Tom Jolliffe on The Matrix 4…
2019 signalled a number of cinematic anniversaries and milestones. It was after all, the year of Blade Runner (the setting of the original film). It also marked the 20 year anniversary of a certain Keanu Reeves-led film that revolutionised visual effects and re-galvanised a sci-fi genre that was suffering from a long slew of dire entries.
When The Matrix first came out it came after Keanu Reeves had been on something of a post-Speed lull. A few exceptions aside, nothing had quite gone right. His blockbusters also failed to hook into that midas touched that Reeves had between time travelling in a phone booth and trying to stop an unstoppable bus. There weren’t huge expectations, and given Reeves’ previous sci-fi blockbuster Johnny Mnemonic was such an unmitigated disaster, many had written The Matrix off as essentially Johnny Mnemonic 2. Cut forward a few months and word of mouth had made it become the film to see of 1999. By the time of the home release the film was a pop culture phenomenon. Whether it was the action scenes, or the style, the bullet time or the visual extravagance, The Matrix was sublime.
In retrospect, some of the po-faced demeanour and dialogue weren’t quite as cool as we might have thought in 1999, whilst the film obviously owed an enormous debt to a whole host of sci-fi and action classics. Perhaps somewhat marred by the two poor sequels (which have definitely dated badly), that original film itself isn’t as timeless as Blade Runner, or The Terminator, or 2001: A Space Odyssey as examples, but regardless, the original does hold up as a great piece of work.
Now we’re firmly in the era of reboots and renaissance. Everything seems to be getting re-invented. Then we see leading man Keanu Reeves, who is suddenly on the crest of a wave. He’s three John Wick films in, returning as Ted Theodore Logan, and everyone’s favourite person. Economically speaking, if there’s a time to return to The Matrix, particularly with Keanu on board, the time is now. There’d been talk of a reboot telling an entirely different story, during a long 15 years of speculation about plugging back into the system, but last year brought confirmation that Lana Wachowski will return, minus sibling, to direct a fourth entry in the series with Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprising their roles. Spoiler alert, everything in Matrix Revolutions certainly closed the book on Neo and Trinity, so some sci-fi about turn twist from the beginning will be required but the good thing with this genre is…no one is ever beyond resurrection.
Still…huge question marks remain. The Matrix, given a suitable 2020 upgrade and bringing some of the outdated aspects of the original into modernity could certainly work. The overriding message and threat of the original is still prescient. The audience, in an era of incredible autonomy, AI and deep-fakes, will certainly opt for the red pill. Speaking of pills. What about an alt-universe version where Neo took the blue pill? Top of my head (Lana you’re welcome to use it, I’m claiming my % and I want to hang with Keanu). So yeah, the audience will be there. How big an audience? How much will the studio outlay into this considering that the last instalment saw somewhat disappointing returns, and that The Wachowskis have had a poor cinematic run post-Matrix. There’s some definite buzz, but there’s also a lot of resistance. What of that die hard breed of Trekkie-esque Matrix super-fan? Do they still exist? Will they now have with them the same sense of entitlement that seems to have bread among Star Wars fans as an example?
Where the franchise original fell apart was far too much indulgence. If The Matrix was a pure vision, it still had with it that need to play quite safe. To crowd please. Aspects like the philosophy, the pretentious underlay was there at digestible levels. Enough not to annoy regular movie-goers there for the Kung-Fu and the bullet time, but just enough to satisfy those wanting to come back for repeat viewings and pick apart every mythological, philosophical and biblical reference. The sequels were unrestrained, and as far as the dialogue and drama, not to the benefit of the film. Sequences like the Architect’s seemingly never-ending expositional ramble were gamely spoofed within weeks of release. Furthermore, whilst there was memorable action, that need to outdo, to out-revolutionise the original, lead to a sequence like The Burly Brawl which is too much, and because it is so heavily reliant on CGI, it has dated. It didn’t have anything like the impact of those ground-breaking moments in the first film.
Beyond The Matrix universe, unrestrained Wachowski-isms hit record highs with Jupiter Ascending, a film that can only now find some semblance of legacy as a film to be viewed ironically. Every element was dialled up to 11, with a story that felt like a photocopy, of a photocopy of a (repeat ad nauseam). Even the visuals, and those of Speed Racer as another example were garish more than engaging. Still Sense 8 would mark a return to form within the TV arena. There is still inspiration, and some necessary restraint in reserve. Another element that could possibly be evolved is the action. The Martial arts sequences were revolutionary for a Hollywood production, when the Wachowskis bought in Yeun Woo-Ping. Does that still work? Is it too clean in an MMA obsessed world? The all leather costuming may still work, if given a modern makeover. The dusters will probably have to go, as well as the obsession with shades.
Curiosity and an unshakeable appreciation of Keanu Reeves will definitely bring me near the front of the queue for tickets. I’ve also got faith that Lana Wachowski has the requisite inspiration and necessary ability to step out and look objectively when required, to pull off a decent re-entry into the Matrix. Recent history, and the franchise’s bitter end suggest otherwise but here’s hoping that Neo’s return to the Matrix will be a success, even if it probably won’t have the same pop-cultural impact the original film did.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/