In the Matrix movie, Neo shoots several rounds at an agent, only to see the agent flex and twist to dodge every bullet. When Neo runs out of bullets, the agent tries to shoot him, only to be stopped when Trinity points a gun at his head and says, "Dodge this."

By estimating the distance the bullets travel when Neo tries to shoot him (about 40 to 50 feet), and knowing the speed of the bullets (A typical 9mm projectile moves near 1400 feet per second.), and the number of bullets fired (I counted 20 shots from Neo's 2 handguns.), you can calculate the agent's reaction time at around 0.028 to .035 seconds.

The math to calculate his reaction time is simple. (50 feet / 1400 fps = .0357 seconds) The bullet took .0357 seconds to cross the distance between Neo and the agent, so the agent's reaction time must be even faster. That reaction time must include the time to perceive bullet coming, time to make a decision on how to dodge, and then actually move. If he dodged just one bullet, you can call that lucky or maybe just fast enough. He dodges 20 in rapid succession, so he must have a really fast reaction time.

The math to calculate how much time he did have is simple too. Let's say half a second for Trinity to say the "D" in "Dodge this." .500 seconds / .035 seconds is 14.3. He could have dodged her bullet 14 times before she even finished the letter "D". If you consider the entire sentence as two seconds, then he could have dodged 30 to 40 bullets in that time.

He could have waltzed around the rooftop, killed her with a single hand chop to her neck, killed Neo the same way, and still have time left over to ponder the meaning of life as the bullet left the barrel.

The agent didn't dodge Trinity's bullet. He doesn't do a thing except stand there and take a single bullet.

Why didn't the agent "dodge this"?

Edit to add sources of information.

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    He was sick when they taught Matrix Mathematica. Rumor has it he a viral infection that day. – iMerchant Mar 20 '17 at 6:19
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    +1 for math; condolences for trying to apply them here :) – Gallifreyan Mar 20 '17 at 7:50
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    Rule of Cool – F.P Mar 20 '17 at 9:54
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    Obviously this agent ran out of Action Points. He should have just drank a nuka cola quantum before approaching neo – Kai Qing Mar 20 '17 at 20:33
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    Because I didn't write it. If I had, Trinity would've said “Dodge that.” – can-ned_food Mar 21 '17 at 3:27

Matrix 1 Agents:

In Matrix 1 agents dress in a nondescript "Man-in-black" manner, and have common names. (Jones, Smith, Brown). The reason for this, is obviously, not to stand out.

Agents are programed as very power deprived in the grand scheme of things. Their speed and strength are just a notch above rebels. We see Morpheus putting up a decent fight one on one, first against Smith in the Matrix.

What kind of problems could an agent create from standing out? Well, when humans saw what resembled a human being invulnerable, disappearing into thin air, or being shot 20 times and standing, this created doubt in their minds. Increased the possibility of blue pills realizing that something wasn't right with the world - which was the trigger for the option that led to humans to become red pills. With enough doubt about the world they can even free themselves without any outside help, like we see The Kid doing in the Animatrix.

Seeing an agent jumping or punching at unbelievable levels, it just didn't register as unlikely. People still had a hard time to believe they just saw that, but the more they stretched the power, the harder to suspend the disbelief it would be. A cop seeing an agent jumping, would just register it as almost impossible. If he saw an agent flying or ghosting out, then he'd know it was impossible.

And people did see agents fighting against rebels all the time. At the start of The Matrix, Neo is scouring the Internet for news about Morpheus and we see stories of him evading police in some airport.

Matrix Reloaded / Revolution Agents:

The agents do get an upgrade as Neo notices fighting them by the start of Reloaded when they almost manage to hit him, but they are still severely underpowered next to Neo. They have larger bodies, and are taller. Their names are longer, and end in "-son" (Jackson, Thompson, Johnson). The purpose of this upgrade seems to be, to hunt The One, but they are still severely underpowered, and no-where near the power level of the older version. They still look and act like humans.

Morpheus ends up fighting and killing an upgraded agent to save the keymaker.

Alpha/Beta Matrix agents:

We get to see older versions of agents, at least one specifically, but possibly more. Seraph is confirmed in The Matrix Online (TMO) to be an agent from the very first version of The Matrix, where agents were known as Seraphims (a Seraphim is a rank of angel). The first version of the Matrix was described by Smith as:

(...) the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your "perfect world". But I believe that, as a species human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.

In TMO the first Matrix is called "Paradise Matrix", so having angels as agents is fitting. In the sequels we find out Merovingian saved Seraph, and Seraph eventually turned on him. But more importantly, we see Seraph going one on one with Neo, and putting up a fight - which shows the power level of the very first agents. In TMO, it is stated he is the strongest entity in the Matrix, second to Neo alone - but we already see a semblance of that when he fights Neo in the Reloaded.

The version right after Paradise Matrix, is called Nightmare Matrix in TMO. The architect describe it as:

I redesigned it based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature.

That's where the Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and Aliens in the employ of Merovingian come from. Again, they are much stronger than your regular agents with a multitude of powers that make them extremely hard to kill, from disappearing and going through walls, to being unkillable without silver bullets. Persephone describes them as:

They come from a much older version of the Matrix, but like so many back then they caused more problems than they solved. My husband saved them because they are notoriously difficult to terminate. How many people keep silver bullets in their gun?

The Oracle goes on to describe how the Matrix handles these unlikely sightings of power:

Every time you've heard someone say they saw a ghost, or an angel. Every story you've ever heard about vampires, werewolves, or aliens, is the system assimilating some program that's doing something they're not supposed to be doing.

This shows the system tries to mask the actions of super-human programs by trying to provide a believable explanation. The wilder the action, the harder it is to explain. Most people will have a hard time believing they saw a ghost - creating doubt in their mind.

In conclusion

The agents used to be very powerful, and we see a very clear scaling down of power. From Seraph to the Ghost twins and the other monsters, to the current agents. Even when the current agents get an upgrade they are still weaker than older ex-agents. Each iteration of the Matrix tries to do one thing above all, to make connected humans accept the program.

The first version provides a perfect world and fails. The second forces the programing and fails as well. Eventually the oracle finds the problem is choice and the modern Matrix is born, with modern protectors. As the architect puts it:

(...) she stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice...even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level.

The problem with choice, is that people will become aware of it the wronger the world feels. Morpheus describes that feeling as:

You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

So, in the Modern Matrix, people are given a subconscious choice. The problem, is that the world must look "real" and "normal". If you see something that leads you to question the world, it can very well lead you to becoming a red pill, and they don't want that. So as a way to prevent that, agents are very limited manner. They can't fly like Seraph anymore. They can't ghost out, or take 10 bullets to the chest and survive.

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  • Shouldn't that quote read "they come from a much younger version of the Matrix"? or remove "much" or make it "older"?... a much older version of the Matrix would be in the future, surely. It sounds wrong anyway ;] – n00dles Mar 20 '17 at 14:05
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    Copy pasted it from IMDB. so unless they got it wrong as well, that's how the character said it. – CyberClaw Mar 20 '17 at 14:14
  • @CyberClaw "Agents are programed as very power deprived in the grand scheme of things. Their speed and strength are just a notch above rebels." Do you have a source for that? It would help to provide links or quotes for the claims in your answer. :-) – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 15:41
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    You see that by watching the movies. Trinity escapes from 1 agent right at the start, and kills 1 with an headshot at a later date. Cypher says for Neo to run away from agents, establishing running away is the common strategy against them. Morpheus fights Smith and, while he loses, he still puts up a fight. Neo dodges the bullets off an agent, kills 3 agents with the minigun and later defeats Smith in hand to hand, all this before being reborn as The One. They are stronger and faster than rebels, but the real problem is, they respawn on another human. – CyberClaw Mar 20 '17 at 16:03
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    In the 2nd movie, Morpheus straight up wins a fight against an upgraded Agent. So when I said it, it was just a statement of observation, it's obvious that they are designed limited. You just have to compare an Agent to Neo, Smith in the sequels, or even any of the misbehaving programs in Merovingian's employ, to realize they are limited by design. There is no official source that states it literally though. – CyberClaw Mar 20 '17 at 16:04

First, it's not clear that the Agent's fast-dodge is sustainable. Otherwise, every fight with an Agent would have been so fast that no one could see anything. It seems that the blurred-fists or blurred-dodging are momentary, explosive moves when an Agent had reached a peak of fury or concentration. So it's plausible that the Agent, having just bursted to dodge the bullets was not able to immediately do it again.

The limitation could be an energy/recharge thing or it could be a concentration thing. The former is plausible: just because you can bend the rules of the Matrix and move really fast doesn't mean that your in-Matrix body doesn't have to expend a large amount of energy to do so. The latter might be a big factor in this scene: the Agent is totally surprised by the gun-to-the head. On top of this, we've been told that no one has ever gone toe-to-toe with an Agent and even survived, much less won. (This might include previous One's.) So the situation the Agent finds himself in is "Inconceivable", to quote another movie.

Second, it's not clear that the Agent was fast-thinking enough to actually perceive and dodge individual bullets. When Neo was shooting at him, there's no indication that Neo's reflexes were fast enough to try to track the Agent's high-speed movements, so the Agent wasn't dodging individually-aimed bullets where Neo's gun was tracking him. The Agent may simply be moving -- vibrating, really -- so fast that Neo can't hit him. This is certainly the impression I get from the movie. (Granted, we do get the impression from Neo's bullet-time movement that he's seeing and trying to dodge individual bullets, but even if that's true, Neo is The One and is acting at a deeply instinctual level.)

So the Agent may not be able to act in a controlled, reasoning, perceiving manner at bullet speed. Which means the whole "Dodge this" thing could have caught the Agent off-guard. We do see scenes where Agents are wrong, surprised, and even confused, so we can't assume perfect, bullet-time thought and perception, coupled with on-demand bullet-time reaction.

We definitely see people successfully punching Agents with real-time punches -- i.e. we normal humans can see unblurred punches -- which if Agents could consistently perceive and move at bullet-time would never happen. So something more is in play: Agent perceptions are not bullet-time, Agent bullet-time actions have some kind of spin-up or refresh time, etc.

Third, note that neither the Agent nor Neo actually moved their position. Their feet were pretty much planted. If your idea that the Agents can move so fast was true, the Agent could have taken three steps to the side, then ran to Neo, grabbed his arm, bent it, and had Neo shoot himself in the head before Neo was able to realize that the gun was pointing at himself. This kind of high-speed action is more complex than speculated and rare.

In summary, you ask about "reaction time", but there are really several things going on: "perception time", "reasoning time", "preparation time", and "reflex/movement time". Even you or I could have perceived Neo pointing a gun at us, but we lack the reflexes and physical ability to move so fast that we blur. On the other hand, we might not have perceived what was happening when Trinity said "Dodge this", and would have been shot in the back of the head before we even understood what the noise behind us was. The Agents have different limitations/trade-offs -- they are creatures of the Matrix, even though they can bend or break some rules -- but the distinctions still affect the answer.

I've only seen the movies and not other canon, so some of my points may be contradicted by them, but based on the movies I believe this makes a reasonable in-universe case.

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I think this is simply an artifact of the cinematic process. At the moment when Trinity says 'dodge this', the Agent -is looking at Neo-; her voice causes the Agent to reflexively turn the head around to look in her direction, so by the time the Agent sees the gun, the bullet is already in flight and un-dodgeable [remember: here the gun is practically touching the head, and the back of the head to boot; for the earlier dodge the Agent had both a view of the gun and a fair amount of distance from it]. We (the audience) cannot see this properly because of the inter-cutting of the close-ups (Agent, then Trinity).

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    This does not answer the question. Trinity says "Dodge this" before she even pulls the trigger. That's more than enough time for the agent to get out of the way. When the agent hears the "D" in "Dodge this", he can react in 0.035 seconds to turn and see it is Trinity and then break her neck with one hand. She would not have the time to say the "o" in "Dodge this" because she would be dead. – RichS Mar 22 '17 at 6:50

The agents are not superhumans or gods - they are computer programs. Think of them as NPCs or AI-controlled enemies in a video game. The bullet dodging skill is a scripted, automatic response to bullets flying at them through the air, not a real-time decision to move. Since the bullet left Trinity's gun and immediately hit the agent's skull, it never traveled through the air, and thus never triggered the bullet-dodge skill.

They operate in a system based on rules, right? Bullet dodging breaks the rules, even for them. If agents had enough reflexes and speed to dodge bullets for real, then no human could ever land a punch or kick on one. Since humans do land at least some punches and kicks, yet "hit nothing but air" when shooting at them, we can infer that the agents' ability to dodge bullets has nothing to do with their base stats.

Perhaps a better way to think of it is that agents don't actually dodge bullets - they suddenly appear in multiple places at once, but without actually existing in any of them. On the rooftop, when Neo shoots at the agent, the agent's body seems to travel through multiple ghostly paths simultaneously, but each individual motion is slow enough to be seen. The still frame in the question's YouTube link shows this perfectly!

Compare that to Neo's subsequent attempt to dodge gunfire on the rooftop. He actually moves his body away from individual bullets, reacting to each one and moving at superhuman speeds, but "not fast enough."

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  • Interesting! Best insight into agent abilities I read in a long time! Do you have any quotes from canon sources to support your answer? – RichS Aug 3 '17 at 21:05
  • Glad you liked it! I alluded to several classic quotes in my answer, including: – LightStruk Aug 8 '17 at 0:50
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    "their strength, and their speed, are still based in a world that is built on rules." One other interesting detail - the agent software does NOT trigger the bullet-dodge skill if the agent is currently in the "firing weapon" state of its state machine. Two examples - the interrogation room in The Matrix when Neo mows down three agents with a mounted rotary cannon, and Trinity shooting the agent while falling from the skyscraper in Reloaded. – LightStruk Aug 8 '17 at 0:59
  • Rather than merely alluding to quotes, it's better to put the actual quotes in the answer. Seriously! I vote for answers that provide quotes and citations from actual sources. This policy is called Quotes Get Votes. – RichS Aug 8 '17 at 1:16
  • Agents may be capable of (slightly) superhuman physical capabilities but don't show any form of enhanced mental abilities. They're not demonstrably smarter or more aware than their human opponents. They're shown as being surprised, confused, taken aback, and afraid. They're programmed to replicate humans so as to be able to blend in with humans. So for that scene, the simplest explanation is that the Agent was prepared to deal with Neo shooting at him. Trinity getting the drop on him caught him by surprise and he did the human thing: he froze. – Keith Morrison Aug 8 at 4:35

In this place, some rule can be bent, other can be broken.

If the agents were really machines even with a quite low reaction time, they would kill every human with a simple gunshot well aimed (as in I,Robot when Sonny kills all the robots with a very mad precision!) But let's admit it: they aim very bad...

So I think they are dominated by the rules of the Matrix, hence the (quite low) reaction time and the bad aiming. But also, they appear human by smiling, anger, fear (when Smith is destroyed),... So I think the Matrix tells them to have some human flaws.

On the other hand, why does the agent says "just a human" before pulling the trigger? If he were a machine he would simply kill Neo directly when he hits the floor (I don't recall him reloading his gun). I suppose he wanted to use style and he was too excited to kill the One that he forgot that Trinity was here.

For your math, of course he would have avoided this bullet, but he is a program in a human body so we could think of exhaustion and surprise...

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  • Yes, and maybe reaction time to a new, unexpected situation. Programming deciding which path to take. Is it possible to kill Trinity, dodge the bullet and then kill Neo?... If Trinity is not killed, will she kill agent while agent is evading bullet?... etc. – n00dles Mar 20 '17 at 14:29
  • @Goufalite "For your math, of course he would have avoided this bullet, but he is a program in a human body so we could think of exhaustion and surprise..." That's speculative. Do you have a quote from an original source that says the human bodies possessed by agents tire of exhaustion? That would be a noteworthy plot element! – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 15:44
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    @RichS "...yet, their strength, and their speed, are still based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong, or as fast, as you can be" sums it all up. Also it's a cool action movie. – Schwern Mar 25 '17 at 7:04

I'm not aware of an explicit in-universe reason. (Of course, the out-of-universe reason is that Trinity had to be able to kill Agent Jones yet have enough time to deliver the "dodge this" line.) There are a couple of possible in-universe reasons if we use other in-universe information (some from the sequel movies). It depends on whether or not the Agents knew that Neo was the One.

If Agent Jones did not know that Neo was the One then he was evidently limited by the rules of the Matrix and the goals of the machines to the point that he could not dodge Trinity's bullet despite the warning. As others have mentioned, the Agents are limited by the rules of the Matrix in order to blend in with regular humans more effectively. One of the most important goals of the Agents is to maintain the illusion of the Matrix to the bluepills -- so they can't go around performing superhuman feats whenever they want.

I'm making an educated guess here, but Agent Jones probably had to check if any bluepills were watching the scene1 before he could attempt to dodge Trinity's bullet (and that check might have revealed that bluepills would see Jones performing a superhuman feat). The video you linked to shows that the rooftop firefight was visible from a lot of nearby skyscrapers, all of which had bluepills who might have seen it. Jones would have needed to check whether or not he was in the view of any nearby bluepill -- a calculation that could have taken much longer than the time it took Trinity to say "dodge this", and which might have revealed that he was in view of a bluepill.

So why did Jones dodge Neo's gunfire earlier? In that case, Jones had much more time to check for bluepills watching him. It's also slightly more likely that no bluepills were watching Jones when he dodged Neo's gunfire since that was a little earlier in the fight. Jones had to re-check for bluepills watching him when Trinity ambushed him.

It's more important for the Agents to maintain the illusion of the Matrix (by hiding their abilities from bluepills), even if it cost Agent Jones his "life". Moreover, the Agents' main concern at this point was Morpheus, not Neo or Trinity, since only Morpheus knew the access codes to the Zion mainframe. Letting bluepills see through the illusion of the Matrix just to continue the fight against Neo and Trinity on the roof was not worth Jones' "life", unless perhaps Jones knew Neo was the One (see the next section).

It's worth noting that there's only one other time an Agent is seen dodging gunfire like this in the films, and that's when Agent Johnson dodged Morpheus' gunfire during the freeway chase in The Matrix Reloaded. In that case Johnson did not have to worry about hiding his superhuman abilities from bluepills because

  1. he had already shown his superhuman ability to easily jump from one car to another at high speed
  2. he was chasing a much higher value target than a couple of Zion operatives -- the Keymaker, an exile program whose former purpose was to make a key for the One to reach the Source.
  3. the Twins had already performed supernatural feats like phasing out into a non-corporeal form.

All cases of Agents dodging gunfire are consistent with this explanation.

If Agent Jones knew that Neo was the One (or suspected it after seeing Neo dodge his gunfire) then he intentionally let himself be killed because the One is necessary to integrate the anomalies/rejection of the Matrix and reload it. Agent Jones might have known that Neo was the One because the Architect seems to have known. The whole prophecy of the One is a system of control used by the machines to maintain the status quo, and the Agents need to act their part in opposing Zion and the One even though it isn't really necessary. The Agents need to make a credible attempt to kill the One, both to maintain the illusion of the prophecy for Zion in general and to make Neo in particular believe in himself as the One. Jones' sacrifice of his "life" is worth maintaining this illusion because he can just possess a different bluepill body.

As an aside, I don't think your calculation of the required reaction time using a 9 mm bullet's velocity is all that useful. Just because Trinity fires a gun that looks like a real-world Beretta 84FS Cheetah doesn't mean the gun she fired in the Matrix has the same characteristics as the real weapon. It's all a simulation, so the gun Trinity fired could have had a much higher muzzle velocity than the real weapon.

1E.g. by looking at the Matrix through each nearby bluepill's eyes. This is how, for example, Agent Smith knew to attack Neo in the subway -- he saw Neo about to jack out through the eyes of the nearby bluepill vagrant.

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  • If the agent was concerned people were nearby, couldn't it smack Trinity twenty times before she even had a chance to pull the trigger? The hand smacks would be so fast and so close that nobody from a nearby building would have even seen it. – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 17:57
  • @RichS Even if a bluepill didn't see how Agent Jones evaded Trinity, it's undoubtedly unbelievable that he would be able to evade her when she was at point-blank range. There's no way for him to escape that situation without doing something superhuman. – Null Mar 20 '17 at 18:14
  • But the point is that agents do have superhuman abilities, and as I showed, the agent has more than enough time to evade the bullet and attack Trinity before she finished the first "D" in "Dodge this". – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 18:16
  • "I don't think your calculation of the required reaction time using a 9 mm bullet's velocity is all that useful. Just because Trinity fires a gun that looks like a real-world Beretta 84FS Cheetah" I based my calculations on Neo's gun, not Trinity's. He has a Beretta 92FS which fires 9mm bullets. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beretta_92#92FS and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9%C3%9719mm_Parabellum – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 18:30
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    @Null But he did reveal those superhuman abilities just seconds sooner by evading 20 bullets from Neo. – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 18:34

The answer is quite simple, he was taken by surprise.By the fact his attention was toward Neo, his main target. Trinity was then able to get the drop on the agent.

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    The question states clearly it was within his reaction time speed. Could you be a bit clearer how he was taken by surprise? It seems to me like he stood there for about 2 seconds doing nothing. – Edlothiad Mar 20 '17 at 16:39
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    Surprise is not even a factor. As I mentioned in the post, "... before Trinity even finished the "D" in "Dodge this", the agent could have moved out of the way, spun to the opposite side of Trinity, and beat her to a pulp." The time interval from when Trinity said the "D" in "Dodge this" to when the bullet left the gun barrel is 50 to 100 times the agent's reaction time. He could have waltzed around the rooftop before killing her and Neo and still have time left over to ponder the meaning of life as the bullet left the barrel. – RichS Mar 20 '17 at 17:26
  • Yes, he no doubt could have. But, his attention was toward Neo. – jenni selman Apr 22 '17 at 18:42
  • as we all know the whole premise of this movie t – jenni selman Apr 29 '17 at 22:13
  • Im adding this hypothesis to help see it from another perspective. – jenni selman Apr 29 '17 at 22:22

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