Thursday, 17 May 2018
Considering the sheer weight of exposition required to get the audience up to speed, The Matrix really moves. Writers-directors The Wachowskis ration out their (relatively) hard science-fiction premise expertly, using paranoia imagery and a grab-bag of throbbing, pre-millennial worries to tell the tale of a future in which mankind has been reduced to a bio-mechanical battery. Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus shoulders the majority of this burden. The actor prowls around mouldy sitting rooms, flashing mirrored eyes and a knowing Cheshire Cat grin while bombarding Keanu Reeves' spaced-out Neo with the swirling rhetoric of a fanatic.
While The Matrix's core concept takes some explaining, the film's through-line is refreshingly simple, recalling classic mythology. Old hand Morpheus believes Neo is The Messiah while the younger, scrawnier man cannot believe he is so important. After a bittersweet meeting with Gloria Foster's all-knowing Oracle, Neo is able to compartmentalise the dreadful expectation that has been foisted upon him. Despite what he is being sold by his handler / master, Neo is now able to take himself out of the anointed one equation, subordinating himself to Morpheus' dream. So when Morpheus sacrifices himself to ensure his protege's escape, Neo hurls himself back into danger, convinced his life is expendable when judged against Fishburne's magnetic prophet. The development is basic and transitional, but self-sacrifice is a key trait when considering a hero.
Although The Matrix secured its place in the public consciousness with John Gaeta and Manex Visual Effects' fluid time-slice photography, watched today the effect that lingers longest is the pounding, pistolero crack of the one-on-one fights. The Wachowskis present both their heroes and villains as low-level super-beings crashing about a fragile, shattering world. It's an effect shamelessly swiped from Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell films, where this pliability had more to do with the tonnage of a fully-mechanised secret agent. The sight of reality bending and breaking around our warring parties stresses a vivid, personalised, physicality almost entirely absent from the hyper-expensive films that have followed and attempted to iterate on The Matrix's success.