Thursday, 1 August 2019

The Matrix Trilogy Retrospective

I recently went to see the 20th Anniversary release of The Matrix, restored in 4K. The Matrix is my favourite film of all time but I hadn’t watched it for a few years, the rewatch reignited my love for franchise and so over the last few weeks I’ve been rewatching the trilogy and a lot of the supporting material (The Animatrix and Enter The Matrix).
The Matrix Trilogy
Due to its release timing (years before I started MoviePush), I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about The Matrix on my blog and therefore thought I do a bit of a Matrix Trilogy retrospective.

Firstly, I’ve written about each film and then looked at the whole series as an overarching trilogy.
THE MATRIX
A perfect film and my favourite film of all time.

It’s a masterclass in story-telling and structure, whilst at the same time delivering some of the most inventive special effects and action ever seen on the big screen. The concepts and executions for explaining everything to the audience is just incredible, and is the perfect example of the “show don’t tell” technique. You don’t need me to tell you that or how big of an influence this film had on the movie industry. I loved this movie the second I watched it, and it was the first movie I was truly obsessed with.

It is a stone-cold classic, and is it any surprise the sequels were never going to live up to it…
THE MATRIX RELOADED
If you don’t like Reloaded, I get it, it’s an editing nightmare  and it has a completely different flow / structure to the first film. It relies heavily on the audience having seen / played the supporting material from The Animatrix and Enter the Matrix videogame to really even begin to understand what’s going on. If you only watch the film, it’s hard to keep up - it jumps from scene to scene with glimpses of characters you barely know / recognise, and the final act is edited in such a way it’s really hard to follow (and that’s before we even get to the Architect).

But one thing you can’t accuse it of is being unambitious, it is The Matrix turned up to 11. The action sequences are out of this world incredible; “The Burly Brawl” and “The Highway Chase” have rarely been surpassed since its release. The philosophical concepts presented throughout and the revelations of what the Matrix actually is and the purpose of the One are all mind-blowing. But, a lot of this is presented in overly indulgent and lengthy conversations or sequences (plus all the supporting material in Enter the Matrix and The Animatrix), so unless you truly love this stuff I can see why a lot of the audiences checked out upon its release.

However, as a huge fan of the franchise I for one have always really enjoyed Reloaded, I love digging deeper into all the conversations, concepts, theories, etc and what it all means, and as a film / VFX lover I would just rewatch the action sequences over and over again. Hell, I’ve probably even watched the Architect scene just as much trying to analyse every phrase. Remember this was a time before Youtube and explainer videos, so it really was up to me to work this all out.

Now I will confess my love for Reloaded probably impacts my less than warm feelings toward Revolutions, as I feel because Reloaded was presented as a Part 1 a lot of what it was setting up / introducing I always thought would be paid off in Revolutions, when they weren’t I was more disappointed with Revolutions (than retrospectively Reloaded).
THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS
I think structurally Revolutions is a better film than Reloaded, it’s edited together more cohesively and tells it’s story in a more traditional manner. However, it’s still my least favourite of the 2 sequels, the thought-provoking philosophy and inventive action is much more reserved and constrained (there’s only one bullet-time shot for example). Also, we barely spend any time in The Matrix, this is the best aspect of the franchise so to minimise it is a shame.

Also, the core cast (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and even Smith) have very little screentime or anything to do for most of the movie, a writers choice I’ve never quite understood. This hurts the movie most in the Battle for Zion, (at the time of the release) this was the most expensive sequence ever created, yet it features none of the characters we actually care about, so it’s literally 20-30 minutes of spectacle with no emotional investment from the audience.

When I first saw Revolutions, I was extremely disappointed, and remember both my friend and I turning to each other in the cinema as the credits rolled in disbelief “Really? That’s how they’re going to end it?” It wasn’t just the fact that this super cool franchise had ended with an overly cheesey bit of dialogue from Sati and the Oracle followed by a rainbow(?), but that was the final instalment of the Matrix Trilogy, we were never going to get to see these characters again (and some of them were completely wasted in the movie) and so much of the promise of the first two movies hadn’t been paid off. It took me years to get over…

Now, some 19 years later I do have some more appreciation (or acceptance) of the final instalment, I really like the first and final acts, but the 2nd act is still weak (for the above mentioned reasons) and it’s a shame. I wonder if the movies weren’t shot back to back and there was a few year gap, maybe the third instalment would have been slightly different.

Anyway it is what it is, but having rewatched it recently, it doesn’t end as conclusively as I think people remember, it’s very much left up to interpretation whether or not Neo is dead, and the Oracle even says she expects to see him again sometime.

Based on where we are with movie sequels being released decades after the original, I’d be really excited to see a fourth Matrix movie, in a similar vein to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we could introduce a new cast, but still keep the original characters involved. I’d love to see how this new version of The Matrix has evolved and if the “peace” between humans and the machines has actually lasted, and what happened to Neo? Will he return?

DOES THE MATRIX TRILOGY HOLD UP?
The Wachoski’s have always said they envisioned The Matrix as a trilogy, and although after a rewatch there are definitely elements that are setting up or allude to a bigger story, the final phone booth scene in the first film breaks this for me a little.

As a self-contained movie The Matrix is perfect, it has a clear beginning /middle / end, and the final scene works perfectly for concluding the story, but… I think it creates some big problems for the sequels, in terms of the overarching narrative and audience expectations. The movie ends with what appears to be an “all knowing, all powerful” Neo telling the machines he’s going to essentially free everyone and show them a world with no rules or boundaries.

The sequels in no way deliver on this promise, if you cut from the final scene of The Matrix to the opening of Reloaded – Neo has changed from all knowing to being lost and confused, he is essentially just waiting for the Oracle to tell him what to do.

I remember when Reloaded was released and people were commenting online, that maybe the final scene of The Matrix, was actually a clever time jump to the very end of trilogy and everything in Reloaded was actually happening in between Neo waking up and kissing Trinity (the scene prior to the phone booth) and him becoming fully enlightened – but no this never happens.

He also never shows people this new world without rules and boundaries, I remember imagining what that world would look like during the gap between the sequels, and it never materialises. Yes his fighting skills improve, he can fly and stop bullets, but he never manipulates the world or transforms it in any meaningful way. Even by the end of the Trilogy this promise hasn’t been fulfilled – we have peace, and humans are free to leave the Matrix if they wish, but the set-up and physical rules of The Matrix are essentially the same.

I honestly believe if you remove that final phone booth scene from The Matrix, the trilogy actually stacks up a lot better as an actual trilogy with a clear narrative. Obviously, I wouldn’t want that as it would have detrimental impact on a perfect film, but you do kind of have to ignore it for the starting point of the sequels to make sense.

So that’s it, my retrospective of The Matrix trilogy, a series that starts perfect and then has some diminishing returns, but the sequels are in no way as bad as people remember and I very much hope this series gets a sequel soon to reinvigorate it.

Written by @RossBishop for MoviePush. Follow Ross on Twitter.

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