HEAT VISION

The Risk and Reward of 'The Matrix 4'

What will a Lana Wachowski-directed fourth installment have to say about the 21st century?
'The Matrix' (1999)   |   Courtesy of Photofest
What will a Lana Wachowski-directed fourth installment have to say about the 21st century?

We’re beginning to believe.

While rumors have circulated for years, Tuesday we finally received confirmation that a fourth Matrix film is in fact in the works and will not only see Lana Wachowski return as writer, producer and director, but will also see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprise their roles as Neo and Trinity, respectively. Artist Geof Darrow, who worked as a concept designer on the three previous Matrix movies, will also return to the film, adding an even greater sense of authenticity to this return trip.

Wachowski, who co-created the series with her sister Lilly, expressed enthusiasm at returning to the franchise 16 years later and exploring a reality “even more relevant now.” It would be impossible to predict, given her filmography, what she has in store for audiences when The Matrix reboots its system, because it’s guaranteed to be way off. But I expect that the social relevance, deep dive into philosophy and mythology, and the stunning, anime-inspired action sequences will be on full display. It’s been 20 years since The Matrix helped redefine the Hollywood blockbuster and 21st century action movies. Is it possible for Wachowski to hit our systems with a dose of déjà vu and do it again?

The Hollywood Reporter first caught wind of Warner Bros.’ renewed interest in the Matrix series in 2017 when it was reported that Zak Penn was writing a treatment for a possible relaunch that would star Michael B. Jordan, rumored to either be a descendant of Morpheus or a younger version of Morpheus himself. That treatment did not have the Wachowskis on board, and it now seems that this new project is something entirely separate from Penn’s draft. It’s not surprising that Warners would want to reinvest in The Matrix, the trilogy that grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide and launched video games, comics and an anime. But the decision to go the route of a direct sequel — at least that’s what Reeves and Moss’ involvement implies — rather than relaunch with a new “One,” as hinted at in the end of 2003's The Matrix Revolutions, is an interesting decision.

There has been talk, going back a few years, about Warner Bros. exploring the spinoff potential of The Matrix. There’s certainly room for such a venture, given how dense the Wachowskis’ mythology for the concept is. This is a universe that even includes its own take on ghosts and vampires as malfunctioned programs, or exiles, from previous iterations of the Matrix. The Wachowskis created a massive sci-fi landscape that doesn’t have to be contained to a single genre. But spinoffs can be a hard sell, or end up working against the central installments. Just look at the box office results for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and Men in Black: International. Warners, after a tough summer box office, is undoubtedly looking for a sure thing. Why gamble on spinoff stories and concepts when the studio can just trust Lana Wachowski to take the substance of six movies and combine them into one film that will have audiences showing up, talking and debating for years? The Wachowskis haven’t been able to replicate the success of The Matrix with audiences, though they sure gave it their all with Speed Racer (2008), Cloud Atlas (2012), Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Sense8 (2015-2018). But even if audiences are left divided, it’s arguable that most Matrix fans would rather see a bold and ambitious vision from the franchise’s co-creator than spinoffs that attempt to imitate voices that can’t be replicated.

Although the arcs of Neo and Trinity were concluded in Revolutions, they, along with Morpheus and Agent Smith, are the recognizable faces of the franchise. Just as Universal learned with its Fast & Furious franchise, the characters carry more weight than the concept. And legacy sequels, like Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Halloween (2018), Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) and even Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019), are the current rage right now. Neo and Trinity may have died, but there’s no denying that Reeves' popularity has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks in no small part to the John Wick films. Audiences game for a new Matrix movie will want to see Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and Agent Smith, even if that means losing the sense of completion from the trilogy of films.

Although The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and Revolutions still cause arguments to break out, there’s something enticing about seeing just how the fourth film will explain its own existence. Audiences may have become a bit complacent in terms of their desire, or lack thereof, in wanting to actually dig deep into their mainstream movies and see something they’ve never seen before, and The Matrix 4 may not change that. But given the return of so many key players in the franchise, even if general audiences don’t respond in the same way they did in 1999, it’s practically guaranteed that they will at least enter the Matrix for another round.

  • Richard Newby
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