To this day The Matrix is held in high esteem. Mentioning the sequels, however, distorts that affection. Few trilogies have left behind such a legacy despite the disparate reception between the original and the subsequent sequels. Yet, cautious optimism remains for The Matrix Resurrections.
In many ways, the original trilogy was ahead of its time. It's widely known the first movie can be read as a trans allegory, and in the decades since its release humanity's perception of identity in both the real world and the digital has altered dramatically. With the explosion of social media just a few years after the original trilogy conclude, now is the perfect time for the series to return. How Resurrections manages to be a success is dependant on several things.
The Matrix Resurrections shouldn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, and people shouldn’t expect it to. Lightning rarely strikes the same spot twice (unless of course, the machines change something inside the simulation). While The Matrix's technical legacy revolutionized special effects and camera techniques in the film industry to such a degree that is still felt today, expecting the same level of wonder created by technical innovations twenty years ago is a fool's errand.
Cinematographer Bill Pope captured some stunning visuals across the trilogy and fans will remember the infamous green hue that ran through every in-Matrix scene. While Resurrections will feature a different cinematographer, there are plenty of hints in the recently released trailer that will please fans such as the return of infamous "bullet time" action, an emphasis visual cues like red versus blue and one particular shot inside an elevator which feels especially Matrix-y. The recurring iconography can and will provide thrills, just don't enter into the theater expecting the movie to revolutionize cinema in the manner which it did twenty years ago.
Enticing A New Audience
With that said, the movie shouldn't attempt to play it too safe either. One of the series' biggest attractions was its ability to dilute complex philosophical discussion and blend it with breathtaking action sequences in a digestible manner for audiences. It mimics Neo's own journey, in a way, as his understanding of The Matrix and his role as "The One" develops. Packaging those together so effectively was the foundation for the series' success. Though the sequels are better than many remember, they undoubtedly became harder to follow for general cinema-going audiences and critics alike. It can be seen as both worrying and positive that Resurrections is having a crossover event with Fortnite. It seems like the sort of association that a movie like The Matrix might attempt to deride, as the homogenization of media grows.
Yet, one of the successes of the original franchise was that it broke down barriers for those less invested in high-concept sci-fi movies. Many came to The Matrix trilogy for the thrilling action scenes and ended up staying for the exposure to broader ideas about human existence. Reaching those in the next generation almost feels reliant on enticing kids playing Fortnite, even if it seems like a slightly cynical move. In fact, freeing the minds of those playing Fortnite is exactly the sort of thing a Matrix movie should do.
Justify Telling This Story
Where Resurrections can perhaps be at its boldest, however, is its narrative. Many returning franchises find themselves retreading old ground in order to recapture the emotion and adoration generated by their initial releases. In terms of plot, The Matrix trilogy ended with a cycle being broken. What comes now, twenty years later, should be something fresh. Primarily, the story needs to justify its existence.
While a quirky fan theory proposed a connection between The Terminator and The Matrix, Resurrections must avoid falling into the trap that the likes of Terminator Genysis did. The Terminator series has struggled in recent years to offer a compelling reason for its sequels to exist, beyond the need to milk an established franchise in the hope that something sticks. Hope exists on this front with the return of director Lana Wachowski. She recently gave some insight into what prompted her decision to bring Neo and Trinity back despite their deaths in Revolutions. Having lost her parents, Wachowski felt the need to reunite with two of her most cherished characters. Her attachment to Neo and Trinity, along with the personal reasons behind her decision to return to their story, will hopefully offer an emotional throughline that resonates with audiences.
Human identity has never been more fluid. Considering the widely accepted theory that The Matrix acts as a trans allegory, the latest film should offer some poignant commentary on the ever-changing nature of human identity. Agents and Sentinels were manifestations of the machine authority that controlled the population, eliminating anything that transgressed their system. Now, the prevalence of bots has bled into modern society. It almost feels like things have come full circle in this respect as people, companies and nations alike harness the ability of bots to influence opinion and fuel online hate - turning people against one another. What that does to our identity, both as individuals and as a collective society, should be ripe for exploration in any modern Matrix movie.
In our increasingly digital society, it's fitting that The Matrix is making a comeback. Finding success can be difficult for any sci-fi movie, particularly those with sequels that disappointed. Resurrections can re-energize the series by providing a fresh perspective on the evolving nature of human identity in a story with a personal touch, all the while it reels in an unsuspecting fresh audience with its tried and trusted bullet-time action.
The Matrix Resurrections comes to HBO Max and Theaters on the 22nd of December.
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