The internet is in an uproar again, this time over the potential relaunch, reboot, remake, or recycling of The Matrix franchise. The Matrix was a huge phenomenon when it hit theaters in 1999, with its cerebral story and mind-blowing action establishing a new standard for Hollywood blockbusters and setting a mold that movies have been trying to imitate ever since.
Due to the surprise runaway success of the first film, the Wachowskis were tasked with continuing the story, and Warner Bros. gave them the funding to make two sequels – shot back to back and released six months apart. While the first, Matrix Reloaded, had a fairly positive reception, Matrix Revolutions was savaged by critics and fans, effectively ending the franchise (although a fourth film may not have been in the cards anyway).
Despite the backlash to the news that Warner Bros. wants to plug the franchise back in, The Matrix is well overdue for a reboot and return to the big screen.
It’s Too Valuable to Go Unused
First, let’s address the money issue. Yes, this is about money. Don’t be fooled. Every major franchise is 99% about money, so dismissing this simply as a money grab is a little reductive. Besides, that’s not an inherently bad thing. In order to make money, theater seats have to be filled, meaning this new franchise needs both thrills and staying power, which necessitates artistry and innovation, the very things the original movie is known for.
When you think about it, it’s actually shocking this franchise hasn’t already seen a revival or that it even ended in the first place. The very first Matrix movie – a completely original IP, written and directed by an obscure pair of filmmakers – made box office history, becoming the second highest-grossing R-rated movie at the time behind Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, with a total worldwide take of over $463 million. Matrix Reloaded took those numbers and blew them through the roof when it hit theaters in 2003, grossing more than $742 million worldwide – a phenomenal feat for an R rated movie.
When it was originally released, Reloaded was the highest grossing R-rated movie in history. Despite current general opinion (and maybe some revisionist history), it was actually fairly well received at the time. Sure, it was a step down from the original, but it has a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is more than satisfactory for a modern franchise.
Matrix Revolutions is where things went sour. Its box office take dropped back down below that of the first Matrix, also seeing a much lower 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, if the franchise had been made 10 years later, the studio would have likely made some adjustments and plowed through to Matrix 4 and beyond, and the conversation today would resemble the way we talk about the middle installments of the Fast & Furious or X-Men franchises, considering it and unfortunate stumble, not an outright franchise killer. Instead, it ended the series on a sour note and fans have been dwelling on it ever since.
It’s more relevant than ever
The Matrix series was founded in a strong blend of futuristic sci-fi, wire-fu, reality bending twists, and existential philosophy, and while any new movies can still embody all those qualities, a new one can be added to the docket: social relevance. Recall this dialogue exchange from the first movie:
Cypher: All I do is what he tells me to do. If I had to choose between that and the Matrix, I’d choose the Matrix.
Trinity: The Matrix isn’t real.
Cypher: I disagree, Trinity. I think that the Matrix can be more real than this world.
A current confluence of technology is making this a fiction a reality. Sure, it’s still some way down the road, but we’re at least on that same road. Virtual reality is becoming more and more popular, and interfacing VR with the human brain is beginning to become a reality. The idea of rapid learning through neural input in the Matrix was this revolutionary concept at the time, but it’s now a technology that’s actually being tested. On top of that, artificial intelligence (while it’s still years away) is a hot topic of discussion, and thought leaders like Elon Musk are already expressing apprehension over its implications.
The Animatrix depicts a world on the cusp of the changes that eventually lead to the reality seen in The Matrix, and there is already a similar situation in the real world with debates surrounding just how much humans should embrace technology, including the potential of cybernetic enhancements and robots. Devices like Google Glass, which could be considered a primitive precursor to the merging of humans and machines, are becoming more prominent, and there have already been instances of harassment from people less willing to accept advancements of this nature.
It’s a far cry from a full blown robot war or humanity blotting out the sun, but the fact that these are issues that are being debated today and appearing in our daily news cycle just gives that much more relevance to the themes of The Matrix in the same way other franchises like Black Mirror have capitalized on topics such as digital privacy and social media.
It can be planned from the ground up
Much of the outcry from those that oppose revisiting this franchise revolves around the quality of Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions (although, as mentioned above, the latter is the only truly bad one). While some are worried additional Matrix movies could be of a similarly poor caliber, others say the first one was perfect and should have never been touched; however, the rousing financial success (and fairly positive reception) of Reloaded stands in opposition to that line of thinking.
The Matrix franchise had great lore, not just in its alternate history and mind-bending philosophy, but also in its worldbuilding surrounding the rules of the Matrix with the Agents, the Oracle, the Architect, and etc. This lore was very effectively expanded on in many great ways by the sequels, but a combination of insufficiencies in story and execution led to the ultimate failure of Revolutions.
An opportunity to plan the universe from the ground up instead of tacking on additional films after the fact will allow a new Matrix series to reach its full potential. Rumors of the formation of a Matrix writers’ room only lend credence to this concept. While discussions of franchise launching properties can make some people cringe, recalling movies like Iron Man 2 or Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s important to remember that these examples are exceptions to the rule. On the whole, universes with a centralized writers’ room are largely considered successes, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars’ Lucasfilm Story Group have been able to demonstrate.
Due to the nature of The Matrix, there are also nearly endless spin-off and prequel/sequel opportunities. It even has a means of (literally) rebooting built right into the plot. In fact, established lore can even be maintained, as the Architect already told Neo that he’s not the first “One” and probably won’t be the last. Even if they don’t follow the path of the One, there’s still a lot to explore. Warner Bros. may want a clean slate, but continuing this franchise is entirely possible without nuking the other installments.
Matrix movies can take place mostly inside the Matrix like the original movie, mostly outside the Matrix, depicting a global war of man vs machine, or at alternate points in time, telling the origin of the Matrix like The Animatrix. With so much potential behind the property, it’s a waste to leave it sitting on a shelf, especially when it ended on such a sour note.
Rebooting or relaunching the franchise allows filmmakers to use the lore to properly tell a larger story in one of the greatest fictional universes ever created while tapping into the modern zeitgeist. If you don’t like it, you can take the blue pill. The original Matrix will always be there for you. But take the red pill, and you can see just how far this franchise can go.