My initial reaction to the rumours of a new Matrix movie was a textbook example of violent and impotent fanboy rage. “Are you fucking kidding me? How dare they sully this hallowed ground?! It’s only been 18 years! You can’t fix what’s already perfect! They’re going to change it and make it suck!” This bleating it perhaps emotionally justifiable, but it doesn’t survive more than a moment’s actual though on the matter.
The Matrix is one of my favourite movies. The effect it had on film aesthetic is undeniable; how many films have used its spinning bullet-time effect, whether sincerely or in parody? It wasn’t the first action movie to wrestle with big philosophical ideas, having been pre-empted by such films as Total Recall and Demolition Man, but it captured the popular imagination in a way that few movies manage. “The Matrix” has entered the lexicon as shorthand for the idea of an illusory reality. More lamentably, the blue pill/red pill choice has been highjacked by internet conspiracy theorists and MRAs to differentiate their acceptance of asinine untruths from those who remain in the terrible thrall of basic human decency and a world of facts. Either way, the scope of its influence is clear. The film is an extremely effective tool for communicating ideas of radical scepticism in an accessible way. Attempting to explain the philosophy of Descartes is made much easier when you can simply say, “Ever seen The Matrix? Basically that.” Beyond all this, it’s just a really cool movie, with an iconic visual style, spectacular fight scenes and instantly recognisable characters.
So why is a new Matrix movie no cause for alarm? For starters, the new version is not necessarily a remake. If not, this is a very good sign, and if news should break that it is, you have my permission to begin worrying in earnest. Remakes and reboots can bring out the unfulfilled potential of stories that were left wanting before – witness The Thing, True Grit or Dredd – but remaking movies that were already excellent has a very poor track record – see Total Recall, Planet of the Apes or Godzilla (1998). There is plenty of scope within the established universe of The Matrix to tell more tales. The Animatrix is testament enough of this, as whatever failures of quality that the various animated shorts might have, you cannot fault their imagination. Even the two sequels, with their many, many, many flaws, have glimmers of inspiration lurking within. Speaking of Reloaded and Revolutions, anyone who believes that the sanctity of The Matrix has not already been tarnished must be living in an idyllic artificial construct of their own. The chance to add something actually good to the Matrixverse is well worth taking, if only to rehabilitate the series somewhat. The teasing of Michael B. Jordan to star in the new version is an extremely promising omen. Jordan is one of the best young actors working today, even acquitting himself relatively well in the execrable Fantastic Four (a remake that somehow managed to be even shittier than the 2004 movie). His involvement would only make this plan more palatable. The potential writer, Zak Penn, is much more of a mixed bag in terms of his prior performance, but he has been attached to enough films that I like that despair is not an automatic reaction.
It’s always going to be a fraught prospect when a beloved franchise becomes the subject of Hollywood’s interminable assembly line of remakes, sequels, reboots and spin-offs. If the new Matrix movie is terrible, I’ll be first in line to buy a pitchfork. But at this very early stage there are good reasons for optimism. These reasons could be easily enhanced; personally, the blessings of Lana and Lilly Wachowski would go a long way to putting my fears to bed. But we ought not to oppose this for its own sake. As easy as it is to be cynical (and as justified as such cynicism may be), hoping that a movie will be good is not a mark of shame. Your outrage and dismay will be much more necessary if the film turns out to be rubbish. For now, try to hope for the best, and try not to imagine the worst…