Luke Owen praises the news of the Matrix reboot…
Back in 2014 I wrote an article titled Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is everything wrong with reboots. In it I argued that the idea behind rebooting the classic 1980s comedy was good in principle (it’s an easy enough premise to adapt and update) but the execution was horrible. Rather than take it in a new direction with original ideas, Feig and his team simply made the same movie again but with their brand of humour. They made constant references to the original movie, they boasted cameos from the original cast and even used the same theme song. It was an utterly pointless exercise and a wasted opportunity.
Today’s news of Warner Bros. rebooting The Matrix has brought about the complete opposite feeling.
Again, I will argue that remakes can be good. The Fly, The Thing and Rise of the Planet of the Apes show that there is room to release arguably better versions of their predecessors, so long as the people behind the camera have an original take on the established story. When Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver were tasked with remaking Planet of the Apes, they didn’t do what Tim Burton did and simply have a man land on an ‘unknown’ planet where simians outrank homo sapiens, and instead looked to the origins of The Planet of the Apes. David Cronenberg took a simple 1950s sci-fi flick and turned it into a masterful character-driven body horror.
The Matrix was always going to be rebooted, it was just a matter of time. Harry Potter will be remade, as will Back to the Future. Nothing is sacred. Hollywood is an industry that runs on successful IPs, particularly when ‘new concepts’ tend to bomb when compared to established names (see: Tomorrowland, Pixels). Warner Bros. don’t care that people hold The Matrix close to their hearts, or that it was a seminal movie of the 1990s. To them it’s a property with an established audience that can be exploited for a new one. It has name value.
The problem is the terms ‘reboot’ and ‘remake’ have negative connotations due to the mid-200s swell of them, hence the negative outcry. We all remember that period where it seemed every other day there was some piece of news coming online announcing a classic movie was being given the reboot treatment. Horror films got it bad, but it wasn’t exclusive to them. However this trend seemed to die when they stopped making money at the box office. Hollywood realised that the reboot/remake train had derailed, and they needed a new way to exploit their IPs.
But Warner Bros. – by all accounts – are not rebooting or remaking The Matrix, at least not in the traditional sense. They’re not looking to cast a new Neo or Trinity. We likely won’t see Agent Smith as the lead antagonist. Instead they are looking to emulate the success of Disney’s Star Wars franchise by mining other stories from the established universe.
Disney aren’t the only people to work this out. Jurassic World, Star Trek, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and even Jumanji are just a few examples of films that act as “soft reboots” to a franchise to bring in a new audience, while appealing to fans of the originals. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was genius in being both a direct sequel to a decades-old franchise and a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. It appealed to the new generation of Star Wars fans who will fall in love with Rey and Finn the same way the previous generation loved Leia and Luke. Jurassic World didn’t have any returning characters, but it followed on from the original Jurassic Park and its sequels. It didn’t insult anyone who loved the series or pretend those movies didn’t exist, but it still brought in new eyes. J.J. Abrams successfully rebooted Star Trek with a whole new cast replacing the 1960s originals, but cleverly tied it into the beloved series. Trek fans lapped it up because it made sense and didn’t undo anything they adored, as did a whole new batch of fans who had no emotional attachment to Kirk or Spock.
Furthermore, Disney have done something no one thought of doing with Star Wars previously: do other films than just sequels. Last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a breath of fresh air for many Star Wars fans, who loved the idea of exploring a story we’d all imagined with a whole set of new characters not tied to the Skywalker clan. Jyn Erso wasn’t Rey’s mother, Cassian didn’t run into Lando. It was its own movie with its own merits, but was still a Star Wars film. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are exploring the origins of Han Solo, while a mooted Boba Fett movie is still in development. It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan, and Disney have given life to a series thought killed by its own creator with horrible prequels.
The Matrix has the same opportunity. The Wachowskis created a rich tapestry with their original film that they explored (albeit rather muddily) in the sequels and Animatrix spin-offs, but there are still other corners other directors can go to. What if this Matrix “reboot” was a story of a young Morpheus first escaping The Matrix? What if we looked at another resistance group in the real world and how they battled the machines? What if this was the search for the next Neo? The possibilities are nearly endless. Just as Lucasfilm and Disney have with Star Wars, Warner Bros. have with The Matrix.
You can also look at this from a business standpoint. Warner Bros. have stated their putting all their focus into their DC films, Harry Potter and LEGO, and this will make up all of the tentpole releases. However the DCEU keeps faltering with bad press and directors leaving and The LEGO Batman Movie has made around half of what The LEGO Movie made. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them may have made $812 million worldwide, but that’s the second lowest of the Wizarding World series and a far cry from the $1.3 billion made by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. At this point, they need a franchise they can hang their coats on comfortably. They need a hit series.
It would be easy to dismiss The Matrix reboot as ‘lazy Hollywood’ and I get that. However there have been enough examples in recent years that suggest this could be a fantastic opportunity, or at least one to not instantly write off. An argument could be made that without The Wachowskis this will suffer, but Star Wars has thrived since Lucas has left. Plus, we shouldn’t forget Jupiter Ascending any time soon…
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.