Why did I feel like I was breaking a taboo in writing the title of this article? It annoys me that I did. But it is a fact that my high opinion of the Matrix as a trilogy is not shared by both my peers and the majority of the online community. But with the recent trailer release of the Wachowski’s latest, “Jupiter Ascending”, now is a great time to talk about their debut opus. and maybe change a few minds….ahem.
Firstly I need to point out that I most recently watched the films as a trilogy in September. I tend to watch them this way (all in one day) at least once a year as it’s the best way to really emphasise the messages and feelings the story conveys.
Now to go off on a tangent – Sucker Punch is a film that looks like it has everything. Can you remember watching the trailer for the first time? Massive samurai warriors, dragons, spaceships, mental institutions, castles, world war imagery, a gaggle of good looking actresses and a seemingly epic journey for survival against insurmountable odds. What it turned out to be, for me at least, was a poorly executed musical set against incredible visuals. This was particularly disappointing as I have always been a huge Zack Snyder fan.
So what am I getting at with the above paragraph? Well it’s simply that the first time I watched the original Matrix film I was expecting nothing more than a high octane action film with nice visuals. But every time I sit through the entire Matrix arc I feel like I’ve seen everything!
Now I am fully aware that there are some flaws. I don’t think you could possibly create 7 hours worth of story without failing in a few places. For me the main issue is the dialogue. I don’t mean all of the dialogue because it’s mainly pretty good, but as the films draw on there is a particular device that is overused to the point of ridicule; characters looking for attention! Every time a lead character makes a decision or sees something new they don’t just spill the beans in one sentence, they say something like “I’ve just realised what needs to be done…” or “I know why I have to do that…”. They always need a “what?” or “why?” from one of their friends so that they can finish their sentence and tell us exactly what it is they’ve just seen, or done, or said to someone else. But I’m willing to let this go because a) I love the films enough to not let this pull them down and b) it makes for a great drinking game – seriously – line up some shots and every time Morpheus or Trinity have any lines of dialogue that consist of simply asking Neo “what?”, take a drink. The only issue is you will not make it to the end of the trilogy without throwing up and/or passing out!
The other issue is the video game fight sequences in Matrix Reloaded, particularly the fight between Neo and the hundred Smiths. I agree it has dated badly. In some instances it seems like the guy in charge of colour grading the film just couldn’t be arsed, such is the difference between the CGI and live action footage. But I’m also willing to let this go because I remember when I first saw it in the cinema I was too blown away by the fight choreography and direction to even notice Neo’s pixelated sideburns.
But when I look at the myriad things the films get right, these pithy complaints become complete non-entities. When the first Matrix film came out it didn’t just innovate, it totally tore down the action film tropes we had come to expect and redesigned what other such films would look like in the future. ‘Bullet Time’ quickly became a ‘thing’ and obviously it wasn’t too long after that the Wayans brothers started using it for the purposes of unfunny satire. But the first time you saw Trinity suspended in air ready to kick, or Neo dodging bullets on the roof, you knew you were witnessing a game changer…..didn’t you? Eh? Eh? Course you did.
But ‘Bullet Time’ isn’t what makes the films great, it just makes them look nice. What really matters is that across three movies we are shown a story that really matters. A story so big that it manages to combine Sci-Fi, Westerns, Martial Arts, Romance, Modern Action, Thrillers and Epics in a way that never feels forced. Unlike Sucker Punch it never feels like we are watching a genre mash-up for the sake of it. Instead, knowing that the story presents an eternal struggle of existentialism, selflessness, fate, love, loss and truth all wrapped inside an overarching tale with elements of theology and karma, we can accept all these different elements as being not only enthralling, but essential.
In terms of execution the work is sublime. I maintain that there have been no directors to match the Wachowskis in terms of excitement, innovation and sheer courage of conviction in the last 14 years (the time since the first film’s release). The way the films are shot (also down to the great Bill Pope) is so unique. There are so many shots in the first Matrix alone that I feel like I’ve never seen anywhere else. But more importantly every shot choice feels right. It’s not like they throw in a ‘dutch’ angle just for shits and giggles. Every cut counts and aids the on screen action. Particularly in the fight sequences which, for someone who has seen a great deal of martial arts films, still blow me away with the level of clarity, sharp clean lines of movement and spacial awareness. This is mainly due to the way it is shot, by a pair of geeks that know how to blow your socks off!
For me it is one of those magical stories that makes me want to do something more with my own life. That may sound a little odd, let’s be clear I don’t ever expect to dodge bullets and explode sentient beings from the inside out. No what I mean is that from a technical standpoint, I watch these films and think to myself “I want to make something with as much weight as this”. It inspires me to want to create worlds, stories, characters and new ways of working. Most importantly it gives me confidence that there is still a space for something that dares to break the mould. That if you can create something wholly unique and then follow through with your belief in that idea right to the end, you will be rewarded with something that stands head and shoulders above the millions of other creations in the world. Different is good.
So after a long time I’ve made a decision…
I’m going to end this article and go and change the world (or maybe not).