This post will contain spoilers from The Matrix Trilogy…but it’s been almost 20 years, so just go see the movie (also, the post won’t make a ton of sense if you haven’t seen it)
Picture, if you will, the opening scene of The Matrix. We see Trinity surrounded by and then escaping from police, being chased by agents over rooftops, diving through windows and racing garbage trucks to escape the matrix. The agents regroup, and we discover who the “new target” is: Neo. We learn that they have begun the search to find him, and we are brought through the computer into Neo’s apartment, where we see, for the first time;
I think sometimes about how different The Matrix would be had Will Smith accepted the role of Neo. There would have been a very different energy around the character and the movie had 1999 Will Smith played the leading role; instead, movie audiences were treated to Keanu Reeves’ Neo and Will Smith’s Captain James West in Wild Wild West.
I, for one, am actually glad that Will Smith did not accept the role. I’m not a Keanu Reeves apologist; in fact, I like Will Smith more. However, some stories were meant to be told a certain way, and I don’t think Smith could have pulled off the same performance (something that Smith has acknowledged). Reeves played the role as I believe it should have been played, and we got an incredible performance and even better movie because of the choice. Any differences to how that movie was made could or would have made for a very different (and potentially worse) movie.
News broke recently that Warner Bros is looking to reboot the Matrix franchise. Upon first glance, I took this to mean that they were looking to make The Matrix all over again, which would be a terrible idea. I took the opportunity to rewatch the movie tonight, and I was struck by how well made the movie was, and how a movie from 1999 could still look good and look like it technologically made sense. By setting the movie in 1999 (or the matrix in 1999), all of the set pieces look appropriate. With all of the scenes from the future augmented by the fact that humans had lost control to the machines soon after the 1999 date, the technology in those scenes also looked appropriate. My focus on the technology here is based on knowledge that a remake would use technology from today in its set pieces and storytelling. Recreating 1999 would be interesting and difficult; the story would almost need to be moved up to today, which would make for a very different movie.
The story itself does not necessarily hold only to its time period – much of the movie still “rings true” today. However, this is why I think the story doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be redone. There has always been a trend of revisiting or remaking movies in Hollywood, but today it feels like the pace has reached a fever pitch. Disney is remaking animated movies in live-action formats; Star Trek, Godzilla, and King Kong have been remade; Star Wars, the Terminator, and Jurassic Park have been revisited; a full list of remade or revisited movies in the last 5 to 10 years could take hours to compile. Many of these movies didn’t need to be remade or revisited – their stories essentially ended, or where good enough to stand alone on their first telling.
The need here is to understand the difference between a “remake” and a “reboot.” According to one source, “A reboot is defined by those in the industry as a complete rebranding of a specific title or IP. A remake is defined as a complete retelling of the same story and characters that a studio buys the rights to.” I can understand this definition, but I think “remake” can be broadened. My list from above (Star Trek, Godzilla, and King Kong) are not technically remakes according to the definition given; characters and setting were different (though Star Trek bends the rules mightily here), However, each of these stories were told very much like the movies from their franchises in the past (at least, I’m assuming Kong: Skull Island does; I haven’t seen and don’t plan to see another Kong intro story). Movies that are being remade may do a large amount of service to a specific fanbase, but the sheer quantity of them is getting too large to continue to hold interest.
Reboots (as defined above) can be different, though. To look at some revisited movies or series, we see how a well-done continuation or expansion can bring new life and new perspective to a world. Movies like Creed from the Rocky franchise garnered critical and audience acclaim, and presented amazing performances and stories to audiences. This is probably where all reboots would like to land, but Warner Bros specifically seems to be citing the new Star Wars movies specifically as a source of inspiration. The goal would not be to retell the story or even necessarily bring back the main characters (which makes sense, since some of them are dead); it would be to expand the universe, to tell new stories from different perspectives that give the audience a broader understanding of the world. This is something that interests me greatly, especially with the ever-expanding comic book movie universes.
Lessons need to be taken, though, from the bad reboots. Continuing a story can have a large impact when done well, but an even larger impact when done poorly. Need I bring up the Crystal Skull? Or The Hobbit? Or the prequels (you know which ones)? Some of the best reboots or continuations of series come when there is active involvement from key players from the past, but a new creative head who has a deep understanding for the characters; this is benefitted movies like Logan and Force Awakens and Creed. The Wachowskis have experienced some of this from the opposite angle – The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions were not the same caliber of movie and did not have the same impact as the original.
That being said, I hold two Wachowski movies (The Matrix and V for Vendetta) in very high regard. Bringing that level of movie-making and storytelling back to this series could be very exciting (though recent history suggests this may not end up being the case – Jupiter Ascending). Unfortunately, if they have only ever seen the world through the main Matrix characters, it may be time to bring in new direction.
As far as any new movies in the series go, I believe a remake needs to be out of the question (and it appears that it is). The reason I think about what Will Smith’s Neo would have look like is because I think it would have hindered the movie that was made. I can’t think of many (if any) ways that The Matrix could have been done better, and I cannot think of a way where a remake would be as good or better than the original.
If a new movie is going to be made, it needs to be a reboot that expands the world. Some news has broken (or been rumored) in this regard. Michael B. Jordan’s name has been mentioned in connection with the project. Jordan has been in very good (Creed) and not so good (Fant4stic) remakes/reboots, so trying to pull any potential specifically from that is a non-starter. At least one source suggested a Morpheus origin story, which could be interesting. Expanding on what happened post-Neo death (you were warned) could also be interesting. Any explanation or exploration of other humans who got out of the matrix could also potentially be interesting. My main hope for what these movies is, though, is that care is taken about the story and not just about the money – story needs to be king for anything to work.