Reeves’ career). Will prequels work? Maybe. Will a reboot be welcomed? Maybe not. Those conversations are only allowed because in a world of virtual reality, there are no rules. Ergo, there shouldn’t be any rules for how a movie is made about VR either. Even if they decide to do it over.
Today, the Wachowskis are kinda like M. Night Shyamalan. There is no duplicating career success when your magnum opus is your first try. Did you see Speed Racer or Cloud Atlas or Jupiter Ascending?
Few sci-fi movies have created singular effects on Hollywood and how all directors approach movies. 2001. Terminator 2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Alien. Star Wars. Blade Runner. Metropolis. Avatar.
The Matrix is in the conversation because of what the Wachowskis were able to accomplish with this vision. It has contributed far beyond many believed it would. The movie changed the movies. And 20 years later, we can all see the result.