Neo noir: when ‘The Matrix’ gave cinema a non-reality check

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Neo noir: when ‘The Matrix’ gave cinema a non-reality check

Its sequels didn't do it any favours, but there's no denying the classic's legacy, from bullet dodging to trenchcoats

Tim Robey

Two huge, effects-laden science fiction blockbusters opened wide in 1999. To everyone’s shock, the one that was accused of destroying childhoods was by George Lucas. Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace was widely viewed as a crushing disappointment, despite all the hype attending the first film in its now beloved franchise.

The one that changed cinema, for better or worse, was its rival: a fiercely cool, riskily philosophical $63m production from Warner Brothers, which bet the house on everyone wanting to watch Keanu Reeves doing mid-air kung fu in a black leather trenchcoat and shades.

It was a bet well placed, despite the fact that Lana and Lilly Wachowski (born Larry and Andy), the film’s sibling masterminds, had only one feature to their names before it, 1996’s lesbian neo-noir Bound. Matrix fever swept the world in 1999, and it became the rare number-one hit in America which dipped to two in its second week, before resurging to top the charts again in its third. It would take nearly half a billion dollars worldwide, spawn two exponentially more expensive sequels – over which a polite veil shall be drawn – and now a third, just announced with Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Lana Wachowski on board...

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