‘The Matrix’ was responsible for blowing everyone's minds back in the 90s with a combination of kung fu, special effects, and Keanu Reeves' simplistic philosophy lessons. Despite the collective will of humanity to forget about its underwhelming sequels — 'The Matrix Reloaded' (2003) and 'The Matrix Revolutions' (2003) — the Matrix trilogy is still a benchmark of the “reality is just a dream” subgenre.
While making ‘The Matrix’, The Wachowskis had a whole slew of influences, like ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘Akira’, ‘Blade’, ‘The Crow’ and ‘Tron’. It also benefited from being a more dynamic release than competing science fiction films of the time like ‘Existenz’, ‘The 13th Floor’ and ‘Revisiting 'Dark City' 20 years later’. The Wachowskis’ movie was a celebration of Asian action cinema from Bruce Lee to John Woo; the terrifying glimpses of the world outside the Matrix and the unstoppable Agents owe a huge debt to the colossal constructions of James Cameron’s 'Aliens' and killer robots of the 'Terminator' films. The film remains eminently watchable and amazingly satisfactory. The "bullet time" effect may have been mirrored and mocked in dozens of films since then, but it’s still an eye-popper.
With ‘The Matrix’ celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2019, let’s look at ten of the most memorable films that it inspired.
A neo-noir action thriller film based on the video game series of the same name developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Rockstar Games. The film revolves around revenge, centering on the journey of a maverick cop (Mark Wahlberg, ‘Patriots Day’) through New York City's criminal underworld, as he investigates the deaths of his wife and child. The video game was heavily influenced by the Hong Kong action cinema genre, particularly the work of director John Woo, and it was one of the first games to feature the bullet time effect popularised by ‘The Matrix’. The film also uses that effect, but it’s since been used much more effectively in superior films like ‘Dredd’, ‘Deadpool’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’.
A cube-dwelling nerd (James McAvoy, ‘Glass’) is suddenly plucked from a humdrum world by a super-hot lady (Angelina Jolie) and plunged into danger as a wanted fugitive. Our hero is then brought before an older man (Morgan Freeman) with a resonant speaking voice who explains how the world really works, unveiling the secrets and lies behind the world our hero thought he knew. Death-defying leaps and direction-bending bullets. Sound familiar? The key difference between the two films is that ‘Wanted’ (which was based on a comic about superheroes) is a glossy, glib diversion of an action movie, while ‘The Matrix’ is remembered as a big, bold re-definition of the action movie genre.
Jet Li was asked about why he turned down the role of Seraph in the last two Matrix films, a role that ultimately went to Taiwanese actor Collin Chou: “It was a commercial struggle for me. I realised the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine. And for six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library. By the end of the recording, the right to these moves would go to them.” So, it’s extra baffling that he’d later star in the unimaginatively titled ‘The One’, which is basically ‘Highlander’ meets ‘Time Cop’ meets (you guessed it) ‘The Matrix’. Jet Li plays a killer hunting down versions of himself in multiple dimensions to murder them and obtain godlike power, while being chased by Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham, who surprisingly performs no hand-to-hand fighting or slo-mo bullet-dodging in the film.
Takeshi Kineshiro stars as Miyamoto, a mercenary who has an agenda against Yakuza boss Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani). But before he can fulfil his vengeance, a time-traveling girl (Ann Suzuki) interrupts his task, giving Mizoguchi the opportunity to escape. Frustrated, Miyamoto takes the dazed girl back to his apartment. There, she informs him her name is Miri and that she's travelled back from the year 2084 to save the world from an incoming alien invasion. The movie's plot is a rip-off of countless American blockbusters, ‘E.T.’, ’The Terminator’, ‘Back To The Future’, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’, ‘Stargate’, and ’Dune’... but the action scenes (and Miyamoto’s appearance) are all ‘The Matrix’.
The film follows John Preston (Christian Bale, ‘Vice’), an enforcement officer in a ‘Fahrenheit 451’-inspired future in which both feelings and artistic expression are outlawed and citizens take daily injections of drugs to suppress their emotions. After accidentally missing a dose, Preston begins to experience emotions, which makes him question his own morality and moderate his actions while attempting to remain undetected by the suspicious society in which he lives. Ultimately, he aids a resistance movement using advanced martial arts called “gun kata” (invented by direction Kurt Wimmer in his own backyard) to fight waves and waves of identical baddies. ‘Equilibrium’ slid in and out of cinemas quickly back in 2002, although it’s regarded as something of an unearthed gem today.
‘Kung Pow! Enter the Fist’ is an American martial arts comedy film that parodies Hong Kong action cinema. Written, directed by and starring Steve Oedekerk, it uses footage from the 1976 Hong Kong martial arts film ‘Tiger & Crane Fists’ (also called ‘Savage Killers’), along with new footage shot by Oedekerk, to create an original, unrelated plot. In many scenes, Jimmy Wang Yu, the lead actor in ‘Tiger & Crane Fists’, was replaced by Oedekerk via post-production chroma key and digital compositing techniques such as head replacement. Oedekerk also re-dubbed all of the original cast's voices himself, inventing a different voice for every character. In one scene, the hero comes across the evil Moo Nieu (pronounced "moon you"), a Holstein cow gifted in karate, with a large udder that can squirt milk as a weapon. They fight in a scene parodying ‘The Matrix’ (the milk droplets fly around in “bullet time”), and the hero eventually incapacitates Moo Nieu by milking her until her udder is empty.
Who knew that Kate Beckinsale and a lot of vampires with guns fighting a lot of werewolves with guns would spawn a long-running series? To pad things out, there’s also the requisite vampire politics and pageantry: forbidden vampire-werewolf romance, growly werewolf rebellion, and inter-coven squabbling about how best to maintain an ancient bloodline. ‘Underworld’ borrows from a variety of action films, but its best understood as a cheap, gothic knockoff of ‘The Matrix’. There’s velour and black leather. So, so, so much black leather...
Gerard Butler is trapped in an ultra-violent live-action computer game in which he runs around shooting people and getting shot at; his every action controlled by a 17-year-old gamer wielding a Wii-type gizmo from the comfort of his own home. It’s a mix of ‘Running Man’, ‘Escape From New York’, and ‘The Matrix’, where a bunch of freedom fighters attempt to break the technological shackles that humanity has willingly locked itself up with.
Based on Hiroya Oku's manga series, ‘Gantz’ is about a dangerous game played by dead people, led by Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya), who are teleported to a nearly empty room at the moment of their death, none the worse for wear, and ordered to go out and kill an alien or two. These aliens live on Earth but exist on a vibrational frequency invisible to humans. To help with their mission, the hunters are given sexy skin-tight black suits and high-tech weapons with unlimited ammunition by a flat black ball that sits in the middle of the room. This ball is known as “Gantz,” and also displays their scores after the end of a mission. Imagine the brisk pacing and slick action scenes of ‘The Matrix’ minus the pretentious philosophy and deluge of slo-mo shots.
The plots of the two films are nothing alike, but plenty of the themes are similar. ‘The Matrix’ is essentially a dream world where you can accomplish unbelievable feats... and the same goes for ‘Inception’. When you are in ‘The Matrix’, your body is jacked into the system while you’re asleep. When you are in the dream world of ‘Inception’, your mind is shared with others connected to a suitcase while you are asleep. Like ‘The Matrix’, Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), the main character of ‘Inception’, shifts from a dream world to a real one. Unlike ‘The Matrix’, he moves back and forth, maintaining a sort of awareness in the former that allows him to get back to the latter. In fact, each character who works with Dominic enters the dream state with a totem, an object which allows the owner to know if he or she is in a dream. Eventually, however, the two worlds become blurred to the point that he is — and we, the audience are — unsure which is which, totem or not.