The trailer for the fourth Matrix movie dropped yesterday, and it’s pretty impressive. (Love the use of White Rabbit, even though it’s the most obvious soundtrack choice for a Matrix movie ever.) Coincidentally, I just rewatched the original for the first time in well over a decade. There was much of it I still loved: the science fiction what-if elements, the twists and turns of the plot, and the climax where Neo faces Agent Smith is still incredible.
One of the most famous parts of the movie, however, now goes over like a brick with me.
When I first watched the movie, the lobby scene seemed fantastic. Excellent fight choreography, great special effects, and cool ninja moves? What wasn’t to like? In so many ways, that scene moved action scenes forward, influencing how we see fights ever since. However, in the 22 years since the movie came out, mass shootings have gotten more and more common place, and if there’s one thing that lobby scene does very very poorly, it’s establishing why all that violence was necessary in the first place.
Neo and Trinity need to break Morpheus free from the clutches of the Agents, and it’s true that in the Matrix, the Agents can take control of literally anyone. However, when the duo show up in the building lobby, they’re greeted not by agents, but by regular rent-a-cops. People who really aren’t that intimidating at all, despite the security measures in the lobby. And Neo and Trinity both just open up fire on all of them, killing them in cold blood.
Those cops are then supported by what seems to be an elite level of security. Tons of guns and body armor for Neo to fight against. But in the confines of the movie, we know these are just regular people who are convinced they’re doing the right thing by Agents. They aren’t villains. Those deaths all feel much more disturbing to me now than they did before.
Some of that is no doubt because I’ve changed. But some of it is also likely because when the movie came out in 1999 (months before Columbine), random shootings just didn’t seem like that big of a concern. That lobby scene was designed to be cool, not realistic. But when mass shootings are a regular occurrence, it’s impossible for any informed audience not to see similarities in the real.
Yes, we’ve had plenty of other violent movies. The John Wick series (another Keanu Reeves vehicle) is an obvious comparison. But I can’t think of any that don’t at least try to establish why the “bad guys” deserve what’s coming to them. And if there are innocents who are affected, then they’re side casualties. In the lobby scene, the heroes show up to shoot the bystanders, and there isn’t even a hint of concern of what they’re doing to those people.
It’ll be interesting to see how the fourth movie handles it. I’ve seen the second and third movies just once each, and I’ll probably watch them again, even though I remember not particularly loving them. I still like the original movie a lot. It’s influential both in action and science fiction genres, and I love the attention to detail that was given to each individual scene. The special effects have also stood up remarkably well. Crazy to think that a movie that’s still fairly recent (in my head), turns out to be more than twenty years old.
But even movies that are products of their time can’t help but be evaluated from a modern point of view, and that once scene is far less appealing now than it once was.
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