The Matrix trilogy review – pop-culture juggernaut still lands a thrilling punch

“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” With these words in the Wachowskis’ 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix (★★★★★) – now re-released as a trilogy with its two sequels – the ironically named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) issues a wakeup call to computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves). The red pill will show Neo harsh reality, because everything he thinks he knows is false. And that applies to us too: all of us consumers placidly sucking up the trance-inducing pap from the corporate-political complex of the state. The red pill and the blue pill was the meme The Matrix gifted to pop culture at the dawn of the online age: it often seems as if no discussion of “reality” – nor any conspiracy theorist blogger – can get very far without invoking the sacred pills. Slavoj Žižek mischievously said he wanted a third pill, one that shows the reality within the illusion, not behind it. The Matrix still stands up as a fiercely exciting and discombobulating futurist drama, which pioneered breathtaking “bullet-time” action sequences inspired by Asian martial arts.

The Matrix Reloaded (★★★☆☆) in 2003 wasn’t as good and has stood the test of time less well, but is still better than its critics claimed at the time: an exuberant, original, droll action picture that gave Carrie-Anne Moss a further chance to shine as Trinity (now in a relationship with Neo) – and her fight scenes here are as good as anything in the Matrix trilogy.

The Matrix Revolutions (★★☆☆☆), released the same year, is sadly where the whole franchise runs out of steam, marooned in a pretty standard situation where the humans fight “the machines” and leaving fans with the sinking feeling that the Wachowskis had followed their Star Wars almost immediately with their Phantom Menace. But it’s still exciting to revisit the trilogy and to savour Moss’ lethal charisma.


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