The ones that started it all. My love and obsession for Cyberpunk began with the incredible Matrix Trilogy. But why was it so good? How did it have so much of an impact? I will be going in depth to explain my complete adoration for this trilogy, (specifically, the first two) but I am keeping all three together in this review, with an obvious 10/10. I will try to be objective, but here’s my completely biased review of The Matrix Trilogy.
The less you know about the Matrix, the better it is when you watch it, but for the sake of this review I’ll have to spoil a little. I definitely recommend watching them in order, however, as I watched Matrix Reloaded (the 2nd one) before the original Matrix and was very confused. Even watching it in order can get pretty confusing at times.
The Matrix is set in two different times: The first, which you are introduced to, is set in New York in the year 1999. The Second, which you are shown later, is set in the future in 2149. The story follows the journey of a Mr. Thomas Anderson, a software company employee by day and a black-market hacker by night. He wants to find out what The Matrix is, and soon enough he meets someone named Morpheus who is willing to give him the answer, even if it’s more than he ever expected.
Read on for spoilers of the next two movies. The next line you see will be a general review of the themes and elements of all 3 movies, without spoilers.
The reason why I am taking extra measures to provide a limit to the spoilers you read here is because of just how good it is for you to discover what the matrix is in the way that the movie delivers the answers. This is one of the reasons why I like this trilogy so much, especially the first and second one: they take their time in providing you the answers, and you can’t help getting pulled into the story and wanting to know what the matrix is as well, along with the main character. The story pulls you in for an incredible ride.
Mr. Anderson discovers that the Matrix is a virtual reality system that almost all humans are a part of, unwittingly, which was built by machines as a system of control so that the machines can grow and harvest humans like cattle in order to live off of their bioelectrical energy. The machines decided humans would be the best source of energy, but to keep them alive, they need to be complacent, and this is why they are all connected via wires into the Matrix, where they can live a dream world and dream life.
In this movie, Thomas Anderson, AKA Neo, must follow a preordained path of the One, which Morpheus has been told through the help of someone called the Oracle. If you’re getting lots of religious undertones here, that’s quite intentional. Most of the first movie involves Neo discovering what The Matrix is, and trying to come to terms with being The One who has to save all mankind from their slavery in the hands of the machines.
In the second movie, Neo has accepted his role as the one, and the majority of the film revolves around him getting to “the source” in order to save the last human city of Zion and complete the prophecy as foretold by the Oracle.
In the final movie, Zion is under attack by the machines, and Neo is caught in the Matrix. He must first leave the matrix, and then attempt one last effort to reach through to the machines to again save Zion from the machines. This also involves facing his arch-nemesis Smith.
Alright, spoilers are done! Now to talk about some of the elements that make these movies so great.
The Matrix movies are great because they appeal to a wide audience. They have a lot of action, including car chase scenes, shootouts, sword fighting, and Kung-Fu (legendary Martial Arts Choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping was hired for the action scenes. If you watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or Kung-Fu Hustle, you’ll recognize his fun wire-action style). It involves a bit of romance, although the romance present in the movies are pretty limited. It involves mystery, suspense, and a lot of thriller elements regarding the almost all-powerful machines and their counterpart agents in The Matrix. But finally, there is a lot of mysticism and Philosophy interwoven in the Matrix. And this last point is ultimately why I think The Matrix stands above most other movies. If you don’t like movies that make you think and ask questions about your reality, then perhaps a brain-dead movie of gratuitous action like The Expendables might be better for you. But if you want a movie that will free and blow your mind at the same time, then the Matrix is perfect.
There are many different themes that the movies play with. Here are some of the major ones.
- The nature of reality.
“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” –Morpheus
Due to what the Matrix is, a big part of the movie revolves around what counts as reality. Some consider the Matrix as one big lie, a dream that can’t be woken up from, infringing on our basic rights of choice and free will. Others think that the Matrix is better than actual reality, and therefore that ignorance is bliss, and the Matrix is a better reality than the alternative.
Whatever you decide, it’s a fun question to ask.
2. Fate vs. Free will.
Morpheus: Do you believe in Fate, Neo?
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Are we in control of our lives, or have the decisions all been decided for us already? Because of the reliance on the Oracle to tell the humans what to do next, including the prophecy and fulfilling it, fate vs. free will has a big role in these movies. Morpheus, Neo, Agent Smith, The Oracle, The Architect, the Merovingian, these are all big characters in the movies that have their own thoughts on the subject, which they beautifully articulate in well-written dialogue pieces throughout the trilogy.
In addition to these two big themes is a lot of symbolism. You’ll notice already the heavy-laden meaning behind names such as Neo (new), the One (Anagram of Neo, relating to a messiah from multiple religious texts, in particular Christianity), and Morpheus (interpreter of dreams for the gods in Greek mythology). There’s also the crew’s ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, (the old biblical king), as well as Trinity, referring to the holy trinity and Neo’s love interest.
Another interesting thing to note is the preparation the actors had to do before even reading the script. Apparently, actors like Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne had to read three lofty texts: Evolutionary Psychology, Simulation and Simulacra (Modern French Philosophy on the nature of reality), and Out of Control, a predictive text on machines and control looking to the future as a cautionary tale.
Phew! So far we’ve covered the setting and basic premises of the movies, and the symbolism, philosophy, and genre-bending aspects of the movies. Now it’s time to talk about the special effects, the direction, and the soundtrack.
The special effects in 1999 were groundbreaking in and of itself. Something called “bullet time” became a household word, due to the scene where Neo is able to dodge bullets. In order to pull this off (again, this had never been done in this way before at the time), the special effects team set up a series of cameras surrounding the subject set up based on a simulation in order to take pictures in succession of something still or moving, in order to have a freeze-time or slow-motion effect while moving around the object around the same time.
This began a new method of film-making that affected TV commercials, movies, TV series, and video-games, all adopting the popular special effect. Adding onto the incredible scenes from the original Matrix movie, Matrix Reloaded added an element of fluid CGI movements in addition to the live-action actors and special effects, most notably in the scene called Burly Brawl that almost seems ripped out of an anime movie or a modern-day video game.
The incredible direction of the Wachowskis was crucial as well. Apparently they were very inspired by the bio-punk cyberpunk anime movie Akira (1988), and in fact used the anime as a way to explain their vision to Warner Brothers as a way to pitch their movie. They also hired people to draw storyboards of the scenes they had envisioned in their head, also very rich in special effects inspired from Akira or the Ghost in the Shell series. Usually a writer or director simply explains an idea with words, or maybe a few pictures. The Wachowskis had an entire comic made as a storyboard to show what they envisioned. That’s saying a lot.
The Warner Brothers took a gamble in funding this high-cost film, but it obviously paid off big time. The Wachowskis never thought they’d be able to make a sequel, but when they were told the producers wanted a trilogy, they decided to make Reloaded (#2) and Revolutions (#3) at the same time, both released the same year in 2003. With a budget of $63 million for the first Matrix, it raked in $463 million at the box office. The subsequent movies, Reloaded and Revolutions, cost $150 million and $110 million, and took in $742 million and $427 million, respectively.
Finally, we arrive at the soundtrack. I personally fell in love with most of the artists that collaborated on this phenomenal soundtrack, the main one being Don Davis. Davis focused on an orchestral score, classical in nature but grand as the movie deserved, for the first film. This was paired with music from other artists, such as The Prodigy, Rob Dougan, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and Rage Against the Machine.
The second movie, Reloaded, was able to fuse more electronic artists into the style, and less of the hard rock and punk rock artists. Don Davis also collaborated with Juno Reactor and Rob Dougan to create some great musical pieces. Another noteworthy mention is Fluke, whose song Zion (which is the last human city Neo is trying to protect) is played while the entire human collective rocks out in one last dance party the night before their battle with the machines.
There are just so many things that came together right in these movies, too many things to mention, but the incredible vision that the Wachowski brothers (now sisters) had is just mind-boggling, and I personally love the green-tinted virtual reality where anything can happen, as well as the nightmarish dystopian blue-tinted reality of Machines controlling the world and enslaving humanity. These films are simply very rich with all kinds of things.
So if you like Cyberpunk, Kung-Fu, Virtual Reality, Questioning Reality, Symbolism, Philosophy, Car chases and slow motion and Blade fights and fast-paced orchestral music with drums beating and electronic symphonies, then these films are for you. 🙂
Favorite trilogy ever. 10+/10.