Reviewed November 24, 2021
This review contains spoilers.

(Note: I wrote this up as a rough summary of my thoughts after watching the series for the first time leading up to the new movie. Copying them over here for posterity.)

Even if you’ve never seen The Matrix, you’ve seen The Matrix. Very few movies are as iconic and embedded into our culture as this one, and even little things like Switch’s “not like this” scene still show up all the time in casual conversation. So, naturally, it was hard for me to shut out the “hey, I recognize that bit” part of my brain constantly screaming every time something that has been memed to the moon and back happened. It’s kinda like trying to watch Seinfeld or Monty Python in 2021: every single line has been repeated a million times since their release, so you can’t help but focus on them.

That aside, I really enjoyed the first Matrix, and I can absolutely see why it’s had such an enduring legacy. The worldbuilding is (nearly) perfectly executed, and Neo’s struggle to understand and rationalize what he’s seeing as he’s forced to confront the fact that his reality isn’t what he believed is something I think everyone can relate to on some level. I also really enjoyed the action scenes, even if by today’s standards they look a bit cartoony. The Matrix is just so confident in itself and its audience that it knows it can throw more and more outlandish things at you, since once it has its hooks in you it knows you’ll fully believe it when Neo begins completely altering the virtual world and doing what should be impossible.

I’m also a big fan of the acting in this movie, even if it’s often over the top and goofy (and often times because of that). I think my favorite performances were probably Lawrence Fishburne with his firm belief in the prophecy of the One and his determination to do whatever he can to fight for his peoples’ freedom, and of course Hugo Weaving’s… well, everything, really. But then again I’m also a huge Lord of the Rings mark, so more Hugo Weaving is always welcome for me. I also really enjoyed Keanu Reeves’ reserved acting as he tries to distance himself from the world around him that seems too horrifying to accept at first, as well as Gloria Foster as the warm but somehow still unnerving Oracle.

I’ve found this to be a pretty popular opinion, but I wasn’t a big fan of the “the humans in the Matrix are just batteries” plot point. I think it’d just make more sense for them to be nodes in a hivemind kind of like the Borg, especially considering there are much more convenient power sources than an entire human being that needs regular exercise and nourishment. The explanation that the humans blocked out the Sun also seemed a bit silly to me – surely this planetwide army of robots isn’t just solar powered, right? You can really tell the executives were afraid audiences wouldn’t understand the Matrix unless everything was spelled out in as simple terms as possible, and simple just isn’t how the Wachowskis work.

Speaking of the Wachowskis, MAN is this movie a trans allegory. I had heard it was going in, but I figured that was just people reading too deeply into what was shown. Now that I’ve seen how the movie plays out, it’s pretty obvious what was on their minds at the time – the red vs. blue pill scene, Trinity talking about how everyone on the internet assumes she’s a male, and the main villain literally deadnaming the protagonist. I’m by no means an expert on trans culture (I’m a cisgendered white man so go figure) so maybe my perspective is incomplete but I really got the sense that was what they were going for.

One last note on the first movie: I was a bit uncertain on the whole concept of “The One” at first. I typically don’t really care for chosen one/prophecy plot elements, especially in a movie that goes so far to justify all of its worldbuilding. That being said, the movie does a good job of making that element work, especially with Morpheus’s unwavering belief in everything the Oracle says will happen. Later on in the trilogy this idea is expanded on a lot more, in ways that I think are much more interesting personally.

Overall, the first Matrix is every bit as good as I was always told it was. Even though it took me 20 years to finally come around to watching it, it still works just as well as it did in 1999.