Scratch Beneath The Surface
Like many films, there's a lot of heated debate about this one. So what can be said? On many occasions, I have heard grand statements from its fans, about the incredible, thought provoking story. The whole 'What is Reality?' issue. Well, actually, in Science Fiction, this is a pretty well-trod concept. Oddly enough, the Matrix escaped its SF roots, and managed to be seen by a wider audience who were unfamiliar with SF or its concepts. As a result, there were resounding cries of how original and creative it was. Is it good that it made a few more people think? Yes. Does that by default mean that it did it well? Films such as "ExistenZ", "Dark City", or "The 13th Floor" (from around the same time), all explored the idea of 'What is Reality?' in far more depth. They simply didn't get the same level of exposure. The Matrix wins, because it was one of those lucky films to fill the right niche at the right time. It utilized Computer Effects in a relatively new way for the cinema 'wow' factor. It appealed to the all-action, gun-toting, look-cool-in-black leather, fans. It rammed the 'kung-fu-wire-stunt' style of action film into over-drive. It had a 'hip' soundtrack to appeal to the masses (Which will date it badly in years to come).
It's difficult to criticise The Matrix, because there's nothing really bad about it, as long as you enjoy, or at least don't mind, that style of film. What it fails to do, is bring anything else to the game. There's nothing really fresh or creative idea-wise, here. The characters are thinly drawn stereotypes. The action tends to be about lots of shell-casings rather than anything else. Scratch the surface, and what few ideas there are, aren't explored to any consequence.
It is a perfect example of style over substance, pretending to say more than it actually does. 'Emperor's New Clothes' if you will. There's nothing wrong with a good mindless action film, from time-to-time. Cinema, in many ways at its core, is simply about pure entertainment. There are numerous films of this kind, but the difference is, they don't pretend to be more than they are. Perhaps that is where the Matrix fails. It sets itself up as though it is exploring some grandiose, thought-provoking topic, and is really just a roller-coaster action film. On rare occasions, some films can do both. This isn't one of them.
If you take it as that, a mindless action trill-ride with a couple of fun concepts, there's nothing wrong with it, to waste a few hours. If you're expecting more, chances are, you'll find it lacking.