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Set in the 22nd century, The Matrix tells of a computer hacker (Reeves) who joins a group of underground insurgents fighting the vast and powerful computers who now rule the earth. The computers are powered by human beings...
By following up their debut thriller Bound with the 1999 box-office smash The Matrix, the codirecting Wachowski brothers--Andy and Larry--annihilated any suggestion of a sophomore jinx, crafting one of the most exhilarating sci-fi/action movies of the 1990s. Set in the not too distant future in an insipid, characterless city, we find a young man named Neo (Keanu Reeves). A software techie by day and a computer hacker by night, he sits alone at home by his monitor, waiting for a sign, a signal--from what or whom he doesn't know--until one night, a mysterious woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) seeks him out and introduces him to that faceless character he has been waiting for: Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). A messiah of sorts, Morpheus presents Neo with the truth about his world by shedding light on the dark secrets that have troubled him for so long: "You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." Ultimately, Morpheus illustrates to Neo what the Matrix is--a reality beyond reality that controls all of their lives, in a way that Neo can barely comprehend.
Neo thus embarks on an adventure that is both terrifying and enthralling. Pitted against an enemy that transcends human concepts of evil, Morpheus and his team must train Neo to believe that he is the chosen champion of their fight. With mind-boggling, technically innovative special effects and a thought-provoking script that owes a debt of inspiration to the legacy of cyberpunk fiction, this is much more than an out-and-out action yarn; it's a thinking man's journey into the realm of futuristic fantasy, a dreamscape full of eye candy that will satisfy sci-fi, kung fu, action, and adventure fans alike. Although the film is headlined by Reeves and Fishburne--who both turn in fine performances--much of the fun and excitement should be attributed to Moss, who flawlessly mixes vulnerability with immense strength, making other contemporary female heroines look timid by comparison. And if we were going to cast a vote for most dastardly movie villain of 1999, it would have to go to Hugo Weaving, who plays the feckless, semipsychotic Agent Smith with panache and edginess. As the film's box-office profits soared, the Wachowski brothers announced that The Matrix is merely the first chapter in a cinematically dazzling franchise--a chapter that is arguably superior to the other sci-fi smash of 1999 (you know... the one starring Jar Jar Binks). --Jeremy StoreySee all Editorial Reviews
- Behind-the-scenes documentary "HBO First Look: Making the Matrix"
- Take the red pills to view two hidden special effects documentaries: "What is Bullet Time?" and "What is the Concept?"
- Follow the white rabbit to nine behind-the-scenes featurettes
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Action heroes speak volumes about the couch-potato audiences that they thrill. So it's understandable that ''The Matrix,'' a furious special-effects tornado directed by the imaginative brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski (''Bound''), couldn't care less about the spies, cowboys and Rambos of times gone by. Aiming their film squarely at a generation bred on comics and computers, the Wachowskis stylishly envision the ultimate in cyberescapism, creating a movie that captures the duality of life a la laptop. Though the wildest exploits befall this film's sleek hero, most of its reality is so virtual that characters spend long spells of time lying stock still with their eyes closed.
In a film that's as likely to transfix fans of computer gamesmanship as to baffle anyone with quaintly humanistic notions of life on earth, the Wachowskis have synthesized a savvy visual vocabulary (thanks especially to Bill Pope's inspired techno-cinematography), a wild hodgepodge of classical references (from the biblical to Lewis Carroll) and a situation that calls for a lot of explaining.
The most salient things any prospective viewer need know is that Keanu Reeves makes a strikingly chic Prada model of an action hero, that the martial arts dynamics are phenomenal (thanks to Peter Pan-type wires for flying and inventive slow-motion tricks), and that anyone bored with the notably pretentious plotting can keep busy toting up this film's debts to other futuristic science fiction. Neat tricks here echo ''Terminator'' and ''Alien'' films, ''The X-Files,'' ''Men in Black'' and ''Strange Days,'' with a strong whiff of ''2001: A Space Odyssey'' in the battle royale being waged between man and computer. Nonetheless whatever recycling the brothers do here is canny enough to give ''The Matrix'' a strong identity of its own.
Mr. Reeves plays a late-20th-century computer hacker whose terminal begins telling him one fateful day that he may have some sort of messianic function in deciding the fate of the world. And what that function may be is so complicated that it takes the film the better part of an hour to explain. Dubbed Neo (in a film whose similarly portentous character names include Morpheus and Trinity, with a time-traveling vehicle called Nebuchadnezzar), the hacker is gradually made to understand that everything he imagines to be real is actually the handiwork of 21st-century computers. These computers have subverted human beings into batterylike energy sources confined to pods, and they can be stopped only by a savior modestly known as the One.
We know even before Neo does that his role in saving the human race will be a biggie. (But on the evidence of Mr. Reeves's beautiful, equally androgynous co-star, Carrie-Anne Moss in Helmut Newton cat-woman mode, propagating in the future looks to be all business.) The film happily leads him through varying states of awareness, much of it explained by Laurence Fishburne in the film's philosophical-mentor role. Mr. Fishburne's Morpheus does what he can to explain how the villain of a film can be ''a neural interactive simulation'' and that the Matrix is everywhere, enforced by sinister morphing figures in suits and sunglasses. ''The Matrix'' is the kind of film in which sunglasses are an integral part of sleekly staged fight scenes.
With enough visual bravado to sustain a steady element of surprise (even when the film's most important Oracle turns out to be a grandmotherly type who bakes cookies and has magnets on her refrigerator), ''The Matrix'' makes particular virtues out of eerily inhuman lighting effects, lightning-fast virtual scene changes (as when Neo wishes for guns and thousands of them suddenly appear) and the martial arts stunts that are its single strongest selling point. As supervised by Yuen Wo Ping, these airborne sequences bring Hong Kong action style home to audiences in a mainstream American adventure with big prospects as a cult classic and with the future very much in mind.