’90s Action Movies, Part VIII: “The Matrix” (1999)

There’s one in every family, every group. That one that just doesn’t quite fit in. The one that gets the awkward looks and everyone whispers about uncomfortably. And that’s what The Matrix is on this list.

It’s an action film, yes. And it’s from the ’90s. But it’s also the one that signals the beginning of the end of the era we have all gathered here to appreciate. In many ways, it heralds the dawn of the millennium and a new, darker epoch of cinema.

Remember Y2K? More specifically, the infamous Y2K bug? The 21st century kicked off with a panic over a computer code glitch, and looking back, that set the tone for the decades that followed. And The Matrix, with its hackers and simulations and false consciousness, and its grungy cyberpunk aesthetic, captured the techno fin de siècle 2.0 angst perfectly. Already, we are in stranger spiritual waters than the rest of the films covered here.

The Matrix‘s impact on culture is undeniable. To me, it’s also insufferable. The expression “redpill”, for example, which during the 2000s emerged as internet slang for the promulgation of unorthodox political ideas, has become so overused it is now essentially just another way of saying, “Here is some information which I did not previously have.”

For all its sophomoric philosophy, though, The Matrix still a ’90s action film. It’s got cool special effects. It’s got gunfights and explosions. And, most of all, despite its “The Man is Keeping Us Down” attitude, it’s still fundamentally a Love Conquers All story. Neo literally gets revived by True Love’s Kiss, like Snow White.

It’s a pretty decent movie, all told. Though I do think the special effects haven’t aged well. I thought “bullet time” was amazing when I was 12, but now it looks like a gimmick. The fistfight scenes are also oddly comical. I half expect Yakety Sax to break out.

The Matrix has one foot in the optimistic, upbeat world of the ’90s and one in the gloomy, cynical irony of the ’00s. That’s why I had to include it in here; it’s the mutation that would eventually evolve the modern action film. Hell, Keanu Reeves is still starring in neo-noir action movies (and video games) all these years later. Say what you want about The Matrix, but you can’t ignore its impact.

Another funny thing about this film is how one of the major plot points involves… pay phones. Do  those still exist? Does anyone born after the year 2000 know what they are? I’m not sure. That, of course, is the problem with techno-thrillers. Tech changes in ways you can’t predict, and what was once super-futuristic can suddenly appear laughably quaint faster than you expect.

This definitely isn’t my favorite movie on this list, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable action flick with some interesting underlying ideas. Indeed, many of its themes are more relevant now than they were when it was made. If I seem down on this film, it’s not so much a reaction to The Matrix itself, but rather the cultural change of which it was an early harbinger. But no library of ’90s action films would be complete without it, that’s for sure.

We’re coming to the end of this series now, but we still have one last exhibit to consider before making some concluding remarks. Perhaps at last, we will tie together all the divergent strands of cultural evolution discussed heretofore, and in so doing, weave together a complete picture of the zeitgeist as it must have seemed to the cinematic aesthete of the the 20th century’s last decade.

Or maybe we’ll just see a bunch of junk get blown up. You never can tell.

15 Comments

  1. The philosophy of Berkely, That maybe instead of God being a figment of our imagination, we are a figment of God’s imagination. This one was impressive at the time, the sequels were garbage.

  2. I was never too into The Matrix movies. They were kinda cool, but a little too convoluted for me. The universe as a whole is pretty interesting however. There’s a collection of 9 anime short films called The Animatrix that expands the Matrix universe, and I thought that was neat.

    1. That does sound neat! I have a friend who refuses to acknowledge the existence of any sequels to the original film except The Animatrix. 😀

  3. As much as The Matrix was ‘fun’ (and the next two incomprehensible apart from the fight scenes) I still hold to the view that it was the ‘The Joy Makers’ by James E Gunn put on film.
    One of the very influential SF books of my youth

    1. I have that on my TBR list, I think because you’ve recommended it to me before. 🙂 I look forward to reading it.

  4. Awwww….The Matrix is one of my favourites. That said, I haven’t seen it in years so I don’t remember it well enough to comment. -cough- I do still have a fabulous ankle length coat though. 😉

    1. I bet! 🙂 I often wear a black ankle-length coat and sunglasses during the winter. Quite a few people have told me I look like a Matrix character. 😀

      1. p.s. I know I shouldn’t pre-empt your posts but…any chance you’d review True Lies and Twister? 1994 and 96 respectively. -looks hopeful-

        1. 😀 Neither of them are part of this review series, *but* that doesn’t mean I won’t review them! Given your interest, I very much want to. 🙂

          But… it will probably take me a little while to do, because I’ve never seen “True Lies” and I saw “Twister” only once, a loooong time ago on TV, and I’d want to watch it again to refresh my memory. But, I’m adding ’em to the list of movies to watch!

          1. Yes! Thank you. 🙂 We have both on DVD but that’s not much help to you. True Lies is Arnie’s second? venture into a semi comic role, but it’s Jamie Lee Curtis who steals the show. 🙂 Twister is just…heart stopping, and the female lead – name? grrr – is competent rather than needing to be rescued.
            You know it’s funny but until you began this series of reviews, I didn’t realise that a huge chunk of my favourite movies came out in the 90’s. Really haven’t paid much attention since. Or perhaps it’s because I started playing MMOs and TV/movies lost their appeal?

  5. I liked this enough when I first watched it but have never felt the need to rewatch it… guess it must have been a passing ‘like’ 😁
    I’ve really enjoyed this series, sad there’s only one more left though intrigued as well 😊

    1. Thank you. The last one is going to be controversial, I think. Hopefully I’ve built up enough goodwill to get away with it. 😀

Leave a Reply to Peter Martuneac Cancel reply