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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Matrix

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on The Matrix:

Final Thoughts on The Matrix:

Colin:

I mentioned in one of the articles that I had two copies of this movie on VHS, and I remember getting the first one at Borders on the rainy Saturday afternoon after the home video release, which was a Tuesday. That Saturday was December 11, 1999, which was the day before I turned 10 — the movie was a birthday present (my Precious). We took it home, popped it on and watched on the couch, with popcorn. I hadn’t seen the movie in theaters, but it didn’t stop me from being absolutely blown away. This movie was the movie I watched the most, along with the Star Wars original trilogy.

First, the concept is insanely good. The world is actually an elaborate computer program that holds humans prisoner. This was at the beginning of the Internet Age, and we were all starting to enjoy computers for what they were. The idea that you could leave the world as we know it and come back as superman — that was very cool. The part where he just learns all those martial arts in a heartbeat and goes from a schmuck to a boss in a matter of hours is just alluring. I don’t care who you are.

Then there are the characters. Neo’s pretty awful, as is Trinity. But Smith is, in my mind, one of the best villains of recent years. I’ll say it time and again, they managed to take ‘machines’ and make them more three-dimensional and human than most actual human villains are. Hugo Weaving is one of the most menacing characters around, and we all know that this is the movie that got him all the attention he’s enjoyed since. I’m not in love with Morpheus, but he had his badass moments. And then, there are some decent minor performances from Joe Pantoliano and Gloria Foster. I don’t love all the writing, but they had a pretty solid cast that was able to deal with the material they got.

The imagery was probably the most compelling part of it for me. This movie happened at a very important time in CGI. The best part of when it happened is that they didn’t go all-in on the fake shit. There was still a lot of old tech involved. When they did Trinity’s signature move at the beginning, she was on wires, and they had single-shot cameras placed in a circle around her. This wasn’t in a computer, it was individual shots that they assembled. That’s gutsy, and it looked awesome. Then again, a lot of the computer generated stuff looked good because they weren’t overly ambitious with it (hint hint, Lucas). The bullet time ripples are a good example. They look fake, but stylistically so.

How about that lobby scene? You can’t ignore that. Who had seen anything like that at the time? This movie turned the action up to 11, and everyone had to come correct after that. It wasn’t like Saving Private Ryan with the gritty, realistic, horrible violence. It was badass action movie violence. Some people say it glorified violence to the point of causing real-life massacres. I’m not going to weigh in on that, especially since I dislike guns and favor gun control. But as a moviegoer, that sort of scene is amazing in doses.

Sort of like those original Star Wars movies, this is one that doesn’t hold up QUITE as well under a microscope. A lot of the dialogue is clunky, there are lapses in logic and holes in the universe that beg for explanation. Then there’s the religious aspect of the whole thing, which was always very unsettling to me. If a 10-year-old atheist can pick out most of your Biblical allusions, you’re probably hitting the holy water too hard.

Finally — and this is what’s most damaging, ultimately — the protagonists are hopelessly bad. Keanu will never not be made fun of for this role. I know he’s made fun of a lot, but he’s not a bad actor at all; this character brought out all the traits that he gets slammed for by armchair critics. Neo’s not very bright — The Oracle says so, and Keanu does a great job capturing that characteristic. Mike’s right, he IS a walking Kuleshov Effect. I blame the directors for the way he comes off more than I blame him. Carrie Ann Moss never really drew me in, but I can’t blame her too much, either. These are the two characters we’re supposed to sympathize with the whole time, but they end up being the ones who make me want the robots to win.

This will never be just another movie to me. It’s too nostalgic, and it happened at just the right time for it to have been made that way. Mike pointed out some of the ways it would have suffered had it been made today, like him coming back to give his shitty boss the finger, or something like that. I’m glad it was made when it was, looked the way it did, and introduced the concepts we all remember fondly. It has its foibles — more, perhaps, than a lot of movies that I view less positively. But what a tour de force. That’s what made the next two so painful. I didn’t think this was going to be a franchise movie when I saw it, and you know it doesn’t have to be. They could have left it there, and you’d want to know more about the story and the universe, but it would have been pretty perfect.

My Final Thoughts:

 Colin started his final thoughts talking about getting the movie on VHS. You know what I remember about this movie? The DVD. It was one of those Warner Bros. DVDs. Which were real pieces of shit. It had the cheap paper front, and the side plastic snap piece that came over the front. God, those were awful. They broke all the time, and every time you bought one, they had at least three of those security tags stuck to them, which undoubtedly ripped off part of the cover art when you pulled them off. Warner Bros. really sucked at putting out DVDs.

Anyway, this movie.

I also never saw this in theaters. At least I don’t think I did. But I can’t say for sure. I don’t remember. Most of my memories with this movie were watching it at home and at friends’ houses. The sequels, I know for a fact I didn’t see in theaters. Those I watched as bootlegs that I bought from the old Chinese lady standing outside the store.

This movie reminds me of so many great things. Illegal cable hookups, bootleg DVDs from the Chinese lady at the store. Those were my loosies. It also reminds me of old school AOL. I had a bunch of those shitty gifs that were on awful late 90s webpages like Geocities.

I watched the fuck out of this movie. It’s absolutely perfect. I feel like if I thought about which movies I watched the most in my life, three of the top ten (or maybe even top five) are this, The Fifth Element and The Godfather.

I don’t even have that much to say about this movie, since the best that I can say about it is how it reminds me of all the glorious things from my childhood.

The things that strike me now, as someone who combs through movies to make fun of them: it’s great how Neo is such a Candide type of character, who is so generic that it manages to work perfectly with the influx of ideas and the universe he’s thrust into. And the story is so good, we completely overlook the fact that the dialogue is actually pretty terrible. (Which is also why we notice it in the sequels.)

The best thing about this movie is still Hugo Weaving. And second is the entire building sequence. Third is probably Joe Pantoliano. Sniffing bitches and taunting unconscious people. But it’s actually incredible how Smith is designed to be one of the generic looking bad guys, and over the course of the film, not only manages to be one of the more memorable villains in film, but is actually so good in that role and becomes so indispensable that even though they kill him, they had to bring him back.

I agree with Colin’s assessment of the cast: overall, they’re able to deal with the material they were given. It’s hard to say that the cast was below average, since most people could have inhabited these roles and produced almost the same result. Hugo Weaving is the only one who, if he’s played by someone else, the entire movie changes. Fishburne is probably second there. I also really liked the way Gloria Foster played the Oracle. Otherwise, you can pretty much recast all the other parts and the movie barely changes. Keanu, though, was a good choice. And I think Pantoliano adds his own charm to his part. Though at this point, I’ve seen the movie so many times, the roles are just ingrained into me and feel like iconic parts, even though no one even knows who the hell the actress is that played Switch.

The thing that makes this movie timeless is the fact that it’s not overdone with CGI. That’s why the sequels aren’t very good, aside from a few moments. They’re laden with too much CGI. Compare the Lord of the Rings movies to The Hobbit. It’s not even tone. It’s the fact that everything in them looks fake. The Matrix sequels are arguably the lesser of two evils, since at least there, the CGI wasn’t developed enough, so rather than looking totally cartoonish, it just looks fake and somewhat realistic, probably because they had to mix in some real-world sets and miniatures.

This is one of those movies that is its own perfect entity, like A New Hope. You can watch it as a single film and not as a part of a franchise, and it’s wonderful. You can nitpick stuff, but on the whole, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie that’s really hard to not like.

Really, though, what I think this movie’s biggest strength is, which is why I’ve always enjoyed the Wachowski’s movies, post this one, is that it introduces really complex ideas in a mainstream movie. You look at Marvel, and it’s not about anything. This is about all of these spiritual and philosophical themes, that you can either pay attention to or not pay attention to. And it makes the movie more than just a regular action movie. And you see all the innovations they made with the action scenes, and you have one of those rare movies that defines a generation.

This is a benchmark film. It changed the way we thought about action movies and what action movies became. And, anyone roughly my age — this film is a huge part of our lives. We all wanted those sunglasses, we all wanted those cell phones, and we all wanted one of those jackets. Even though I’m not one of those weirdos who knows about leather.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start Reloaded.

(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)

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One response

  1. Oh man I remember those hard paper dvd cases…
    I was literally just thinking about The Matrix this morning, wondering why it’s a movie that I never really connected with, unlike a lot of other people.
    I see the greatness of it, and see that it was a benchmark like you said. But I think that it’s a movie I saw 10 years too late. I was only 6 when the movie was released in 1999, and I just saw The Matrix for the first time about 5 or 6 years ago. I enjoyed it, but some aspects just feel sort of dated to me. Compared to its sequels though, this movie is purely awesome though.
    Be sure to check out my blog when you get the chance. I just started it up and I do a lot of reviews and thoughts.
    Great post, and awesome blog! Keep up the good work!

    March 11, 2015 at 1:42 pm

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