I’m currently on day 15 of mono. The blend of emotions and physical pain in my body are nothing short of miserable. I’m obviously grateful to be COVID negative, but mono is nothing to sneeze at (literally). Of all the dreadful symptoms I’ve been put through, the sudden lack of motivation and ability to put in effort might be the worst. You won’t find it on WebMD, but my complete complacency in every facet of my life has been massive.
This rare lack of ambition led me to aimless scrolling through TV channels and YouTube rabbit holes I’ve traveled down far too many times. I quickly found myself right in the sweet spot between laziness and mild entertainment: TV movie channels.
There’s something special and almost cathartic about the experience of digging through the late-night AMC, TNT, and Paramount programming hoping to strike gold. I think of this process in the same vein as the last generation thinks of Blockbuster and DVD rental stores. The nostalgia, the commercials, and the ever-popular “I just have to stay for the next scene.”
I know streaming services are readily available to me and all others, but where’s the fun in having all the power? Sometimes I like the limited options and immediate time constraints placed upon me by the TV networks. For the many appeals of Blockbuster, Netflix, or Hulu; none of them present a sense of urgency like TV movies. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve frantically clicked The Princess Bride in hopes of catching Vizzini and Westley’s mind-numbing battle of wits. Or The Fifth Element for Chris Tucker’s flamboyant escapades through a terrorized hotel.
My mono-soothing options weren’t as enticing as those listed above. Unfortunately at 1AM on a Saturday night, I was presented with the Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans classic Let’s Be Cops or the last 30 minutes of Robocop. Neither seemed particularly intriguing at the time, but I pushed forward.
Finally, after trudging through the trenches of Tomorrow Land and the 2014 Annie remake; a gift was given to me from the heavens. The Matrix on its first minute, queued upright as Trinity singlehandedly evades an entire police force on foot aided by a propensity to break the rules of physics.
I was overjoyed, sitting back to watch what I knew was a guaranteed good movie. Three hours later (with commercials and horribly censored cuss words) I realized it may be more than that.
The Matrix might just be the best movie ever made.
Before we get into the fine print, let’s establish the parameters of what such an extreme statement really means.
Is The Matrix the greatest story ever told on screen?
No, not even close. Is The Matrix the greatest sci-fi film ever made?
Maybe, but I’d probably give the edge to 2001: A Space Odyssey or a newer school film like Ex Machina.
Just for fun, here’s my top 5 modern (post-1990) sci-fi movies.
- Ex Machina
- Minority Report
- Donnie Darko
Is The Matrix the best adventure shown on screen?
Definitely not, that title goes to Jurassic Park.
Does The Matrix at least have the best action scenes of all time?
Still a no from me, although it’s closer to winning this category than the others. Either way, I’d probably hand it to modern gun-fu bloodbaths like The Raid and other Indonesian cinema.
So, what makes The Matrix so great?
After hours of thought, I’ve found my reasoning.
The Matrix represents everything that a movie should be and excels at every qualification needed to fit this criteria.
For starters, every visual effect in the film still holds up 22 years later. Even on a small screen in my living room, the CGI resides many steps above most modern movies and every single movie made before 1999.
Each visual effect seems very intentionally placed too like the Wachowski’s were specifically building up to each peak where they blow your mind with a previously unheard-of computer graphic.
Thinking of it in the context of its time makes this all the more impressive. In 2021, we still haven’t many other films that even sniff the visual appeal of The Matrix. In 1999, this felt like giving an iPhone to a cavemen.
Things were moving that we didn’t know could move, people were fighting in ways we didn’t know they could fight. The magic found through witnessing it hasn’t faded in the slightest.
Despite having arguably the most amazing and iconic visual stunts ever seen on film, you could take it all out of the movie and still be left with a classic. The Matrix and its reality-questioning mind bend will never go out of style.
It’s the way that The Matrix presents this age-old story that puts it over the top. Between blue pills, women in red dresses, and green coded transitions, each plot point becomes more colorfully visceral as the film progresses. It’s a kung-fu training interlude in the middle of deep world-building that makes The Matrix great. It’s the excessive cynicism throughout exaggerated and downright silly action scenes that makes The Matrix even better.
Presentation matters more than ever inside and outside of The Matrix. In the movie terms, the Nebuchadnezzar crew’s unexplained gothic-punk style creates more of an atmosphere than it’s given credit for. In culturally relevant terms, the film was lightyears ahead of its time in terms of LGBTQ+ representation and subtle inclusion of sensitive topics throughout an otherwise unrelated movie, a feat perennially sought after but typically fumbled in modern cinema.
The points I’ve made thus far isn’t controversial. The Matrix is a great movie. Above all, what stands out in The Matrix is its consistent willingness to take risks, try new things, and innovate in every regard.
The Wachowski’s were lucky enough to crush it on every chance they took, a rarity unlike any other. That’s not going to happen in most other movies, but the opportunity to swing for the fences is always there. Swinging for the fences might not even illustrate the scale of what The Wachowskis were trying to pull off here. They were taking blindfolded, backward, full-court shots and sinking every single one of them.
The joy I found in this film was quickly halted by resentment against the rest of the movie industry.
Why can’t every movie be like this?
Obviously, I don’t mean “like this” to be a cyberpunk romp with a heavy dose of bullet-time, although I wouldn’t mind that outcome either. But “like this” in the sense of being different and taking risks.
I’ve seen great movies, and I’ve seen awful movies. What I can seldom say is that a movie has surprised me. The Matrix is a movie that surprised me and continues to surprise me upon every re-watch. What angers me is that nothing is preventing filmmakers from surprising their audiences in the same way, yet they still choose to take the easy way out time and time again.
Dear Hollywood, Be Like The Matrix. Please.
All I ask for is noticeable effort through every facet of a film. If some of them fail, they fail. But pushing the envelope and the industry to innovate will be a success no matter how it happens. The Matrix wasn’t the absolute most talented group of filmmakers and actors. But each and every single person involved cared a lot more than everyone else did. It shows.
My fantasy of Hollywood’s best giving the same amount of effort seems like nothing but a pipe dream at this point. Maybe it takes a bit of an underdog to truly be transcendent in such a colluded culture. Maybe The Wachowskis were the perfect underdogs to pull off such a cinematic stunt. I don’t buy it.
This isn’t to say that Hollywood is incapable of innovation. Directors like Bong Joon-Ho and Denis Villeneuve have continually subverted genre expectations and produced new and unique content. That said, they’re in the minority.
Is “Be Like The Matrix” too much to ask for? This is my plea and the plea of many other movie fans who’ve been beaten down by the constant recycled content. If all of us were a little less careful, the results could be greater than we’ve ever seen. Enough talking about it, let’s start seeing some action.
“Sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” —Morpheus