Overrated and Unfortunately Dated: The Matrix Doesn’t Hold Up

After years of having friends tell me that I should see The Matrix, I finally watched it. And you know what? I didn’t like it. Before you accuse me of not being a science fiction devotee, let me state for the record that I am a big fan of “Doctor Who,” “Lost” and numerous sci-fi or sci-fi-horror movies including both versions of Little Shop of Horrors, Night of the Lepus, Back to the Future, Cocoon, Jurassic Park, Independence Day, the three Men in Black movies, Galaxy Quest and Inception. (Do the Ghostbusters movies count? Sleeper? Groundhog Day? Those are all movies I love.) I’ve also seen The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Blob, The Wasp Woman, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 version), Starman, Mars Attacks! and Prometheus, none of which I really love, but they’re still enjoyable. The Matrix, however, suffers from problems that can’t possibly all be the fault of me as its viewer.

My biggest issue with The Matrix is its threadbare plot. The concept of a society where rebels try to fight the establishment is nothing new. The whole movie revolves around finding reasons to use super-fancy special effects, fitting the meager story in around the effects. Of course, what’s even worse is that what looked like cool visual effects in 1999 are old hat in 2012. Having seen (and loved) Inception, I’m not that amazed by The Matrix. With most movies it’s easy for me to transport myself to that time and place, e.g. when watching Taxi Driver. There’s a difference between something being a product of its time and something trying so hard to be new and revolutionary that it can’t stand up to viewings just over a decade after its release.

Let’s look at the acting. It’s difficult to judge Keanu Reeves as a serious thespian. He’s likeable enough and since I’m a fan – Point Break is all the answer you need – his performance doesn’t bother me. He’s quite good in the beginning of the movie when he’s still Thomas Anderson, working in a boring little cubicle for a software company. On the other hand, Reeves does provide the film with a lot of unintentionally funny moments (most of the fighting scenes, including the Kung Fu with Morpheus), so I have to wonder how moviegoers reacted to his performance in 1999.

Carrie-Anne Moss barely registers, even though she’s one of the main three protagonists. Laurence Fishburne is supposed to be super-cool but instead a lot of his lines and actions are silly. Hugo Weaving, who tries very hard to be the epitome of evil as Agent Smith, has a ridiculous American accent. The whole time I couldn’t stop thinking of him as either Elrond from Lord of the Rings or as Tick/Mitzi from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It’s possible that Weaving might be able to do a good American accent elsewhere, but his Agent Smith says everything in a odd drawl, slurring every other word.

Now let’s talk about how dated some of The Matrix‘s other elements are. Carrie-Anne Moss’s haircut, the clothes that the characters wear (especially all that leather), the goofy-looking sunglasses and – worst of all – both the score and the soundtrack. It’s so late 90s that it hurts.

At the 17-minute mark I knew I was bored and that the movie would not improve. “Oh well,” I thought with a sigh. “Only two more hours to go.”

Am I alone in my opinions? Is The Matrix really one of the great masterpieces of the late 90s or is it as overrated as I think it is?

10 thoughts on “Overrated and Unfortunately Dated: The Matrix Doesn’t Hold Up

  1. I liked the matrix the first few times i saw it (other then the stupid line about being defenceless other then a emp) . By the 5 or 6 times though the plot holes and stupidity showed through. Add that to the fact that the next two movies did not even seem to make an attempt at the same intellectual standard of the first one was supposed to have.

    • I don’t feel like I really need to see the other two films; the note that the first film ends on doesn’t feel like some cliffhanger that I need resolved. That being said, I do love the fact that the film references Night of the Lepus (showing on the TV in the Oracle’s waiting room). The moment is so random, yet so great.

  2. I think the Matrix works on a visual level and nothing else. I think the characters and script are the biggest problem since the special effects are still pretty impressive IMO. Shiny visuals are all well and good but if I don’t care about the characters then a movie just doesn’t work for me which is why I’ve only seen Avatar a grand total of two times.

    • Agreed, the characters don’t mean much to me. I feel zero chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, so the supposed love story that develops between their characters makes no sense to me except as a plot device that they’re forced into by the screenplay.

  3. How can you expect critiquing something for being “dated” (from visual effects to haircuts) to be a valid critque when you knew that it was a fairly old movie? That’s like saying watching Rear Window was so dates becuase Grace Kelly wore her hair like that and the image resolution was off………………

    • There are other films from the late 90s which do not feel quite so defined by their era, and by “dated” I mean it in terms of the worst aspects of its various elements. The haircuts, some of those leather/midriff-baring outfits, the too-cool-for-school sunglasses… I think that that’s what most annoyed me. Some films can be read as camp, but The Matrix takes itself too seriously for that. I’m laughing at the film, not with it.

      And if we’re talking solely about hair and fashion, I don’t see how anyone can compare the hair and fashion of Grace Kelly in Rear Window with Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix. I’ve never heard anyone describe Kelly’s style as “dated” – rather, I think the adjectives are usually “elegant” or “classic.” Not so for Moss. The Matrix will always be defined by having been made in 1999, but Rear Window continues to be called a masterpiece because its story and its leading lady are considered timeless.

      • “but The Matrix takes itself too seriously for that. I’m laughing at the film, not with it.”
        Or does it? Again, just like Star Wars, this movie (and its sequels) combines several levels of seriousness in it – just like the rebels shooting up those silly precise stormtroopers was more of a camp Flash Gordon throwback while Luke’s spiritual journey was pretty much the epitome of “epic dead serious”, I think some of the moments in the Matrix, such as the dialogue scenes with Morpheus, were supposed to be 100% sombre and dramatic, while the kewl fashion and some of the Alien-style hovercraft scenes, went more for light entertainment.

        Except maybe in the first 30-40 minutes were you didn’t really know what was going on and those rebels came off as some sort of secret cult, the over-the-top felt more “justified” and thus played straight – but at least by the time Keanu Reeves sports his shades and starts shooting a bunch of SWATs to techno music, punctuated by obvious gags such as the “crushing pillar” punchline at the end, one could think that the camp intentions are made abundantly clear.

        “Not so for Moss.”
        Lol… what’s even so fucking special about Moss’ hair? Seriously, I’ve watched Star Wars and found myself smirking at Leia’s snail hairdo from time to time, and even remember noticing Ford’s and Hamill’s “metrosexual Aunt Beru mullets” a couple times – not as being “cheesy” per se, but more like “most people don’t really wear it like that nowadays, do they; I mean some do, but not most lol”.
        And then I’ve seen the Matrix one or two times, and honestly, what’s the damn deal Trinity’s, for that matter, ANYONE’s hairdo in those movies? Seems like standard “short-but-not to-short-and-still-femine-hair-on-a-woman” to me. She wears it a bit sideways I think, so what? I see a lot of people walk around like that, and it never stroketh me as fancy tbh.

        “to be called a masterpiece because its story and its leading lady are considered timeless.”
        Whether something is a “masterpiece” isn’t determined by how “timeless” it is, but more so, by well, HOW WELL IT’S DONE. The more “timeless” a work is (masterpiece or not), the likelier it is to be relevant or instantly compelling to an audience from a different culture and time period… but that’s about it.
        There are a lot of Westerns that are considered to be “timeless”, due to their characters, themes, scenes and so on… but people keep forgetting that the main reason people are into those Westerns, or pick them from their DVD collection in favor of all the non-Westerns in that same collection, is because they’re really, really into the looks, fashion, tropes and aesthetics typical of this genre – if they weren’t, they’d still recognize them for their strengths, but also be like “why those silly hats and sweaty beards lol – weren’t those for like rednecks from 100 years ago lol?”.
        People consider a lot of music from the 17th century “timeless”… would they still if people had long ceased playing bowed or keyboard instruments, though? What if people suddenly decided that “blowing into a pipe looks kinda silly” and dropped wind instruments altogether – how “timeless” would all those century old classics still be?

        A lot of things people consider timeless are really just things that haven’t fallen out of fashion yet – or have done so long ago, but then became fashionable again (Bach and the entire baroque era, for instance; even more recently, playing that music on period instruments, the result of which, ironically, appeals a lot more to the modern avant-garde / disco / metal tastes than what came before).
        All of which makes the pressures on a work to somehow end up “timeless” even more sillly than it already is – there’s nothing wrong with a work capturing the spirit of its time (or whatever “aspect” of said spirit), serving as fulfillment to the present audience and as a “time glass-case” for future ones… in fact that’s ONE OF ITS MAIN GOALS AND FUNCTIONS.

        “There are other films from the late 90s which do not feel quite so defined by their era, and by “dated” I mean it in terms of the worst aspects of its various elements. The haircuts, some of those leather/midriff-baring outfits, the too-cool-for-school sunglasses…”
        But… how can they be “worst”, if they’re “too cool for school”? :p

        You know what I think? I think you’re trying way too hard to distance yourself from potentially “uncool” fashion and aesthetics, and I believe you’re also trying way too hard not to take something seriously that isn’t meant anywhere as seriously as you think it is in the first place.
        I also believe you need to… lighten up.
        :)

      • We’ll have to agree to disagree. My blog simply offers my take on the film; you do not have to agree with my critiques of The Matrix if you do not want to do so. I welcome differences of opinion, but my review is not meant as any kind of personal attack on the filmmakers or on readers/commenters.

  4. “My biggest issue with The Matrix is its threadbare plot.”
    What’s more “threadbare” about it than, say, Star Wars? Both are, at their core, “Campbellian” hero’s journey myths about an everyman becoming a hero and winning over the evil empire, even if this one also hangs some philosophical elements / thought experiment exploration on top.
    The main question is how COMPELLING it is as such – how does the hero do, or the other characters? How fascinating is the world, and the style it’s shot in?
    How “threadbare” or not threadbare it is, on the other hand, not so much.

    “The concept of a society where rebels try to fight the establishment is nothing new.”
    Yea, “nothing new” – it’s a story that probably goes back to the times of the earliest cavemen, or at least when the first states were formed I guess. “Nothing new” lol.

    “The whole movie revolves around finding reasons to use super-fancy special effects, fitting the meager story in around the effects.”
    Well… the effects on the one hand, and then of course style&atmosphere, entertaining characters, story arcs, conflict, creative ideas, tension, and, um, well, pretty much all those ingredients that make a compelling escapist adventure really. Yea, the horror.
    And yes, the style and action in this movie ARE gratuitous – not seeing anything wrong with that :)

    “Of course, what’s even worse is that what looked like cool visual effects in 1999 are old hat in 2012.”
    The “visual effects” themselves aren’t as important as the “cool things” they depict. Those scenes were creative and (audio)visually compelling, and still are to this day – even though so much as been “built on top” since then.

    “Having seen (and loved) Inception, I’m not that amazed by The Matrix.”
    Strange that you cite Inception – that movie hardly tried to compete with the Matrix in terms of visuals did it; a few similarities, sure, but it doesn’t “one-up” the action scenes, bullet time or any of the other “big hits” to come from that series.

    “On the other hand, Reeves does provide the film with a lot of unintentionally funny moments (most of the fighting scenes, including the Kung Fu with Morpheus), so I have to wonder how moviegoers reacted to his performance in 1999.”
    Well compare his performance with the one from Johnny Mnemonic and there you have your answer :D
    Also, the sparring scene with Morpheus (especially the first half of it) WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HUMOROUS, as were many other moments in the movie – so no idea what you’re talking about lol.

    “Laurence Fishburne is supposed to be super-cool but instead a lot of his lines and actions are silly.”
    Are you talking about stuff like telling the bugged Neo to meet him in his car (standard action / thriller fare where logic and pragmatism often loses to “cool scenes and cool lines we want to have in there”, plus even more excusable in a fantastical setting)? Or his tunnel sight and fanaticism which are CLEARLY DEPICTED AS SUCH IN THE MOVIE?

    “has a ridiculous American accent.”
    I don’t know about the intentions they had while shooting it, but regardless, most people seem to agree that his “alien accent” (much like Chigurh’s from No Country) make him more compelling, and I happen to agree.

    “The whole time I couldn’t stop thinking of him as either Elrond from Lord of the Rings”
    Really? Not the other way round? He seems more sinister as Elrond than kind-hearted as Smith ;)

    “but his Agent Smith says everything in a odd drawl, slurring every other word.”
    Does he, cause that’s what most (highly saturated Standard) American( speaker)s sound like to me :D
    But yea, his “r”s to sound a bit like someone trying to emulate this accent, so whatever.

    “Carrie-Anne Moss’s haircut, the clothes that the characters wear (especially all that leather), the goofy-looking sunglasses”
    Oh god no. How dare a movie from the 90s look and sound like 90s.. We have to move on with the times, man, shedding our past like a rocket sheds it used-up rear segments! Next thing you know, people are gonna refer to early movies as somehow “having frozen the aesthetics and attitudes of its period in time, for all to see”, or, imagine the horror, actually CREATE PERIOD MOVIES EMULATING PAST STYLES OF FASHION AND WAYS OF LIFE.

    The shades and outfits still look cool, fuck you (black and stoic, as a general rule, is a lot likelier to “hold up” than the campy, colored and eccentric, and even those are usually looked back on with fondness), plus the actors/characters are more than charismatic enough to back them up.
    Plus, shades are still in (both in and out of the “Men in Black / feds” stereotype), and so are leather catsuits. Hate to break it to you, but we haven’t yet moved on from those atrocities as a culture – I’m so sorry.

    “and – worst of all – both the score and the soundtrack. It’s so late 90s that it hurts.”
    So, let me get it straight – Don Davis’ avant-garde score (based on late 20th century music that is still played and composed today – classical musicians evolved from the same monkeys as everybody else, but generally are less prone to the whole “it’s so 2009″ nonsense that’s been plaguing pop culture since its inception) is WORSE than the, while cool, still undoubtedly pretentious and OTT outfits that would take some immense personality to sport in public and get away with it?
    And as for the “soundtrack”, well yes, gotta agrew with you there – Manson, RATM, the Prodigy, and all those people are so out of fashion today, aren’t they. Also, something’s that been bothering me for quite a while now, maybe you could help me or something, not that you have to or anything but you know… St. Anger or Death Magnetic?? I mean, all the cool people say Death Magnetic cause it’s back to the roots and St. Anger is so late 90s… but then again DEATH MAGNETIC IS SO 80s!!! What should I do?? I just want people to love me… :((

    And that, of course, brings me to the central issue I have with your article – not so much its cheap and artificial attempt at being “iconoclastic”, well, that too, but even moreso that this attempt pretty much relies on this movie still being popular and considered a worthwhile relic from that oh-so-embarassing semi-decade you keep bringing up :D

    “At the 17-minute mark I knew I was bored and that the movie would not improve. “Oh well,” I thought with a sigh. “Only two more hours to go.””
    That’s weird – cause, not quite sure what happens at 17 minutes in, but I’m pretty sure we’re still in the “sombre-and-creepy-what-is-the-Matrix-and-trippy-body-horror” phase of the movie at that point, and it’s gonna drastically change its style, tone and direction at least 3-4 times before the credits roll :D
    Then again, it does arguably get weaker after that 1st act, so… :d

    “Am I alone in my opinions? Is The Matrix really one of the great masterpieces of the late 90s or is it as overrated as I think it is?”
    Well I’ve read articles making far better points while bashing that movie, so I dunno – I’d say if it’s overrated, it’s in a different way from the one you’re articulating :D

    Also, maybe the more important question to ask than whether it’s “overrated”, is whether its RATING is overrated. People often come at it with this grandiose ambition to try and challenge its status as as some kind of unshakeable, intellectual cinema masterpiece that stands out with its intricate and internally consistent mystery plot, brings all the philosophies of the past and present to a stunning, eye-opening synthesis (if only someone figured it out LOL) and ASKS IMPORTANT QUESTIONS SUCH AS EEZ OUR WORLD REAL??!!!!11!!
    But from what I’ve heard and read, it’s really just seen as a really compelling action-adventure, and perhaps the “Star Wars of its generation”, even though not quite. Is that still overrating it? I don’t really think it is ;)

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