Dark City feels hopelessly indebted to The Matrix, and yet it predates The Wachowski’s sci-fi phenomenon by a year. Both films have a particular feel, very much of their time, a mix of exaggerated ‘40s noir and cyberpunk aesthetic of the video games of the time. They each begin in medias res, leaving a first-time viewer both confused and engaged, trying to puzzle out seemingly inexplicable events. Heck, both films even have a “I know kung fu” moment, though Dark City is more interested in psychic battles than martial arts.
It’s probably no surprise that The Matrix is better remembered, still a cultural touchstone of the late nineties, while Dark City is largely forgotten. The Matrix features bombastic action filmed in (at the time) breathtaking slow motion and a kinetic, fast-paced storyline, while Dark City is slower, more contemplative (and cheaper – the film’s scope isn’t quite matched by its special effects budget).
I’m not trying to argue that Dark City is the superior film, necessarily. But the film warrants recognition. It’s innovative, influential and its second-act reveal leads to a finale that resonates with loss and bone-deep melancholy, rather than the exciting but ultimately lightweight third act of The Matrix.