Yes, "The Matrix" is a visual sensation, a real achievement for Hollywood movie effects. But what about the story? I've long been a believer in that little something called plot, which a lot of people in Hollywood these days seem to have forgotten about. "The Matrix," unlike, say, "Inspector Gadget," has certainly covered the first rule of plot construction - a good story. Be that as it may, the barely scratches the surface of the second rule: cohesion. Indeed, watching the film you get the idea that it was written by several people, none of whom had contact with the other. The result is a script with a bunch of inconsistencies, which is terribly disappointing given the visual appeal of the film.
As the movie opens, we hear a telephone call being traced, apparently by the police. Over the couse of the call, we learn about some guy named Morpheus and find out that he's interested in "him." After the call, we watch a whole SWAT team try to take down a beautiful woman, who we can only assume is the same woman who made the phone call. They chase her into a dark apartment building recycled out of countless cop movies.
While the cops are upstairs, a different kind of battle begins down on the street. A guy in a suit (FBI, perhaps?) pulls up and demands to take jurisdiction from the police - not because he has a big ego but rather because the police need to be protected. What, from one woman? Even if she were the most dangerous woman on earth (which, it turns out, she might very well be), surely an entire SWAT team could take her down.
Wrong! As the guy in the suit says, the policemen are "already dead." In the meantime, back upstairs, the woman seems ready to surrender. Yeah, right! Suddenly, using martial arts moves that would make Jackie Chan jealous, she fights her way out of a swarm of cops and ends up on the roof. The guy in the suit joins in the chase as the woman jumps to the next building, which, isn't all that far away. Ok, here's where it starts to get weird. She ends up at a point where the next building over is too far to jump. No problem, she simply ignores the rules of gravity and does the jump, anyway. "That's impossible," say the cops. You're telling me!
Cut to a phone booth. The phone's ringing and our heroine is anxious to pick it up, as though her life depends on it. One problem: the guy in the suit (and some of his friends) have a bulldozer trained on the phone booth. If she runs to the phone to answer it, the booth will be crushed, with her in it. Too bad. Ignoring the bulldozer, she runs to the booth and picks up the phone. Seconds later, the booth is bulldozed. But, wait, she's gone!
And this was just the movie's opening sequence. Now the main part of the movie begins.
We meet Mr. Anderson (Keanu Reeves). Anderson is your average, everyday businessman by day. However, by night, he becomes Neo, a hacker and pirate software distributor. It's only a matter of time before a guy like this will get caught. For Neo, this ends up happening the very next day at work.
The guys in the familiar suits hall Neo away. In one of those white rooms seen in countless movies of this sort, the suits tell Neo that they need his help to bring in the famous "Morpheus." Neo, however, is in no mood to cooperate. He demands his phone call. Ah, but what good is a phone call if you are unable to speak? Sure enough, Neo's mouth suddenly fuses together and then disappears completely! Neo is then forced onto a table as a big electronic spider burrows its way straight through Neo's belly button and into his body. (Make sure you aren't eating or drinking anything when you see this scene!)
Neo opens his eyes. He's back at home, in his bed. Was it all a dream? Not a chance. The phone rings. "They got to you first," he's told. Following instructions he receives over the phone, Neo goes to a tunnel and he gets into a car that pulls up beside him. Inside is the woman from the beginning of the movie, along with some of her partners. She pulls out some sort of scanner and pinpoints the bug inside Neo. Using her machinery, she manages to suck the "spider" bug out of Neo and throws it out the window.
Neo is driven to an apartment, where he finally gets to meet Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). After a little conversation, Neo is led into a back room, where he is hooked up to a machine. As it turns out, the machine is used to find Neo's real body. His real body? Yes. You see, as Neo soon learns, practically all of humanity is living in a dream world, made to look and feel exactly like 1999. In reality, it's approximately 2199, cities have been ravaged, the sun barely shines anymore, and human beings are in little bubbles where they are born, grow up, and die, all while totally unconscious. "The machines" need the electricity given off by humans as an energy source. To keep humanity occupied, the machines have constructed "The Matrix," a computer-generated world that looks like the late twentieth century. The humans, hooked up to all kinds of machinery back in their bubbles, inhabit this virtual world in mind only. Unfortunately, this world seems very real, and it is very difficult to wake people up from this dream. So, people get born, grow up, go about their daily lives, and die, never realizing that life truly is "but a dream."
Neo has now been woken up, and his muscles are reconstructed, which is necessary because they have never been used before. He finds himself on board Morpheus' ship. Morpheus introduces Neo to the rest of the crew: Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) - the woman we have already met, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), a few others who were saved the way Neo has been, and two brothers who were born free in the last free human city.
Using the implants left over from his days in the bubble, Neo is trained in every major form of martial arts and is then sent back into the Matrix. He learns that when he is inside the program, he can defy gravity, dodge bullets, and even move at super speed. After all, nothing in the Matrix is real. Nonetheless, anyone killed in the Matrix will die in real life because "the body can't survive without the mind."
Now here's where it gets hairy. Neo and Morpheus go into the Matrix to see The Oracle (Gloria Foster), a kindly old woman who, it turns out, can foretell who "The One" is. In case you haven't guessed, "The One" is the person who will be able to save all of humanity from the machines. At The Oracle's apartment are lots of other "Potentials," including one child who is able to bend spoons with the power of his mind, since, after all, "There is no spoon."
Once they go into the Matrix, the only way for Neo and company to return their minds to their bodies is to find an "exit," a special type of telephone. Once they pick up this phone, they vanish from the Matrix and wake up back in the real world. (This explains why Trinity had to get to the phone so urgently at the beginning of the movie.)
The machines, however, have discovered Morpheus, Neo, and the others and have blocked their way to the intended "exit." No problem. They simply have to find another one. Before they can, Morpheus is captured. To make matters worse, one of Morpheus' crew members has turned traitor. Back in the real world, he unplugs each person, one by one. Since the body can't survive without the mind, you can guess what happens to a person when his mind (in the Matrix) and his body (in the real world) are disconnected.
Somehow, Neo must save Morpheus and defeat the machines, or else all of humanity will be doomed forever.
As I said at the beginning, I had some problems with some of the movie's inconsistencies. For example, all of the people at The Oracle's apartment - including The Oracle herself - are aware of the real world and are probably actually sitting in a place like Morpheus' ship, and not in the bubbles along with the rest of humanity. Why, then, do Morpheus, Neo, and the "Potentials" go to meet The Oracle in the Matrix and not in the real world, where it would be much harder for the machines to listen in or otherwise cause them harm?
Also, at one point in the movie, Neo and Morpheus are hanging in mid-air from a helicopter. It's really a very impressive stunt. But, wait a minute. I thought they both had the ability to defy gravity (i.e., fly) and otherwise break the laws of physics when they were inside the Matrix. But, hey. Far be it from me to suggest that a movie make sense!
Another problem: early in the movie, Morpheus tells Neo that freed humans have a rule. They never bring a person out of the Matrix once he has passed a certain age, because the mind has a hard time letting go, and an older person - confronted with the reality that no part of his life ever actually happened - might very well go crazy. But I thought Neo's mission was to free humanity - both young and old - from the bondage of the Matrix. In order to do that, won't they have to free people of all ages - both young and old?
Ok, true, this is only a movie. But for such a big budget, I expected more of a cohesive story. Still, I did enjoy the movie all-in-all and recommend it,* perhaps not whole-heartedly, but certainly enough to make it worth the few bucks it costs you to rent it.
*For best viewing, try to see this movie on DVD. There really is a big difference between ordinary VHS and DVD viewing, as becomes apparent with visual spectacles like "The Matrix."