Johnny Mnemonic‘s one of those 90s sci-fi action movies I saw once in high school and didn’t really think of much between then and when it popped up on Netflix Instant fairly recently. The movie finds Keanu Reeves’ title character working as an information courier. Instead of carrying the data in a briefcase, though, he gets it uploaded into his head. When mobsters attack as he’s getting the upload, things start going south for the guy who wants nothing more from life than to live the typical 80s yuppie lifestyle. Too bad for him, though, it turns out that what’s in his head is not only killing him, but could also save the lives of millions of people in this dystopian technofuture created by William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk.
I thought this was a pretty fun little action movie. In addition to Reeves you’ve got Ice-T playing a kind of resistance leader named J-Bone, Henry Rollins as a tech expert going by Spider and Dolph Lundgren as a crazy street preacher named Street Preacher. Oh and 90s That Lady Dina Meyer is Jane, Johnny’s bodyguard. She was in a few episodes of Friends and also Starship Troopers around this same time. The cast is pretty far from perfect, but the biggest bonus of this film is that you get to see Dolph Lundgren fighting Henry Rollins (or at least their stunt doubles going at it).
After giving this movie another watch, I get why I hadn’t thought much about it since the late 90s. While it is fun and Reeves gives a solid performance, it just doesn’t feel all that groundbreaking. Sure, it seemed to have a better budget than most of the other 90s dystopian action movies I’ve seen, but then you’ve got Rollins’ not-so-great acting and then there’s a cyber dolphin and, while I love Dolph, his character’s about as one note as you can get. Plus, when you think of Keanu Reeves sci-fi movies from the 90s, it’s really hard to think of anything past…
I mean, come on. This movie wasn’t just big, is was revolutionary. From the way it handled computer based worlds to those mind-bending action scenes, The Matrix very simply changed the game of big budget sci-fi action films. And all of that is thanks to Andy and Lana — then Larry — Wachowski and their insanely big vision for this film and it’s pair of sequels.
I often wonder about the impact of 90s cinema on pop culture outside of my generation. There were so many movies that were huge when I was growing up that don’t seem to get talked about anymore. Backdraft and Forest Gump are two that come to mind and I hope The Matrix isn’t like that. But, watching it again for the first time in maybe 10 years, I can see how it might seem dated to younger viewers and I’m not talking about the special effects. All that leather and those glasses and just about everything everyone wears just seems so 90s/early 00s, but maybe that’s because this movie was just so damn influential. In other words, is it a “what came first” scenario?
On the other hand, I wonder how much teenagers know about what was going down 20 years ago in general. When I was growing up in the 90s, the 70s were huge again and seemed very well documented all over the place. The nostalgia loop I mentioned when reviewing 54 had a lot to do with that, but I also don’t know how culturally impactful the 90s are to kids today, so maybe they wouldn’t think of those outfits as dated and could just get lost in the movie’s crazy world.
If you don’t remember — or you happen to be younger and aren’t familiar — The Matrix takes place on an Earth overrun by intelligent machines who now use humans incubating in egg-like pods for food. To keep the human brains occupied they built a computer simulation that allows them to live out their daily lives never knowing what’s really going on around them. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, gets selected by a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to learn about the true reality and help fight the machines. Morpheus believes Neo to be the chosen one, an idea that gets backed up when he takes to manipulating the Matrix incredibly well as the film progresses.
While there is a certain amount of affectation to the proceedings, I still really enjoyed this movie. And, since it had been long enough since I watched it, I was surprised by some of the smaller moments, though most of the larger ones are etched in my brain. This movie came out when I was 16. I remember seeing something else while my buddy Chad went to see this at the huge theater out in Maumee that’s actually closed now (it was one of the first stadium seating megaplexes in our area). It was a much longer movie, so we waited a while for him to come out and when he did it looked like he’d seen the face of the creator. He was blown away. As we did at that time, we promptly made fun of him and then saw the movie ourselves and loved it. I had a poster on my wall and the VHS tape when it came out. And I remember seeing at least one if not both of the sequels in IMAX. This was a huge franchise for my generation and came along at the perfect time for me personally because it was the beginning of my more grown up movie going career.
I know the sequels got a lot of flack for being difficult to understand, which I can’t speak to because I don’t remember much about them, but this movie stands as its own wonderful thing that got me excited about movies when I was a kid and had much the same effect for me as an adult. Hopefully I’ll get around to the sequels in the relative future and see if I can make sense of them. No promises though considering it took me several tries to watch both of these movies as I am a very tired old man these days.