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The Matrix
by yo go re

Do you remember the very first Matrix teaser? It premiered during the Superbowl, showing a man in a black trenchcoat falling backwards while weird sonic waves cascaded around him. No one knew what it was, but it looked kinda cool. It was then promptly forgotten until a few months later, when the movie smashed into theatres and ignited the minds of scores of geeks. There was no marketing blitz, no hype, no sports drink tie-in; there was just The Matrix, and people loved it.

Eventually came toys, and those toys were good. They were articulated, had plenty of weapons and decent likenesses. Then the company that made the toys went away, and we were left hanging. Todd McFarlane picked up the licenese and, based on the strength of his recent toys, fans had a lot to look forward to.

The company had finally gotten over its inability - whether created by fear or lack of talent - to make toys with useful articulation. The Samurai Wars proved they could do it right, the Viking Age proved that they could do it even with the female figures, and the utter beauty that was Spawn 10 proved that they could finally put out a better product than Marvel Legends. Things were on a great upswing. McToys was moving forward with great strides.

But the Matrix toys were revealed to be a step backwards - a slow-mo, spinning, walk-on-the-ceiling step backwards, but backwards nonetheless. A good sculpt does not make a good toy; McFarlane's Matrix figures looked to be worse than the ones put out by N2.

Yes, they have astoundingly better sculpts. Neo, here, really looks like Keanu Reeves, and his clothes are sculpted with all the detail we've come to expect from McToys over the years - the material is bunched and wrinkled as if there was a real body beneath it, and the various straps and belts flatten the fabric as they should. But so what?

Neo is "articulated" at the shoulders, waist, neck and thighs, but none of it serves any purpose. Neo is posed from the lobby attack scene of the first film, when he did a roundoff between the pillars. Having emptied his handguns, he threw them aside and grabbed an assault rifle from the ground as he flipped through, planting one hand for support while firing upon police with the other.

A metal peg runs through Neo's left arm, poking out of his palm and plugging into the base. This rod is strong enough to support the figure in its upside-down pose and keeps Neo from sagging to the side. At a glance, Neo really looks like he's balancing on his hand; McFarlane's uncredited sculptors did a fine job with this pose. I'm really impressed by the legs: a lesser sculpt team might have made them straight, as if the person was just standing upside-down; McFarlane's team, however, gave them just the kind of varied bends that this action would require. Good job!

Neo's base duplicates the floor and wall of the lobby, as well as one of the large columns. There are shell casings and rubble strewn about the floor, and various bullet holes in the wall. To simulate rounds striking the wall, there are three soft rubber dust clouds erupting from the stone. These were all bent horribly out of shape in the packaging, but not to worry: if you don't like them, you can just pull them out.

The column, just like Trinity's, has two smooth faces and two bullet-riddled sides. For no clear reason, the bases were designed with rubble only on the unmarred side - why the dust and debris would be settling on the side away from the shooting is beyond me. Still, that's the way the toys were made to be, so no, they're not being put together backwards, they're just poorly designed.

Another question about the Neo figure is why he has two handguns but only one holster under his coat. The answer, actually, is very simple: it's not a problem with the assembly or even a design flaw. The simple fact is that unless you pry the coat open, you'll never be able to see the area where that holster would hang - had it been there, it just would have looked out of place. It would have thrown off that all-important sculpt, so toss one gun on the floor and call it empty. His hand is already full with his M-16.

Neo's base is shaped to fit together with Trinity's, though her back wall is about ¼" too short to line up properly. To get all the curves and lines to meet as they should, you have to carefully rest the back of Trinity's base barely on the pegs that connect it to the ground, so displaying the two together isn't really an option. Of course, since they were on opposite sides of the lobby at the time of this scene, that's no great loss.

According to the less-than-inspired packaging, Neo is an "adult collectible." Sure, it sounds like those skeevy Playboy toys, but what that really means is that this is a figure based on an R-rated movie that comes with toy guns in the packaging; it's a way to sidestep any idiotic criticism about promoting violence to children. The side effect is a simple one, however: sure, I was deeply disappointed in the Matrix figures when they were unveiled, because they were really poor toys; however, by dropping the misleading "ultra-action figure" moniker, McToys has let us know what to expect. If this was supposed to be a toy, it would suck. As an "adult collectible," it's okay.

But now the statue thing is done. One is enough. Next time, Todd, give us some toys. Put the ultra-action back into the figures. We believe in you. There is no spoon.

-- 06/24/03

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