By asking the question, “What is the Matrix?” an average computer programmer pulls the string that unravels his entire life: from his thankless corporate job to everything he ever thought was real. Rescued by a legendary hacker, he is launched into a mind-bending, martial arts-filled, bullet-ridden battle against the machine intelligence that is controlling all of humanity.
Questioning the meaning of his life, the film’s hero is told that “no one can tell you who you are.” He has to figure that out for himself, as do we all. The Matrix cleverly uses philosophical and religious ideas to add depth to its story, expressing these ideas clearly and simply as part of our hero’s learning process—and often the lesson is expressed in a super-charged fight scene!
And the best of these battles are against a cynical, powerful opponent, named Agent Smith, who is doomed to roam the matrix until all these flesh and blood hackers have been eliminated. At his very core, he despises humans and can’t wait to get away from them, saying, “It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.”
The Matrix is just plain fun to watch, the clothes are stylish, the sunglasses look expensive, the music is pulsing and gunfights break out at the drop of a hat. And in the fight department, this film excels. The actors trained for four months to learn combat moves from martial arts masters like Yuen Woo-ping. Each fight scene is a story in itself and moves the plot forward—and to top it off, the combatants punch through concrete columns and defy gravity.
The Matrix is also famous for creating the now common ‘bullet time’ visual effect, where time seems to slow down or stop as the camera moves through the action—these innovative effects were achieved by using up to 120 individual still cameras set up around the action and timed to go off in a rapid sequence, winding through the scene faster than any camera could move. These are some of the most memorable moments in the film.
Filmed entirely in Sydney, Australia, The Matrix was shot shortly after Dark City and used a number of its sets and locations, including the rooftop scenes at the beginning of the film and a notably stylish overhead shot featuring a stairway with a black and white tiled floor.
Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, praised The Matrix’s storytelling, structure and depth, “It works on whatever level you want to bring to it,” and cyperpunk author William Gibson declared, “Neo is my favorite-ever science fiction hero, absolutely.”
The Wachowski Brothers, who created The Matrix, made two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, which complete the story set up in first film and, while raising the stakes on the fight scenes and visual effects, they lack the magic of the original. The Brothers also oversaw The Animatrix, an animated feature comprised of nine short films and a two-volume comic book, The Matrix Comics, which explore new characters and stories from the world of the matrix.