After an 18 year absence The Matrix series finally makes its long awaited return with The Matrix Resurrections. Many longtime fans are no doubt waiting to come back to the cyberpunk computer landscape that defined one of the most successful and important film series of the early 2000’s. However there are also many who don’t understand why this series was a big deal or was so genre defining during its peak. For them here is an overview of the series’ general concepts, ideas and importance.
1999 saw the return of Star Wars with the Phantom Menace, the birth of found footage horror in The Blair Witch Project and one of the greatest plot twists in the history of cinema in The Sixth Sense. Yet it was The Matrix, a mid-budget sci-fi film with an oddball premise from then unknown directors that would become the most influential and important Hollywood release of the year. In this one movie we saw revolutionary use of digital effects and innovative slow motion which went along with a simple yet thought provoking story.
Focusing on Neo, a hacker who joins a group of freedom fighters working to stop the Matrix, a computer holding all of humanity hostage inside of a virtual simulation. At its core the original Matrix asked the questions such as what if all of life was a virtual simulation, what if everything you thought to be real wasn’t and could from there could you ever be certain that anything was truly real? If that was all the film was, it could still be unique enough to find a niche audience but where this film succeeded was maintaining a level of philosophical depth that at the time was unheard of in mainstream film. It commented on themes of government control and the ability of the masses to overcome it.
Best of all it did all of this while still being a fun and enjoyable action film with an enjoyable cast of characters. Its pioneering use of bullet time and the use of a 3D camera gave the action a sense of movement never before seen. All in all it was a strong well made movie which did things that most people had never seen before.
The Matrix Reloaded
Four years later in 2003 The Matrix Reloaded followed in the original’s success. Building a larger scale narrative that more directly concerned the conflict between mankind with their machine overlords. Rather than a small team there was now an entire city as humanity’s last stronghold that Neo and other returning characters had to protect. This movie greatly expanded on the cast of the series featuring more focus on the society which the remnants of humanity built up during their war.
The action was ramped up exponentially with an increased focus on computer imagery leading to bigger, more bombastic set pieces most memorable being the famous highway chase. Gone are the relatively simple shoot outs that defined the first film in exchange for a larger array of supernatural abilities.
The story lacks much of the nuanced themes that had defined the first movie. In comparison it was a simple action but still set up ideas that could be expanded on in the future giving fans ample reason to be hyped for the next installment. There is a massive cliffhanger and plot twist which changed everything people thought they knew about the series, leaving people hungry for more. The movie as a whole however was generally considered worse than the first film but an entertaining ride nonetheless.
The Matrix Revolutions
Later that same year the final chapter of the original trilogy was released with The Matrix Revolutions. The story here concerns the final battle of the war between man and machine and the sacrifices of the cast in order to achieve victory. It is here however where the series mostly falls apart to a disappointing conclusion.
A movie more concerned with the human world rather than the more interesting reality of the Matrix. The visuals are far more bland and lifeless and the patented Matrix action is both less frequent and less spectacular.
It is here where most of the more interesting ideas set up in the previous film were supposed to be fully realized but it instead comes across more convoluted and pretentious than its predecessors. Likewise the answers to most of the series’ lingering questions were unsatisfactory.
Released in between the second and third movie there was also The Animatrix, a direct to video compilation of 9 short anime films meant to expand the world of the series beyond its central characters. Here series directors; the Wachowski sisters took a backseat role, being involved with only a few of the shorts to allow these new creators their own shot at stories.
There was expansion on the series’ backstory and a move closer to the philosophical ambitions of the first movie, looking at the questions arising from all of your life being a simulation. The shorts mixed various animation styles to create a solid and unique entry to the series.
It is here where The Matrix was left for years. It was a series with ups and downs yet left a massive impact on cinema and on pop culture with a massive fanbase yearning for more. Now for better or for worse the series is back hoping to make that same impact again.