Friday, April 4, 2008

The Matrix

So you thought Star Wars was going to be the biggest sci-fi movie of the year, right? Time to re-evaluate.

Because this ground-breaking picture not only proves that the Wachowski Brothers (the writer-director team previously responsible for Bound, a film noir mafia thriller with a certain, erm, female bent) know their business inside out, but also flourishes a weighty gauntlet in the face of Lucasfilm might.

And it's gone down an absolute storm in the States.

Here's the science fiction bit: concentrate. After some pretty hairy flight early on, computer hacker Thomas Neo' Anderson (Keanu Reeves) with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a near mythical rebel leader whose revelations yank the rug of the reality from beneath Anderson wholesale.

Reality, in fact, is not real. Rather a comprehensively sophisticated virtual reality. The year is actually more like 2199, and the world is run by machines that have achieved Artificial Intelligence.

They're only need for mankind is as an electro-magnetic power source. So human beings are born into pods of pink goo, and tapped as batteries. Living out the hugely complex, late 90s simulation is what keeps our brains pulsing, and the power flowing.

But Morpheus and co have escaped, and exist outside the Matrix, hacking back in to effect high-risk rescues. And they've rescued Neo because they believe he has the potential to take the fight back to the machines. The potential to win, and to free us all.

It's difficult to convey all this film has to offer. The story is fab, tapping internet paranoia as well as the current fascination with virtual reality computer games, while offering a dark, Blade Runner-style future vision.

Within this, the action is terrific: the principal cast training for four months pre-shoot to sell breakneck martial arts sequences using Hong Kong wire techniques (allowing for seriously high kicking), and a barrage of weaponry that would make even Face/Off director John Woo blush.

The cast, however, deftly manage acting amongst the action, as Fishburne adds heavy presence and makes the burden of plot advancement seem effortless; newcomer Carrie-Anne Moss (as his deputy Trinity) does slick and sexy; and the character of Neo plays directly to Reeves' strengths: ie looking very cool despite sense of vague bewilderment.

Indeed, the movie is positively drenched with cool, from flapping three-quarter length leather coats, to an array of designer shades (Fishburne's don't even have arms) and slo-mo scenes all over the shop. Andy and Larry Wachowski's pacing is superb, there's no room for boredom here, there's barely enough time to breathe.

Special effects wise, it is simply stunning, and jolts the top-end benchmark onto the next eye-popping plane. Crucially though, these effects always have people at the centre, which - for all the vaunted advances in computerised trickery - is more tangibly impressive than pure digital image alone.

And this, though I hesitate to suggest it, is where - for the older generation at least - The Matrix may have the edge over The Phantom Menace.

Having said all of the above, the most succinct summary comes from Morpheus alone: "No-one can explain The Matrix to you - you have to see it for yourself."

And these are just about the wisest words going.

No comments: