The Matrix was a cinematic revolution in both the science fiction and action genres. The films presented a new, more thought-provoking element to action-oriented sci-fi. Additionally, they helped pioneer “bullet time,” which has been more widely implemented in films and even video games following their release. This effect presented chaotic action scenes in an exciting new way, with its emphasis on more dynamic camera trickery which includes slow-motion, freeze-frames, and 360 camera panning. These mesmerizing effects have helped literally add depth to these films.
While The Matrix trilogy has had its ups and downs, with its somewhat underwhelming sequels, the franchise as a whole is home to a myriad of exciting and visually stunning action sequences. The innovative and surreal premise sets the stage for a ton of enthralling action. Yet, there are a number of action scenes that fall flat too. This is especially the case during the sequels, when the weaker narrative fails to prop them up.
So without further ado, let’s plug back into the Matrix and tumble down the rabbit hole, as we examine The Matrix trilogy’s 5 best action scenes, as well as the 5 worst. Keep in mind, there are few truly bad action scenes in this trilogy – but this list seeks to highlight the subjectively weaker ones.
10 Worst: Final Battle Between Agent Smith And Neo – The Matrix Revolutions
Sure, this scene may be a pretty epic visual spectacle on the one hand, but the absurd circumstances and events of this showdown between Smith and Neo tend to cheapen it. With its over-the-top action and chaotic areal-focused combat that reminds one of Dragon Ball Z more than The Matrix, it’s tough to take it seriously.
It drags on for an excruciating amount of time without really going anywhere. As both Neo and Smith have both been elevated to near God-like powers at this point, they essentially battle eachother to a stalemate for several minutes. On top of this, we’re left with this question as viewers – even if Neo overcomes his arch-nemesis, what’s to stop the army of Smiths watching the show to simply overwhelm him? This scene is the epitome of style over substance.
9 Best: Neo Vs Morpheus – The Matrix
This sequence has a lot going for it, despite boiling down to a flashy Kung Fu-style fight. The duel contains an impressive display of various moves that make this resemble a violent dance more than a fight. There’s also some subtle, but effective post-production tricks like slowdown to add to the excitement.
It’s a terrific representation of the film trilogy as a whole, with its love of martial art combat, its inspirational character arch of overcoming adversity, and its philosophical food for thought. It’s not just a visual treat; it contains some memorable quotee. These include Morpheus urging Neo to “stop trying to hit me and hit me!” as well as the always inspirational line, “don’t think you are – know you are.”
8 Worst: Seraph Vs Neo – The Matrix Reloaded
Don’t get us wrong, this fight scene between Neo and Seraph contains some dazzling Kung Fu choreography, thanks in-part to martial art specialist Collin Chou’s expertise. Yet, from a contextual standpoint, it makes little sense, and tends to feel like the Wachowski’s intended to shoehorn a fighting scene early on in Reloaded just for the sake of it.
Neo even asks why Seraph decides to engage with him, to which he responds, “you never truly know someone until you fight them,” which still doesn’t explain a whole lot. For this reason, and because of the more thrilling Kung Fu fights elsewhere in the trilogy, it’s tough to get too invested in this scene.
7 Best: Bullet Time Shootout On The Roof – The Matrix
This is a fairly brief shot, but it’s become one of the more iconic action scenes; not just in The Matrix, but in films as a whole. Movies and games have run full-throttle with bullet time and dynamic camera movement which this helped pioneer. It’s been homaged and spoofed in several bits of pop culture – from Shrek to Scary Movie. Moreover, it’s just a cool scene in the context of the narrative.
It’s Neo’s breakthrough – his realization that he can rise above the constrictions of the digital realm of the Matrix. He can largely manipulate and exploit the rules of the system, just as Morpheus prophecied – even dodging bullets fired from the gatekeepers of the system; the Agents. It’s a pretty powerful scene, with or without the special effect glamor.
6 Worst: Battle For Zion – The Matrix Revolutions
Considering the buildup that led to this dramatic final standoff between the last bastion of humanity and the machines, this showdown was rather disappointing. It was certainly a treat to view, but looking through the lens of context and the questionable way everything plays out, it falls flat.
The bulk of this drawn-out scene just feels pointless and hopeless; a notion that’s mostly validated when Neo just flat out saves the day on his own despite the carnage that unfolds here. While our protagonists are typically supposed to feel like underdogs, it just seems as though they’re lambs waiting for their inevitable slaughter as an endless swarm of machines pours into the city.
A number of head-scratching events transpire too, like the decision to activate the EMP, rendering the city vulnerable as the defenses break down as a result. And aside from granting the freedom of some additional slaves from the Matrix, there is little that even changes following their “victory,” in which much if Zion is left in ruin.
5 Best: Neo Vs The Army Of Smiths – The Matrix Reloaded
Throw plausibility out the window – which you’ve likely done once you’re a half-hour into Reloaded anyway, and this becomes an enjoyably over-the-top action sequence. Yes, the idea of having Neo – even a super-charged version of him – clashing with dozens of Smiths seems a little absurd even for the standards of The Matrix sequels. Yet ultimately, it’s about having fun, and this is just a good ol’ fashioned fun fight to behold.
There’s an exciting non-stop pummeling of action as one Smith after another flings themselves at our outnumbered hero. Beyond this, the scene serves to relegate Neo somewhat back to underdog status; as he was during the first film, despite the “Super Saiyan” powers he’s pretty much obtained by now. It also closes out with quite a “bang” – so to speak.
4 Worst: Hallway Fight Scene – The Matrix Reloaded
A unique setting for an action sequence can help make for an enriching, memorable scene. In the case of this trippy scenario, however, we’re left with naught but a claustrophobia-inducing corridor surrounded by bleak green-tinted white walls. Sure, the idea of the system’s “back doors” might be neat, and it’s supposed to build tension as the keymaker escapes and Neo tries to get to the Architect. Though, at least on a visual level, it makes for a pretty bland action scene.
You’ve essentially got nothing for the audience to admire and few environmental objects for the characters to interact with. But besides this, the narrow hallway allows for little movement, and thus barely any “action” can transpire in the first place. And besides – didn’t we already do the face-off with a bunch of Smith’s in a much cooler scenario 40 minutes ago (with far better execution)?
3 Best: The Highway Chase – The Matrix Reloaded
This scene, following a similarly awesome showdown between Neo and the henchmen of the Merovingian, manages to outdo that previous fight. Many point to this thrilling chase on a crowded highway as one of the few bright spots of the otherwise average Reloaded, which largely props up the rest of the film – it’s just that great.
This scene doesn’t even contain our main protagonist, Neo, and yet, it’s perhaps part of what makes it so intense. We’re left rooting for our more restricted supporting cast of Trinity, Morpheus, and the Keymaker, as they attempt to flee both the paranormal Twins, and the body-shifting Agents. This scene just has it all – high-speed car chases and stunts, explosions, gunfights, awesome music, and even a martial arts face-off atop a truck. It’s an adrenaline-fueled joyride that makes the viewer feel as though they’re cruising on the perilous highway along with our heroes.
2 Worst: Morpheus Vs Agent Smith – The Matrix
You can barely qualify this brief fight as an action scene – as it’s more of a one-sided clobbering which is meant to show us how Morpheus provides cover for Neo and ends up in the hands of the Agents. It takes all of two minutes for Smith to completely overwhelm Morpheus after grabbing him through the wall, which ends anticlimactically with a circle of cops wailing on him.
Of course, we as the viewers expect a relatively outmatched Morpheus, as Smith is tethered to the Matrix and can thus use lightning-fast martial arts to deal with “undesirables” in the system. Yet, given that Morpheus had acted as Neo’s mentor and combat trainer up to this point, one would expect a better showing than what he gave.
1 Best: Neo Vs Agent Smith At The Subway – The Matrix
This fight between Agent Smith and Neo acts as a terrific climax and a nice culmination of the events leading up to this moment. Neo has put his newfound training to use and has reached a level of skill that’s very close to Smith. This relatively even playing field – which never quite exists between the two counterparts again – makes for a thrilling fight.
It’s a perfect blend of impressive martial arts choreography, gun dueling, and plenty of bullet time glitz to add to the intense, epic aura of the scene. Like the aforementioned sequence in which Neo dodges a flurry of bullets on the roof, this also acts as a pivotal moment of growth for our protagonist.
Next: 10 Mind-Boggling Sci-Fi Movies To Watch If You Like The Matrix