Hollywood Got the ‘Matrix’ Franchise All Wrong, These Films Are Great

“Revival” is the puncture streak that Lana Wachowski has made at the expense of the industry.

Everyone always says, no matter your generation, that watching “Star Wars” makes you feel like a 10-year-old again. But for millennials, the experience of watching The Matrix takes us back to 16 or 17, a time fraught with transition and expectations — and one when we really crave shit talk. The Wachowskis created a franchise that is all about punching holes in inherited wisdom and celebrates embracing truth, no matter how painful, over comforting lies. And for a brief moment at the turn of the millennium, it seemed like The Matrix might be the new Star Wars.

Who were we kidding?

Instead, Hollywood has become a factory of non-sexual, non-sexual blockbuster movies that collectively serve as a monument to our 10-year-old selves, and the “The Matrix” franchise has been largely forgotten. But even at that moment in 1999 when “The Matrix” surpassed “The Phantom Menace” in critical recognition and attention, those with the power of the green light mistook the Wachowskis, making them even more superficial. This is a sore point that makes Lana Wachowski an obvious part of “The Matrix Resurrections.” And it’s a specific, cultural commentary, in the trappings of the franchise, that encourages us to take a look at what these films really are — not what the rhetoric of collective thinking about them tells us.

In this first installment 18 years ago, we learn that the machines that control most of the world saved Neo’s life after he brokered peace between her and humanity, but he trapped him in the Matrix once again. He believes that he is a video game designer and that he created the story of the first films as a trilogy of immersive acting roles. But of course, these events are actual memories of Neo that he is too sublime to recognize. His boss, Smith (Jonathan Groff, a shocking replacement for Hugo Weaving), told him that Warner Bros., the parent company of the toy company, would make a fourth “Matrix” game “with or without them” and so Neo might do Well, come on board even if he doesn’t Initially thought there was nothing new to be said.

The panel of creators he works with is obsessed with reclaiming the feeling people got the first time they tried The Matrix. Christina Ricci seems to simply provide a line about how focus groups continue to use the keywords “new” and “original” to describe them. And they shed light on all the things Hollywood executives wooed about circa 2000: the feeling of “coolness,” the metallic color palette, long jackets, sunglasses, and of course those two words forever associated with “The Matrix” and pioneered by visual effects: “Point time.”

“Bullet time” in “The Matrix”.

© Warner Bros / courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Slow motion virtual cinematography was the stylistic signature of “The Matrix”, and suddenly it was ubiquitous, from the “Matrix” presentation as crisp as Jet Li-starrer “The One” (a reference to Neo’s own semi-messian title) to the basic cable set for “Witchblade” for TNT. And of course a million commercials. Wachowski’s mockery of “bullet time” in “The Matrix Resurrections” is deeper than the satire of market saturation. Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), the software responsible for designing the latest version of the actual matrix that keeps most humans trapped, publishes lead time against Neo. Now our hero is testing time very slowly, he can do absolutely nothing. His defining characteristic becomes a prison.

Perhaps this is the fate of anything truly “new” and “original”: to be stripped of its original artistic impulses and endlessly copied for trade, or “fans” armed for their own combative ends.

In a way, “The Matrix Resurrections” provides a more explicit version of the cultural criticism offered by David Lynch in “Twin Peaks: The Return.” In this show, Lynch turns series hero Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) into an empty shell of which only the brands fans adore — a penchant for cherry pie and coffee, a catchphrase here and there — are all divorced from any human drive, character, desire or leadership. . Film and television art is rarely so intricate as to be irreducible, and in a parody of Hollywood’s “shut up and punch” mentality toward franchises, Lynch showed that “Twin Peaks” was highly reducible. Obviously, the Matrix was too.

But by focusing on the magnificence of “The Matrix,” people have lost its essence. All of the Matrix films are about fighting apathy on an existential level, although it’s not just about taking action or “save the world” but facing the truth. And they’re political in a way that there haven’t been any blockbuster movies since, in our proposition to buy into the systems assuming the people who created them play by the same rules they created us. (They often aren’t.) Even before Neo understands the truth about the Matrix, the agents – law enforcement – flaunt their power, denying Neo his phone call, planting a tracer in him, literally shutting his mouth.

Far from being great, these are very honest and serious films. Like in a fairy tale, Trinity brings Neo to life by declaring her love. Then in “Reloaded”, Neo must choose between saving humanity and saving Trinity – he chose the latter, and discover that humanity is inadvertently trapped in a cycle of destruction and rebirth that is considered highly toxic and it is best to break this cycle even if it means the end of the human race once and for all. And that fidelity feels drastic—especially in “Reloading,” when this imaginative love is presented as naturally going hand in hand with orgies. Why shouldn’t romance involve so much sexual liberation? (That scene is about as bad as it says more about the puritanism of its critics.) It set the stage for what would have been blockbuster adult films, R-scenes that did not abandon such a major aspect of being human. Experience: Desire.

The Resurrection of the Matrix, (also known as THE MATRIX 4), Keanu Reeves, 2021. ph: Murray Close / © Warner Bros.  / Courtesy Everett Collection

Neo’s imprisoned moment by “bullet time” in “The Matrix Resurrections”.

© Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Matrix movies aren’t perfect. Stanley Kubrick’s “shoot more takes” style inspired by the Wachowskis results in some elaborate performances and airless moments. And why, in a franchise about resisting hidden control systems, should Nokia phones, Ducati motorcycles, and Cadillac CTS get such advertising love? (There’s no shadow of the “reloaded” highway chase, perhaps the best action scene of the past 20 years.) Jean Baudrille, who appeared in his violent “Simulacra and Simulation” near the beginning of the 1999 film, went so far as to denounce the movie. The first as “a movie the Matrix will make of the Matrix,” has a point of view, fortunately addressed by the sequels’ insistence on the futility of messianic characters and the nearly impossibility of breaking the circuits of control.

But while blockbuster R-rated movies are so few and far between — and when they do happen, like “Deadpool” and “The Suicide Squad,” they’re often just an excuse to amplify the events into more gruesome and “outrageous” it ends up like a lot of Laughter in the Classroom – The Matrix films feel like a glimpse into the Hollywood support culture that would have been. Personal, sexual, political, unwilling to sacrifice real feelings for the sake of the prank scenes that are ‘playing in’. This appeals to our old selves. 17 year olds thirsting for new experiences, not just our 10 year old blue pills looking for solace in the familiar. The miracle you know may not happen again. Only with “resurrection,” it did.

Follow that white rabbit? Some of us still yearn to stay in wonderland and find out just how deep that rabbit hole is.

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