Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “The Matrix.”
The Movie: “The Matrix”
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) When a beautiful stranger leads computer hacker Neo to a forbidding underworld, he discovers the shocking truth–the life he knows is the elaborate deception of an evil cyber-intelligence.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88 percent
Froemming: New year, same old bull(REDACTED) from us at the JOE-DOWN.
This week, we are discussing a movie about a guy who finds himself in a world that feels made-up, who feels like he does not fit in it, who finds himself with domestic terrorists who offer him a “red pill” to awaken to the fact the world is dominated by the Matriarchy!
Wait, no…that was how one of this movie’s concepts was hijacked by mouth-breathing knuckle draggers who truly believe men have it hard in this world.
We watched “The Matrix,” a movie which blew the minds of a generation, inspired millions of kooky philosophy majors and, after two decades, I finally realized not a lot of this movie makes any (REDACTED) sense. But hey, it kept Hot Topic in business for many, many years.
Brown, as I pop on some Ray Bans, pop on my pleather pants and recall when the world had phone booths, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: I don’t get why we’re reviewing “The Matrix.” You can sum up the movie in five seconds with this clip we watched way too many times at our college newspaper.
Froemming: Why did we review “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” when we could have just shown a picture of my toilet after eating Taco Bell?
Brown: That kind of visceral reaction is why I’m bummed there isn’t a third “Traveling Pants” movie.
Anyways, yeah, I remember the hype around this movie and how groundbreaking it was between the techno soundtrack, often imitated action sequences and bullet time.
Hell, I think this was the first movie I ever watched on DVD. My brother’s friend lived with us for a while and insisted you HAD to watch “The Matrix” with the clarity of DVD and with surround sound. And yeah, it did make the movie more badass.
I did see the two sequels and… remember next to nothing about them, save for the big agent fight in the second and the WAYYYYY over-the-top Jesus symbolism in the third. This should have been a standalone movie.
And before anyone asks, I have no intention of watching the latest sequel that just came out.
Froemming: No need, it just uses clips and shit from this movie in it the whole time. Also, the only sequel I could make it all the way through. Because it was just a remake/remix of this movie, with “Community”-levels of meta commentary and crapping all over Warner Bros.
Brown: Cool. I’m good on skipping that one then!
With that said, Froemming, get us started while I try to find the nearest pay phone.
Froemming: We begin with what looks like the rainy city the movie “Seven” takes place in. We see the police have surrounded a building and have cops racing up the stairs. Why? Because a woman has committed the crime of using the internet, that’s why!
Brown: I wrote in my notes that the police are swarming a shitty apartment building that you absolutely lived in during college.
Froemming: You’re not wrong.
Anyway, I guess women using the internet was a felony in 1999, because the cops come in hot on Trinity, a hacker who also happens to dress like a dominatrix, because in 1999 everyone dressed like assholes all the time. JNCOs, wallet chains, leather pants, it was a damn weird time.
Also, this movie is where I developed my crush on Carrie-Anne Moss.
On the streets, some men in black show up. I only remember Agent Smith, the other two I will call Agent Shemp and Agent Curly. They seem to know how dangerous this Trinity is, telling the cop in charge his men are already dead.
But they are not. They get killed after he says this. Which makes this digital agent of the Matrix a liar. Or he was just assuming, and when we assume, we make an ass out of you and me, Agent Smith.
Brown: Yep, when the cops arrive, Trinity does the famous float kick where the camera rotates around her mid-air. It’s… still pretty badass.
As she wrecks a SWAT team, an agent with sunglasses and an earpiece arrives and Trinity books it. As we find out later, agents are unstoppable killing machines in this world and fighting them is suicide.
So, Trinity makes a run for the roof, jumps from building to building and even does a Raiden-like dive through a window to escape. Eventually, she reaches street level to a ringing payphone. Right as she picks up, an agent takes a truck and tries to run her down. However, before meeting her maker in a truck grille, Trinity has escaped through the phone booth like she’s (REDACTED) Bill and Ted.
Froemming: The phone business kinda makes sense because at the time, the internet was used via an ancient thing called “land lines” which was how people used to call one another on phones. And, if you were on the internet in 1999, there was a good chance you were pissing your parents off by cutting of their phone lines so you could chat on message boards, or more likely, looking up porn.
Brown: I remember when my family got America Online for the first time. First thing I searched: Wu-Tang Clan. Because I’m a (REDACTED) nerdy white kid from the suburbs.
Froemming: Now we cut to Thomas Anderson, who is a hacker who now has his computer talking to him, which was not normal in those days. We also see he has been searching the web for some guy named Morpheus, and I laughed when one of the newspaper photos was just a still shot of later in the movie when Neo is talking with Morpheus.
The computer tells him the matrix is real and to follow the white rabbit…
There are a lot of Alice in Wonderland references in this, lots of trippy imagery and at the time this came out, I was —
— which made this movie all the more awesome.
Then he has some pop-ins, which I have stated before on this blog, I HATE pop-ins. The pop-ins look like the band Coal Chamber, and they are paying $2 grand for a mini-disc, which would be comically obsolete a year or two after this came out.
Brown: But dude, maybe that mini-disc had “Doom” or “Wolfenstein 3D” on it!
Also, I wonder if during his weekends if Mr. Anderson tried to HACK THE PLANET!
Because Mr. Anderson apparently follows the instructions of a computer screen in the same way Patrick Bateman does in “American Psycho,” he follows the band members of Powerman 5000 to a club. And… he stands in a dark corner like Froemming and I would do at the same place while Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” plays in the background because this is the most ‘90s (REDACTED) moment in cinema.
Out of the shadows, Trinity appears and whispers to Mr. Anderson about his dull life and looking for answers about this mysterious matrix.
… There isn’t a chance in hell Mr. Anderson heard a damn thing Trinity whispered to him. I go to any bar that is playing any music (let alone heavy metal) and I can’t hear shit. She’d have to be yelling this nonsense at him.
Froemming: I wouldn’t be able to focus on what she said because I would be so nervous a woman was talking to me, I’d have a panic attack.
Anyway, Mr. Anderson’s alarm is set for 9:17 a.m., which means he is late for work. Why would he set his alarm after he is supposed to be at work? No (REDACTED) clue.
At work, his boss is telling him he is not a team player, that the company needs all their cogs in the machine to be on the same level, you know, basically describing the matrix itself. As a younger man, I thought that was clever. As a 40 year old who sat through two movies about magic pants because one of my best friends is an asshole, I found it cringey. A little too on the nose.
Anyway, Anderson goes to his desk and a delivery person drops off a package, which contains a cell phone. Which is a weird package to receive and at this time, cell phones were pretty expensive to just deliver to strangers in office buildings.
Brown: On the other line is Morpheus…
Froemming: No, on the other line is none other than….
Cowboy Curtis! Get it together, Brown!
Brown: I was gonna build up to that reference, but sure, Froemming. Let’s blow the wad now.
Brown: Now that he’s done getting dating advice from a cow, Cowboy Curtis starts telling Mr. Anderson (which he and the rest of his band of leather-clad weirdos call by his hacker name, Neo) how to escape from the agents. In what’s a pretty well done scene, Cowboy Curtis is telling Neo when and where to run to, as if he’s watching from afar.
When Neo reaches a corner office with a window-washing scaffold outside, Neo pusses out and lets the agents take him into custody.
Froemming: Well, Cowboy Curtis tells him to climb up scaffolding to the roof of this huge building. I would puss out too.
Brown: Yeah… I probably would, too.
Froemming: Now, in custody, Agents Smith, Shemp and Curly go through the dual lives of Anderson/Neo. And offer one of these lives have a future. Anderson, like a 15 year-old edgelord, gives them the finger and asks for his phone call.
And this is where Agent Smith uses a power he should be using the rest of this damn movie. He is able to manipulate reality so Anderson’s mouth is covered with skin and he can’t talk.
If Agent Smith has this kind of power, the movie should be over. Agents can see/are the matrix binary numbers, they can manipulate reality, jump into the bodies of all humans in this reality, how in the hell are they foiled by Cowboy Curtis and his gaggle of Raver Goofballs time and time again?
Brown: The agents apparently have the ability to mold Neo’s mouth closed like he’s Deadpool from that shitty Wolverine movie. I was waiting for John Wick to appear from the background and shoot Neo in the head like they did with Deadpool in the credits of the second movie.
Then, the agents plant a metallic bug into Neo’s belly button, which, to be honest, still makes me squeamish.
However, Neo wakes up in his bed, thinking it was all a dream
he used to read Word Up Magazine … Until Trinity takes Neo to meet Cowboy Curtis in the flesh.
Speaking of flesh, Trinity and the rest of the Leather Loonies use a bug-ejecting dodad (technical term) on Neo to get rid of the tracker. So yeah, that was all real, apparently.
Froemming: Two major issues here. One, Morpheus says the line is tapped when he calls Neo, and still gives him a location to meet his crew. Two, the tracker should be tracking Neo. So, where they hell are the agents when they pick Neo up on the streets? It is like the matrix wants Neo to succeed.
Anywho, Neo meets Cowboy Curtis and we get an exposition dump littered with random philosophy, to keep the nerds interested. He believes Neo is the one who will save humanity. He explains the robots are using humans as batteries for some reason.
Brown: Hold on. Yeah, Cowboy Curtis tells Neo all this stuff. Only after he makes Neo take drugs and turn him into the liquid metal Terminator.
Froemming: Oh yeah, the red pill/blue pill scene. Something conservatives have hijacked and now oddly call themselves free thinkers while also being blindly devoted to their religion and political party. Can’t make this shit up, people. We are in the Dumbest Timeline.
Anyway, Neo takes the red pill, which somehow turns off his notifications so the matrix thinks he is dead and they can pick him up in their spaceship.
Why would a fake pill in a fake reality cause something real in the real world?
Brown: I bet that was brought up in the writer’s room and this was the response:
Froemming: But first he has to wake up. And he does. In a pod full of pink goo that came with Ghostbuster action figures in the 1980s. He also suffers from alopecia in his incubator, apparently. The machine shoots him down a tube into a river, where he is somehow able to swim despite his muscles suffering from atrophy. Which we know to be the case because they bring it up shortly after this.
Brown: Right? I wrote in my notes that Neo should be sinking like an anchor.
Brown: So now, Neo is in the real world. The year? Nobody knows. But this world for the Cenobites Light here is living in a hovercraft, eating Krusty Brand imitation gruel and wearing what amounts to potato sacks for pants.
Then, here’s where Cowboy Curtis reveals the truth: humans and machines went to war. In an effort to stop the robots’ power supply, humans block out the sun (which should also kill humans because we need sunlight, too).
Froemming: Here is an actual clip of when the humans blocked out the sun:
Brown: YOU STOLE MY BIT!
But, the robots figured out that humans make good batteries (and Cowboy Curtis gets to hold a Duracell in one of the most blatant subliminal advertisements ever), so now humans are grown and live in pods to be used as the life force of robots.
Froemming: They also borrow one of the more disturbing elements from “1984,” which hinted that the food the people ate was partially humans. In this, the incubated people when they die are fed to the rest of the people still alive. It is pretty disgusting.
Anyway, Cowboy Curtis explains all this and then we get an element that I thought was stupid in 1999 and still do today: Uploading information into people’s brains so they know martial arts. Martial arts is more than just the brain knowing the moves, the body has to be adapted to that as well. And Neo has not used his muscles his whole life until now. Why does that matter in the matrix, you ask? Because it is just out there they know and can do it outside the matrix as well.
Brown: Also, yeah, Neo knows kung-fu via floppy disks. But, do they ever go over gun training/marksmanship with everyone in this movie? I get that martial arts is more aesthetically pleasing for a movie but there’s a lot of gun play in this movie. And considering the agents have super speed when dodging bullets, I feel like that’d be more helpful.
Also, we find out that one of the people on the ship, Mouse, made a sexy “lady in red” for one of the training disks. AND, during lunch, he tells Neo that he can essentially has a sex program with the lady in red.
So this horny teenager “Weird Science”-d himself and his friends a sex bot? How does that work inside the ship? Do all the people inside watch the screens like they did when Neo and Cowboy Curtis were having their kung-fu fight?
Yes, I fully admit to being way too interested in how sex works in “The Matrix.” I’ve spent a lot of time alone in the COVID world, people!
Froemming: I just hope when they are in the sex simulator, they put something over their lap in the real world, because things will get messy.
Froemming: We also meet Cypher, who reads the matrix numbers all day and I imagine when he is bored, hops into this fake world to make prank phone calls:
Yeah, I imagine Cypher’s alter-ego in the matrix is Ralph Cifaretto. He is our rat in this movie. There is enough foreshadowing here, like when he tells Neo he wishes he took the blue pill because life on this ship kinda sucks compared to the matrix. I mean, I can’t completely disagree with him. He also gets hammered off basically paint thinner.
Brown: You saw that steak Cypher was eating when he was meeting with the agents to sell out Marilyn Manson’s backup band? Hell yeah, I’m choosing the matrix over the gruel life, too.
Froemming: But why was the steak so wet looking? That was kinda gross.
Brown: They didn’t boil their milk steak hard, apparently. You can only get that done right in Philadelphia.
So the idea with this group is to destroy the matrix and help free the world so they can *check notes* live in this hellish, gruel-filled world so they can live underground like mole people?
OK, pushing that idiocy aside, here’s something I don’t get. Cowboy Curtis and his band of CHUDs are trying to work within the confines of the matrix, trying not to get encountered by the agents because, as we learn, if you die in the matrix, you die for real.
… You’re trying to be inconspicuous and these are the outfits you wear?
They take the idea of not being suspicious as seriously as Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa.
Froemming: Right? They are dressed basically like Keefe’s old crew before he found his path with the Gemstones:
So they are bringing Neo to the Oracle, basically the Yoda to Morpheus’ Obi-Wan, Neo’s Luke Skywalker and Trinity’s Han Solo. We know Cypher has betrayed them because he drops a phone in a garbage can, letting the agents know where they are.
The Oracle speaks with Neo and she tells him knowing if you are the one is like being in love, you just feel it. Well, no. Being in love is an emotion. Being a chosen one needs a hero’s journey. So the Oracle is a Level 5 Chucklehead. She also says Cowboy Curtis will die or Neo will die, because free will does not exist in this make believe world. She is basically following the philosophy of Mickey Knox:
Brown: She probably meant that the way Lisa and Bart meant they were going to die.
Froemming: Cowboy Curtis does not want to know what the Oracle told Neo, because it was for his ears only. This blind devotion to this nonsense is pretty weird considering Cowboy Curtis is all “question everything!” with everything else.
Anyway, the team finds out they were betrayed and Cypher begins unplugging his old friends, killing them…which how? They are just unlinked to the matrix, not a breathing machine.
Brown: They die from plot advancement, Froemming.
After Cypher escapes the matrix, he uses a proton pack from “Ghostbusters” to shoot two of the crew, Dozer and Tank. Then in his villain monolog to Trinity, he kills two other insignificant members of the crew in Apoc and Switch, which leads to two of the funniest things in the movie to me.
- The way Apoc dies in the matrix looks like when Homer collapses of boredom when Ned Flanders explains the differences between apple juice and apple cider. This is my favorite physical gag on “The Simpsons.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1BfF77Pvio
- The reading of Switch saying “Not like this… not like this” and Trinity saying “God damn you, Cypher” are hilarious to me.
Froemming: Cypher commits the one mistake all villains make in movies: He does not make sure the people he shot are dead. Tank uses all his energy and takes Cypher out. But really, Cypher was either gonna go out this way or he was going to go out in the matrix as the hands of a waste management consultant who also runs North Jersey.
Cowboy Curtis takes on the agents to buy Neo and Trinity time to escape, and is captured in the process.
Brown: When Cowboy Curtis and ‘80s punk band Bauhaus try to escape the building, they hide in the walls. And when Cypher’s coughing exposes their hiding spot, Morpheus uses the element of surprise by *checks notes* screaming as he dives through the wall. So yeah, the leader of the resistance is an idiot.
So Trinity and Neo get out of the matrix, but are worried about Cowboy Curtis. See, the agents are trying to hack his brain to get access codes to Zion, the last bastion for human life in the real world. Getting those codes would help the machines somehow kill the resistance. So Neo wants to go back in and save Morpheus.
Neo admits to Trinity that the Oracle said he’s not the one, which Trinity doesn’t believe but won’t say because she needs to be cryptic before telling Neo she loves him.
Yeah, you’re not as smart as you think you are, script.
Anyways, they both go back into the matrix to storm a military building in, frankly, the coolest sequence in the movie.
I will say this: The last 30ish minutes of this movie doesn’t let up.
Froemming: Yeah, except when they kill everyone in this lobby they enter to save Cowboy Curtis, they are killing real people in pods in the real world. They are murdering the people they are out to save. That is some Charles Manson-levels of thinking.
But you are right, it looks really cool. Though my memories of this will forever be sullied when two chuckleheads in Colorado — a month after this came out — tried doing the same thing, which kinda puts a damper on things. I was a junior in high school when this came out, so Columbine certainly made its impact on me and pop culture at the time.
Brown: OK, I’m glad you brought this up because you mentioned this to me before the review. I was in middle school when this movie and Columbine happened? What do you remember about the outcry about this movie due to the school shooting? Because all the backlash I remember was against Marilyn Manson.
Yes, occasionally we can get serious on the JOE-DOWN. We can reference “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” later.
Froemming: This movie specifically was called out because those two morons wore black trench coats and sunglasses like in this scene. It was so stupid. Movies and music didn’t make those idiots kill anyone, they were going to do it anyway. Because they were horrible, crazy losers.
Brown: But how else will politicians get reelected if there isn’t something to scapegoat, Froemming?! Think of the politicians!
Stepping off the soap box… yeah, everything about the lobby shootout is iconic. I’ll just leave it here and everyone can bask in its glory.
Meanwhile, upstairs, one of the agents is getting philosophical with Morpheus. See, he wants those codes to Zion because human beings are a virus and apparently, this agent just read Ayn Rand and wants to spout off liberterian viewpoints.
Then, the agent tells Cowboy Curtis about how smelly humans are and how he can taste his stench. There’s… a lot of bad racial undertones of calling a black person stinky, sir.
Froemming: I do like the idea that a program like Smith became self-aware and then, with this learning ability, became a disturbing reddit board personified. Of all the things in this movie, that idea I do buy.
Smith wants out of the matrix as much as Cowboy Curtis and Neo and the others in this lineup of Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, he is a stupid program so he can’t exist outside of it. Well, they can in that last sequel that came out, and that was — to steal a Norm MacDonald joke — funny. Not funny-haha like in a Woody Allen movie, more funny-strange like in a Woody Allen marriage.
Good thing Neo and Trinity show up so Cowboy Curtis doesn’t have to hear more about John Galt and the FountainHead from Agent Smith!
Brown: Neo can dodge bullets now in another iconic scene from this movie.
And Trinity learns how to fly a helicopter from a floppy disk that I’m sure Tank also had a copy of “Leisure Suit Larry” on.
So the two use a helicopter – with a mini gun! – to rescue Cowboy Curtis. Which… how the (REDACTED) does Cowboy Curtis survive this?!
Neo is firing wildly into the room and kills all the agents but doesn’t so much as graze Pee-Wee’s friend?
Froemming: Cowboy Curtis has a lot of plot armor protecting him!
Brown: This scene would have been better if Cowboy Curtis was handcuffed to Chairry.
Anyways, Cowboy Curtis breaks his chains and jumps into Neo’s arms. The agents shoot the fuel out of the helicopter, but not before Neo and the rest of the Klaus Nomi cosplayers escape death.
Now, they need to get out of the matrix again, so they go down to a subway tunnel. Cowboy Curtis gets out first. Then Trinity. But as she’s getting out, an agent overtakes a homeless man and shoots the phone.
Froemming: Why don’t they just use those portable cell phones they have to go back home? Those would work better than always looking for a pay phone.
Neo’s fight-or-flight response is kicking in, and like Mike Tyson, he’s feeling flighty!
Froemming: Neo starts his fight with Agent Smith, and it is a real brutal fight. Smith is faster and a computer program, so Neo is just barely keeping his head above water. Then, Agent Smith deals a lethal blow at Neo, and he is basically this bird:
But in the real world, Trinity kisses him and the story becomes, briefly, Sleeping Beauty. He wakes up and he can suddenly see the matrix while in it.
So he fights Agent Smith and it is clear, since he can read the programming, he is in God Mode from Doom, so he is unstoppable.
And he manages to kill Agent Smith, causing Agents Shemp and Curly to run away.
Brown: I applaud the agent for emptying a clip into Neo before he resurrected because of *sigh* true love’s kiss.
But, I’ll let Lloyd Christmas ask the question for me:
I guess we’ll never know because we have THREE move movies of this nonsense, plus some spinoff stuff that I’ll never look into.
As Neo becomes The One (because ONE and NEO have the same letters and we’re the greatest script writers ever!), he escapes the matrix right as a pack of sentinels (some octopus-like robots that patrol the real world) are about to kill the rest of the Skids from Letterkenny so they can use an EMP to disable the threat.
Now, Neo is pretty much Superman and flies off screen as Rage Against the Machine plays us off.
Froemming, let’s get to recommendations while I try to get out of these leather pants.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, this was a fun action movie that mixed philosophy, fairy tales and stylized fight sequences that have been copied ever since. Never warranted a sequel, this one was good enough on its own.
Brown: Yes. Take away how this movie kind of takes itself too seriously with the philosophy and it’s still a top-notch action movie.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: