For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Cyberpunk Films, here’s a review of The Animatrix (1999) by SG of Rhyme and Reason.
Thanks again to Becky of Film Music Central for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts. We will be reviewing our favorite Westerns set in the “old West” – so, that excludes Contemporary Westerns i.e. No Country for Old Men, Hud, Desperado, Junior Bonner etc.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Jan by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Catherine!
Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:
Most people could not handle it,
To know their world is fake,
And given the choice of bliss or blight,
Of fight or flight, of sleep or wake,
Of ignorance or self-defense,
Who’d choose the comforting pretense
And who the facts for freedom’s sake?
What stories wait for those who take
The chance of learning true events
And all the red pill represents?
MPAA rating: PG-13 (parts of it could have been R)
The story goes that, after seeing the 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell, the Wachowskis decided to use it as cyberpunk inspiration for The Matrix. It’s not surprising then that the Matrix franchise returned to anime in the cross-media content storm of 2003, in which the Wachowskis released both theatrical Matrix sequels, the game Enter the Matrix, and The Animatrix, an anthology of anime collaborations to fill in backstory and side stories of the Matrix universe.
Made up of nine individual shorts, four of which were written by the Wachowskis, the film has more than one purpose. The two-part segment “The Second Renaissance” provides history of the human-machine war, recasting it as a more nuanced conflict than it seemed at first. It’s less an evil machine takeover like The Terminator, and more a case of mankind being overcome by an enemy of their own making, like The Planet of the Apes. Beyond history, certain stories set up the events of The Matrix Reloaded, from the origin of Clayton Watson’s Kid who credits Neo with his freedom from the Matrix to “The Final Flight of the Osiris,” sort of like a mini-Rogue One that explains how Zion learned of the machine’s incoming drill and extermination force. In other cases, the shorts serve as little vignettes of how the world works both in and out of the Matrix, such as how unexplained phenomena are glitches for the secretive Agents to clean up or how some rebels outside of Zion capture machines in an effort to reprogram them.
While the diverse plot subjects work well enough, I must admit the animation is the most intriguing aspect. Every short has a different animation style, since the Wachowskis recruited several respected anime directors to helm individual segments. “The Final Flight of the Osiris” is rendered in photorealistic CGI like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within; “The Second Renaissance” is a more recognizable anime style, while “The Kid’s Story” has an ultra-fluid sketchy appearance. Certain styles also reflect their directors, such as the over-exaggerated animation of Takeshi Koike (which I didn’t like much here) resembling his later film Redline, while the final short called “Matriculated” has a similar lanky design to Aeon Flux, both the work of director Peter Chung. As a fan of Cowboy Bebop, I preferred “A Detective Story” by Shinichiro Watanabe, who incorporated the same film noir coolness he displayed in his acclaimed series.
The Animatrix doesn’t have the cohesion necessary for a stand-alone film, and some of the shorts with backstory for the live-action films play out with little surprise, exactly as one would expect based on what is said in the other movies. It would have been nice for a little more imagination in these segments, but as a companion to the rest of the Matrix universe, The Animatrix is surprisingly well-composed, even including Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in (very) small cameos to lend authenticity. It also intermittently captures the look and feel of the live-action Matrix, whether it be the martial arts combat of the first segment or the eye-popping machine warfare from The Matrix Revolutions, though certain moments are a bit much. The strip martial arts in the first scene are rather indulgent, and despite the PG-13 rating, a couple violent scenes in “The Second Renaissance” seemed more R-worthy.
First released in parts, one in theaters, one on MTV, several online, before being compiled on DVD, The Animatrix is a fascinating addition to the Matrix franchise. It’s a particular treat for fans of varied animation, and, even if it doesn’t have the watchability of its live-action counterpart, it fleshes out the cyberpunk world of The Matrix with a unique visual flair.
Best line: (“The Second Renaissance” narrator) “Then man made the machine in his own likeness. Thus did man become the architect of his own demise.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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