This movie was kind of a big deal, yeah?
Interesting to go back to it now, with 14 years full of discussion, dissection, influences, knock-offs, jokes and controversial sequels (seriously, the Matrix series would probably be universal fanboy shorthand for “disappointing follow-ups” if George Lucas had never turned to the dark side) having passed. Love it or hate it, it was a landmark movie in countless ways, having brought deeply geeky obsessions like deep sci-fi concepts, fantasy-laden martial arts sequences and Eastern philosophizing to mainstream audiences. Its impacts are still being felt today; if Keanu had never taken the red pill and donned that black leather, would there ever have been an Inception?
A billion gallons of digital ink have already been spilled on the philosophies and construction of The Matrix so I won’t add too many more drops to it here before I get down to business, except to say that what really strikes me now is the movie’s confidence. The Wachowski brothers (before a little carefully-applied surgery and hormone shots made them the Wachowski siblings), on their sophomore filmmaking effort, undertook the massively challenging task of wrapping a number of wacked-out concepts into an entertaining summer blockbuster that was also an R-rated movie based on no existing known property, yet not once does the finished product project anything but absolute self-assurance. It’s that confidence that was a big part of what made so many respond to it.
One of those other important parts, of course, is its bravura action sequence. I’ll be thankfully leaving off on some of those, since a lot of them, such as the lobby fight or Neo’s first encounter with an Agent, are excellent but don’t really constitute what I’m looking for when I’m thinking of “fight scenes.” Fortunately, there’s no shortage of that stuff to work with, either.
1) Trinity vs Unfortunate Cops
- Trinity, master hacker and soon-to-be love interest. One of the most deadly members of the human resistance. You have to dig pretty deep to find thematic resonance in her name choice (unlike such obvious ones as Neo, Morpheus, Cypher, Bane, etc. So, what, she’s three people in one? Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in her?), so I assume it’s mostly just because it sounds cool. Played by Carrie-Ann Moss.
- Armed with: nothing but that sick leather outfit. Does anyone know if it’s actually easy to fight in that stuff? It looks tight to me. Is it constricting, or more limber? I really don’t know. After this scene ends we see her with two hand guns but it’s unknown if she took those from the defeated cops, had them but didn’t use them here, or they were with her but out of reach when the fight started.
- Three police officers who got more than they bargained for when their lieutenant sent them to capture Trinity, who is a wanted criminal. No names, but you can think of them as Officer Chest Kick, Officer Face Kick, and Officer Shot, if you want. I bet one of them was just two days from retirement. Played by Bernard Ledger, Robert Simper, and Chris Pattinson, according to IMDB.
- Armed with: service pistols. And flashlights, I guess.
The Setup: Trinity is cornered in a ratty old building by a large number of police. Rather than awaiting for assistance from the sinister Agents, the officer-in-charge sent in three unlucky chumps to apprehend her. There’s three of them, they get her with her back to the wall, they’re armed and she’s not, so it would seem like she’s screwed here. But as Agent Smith calmly chides the lieutenant who jumped the gun, “Your men are already dead.” The movie immediately cuts back to the dingy room where Trinity has her hands up.
The Fight: Our gal immediately takes advantage the officers’ assumption that she’s cooperating. She whips around at lightning speed and uses a chop to break one of the arms that had been reaching to handcuff her. Then she palms him in the face and leaps into the air to do her signature move, which is apparently called the Double Eagle Kick.
The action slows and stops here, while the camera rotates a couple hundred degrees, showing us a multitude of angles while the heroine is seemingly suspended in mid-air. There’s not much practical purpose to this trick (which I believe was achieved by having a lot of special cameras operating simultaneously, and was originally engineered for a Gap commercial), but stylistically it’s a big deal. It’s the Wachowskis announcing Yes, you are seeing what you’re seeing; what she’s doing should be impossible but for her it’s not; this is deliberate and fun and this is the kind of movie we are making, so get used to it. See what I mean about confidence?
Anyway, the kick lands in the big guy’s chest and sends him flying into the wall, so ouch. Problem is the other two officers had been following procedure and standing at a safe distance, which leaves Trinity vulnerable. She makes up for the distance with one of them by kicking her chair into his face, and while that one’s stunned she dodges the other’s gunfire by running up the wall (making good use of the limited light as she moves) and is able to rapidly get behind & around him. Before he knows what’s happening she seizes control of his gun arm, shoots the other standing officer with his comrade’s weapon, and knocks out the poor guy with a vertical kick that goes so high it hits him right in the face.
She makes fast work of all three of them (the whole thing’s over in less than 25 seconds), a fact further underscored by the quick cut to a ceiling shot of Trinity standing tensely amongst the havoc she has so quickly wreaked. It’s so short I considered not including it, but it’s complex and admirable enough that I felt it merited discussion. Although it’s just an appetizer for what’s to come, this fight works excellently as a statement of intent for the movie. The movie’s action and aesthetic style is spelled out, and plot-wise we learn that Trinity can do seemingly impossible things but as amazing as she is there are other people she’s scared of. In one dense little fight (and the scenes surrounding it) the audience picks up a lot of information. It’s slight yet effective. I like it, but there’s better to come.
Coming Attractions: A fight that’s most non-heinous.