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It's time to party like it's 1999 — according to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. is actually reconsidering relaunching The Matrix. Nobody will ever forget the Wachowskis' original classic, which blended new cinematic approaches with phenomenal storytelling, and went on to inspire two sequels and a powerful (if short-lived) franchise. Now, it seems that Warner Bros. want to take us back into that digital world!
Right now, we have a lot more questions than answers, and the surprise announcement has left fans reeling. To some, this is a big mistake; the '90s aesthetic of The Matrix worked back in 1999, but by the time The Matrix Reloaded came out in 2003, it had already started to feel a bit dated. Besides, can any reboot or relaunch actually live up to the original? Right now, though, I don't want to focus in on that question. Instead, I want to take a step back and ask: How could Warner Bros. make this work?
Relaunch, Not Reboot
The original Matrix trilogy is a tale as old as time; the series is steeped in Messianic imagery, with Keanu Reeves's Neo established clearly as a Messiah figure; they even called another character 'Trinity'. Significantly, both Neo's core character journeys are resolved by moments of self-sacrifice; in The Matrix Revolutions, you even get a crown of thorns, a deliberate callback to the crown placed on Jesus's head as he died on the Cross.
Although the Wachowskis claim to have planned a trilogy from the start, the reality is that the first film completed the Messianic arc pretty effectively — only for the trilogy as a whole to then embrace it, giving the overall narrative a very cyclical feel. All this means you have a real problem with rebooting the franchise; any sequel will inevitably tell a Messianic tale for the third time.
A better approach would be to relaunch, rather than reboot. Instead of telling the same story, broaden the universe out; continue the narrative, explore corners of the world the Wachowskis have built, add new depths to the narrative. According to The Hollywood Reporter, some insiders at Warner Bros. are watching the success of the relaunched #StarWars as a model, particularly the success of spinoff Rogue One. That would undoubtedly be a smart approach.
Push the Boundaries of Film-Making
I'll never forget the first time I saw The Matrix; not only did I love the narrative, but I was left astounded at the sheer quality of the overall production. The Wachowskis' original screenplay proposed the idea of a beautiful slow-motion effect to highlight the action, and this caught the attention of visual effects supervisor John Gaeta. He popularized a revolutionary approach known as 'bullet time', a complex approach that gave The Matrix a unique visual style.
Here's the catch; by 2003, when the sequel The Matrix Reloaded was released, bullet time was no longer revolutionary. Inspired by The Matrix's success, other film-makers used the concept liberally, meaning that the pioneering franchise no longer stood out from the crowd. For me, that was the major disappointment of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions; where the original had blazed new ground, the sequels were content to just do the same old thing.
The challenge facing Warner Bros. is a simple one; in an age when every studio is trying to relaunch their old franchises, how can they make The Matrix stand out? The answer, I'd argue, is by going back to the pioneering spirit that characterized that first film; to deciding to make movies that push the boundaries of cinema, whether in their use of CGI or 3D, or in some other way that we haven't thought of yet. 'Bullet time' was revolutionary back in 1999, but it isn't any more; evaluate what areas of cinema are open to innovation now, in the present day, and let the relaunched Matrix franchise dive deep into them. Make this new Matrix franchise as ground-breaking as the first film was.
These are my two tips for relaunching The Matrix. First, make it a relaunch, and not a reboot; a reboot simply won't work. Instead of telling the same old tale, broaden it out and explore the world that the Wachowkis have built. And secondly, dare to be innovative; dare, once again, to push the boundaries of film-making — just as The Matrix did in 1999.