The Matrix is a futuristic, film noir, kung fu, dysfunctional utopian science fiction, cyberpunk, nonanimated cartoon laced with religious allusions. It does not have hair stiffened with bodily fluids, batmobiles, or hip hop music. It does have electronic bugs that look like scorpions and enter the body through the navel, lots of rata tat guns, and Keanu Reeves. It should do great box office with the under thirty set.
The story, with a nod to The Truman Show, is of an Earth taken over by artificial intelligences originally created by man. Instead of Ed Harris we have Agent Smith, of the AIs. With the exception of a small community of human survivors that has taken refuge somewhere in the core of the planet (known as Zion), the AIs artificially produce humans in factories and then give them totally virtual lives; a digitally programmed matrix substitutes for reality.
A handful of humans, led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), have escaped the matrix and function in guerilla-like fashion, seeking the Way to save the race from the usurpers. They rescue Keanu, in hopes that he is the One needed to defeat the AIs. "The Matrix is everywhere," intones Morpheus, "It is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth…" Reeves is given the choice to fight with Morpheus’ team or return to his virtual existence. Consistent with the muddiness of the religious symbolism, Morpheus, who initially has a Faustian sort of presence, has Reeves make his choice – the blue pill sends him back, the red pill puts him on the team. Huh?
Well, never mind. Before we are done we will have an Oracle baking cookies, a Buddhist child (maybe the One) who wills a spoon to bend in half ("It is not the spoon that bends, only yourself."), and, of course, a Judas to betray our Messianic hero. Whew!
Yes, it is hokey. But The Matrix keeps its tongue in cheek, is peppered with good looking special effects, is designed in stylishly noir decor, and is generally well paced. The action sequences are par for the genre and laden with violence. CV is often uncomfortable with heavy violence in films, but the violence here is not bothersome because it is so clearly kept at the comic book level. This is not D-Day, although it seems that at least as much ammunition is expended.
Fishburne, a first rate actor, is overcast, but intones his lines well. Hugo Weaving, as the evil AI agent is convincingly nasty, Carrie-Anne Moss is toothsome and suitably athletic as Reeves’ Princess Charming, and Keanu Reeves is…well, Keanu Reeves – and he does have a belly button, which was required for the role.