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In the 18 years since the release of the Wachowskis‘ original, fashion may have moved on — no one really wants to dress like Neo today, thankfully — but, in many other ways, the real world today looks more like The Matrix than ever.
It goes far beyond the fact that Morpheus’ “red pill” speech has become adopted by popular culture (and, indeed, highjacked by the alt right), or suggestions that the Academy Awards “prove” that we’re living in a virtual simulation of reality, instead of the real thing. (Although the fact that both of those things can happen at all only goes to demonstrate the way in which Matrix thinking has infiltrated the mainstream.)
In the almost two decades since the first movie in the series was released, the basic concepts of The Matrix franchise have only seemed to feel more and more appropriate for the times: A rebellion against authority from a group of underestimated figures who see reality for what it really is? That’s not just an old favorite when it comes to fiction, it’s the narrative that drove the electoral campaign of the current President of the United States (as far as his supporters see it, at least).
Ecological disaster brought on by humanity not really thinking through what it’s doing? Yeah, there’s no reason we should be thinking about that these days. And the “man versus machine” idea that’s at the root of the entire story is, sadly, something that will never fade from people’s attention.
We are, in other words, living in The Matrix right now. (But not, you know, literally. Sorry, paranoia fans.)
That does present a problem for the new Matrix, of course: How will any reboot manage to capture the same feeling of being just slightly ahead of the curve that the original had? One of the appeals of The Matrix to begin with was the way in which it appropriated counter- and alternative culture iconography and thinking, making it seem excitingly novel to a mainstream audience that was unfamiliar with such things.
By now, however, the mainstream has caught up to — and, in many ways, surpassed — The Matrix, making any straight-up remake risk feeling uninventive, or even boring, by comparison. Change too much, however, and there’s the risk of alienating the in-built fan base for the property.
This, then, is the (virtual) reality of The Matrix reboot: it will come into a world that is more than ready for it to exist, and is primed for its arrival even more than the original, and yet it will have to evolve in ways that is both unexpected and, contrarily, familiar enough to be respectful of what came before, in order to live up to the legacy of the first trilogy. Here’s hoping that the next Neo is up to the task.
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