18 years after REVOLUTIONS, we go back to where it all began. Back to THE MATRIX. But going back is not as simple as repeating. The pull and push of creativity and finance is less forgiving than ever. And for a filmmaker like Lana Wachowski (and her sister Lilly), how does Hollywood, the audience, play within that?
I have seen/heard comparisons with GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, in how this fourth entry is more interested in the text around the film, and not the lore of itself. I would also add in THE LEGO MOVIE as a favourable comparison, and bring up the worst ‘film’ I have ever seen SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY.
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Lets talk about THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS.
Jonathan Groff in the trailer very pointedly and winkingly to the audience says, “Going back to where it all began. Back to The Matrix.” My reaction to this was one of surprise. I questioned whether we were going back to 1999, like so many ‘legacy-quels’ exploiting the nostalgia hit, or whether there was an attempt to do something different, bold. You know, something like CLOUD ATLAS, SPEED RACER and JUPITER ASCENDING.
It has been interesting attempting to understand what the Wachowskis are as filmmakers. The assumption I would gather from those that had seen THE MATRIX and then fallen off the train with the sequels that didn’t go where they wanted it, is that they did one great film and then decided to ignore what made it all great. But the Wachowski threw everything and the kitchen sink into the first film, and then with the success used thier cultural cache to just go for it.
And go for it they did. RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS are better films than I remember them to be. And they set the groundwork for what was to come next. Lilly and Lana Wachowski knew that at the heart of the trilogy was the love story between Trinity and Neo. That is how Trinity beleives he is the one, unlocking his potential, and setting the stage for what is to come next. In the much-maligned scene with The Architect, Neo is told that there have been many versions of him that have come to the same point. To repeat what has come before and secure the future, or choose a different path and inevitably fail. Like the Wachowskis, Neo chooses the latter, in the belief that failure will not occur this time.
But it did. Financially and critically.
The 3 films that followed, SPEED RACER, CLOUD ATLAS, and JUPITER ASCENDING were all, in someway shape or form, failures. But that didn’t stop them from trying to be themselves. There is a sincerity to them. SPEED RACER unabashedly wears its heart on its candy coloured sleeve. CLOUD ATLAS is unweildy, but it goes for the hefty emotive payoff and doesnt quite succeed, but you got to admire it for trying. And JUPITER ASCENDING is a fairy tale, with dog-men, Bees, and Eddie Redmayne doing something insane, and it fails spectacularly, but it is a spectacular failure and I will defend it for years to come.
And here is where THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS comes in.
We are being told what THE MATRIX is by game designers, marketing executives, and people who did not sweat blood and tears into creating it. But at its heart, as I have already said, is a love story. Neo and Trinity. Everything else is all filler. The Matrix is a construct to fulfill that need to tell the love story that they wanted to tell. Lana Wachowski wants the audience to understand that everyone who watched the original is wrong in thinking they know what it is.
The game designers and marketing executives (fourth-billed Christina Ricci) are the producers, Hollywood noise that all think they know but in actual fact they don’t. The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) is the manifestation of the naysayers, of those that attempt to prove that ‘more-of-the-same’ is all the audience wants. The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) is the audience members that decry at the loss of an art form, and blame THE MATRIX for launching Hollywood into the cycle we experience today.
Neo and Trinity are fighting this. When they win at the end, they want to remake The Matrix in thier image. Against what The Analyst believes, which is that the ‘sheeple’ want the cynicism, darkness, unoriginality. Neo and Trinity want to believe that if you present an alternative, there will be those that follow. The alternative that they give in thier previous 3 features. The ones which are bold, shoot for the stars, earnest and sincere. Which flies in the face of cynicism. A film equivalent of ‘Love conquers all’.
So where do the comparisons to WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, GREMLINS 2, THE LEGO MOVIE and SPACE JAM 2 come in? Well, like NEW NIGHTMARE, MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is about the process of making the movie. The filmmaker deciding to go back, and how this effects them internally. With GREMLINS 2, it is showing that a major studio (Warner Bros.) when pressured by the right people can give in and make something unique. With THE LEGO MOVIE (again, Warner Bros.), it is the idea that the story and the narrative is what is important. That giving the right playhouse, anything is possible.
Which brings me to SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (again…. Warner Bros.). On two occasions, on my podcast KINOTOMIC, and on my Twitter, I have ranted about all the ways in which that film is a marketing self-masturbatory abomination. Where presenting IP as IP, is just idiotic and a way to pat themselves on the back. But what THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS does is use the IP, use the lore, use the love within its creation to be as earnest, warm, forgiving, and sincere as possible. Not a soulless marketing cash-grab aimed at selling toys.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS has divided opinion. On first viewing, I couldn’t figure out what I thought but knew that I loved it. On second viewing I was able to let the narrative wash over me, ignore the nostalgia hit of seeing what I want to see, and attempt to understand what Lana Wachowski is saying with this film.
THE MATRIX was never about kung-fu, bullet time, cool fashion and hard sci-fi. It was about love. The love story that continued through its sequels.