Directed by the Wachowskis
Screenplay by the Wachowskis
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Produced by Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The Matrix returns to theaters this week with remastered sound and visuals thanks to Dolby Atmos and DolbyVision to celebrate the sci-fi classic’s 20th anniversary. And while the work done to update the film is striking and transforms the theater experience, this rerelease gives us a chance to reflect on the legacy of the film and its place in sci-fi film canon.
What’s immediately evident in revisiting The Matrix is how much our world has changed. Upon release, we were still eight years away from the first iPhone. Social media didn’t have the stranglehold on our lives that it does now. America was pre-9/11, pre-Bush and pre-Obama. Y2K seems like it might still be a threat. And gun violence didn’t feel as normal as it does now. While 1990s cinema is rife with films about “sticking it to the man,” things did feel somewhat hopeful and The Matrix toes that line.
In the world of 2019 taking the red pill isn’t a choice. The rise of social movements and the 24-hour news cycle has forced us to have knowledge that we might not have otherwise sought out. People being able to educate themselves outside of traditional means of education like college is at an all-time high and has enabled people to see the world for what it really is. Knowledge is power. But as we see in The Matrix, that knowledge can be stressful, it can make things feel hopeless. Cypher’s willingness to be consumed by the Matrix again and sell out his friends is relatable - in many ways, more relatable than Morpheus’ revolutionary philosopher or Neo’s ultimate savior narratives.
And while the philosophy of The Matrix can feel very basic, that’s part of what allows it to still resonate so many years later. There’s always a part of humanity that bucks against the idea of being controlled. The ways we think we see this control is what’s changed. Are we chained by the blues of an older generation? Are we controlled by a push for sensitivity and political correctness? The same knowledge that seems to set us free can maybe threatens to trap us after all.
But ultimately, The Matrix still seems cool. The all-black leather and trench coat looks might seem a bit specifically late-1990s goth but there’s no denying that the aesthetic works. And as a precursor to so many superhero films, those coats play like capes further solidifying our protagonists as heroes when met by the corporate Agents. The fight scenes are bombastic and fun. And with the Dolby Atmos sound, the bullets in the “Bullet Time” sequences sound like jet planes whizzing by your head.
The performances remain iconic but Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith is a cut above the rest. The Dolby Atmos approach to sound really brings out his vocal tics, as he over enunciates and his words seem to click and whirr like a machine. Keanu Reeves’ transformation from lost puppy dog to Superman has aged less well but only because we’ve seen so much more from him in the ensuing decades.
It’s hard to write anything about The Matrix that hasn’t already been written. It’s a film that might be underrated at this point after middling sequels and lukewarm reception to the Wachowskis’ other cinematic output. But it remains strangely prescient and relevant to our modern day lives. The blend of influences across film, comic books, and anime comes together to present something that feels wildly original and exciting. And it’s clear to see the impact that it’s had on almost every major action and sci-fi movie since. Dolby has knocked it out of the park refreshing a classic and their work makes The Matrix a must-see even twenty years later.
The Matrix returns to theaters August 30 in participating AMC locations in the United States.