Think about all of the action movies you have ever seen in your lifetime. Which ones stick out the most? For me, one of the action films I most fondly remember is The Matrix. The Matrix is memorable not just because of its special effects or mind-blowing philosophical tendencies, but because its action sequences were so much different than what we had been used to seeing. For me, The Matrix stands out in my mind because of the quality of each action sequence. The filmmakers went to extraordinary lengths to make sure each of them was perfectly crafted. They detailed all of them out in elaborate storyboards to allow for pinpoint planning, and the entire crew went through months of training in order to make them really take off on the big screen.
Yes, The Matrix has a stellar story, interesting characters, and cool special effects, but in my mind those are all ancillary to what the film does best. The most exciting aspect of The Matrix (and its sequels) is the action. To honor what these films do so well in that regard, I have selected my favorite ten action sequences. Here we go….
WARNING: THESE SCENES MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!
10. Opening Scene – The Matrix
In the terms of opening scenes, the opening of The Matrix is a doozie. It is a fantastic opening because it does all of the things you want a good introduction to do. First, it introduces you to the world of The Matrix, both in terms of what is physically possible as well as the artistic presentation by the filmmakers. Second, it starts in mid-action. Even if the audience doesn’t fully understand what is happening, they are still able to be entertained by what they are watching. Finally, it showcases a lot of the innovative elements the film would become best remembered for. Reportedly The Wachowskis were initially given a $10 million budget to make The Matrix and they spent most of that initial money on this scene as a demonstration. The gamble worked because it is so tremendous your body only craves more when it is over.
9. Final Fight Scene – The Matrix Reloaded
The final fight in the film trilogy has its two opponents in their most powerful states. Neo and Agent Smith have essentially become superheroes by this point in time. This allows for the series to explore new territory – a realm where physics don’t matter as much as they did before. In this sequence, the franchise transcends from its enhanced martial arts to something more brutal, more familiar with today’s audiences who are used to seeing Batman vs. Superman or The Avengers duke it out. Does this mean the sequence strays from the series strengths up until this point? Yes, but this sequence is as carefully crafted as everything else in the trilogy, and it adds a new wrinkle to the action in the franchise.
8. Neo vs. the Smith Mob – Matrix Reloaded
Speaking of action sequences which stray from the series’ strengths, here is another one. This one is Neo versus the ever-replicating Agent Smith, to the point where it stops becoming a fight at some point and Neo is just trying to escape, jumping from head to head in almost comical fashion. This sequence made significant use of CGI, and that decision has not aged well. This is perhaps the worst-looking sequence in the entire trilogy by today’s standards. And yet, the overreliance on CGI doesn’t really hurt the scene’s standing in my eyes. Instead, it is a creative moment unlike anything else we’ve seen in film. In addition to high marks for creativity, this sequence earns its spot on my list just because of how fun it is to watch.
7. Neo vs. Morpheus – The Matrix
The simplest fight scene in The Matrix franchise happens to be one of the very best. This is two people alone in a training simulator, mano a mano. It is a showcase of martial arts techniques, and highlights the excellent work of choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. The blend of fighting and philosophy is not only important, but extremely interesting. It add a whole new depth to the scene besides the obvious attraction to action. As a result, this scene ends up becoming one of the coolest in the entire franchise.
6. Chateau Fight – Matrix Reloaded
The chateau fight sequence is quintessential “Matrix” action at its best. It is a lengthy, well-planned sequence which features its fighters jumping off of walls and doing all sorts of crazy acrobatics in slow motion. If it wasn’t for all of the violence, this sequence could almost be mistaken for some sort of bizarre ballet. It is excellently choreographed and the cinematography is crisp, which makes it intriguing from an artistic perspective. Adrenaline junkies will also appreciate the plethora of weapons which are utilized, something which makes this sequence unique compared to all of the gunplay seen in other sequences.
5. Fight for Zion – Matrix Revolutions
The sequel films have a criticism of going overboard with their reliance on special-effects fueled action scenes. This is one of those scenes (it is actually several scenes interspersed through the film, which I am going to count as one). However, because of the sheer scale and importance of this sequence I am willing to overlook its reliance on special effects which have not aged so well. The fight for Zion is one of the most epic action sequences in all of film, and the scale at which it takes place is simply mind-blowing when you consider films at the time had really not invested so heavily in CGI yet to bring such epic battles to screen. With their backs against the wall, humanity is fighting for their existence, and nothing is as easy to cheer for.
4. Subway Fight – The Matrix
The climax of The Matrix seems fairly tame compared to what we expect from our films now a days. Two characters meet at a subway station and duke it out. At first glimpse, it seems like somewhat of a let down compared to the scenes which got us here. But, this is the perfect action finale for The Matrix. It combines all of the choreographed martial arts and gunplay style we’ve already seen into one tense moment. It sheds the film’s sometimes excessive style for a simple fight which, isn’t really that simple. It is Neo, at the top of his game against Agent Smith, who had been assumed unbeatable. It is the ultimate test for our protagonist, a gut check, and a bloody but fitting end to such an incredible film.
3. Lobby Shootout – The Matrix
The hotel lobby scene is The Wachowski’s homage to John Woo. Slow motion, acrobatic movements by actors strung up in wires, debris flying everywhere, and a calm cool emotional tone. It is a rare artistic action scene, expertly choreographed and set to energetic dance music. This is one of those moments where The Matrix proved action with gunplay could be as exciting as hand-to-hand combat. Sure, it takes ideas that were seen in other places before, but those originators didn’t have the same impact as this scene does.
2. Highway Chase – Matrix Reloaded
A car chase is one of the most exciting types of action sequences. After watching the amazing action style of the original Matrix film, many of us wondered how a car chase would look with the same approach. Luckily, the sequel more than delivered on this concept. This scene is not only one of the best car chase scenes ever made, but one of the best action scenes on film period because of its creativity and variety. It is not a classic car chase scene, and the entertainment doesn’t come from only a high speed vehicular chase. It features elements such as martial arts, explosions, and mind-bending special effects, all of which would have made for interesting action scenes on their own.
1. Bullet Time – The Matrix
When someone mentions The Matrix, what immediately comes to mind is the bullet-dodging scene. This is a sequence which has embedded itself into pop culture and will forever be remembered because of how effective and creative of an action sequence it is. A lot of effort and money also went into making it, including a custom rig for the actual bullet-dodging clip. It may not be the most elaborate, most hard-hitting, or even the longest scene on this list, but it is the one most fondly remembered and is immediately associated with The Matrix. The explosive ending of this scene is also one of the most expensive and complicated shots in the entire film – The Wachowskis had to fight with the studio to secure the funding. Overall, this is also the type of scene which would only work once – others who have tried to use a similar technique to express the same idea in other films have been seen as knock-offs. And as such, this one has reached the pinnacle of the action scene hierarchy.