In a bone-chilling reminder of Millennial mortality, AMC Theaters announced it’s giving “The Matrix” a one week 20th-anniversary rerelease. From August 30 to September 5, the exhibitor will be showing the film in 135 locations.
*Spoilers for the 20-year-old ‘Matrix’ ahead*
Originally released in March 1999, “The Matrix” is a landmark cyberpunk action movie. In it, office drone/hacker Thomas “Neo” Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is sought by notorious terrorist Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne). Upon meeting, Morpheus tells Neo the world he knows is a vast computer-generated illusion and offers him a way out. Simultaneously, the mysterious Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) seeks to use Neo to take Morpheus down.
Despite its cerebral premise and R-rating, the film became a massive commercial hit. It also became one of the most influential movies of the late ‘90s. In addition to informing the look and feel of a generation of blockbusters, it also heralded the rise of superhero movies.
“The Matrix” is a timeless and exhilarating cinematic experience.
Free Your Mind
One of the key reasons “The Matrix” brought in more than $463 million at the box office is its broad array of influences. “The Matrix’s” broad and diverse visual and narrative influences set it apart from everything else at the late ‘90s American box office.
Writer/directors the Wachowskis made a film that featured three distinct but interrelated strands. In this respect, the film functions like an icy Kubrickian thriller. As Neo journeys to the real world and learns more about the Matrix, it becomes a John Woo-influenced cyberpunk story. And as Neo reenters the simulation to battle Agent Smith, the film transforms into an anime-inspired superhero story.
Throughout, the science fiction movie holds a tight grip on the viewer. Though filled with exposition, the film contrasts its philosophically minded sections with first-rate action set pieces.
Upon its hugely successful initial release, “The Matrix” redefined the aesthetics of blockbuster filmmaking. Movies such as “Charlie’s Angels,” “Kill Bill,” “Wanted,” “Underworld,” and “Inception” copied the balletic gunplay and zero gravity martial arts choreography the film borrowed from the Hong Kong action cinema. Besides, the film’s time-dilating bullet-time became a central feature of the “Max Payne” video game series.
Similarly, Neo’s stylish dark clothing, flowing trench coat, and sunglasses made him an instant style icon.
Typically, when films are as influential as “The Matrix,” they don’t age well. Their once innovative and forward-thinking plots and design elements are rendered generic and predictable by over replication. However, “The Matrix’s” relentless kineticism, philosophical heft, and unexpected humor keep it from feeling dated.
The Reign of the Supermen
In retrospect, “The Matrix” marks the end of one kind of American blockbuster and the beginning of another. Made at the end of the 1990s, the film was one of Hollywood’s last successful (quasi-) practical action movies.
Beginning in the ‘80s, Hollywood produced a slew of high-octane action blockbusters featuring dynamic leading men like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. These heavily stylized movies pitted resourceful heroes against nigh-unstoppable antagonists or obstacles. However, in the end, their protagonists used their remarkable durability and quick wits to prevail. Until the late ‘90s/early 2000s, practical action blockbusters dominated the box office charts.
But, ultimately audiences grew tired of glib, functionally invulnerable action heroes and began craving something else. As it happens, “The Matrix” became that something else. Though it features a somewhat dour tone and color scheme, the film has a fantastic, wish-fulfilling narrative. Plus, while it features many excellent practically staged scenes, its best remembered sequences utilize a fusion of live-action footage and computer-generated imagery.
With the release of 1998’s “Blade,” “The Matrix,” and 2000’s “X-Men,” darkly dressed, somewhat grim superheroes captured the public’s imagination. Accordingly, filmmakers turned to special-effects houses to give their protagonists realistic looking special abilities. Indeed, Neo’s grace, power, and inhuman speed became the template for how superpowered people should look and move in 21st-century cinema.
In 2008, “Iron Man” showed the world a new vision of the superhero paradigm. Like “The Matrix” before it, the film heralded the start of a new era; one full of bright, lightweight, and computer-graphics laden blockbusters.
As such, the movie sits at the intersection of old ‘90s practical action movies and the computer-generated budget-busters of the 2000s onward.
How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes
Another reason “The Matrix” has been enduringly popular for 20 years is that it’s full of fascinating concepts. On the surface, the film tells the story of a group of brave rebels battling an oppressive machine intelligence. However, the movie complicates that narrative by highlighting some hard truths about the darker aspects of human nature
The film presents its titular virtual world in rather complicated terms. While Morpheus and his group view it as an illusion that imprisons humanity, they concede that most people would prefer it to the harshness of the real world. Indeed, one of Morpheus’ crewmembers, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), betrays the team because he came to miss the Matrix’s comforting lies (and, well…steak).
Also, many filmgoers found the film’s depiction of an almost seamless virtual world very potent. Self-styled men’s rights activists have adopted the Matrix as a metaphor for specific sociopolitical movements. Conversely, critics have come to view the way it depicts awareness of digital reality as akin to gender dysphoria.
“The Matrix” also features ideas and notions taken from Gnostic mysticism, science fiction writers like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, philosopher Immanuel Kant, and filmmaker Masamune Shirow. As such, the movie does more than just entertain the viewer; it challenges them with a dizzying array of abstract concepts.
Because so many movies in 1999 and 2019 are simplistic enough to be almost instantly forgettable, “The Matrix’s” density makes it highly memorable.
Despite the movies influence, historic import, and complexity, “The Matrix” is a highly enjoyable movie. It’s captivating, surreal, visually stunning, and surprisingly funny. As such, it’s unequivocally a movie that should be seen on the big screen.