Here's how The Matrix 4 can correct the mistakes of the franchise's previous sequels. Released in 1999, The Matrix is widely heralded as an era-defining work of science-fiction but the two sequels that followed, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, failed to hit those heights. Consequently, the Matrix movie franchise finds itself with a somewhat tattered reputation, maintaining its popularity purely thanks to the strength of the original.
After years of speculation regarding sequels, reboots and Michael B. Jordan, The Matrix 4 has now been confirmed, directed by Lana Wachowski and starring original cast members, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. While some may question the wisdom in developing a fourth movie when the second and third were critically derided, The Matrix 4 does provide an opportunity to correct the mistakes made in a series that evidently still captures the imagination 20 years later.
These corrections could correlate directly to events in the original trilogy - such as undoing Trinity's laughable death - but there are some more general lessons to be learned that would help correct the course of The Matrix as a franchise.
The Matrix 4 Should Have A Focused, Streamlined Story
One of the biggest differences between The Matrix and its sequels are the stories, particularly in terms of theme and structure. The 1999 film is an intelligent and reality-bending affair, but still offers a tight, lean script that takes the audience on an intense ride from point A of Neo's development to point B, by which time he has evolved greatly as a character. The Matrix Reloaded takes the polar opposite approach. After laying bare the threat of the Machines, the sequel moves from one action set-piece to the next and, come the end credits, the core plot has barely inched forward.
By virtue of being the final installment, The Matrix Revolutions improves in this area, but instead falls into extended periods of heavy exposition and meandering quasi-spiritual dialogue. Seemingly important story arcs and characters are sacrificed in the name of setting up the film's climax and the smart subtext of the first film has drifted into pretentious waffling.
The Matrix 4 must trim the fat, strip the franchise down to its basics and get back to the elements audiences loved about the first film. The titular Matrix should also be front and center of the story, rather than the city of Zion and its extended rave sequences. The strange interplay between the Matrix and the real world was a key selling point of the original movie and a significant reason as to why The Matrix felt so unique. In later films, the Matrix became a mere plot device to facilitate epic battles and introduce mysterious figures who would tell Neo where to go next.
Similarly, The Matrix 4 should move on from the Machines. Agent Smith was always The Matrix's arch villain, but the sequels presented the Machines as the most pressing threat facing the story's protagonists. The Matrix 4 needs a single antagonist, rather than two villains with entirely separate interests and motivations.
Take Inspiration From Wider Matrix Media
The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions may have been uninspiring, but the franchise's wider output unquestionably proved that the Wachowskis' fictional world could be expanded in interesting ways and The Animatrix is a prime example of this. A series of direct-to-DVD animations, The Animatrix is far more faithful to the ideals and spirit of the original movie, exploring the background of the Machine War, Zion and the Matrix itself with the same level of moral ambiguity and science-fiction styling as the 1999 film. The Animatrix touches upon issues such as freed humans wanting to return to the Matrix and the human failings that led to the Machine takeover. The series of Matrix comics perform a similar function and were also positively received by fans and critics.
Interestingly, both the comics and The Animatrix were produced by the Wachowskis, proving that the duo had some very worthy ideas for widening the world of The Matrix, even if none of them found their way onto the big screen. The Matrix 4 would benefit hugely should Lana Wachowski return to her work on these non-cinematic projects for inspiration, since the best of these stories encapsulate the mystery and philosophy that was sorely lacking in the sequels, while also remaining grounded in reality, relatively speaking.
Make Neo The Matrix 4's Morpheus
By the time of his death in The Matrix Revolutions, Neo had become the God-like hero of the real world. With virtually limitless power and a cult-like following developing, Neo's arc came to a natural conclusion, even if many of the religious parallels were deemed a little heavy handed by fans. With Keanu Reeves returning for The Matrix 4, Neo needs a new path to follow, since there's no longer any value to be mined from his omnipotent savior shtick.
The most obvious direction would be for Neo to take on the Morpheus role in The Matrix 4 - a guide to help others out of the Matrix or a leader to help rebuild the world destroyed by the Machines. Not only would this take Reeves' character into fascinating new territory, but such a storyline would also allow for the introduction of a brand new crop of characters, providing some fresh blood to the Matrix franchise.
Neo's future story will likely hinge on the reason for his resurrection. Will there be a big new villain that only Neo can defeat? Or has someone reprogrammed Agent Smith? While both concepts are interesting, they risk retreading old ground, especially with Neo in the role of the mythical returning hero. They pick up where The Matrix Revolutions left off, when The Matrix 4 should really be hitting reset. In the Morpheus role, new sides to Neo's character could come to the fore.
Bring Back The Philosophy Of 1999's Matrix Movie
The Matrix found a pleasing balance between exploring philosophical themes and delivering an accessible story, however the sequels found themselves leaning on extreme ends of the spectrum, either ignoring the cerebral elements completely in favor of more Kung Fu or hitting viewers over the head with mental gymnastics. Unlike the original film, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions weren't content to let subtext remain as simple subtext, and instead relied on the aforementioned dumps of exposition to explain details that were better left to the audience's interpretation.
The Animatrix demonstrated that it was possible to reveal details of The Matrix's fictional history without destroying its mystique and the fourth movie would be wise to follow a similar format. With 16 years passing since the last movie, The Matrix 4 has a prime opportunity to craft a new philosophy, only taking the bare essentials from the original trilogy. The baggage of the Oracle's prophecies, the Source, the Architect and resetting the Matrix can all be left behind and replaced with the more simple and effective questions, such as the classic "red pill or blue pill" dilemma.
Decide On The Matrix's Future Direction Early
It's widely believed that the Wachowskis didn't have a trilogy in mind when first plotting out The Matrix, and were moved into making further installments thanks to the first film's huge success. This would've undoubtedly contributed to the directionless feel of The Matrix Reloaded and the thematic departure both sequels were guilty of. While The Matrix certainly isn't the first movie series to fall foul of a studio suddenly wanting more material, it would be smart to learn this lesson ahead of The Matrix 4.
With the new movie in early development, Lana Wachowski must decide whether The Matrix 4 will serve as one final goodbye to Neo and Trinity or trigger the start of a brand new trilogy, and plan accordingly. If a whole new set of films is the order of the day, The Matrix 4 should be paced to accommodate that and weave in plot threads that can play out over the course of multiple releases, rather than a standalone, tightly-focused story that doesn't naturally leave room for growth.
With The Matrix taking on iconic cinema status over the past two decades, The Matrix 4 should be afforded more creative freedom to tell a cohesive story, and not be beholden to an overly-strict studio process.
The Matrix 4 is currently without a release date. More news as it arrives.