movie film review | chris tookey


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  Matrix Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
7.50 /10
Neo: Keanu Reeves , Morpheus: Laurence Fishburne, Trinity: Carrie-Anne Moss
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Directed by: Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski
Written by: Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski

Released: 1999
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 135

The Matrix is set in a future which is one giant conspiracy, just like it is in the X-Files. Machines have taken over the world, but they don't want humans to know they have. Why? Don't ask me - maybe they don't wish to be impolite, though this sits oddly with their habit of blowing away humans they don't like. The only people who know that the world is a fake are a tiny band of techno-terrorists whose clothes appear to be in an advanced stage of decomposition. Though they're meant to be wise guys, they have been lumbered with silly, affected names like Morpheus, Trinity and Cypher. This suggests the disturbing possibility that we're being asked to root for descendants of Jonathan Ross and Paula Yates.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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This definitely hits the spot as ultra-cool sci-fi for the terminally geeky, and its self-consciously mythic tone very nearly conceals the fact it is not saying anything. After all, who wants rounded characters, thought-through ideas and coherent story-telling when Summer blockbusters such as this can supply a feast for the eyes, state-of-the-art special effects and lashings of mindless action? Well, I do, actually.

But a lot of people, especially those in their teens and twenties, love The Matrix, and are seduced by its preposterous grandeur. It’s like a Lamborghini filled with concrete: useless and inert, but elegant and curiously impressive in its profligate wastage of resources.

It rains all the time, like it did in Seven, giving the good guys every chance to look cool in long raincoats and shades. Why, you may well ask, wear shades when it's raining? Doesn't it just make everything look even darker than it already is, and doesn't it mean that you have to keep wiping rain off them, which wouldn't be cool at all? There is no easy answer to this - except that this is a Summer blockbuster, not reality.

Keanu Reeves (pictured centre) plays Thomas, who is by day a pasty-faced computer nerd in an office, but by night turns into… Neo, a pasty-faced computer nerd in his own apartment. Keanu wears the same expression whether he's being Thomas or Neo, which is exactly the same one he used in Johnny Mnemonic, where he acted as though he had misheard the title and was trying to be Jolly Moronic.

When he's not delivering lines and is supposed to be reacting, his face freezes, like a computer screen that's crashed because you're trying to enter too much data at once. Then someone must reboot him or something, because he talks, albeit slowly as though he is being operated by very primitive speech-recognition software. The amazing truth which gradually dawns about Keanu over the course of the movie is that HE ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE PLAYING A FAULTY PIECE OF MACHINERY. He's meant to be not only a real person, but a brilliant computer criminal and The One Who Is Going To Save The World.

He struck me as the least likely Messiah since Olivia Newton-John saved humanity in one of 1983's worst turkeys, Two of a Kind. Still, his fans may differ.

Keanu keeps coming across people who speak very deliberately at him (maybe they also reckon he's operated by speech-recognition software). First, there's the bad guy (Hugo Weaving), who is a dead ringer for Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black. Then there's Laurence Fishburne (pictured right), an unlikely mixture of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mike Tyson. He teaches Keanu how to fight in slow-motion and become computer-animated.

Together, they take on the bad guys until the movie stops. Just like that. No resolution. It's like The Empire Strikes Back, in that they refuse to tell us what's going to happen next until we pay them to see another instalment.

The people mainly responsible are Andy and Larry Wachowski, who are writer-directors like the Coen brothers (Fargo), the Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber) and the Zucker brothers (Airplane!) except that they appear to have had their sense of the ridiculous surgically removed. I enjoyed their first movie, Bound, which was cleverly plotted. This one looks not so much plotted as assembled by advertising executives high on minimalism, cocaine and their own trendiness.

The Matrix is cool. Beyond cool. It contains no warmth at all, nor does it radiate any. It is the ultimate in soulless Nineties chic. It's a mindless action movie made to look intellectual and impress the kind of people who believe that The Turner Prize actually rewards artistic excellence.

Critics will use the term "post-modernist" about it. All they mean by this is that there's nothing in it which hasn't been pinched from somewhere else. Where George Lucas in Star Wars had the imagination to steal from good film-makers, such as Kurosawa, this one pursues the sub-Tarantino route and borrows copiously from ultra-violent action flicks made in Hong Kong and "graphic novels" (pretentious comic strips).

It has its good points. The design may be a rip-off of two recent near-hits, The Crow and Dark City, but it's consistently grungy and weird. The leading lady Trinity may not be much of a character, and I never could work out what she saw in poor Keanu, but Carrie-Anne Moss(pictured left) is as sexy as anyone could reasonably hope to be, dressed in bin-liners.

But it's disappointing that a film which starts out as if it is interested in exploring the line between fantasy and reality, and the extent of our love-hate relationship with technology, cops out and goes in the end for protracted gun battles generating negligible tension . These baddies may be superhuman killing-machines, but they still can't shoot straight.

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