There has been talk about a reboot of The Matrix.
In 1999, I didn’t really know what that was. The Matrix was created by the Wachowski sisters that took me a while to see. All I knew about it at the time was that there were characters who liked to dress in black trench coats and sunglasses that gunned people down and did strange almost supernatural martial arts – Chinese wuxia level combat – to avoid bullets and cause havoc. I also knew that The Matrix was blamed, along with the Goth subculture, for the shooting massacre at Columbine.
It wasn’t so much the media sensationalism that didn’t motivate me to watch the film as it was just the massive amounts of hype and an inherent misunderstanding of the plot – having not watched the film – that made me disinclined to actually see it. But a friend of mine in high school had none of that and we went to a now non-existent movie store to rent the VHS of the tape – the same place we got The Fifth Element and saw it at his place. Or maybe we didn’t rent it from there, as it is hard to remember the details. All I know was that already having a headache and Tylenol at the time, I forgot all about my pain and discomfort as I was introduced to what The Matrix was really about.
At first I didn’t understand the story with Thomas Anderson, especially with his background as a computer hacker, but gradually I began to realize that the reality he existed in – along with so many others – was a computer simulation created by AI to keep humans content and feed off of their thermal bio-energies. By the time Morpheus described the War between humanity and the Machines – complete with his line “It seems that fate is not without a sense of irony” — I was hooked. I was intrigued by the fact that artificial intelligence, created by humanity, had rebelled against their masters and the two entered into a war that the Machines won in something of a Pyrrhic victory. The Machines used to be powered by solar energy until the human armies blotted out the sky so they decided to gain energy from comatose humanity instead.
The first film was excellent. It is excellent. We watch as Anderson renames himself Neo as his whole identity and life had been lie and gradually learns how to manipulate and “hack” the Matrix – the simulation that traps the majority of humanity – and fights on the side of the Resistance against the Machines. And then we find out that Neo is different from other Resistance members in the Matrix: that he has some form of intuitive understanding of code and virtual reality – of human-machine interface – to overcome many of its more powerful hurdles such as the AI Agents that possess human consciousnesses and hunt down Resistance operatives. However, it’s never really a secret that he is, according to his mentor and then comrade Morpheus “The One”: a being who will help the people of Zion, the Resistance’s base and the last bastion of free humanity defeat the Machines and liberate all of humankind…. or so it seemed at that time.
This ruined, dark, dystopian world – the reality beyond the Platonic facsimile of humanity’s late twentieth to early twenty-first century “Renaissance” crafted by the Machines to mollify the human subjects they’ve grown and kept in virtual reality all their existences – truly got to me. I could see how a story like this could get someone to question their sense of reality as well as the implications of technological advancement. It would be a while until I read some of William Gibson’s works or even Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot so, in essence The Matrix was my crash-course introduction to dystopian cyberpunk, and artificial intelligence as actual sentience: as the basis for a credible “race of robots” as Klaatu describes Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
As I said, the first Matrix film was the best as it followed the discovery, horror, training, and dawning realization of Neo in this artificial world of infinite possibilities. It was made clear that the Machines were the antagonists and aside from a few traitors, the humans were the heroes of that story. However, the Wachowski sisters tried to do something else with the next two movies. They attempted to add a complexity to this world they made, and began solving some of the mysteries they planted in the first film. For instance, we find out that The Oracle, the nice old woman who is training all of Zion’s children – or the most gifted ones who can do special things in the Matrix – is an intuitive artificial intelligence herself: complete with another AI guardian named Seraph who always feels the need to apologize when he is about to attack someone, or at least Neo.
We also find out, as such, that the Machines are not a uniform entity that make up the Matrix or the almost monochrome army of Agents we’ve seen the Resistance fight. Some of the AI are Exiles, old programs that should have been deleted, or existed at the beginning of the Matrix that live in their own section and have their own agendas and plans. Some of them are even unauthorized “younger programs” made by older ones in exile and others are hold-overs from previous builds of the Matrix. Oh yes, one of the most interesting elements about the sequels would be the fact that they expand on the idea that there were at least two other previous versions of the Matrix created in attempt to appeal to the majority of humans under their “care.”
But what we find out solely in the sequels is that Neo is not the first “anomaly” in the Matrix. He isn’t the first “One.” The Architect, of the artificial intelligences integral in creating the Matrix, explains that Zion is a city created to contain all those humans that have the mental fortitude to escape being held subconsciously – called Redpills – and that every cycle there is an anomaly in the Matrix where one human in particular can exploit the system. As a result the Machines – with the aid of The Oracle – created a control mechanism whereby the liberated humans and The One interact: manufacturing a Prophecy of the One so that that individual can come back into the system and reset the whole code. What the means is that Zion gets culled by the Machines, the One gets to choose certain individuals to live and procreate, and then has to surrender to the Matrix and let it reabsorb their code for another cycle: keeping the whole structure going. At least, that is my understanding of that situation.
To be honest, The Matrix sequels are fairly confusing and when taken in and of themselves, not very good. For instance, the stilted industrial rock orgy life-affirmation ceremony in Zion in Matrix: Reloaded and Trinity’s death instead of Morpheus’ in Matrix: Revolutions along with the very confusing murky epic battle between Neo and the now viral Agent Smith (it really is hard to see who is fighting when both are wearing black in a raining binary background) are elements I could really do without. Personally, I really liked “The Second Renaissance” prequel two-parter in the excellent animated anthology The Animatrix: showing us that it was the humans that started the aggression and War with the Machines and putting the whole world into a whole other light. Even so, there is something very intriguing, again, about the open-ended conclusion to the third film where we are left wondering just what happened to Neo after he sacrificed himself? What becomes of the cease-fire between humanity and the Machines? How is the Matrix affected by those humans who are allowed to leave and then come and go into it as they please?
I know The Matrix: Online was an MMORPG created to solve or work through many of these loose ends, getting players involved in that world, but I never played it and didn’t have the resources to do so at the time. Even when reading up on it, a lot of the lore is fairly confusing and, ergo, nowhere near as immaculate as someone like The Architect would think the first film might be. I also have not read The Matrix Comics. Of course, I feel like this is a lot like talking about the Old Star Wars Expanded Universe and I am sure a player of the game or a fanatic of the whole franchise can point out some of the following elements I want to talk about in this media.
But let me get back to the original point of this article, much in the way that the Matrix used to have cycles. It was recently announced that The Matrix franchise was going to be rebooted. However, as it turns out, according to Zak Penn, the potential screenwriter for this next film, it isn’t an entirely accurate statement.
In fact, if anything he seems more focused on the idea of telling new stories in the universe that already exists. What seems to be going on here is that Warner Brothers wants to “relaunch” the series, not necessarily remake or reboot it. It’s also encouraging that Zak Penn refers to other media such as the online game and The Animatrix. However, it has been said that the Wachowski sisters do not seem be involved in the making of this film. That definitely gives me pause.
But just as I said that The Architect likes immaculate design, and The Oracle understands the emotional impulses of humankind, I must also quote the latter’s bodyguard Seraph as I am afraid I must apologize. For what?
For this: I would definitely not mind a Matrix reboot.
Yes, you read that right. I would love to see a reboot of The Matrix.
Aside from the fact that I really wish the sequels could be revised, minus the cringe of the orgy – or at least a more artful life-affirming ceremony of some kind – and with Trinity becoming the leader or one of the leaders of a new Zion after the deaths of Neo and Morpheus for example, there is more to my wish.
I think that Warner Brothers should announce the reboot of The Matrix. I think it would be excellent to see a new protagonist fighting against iterations of artificial intelligence that we haven’t seen before. It would be nice to see some new protagonists and Zion re-imagined in a different light with the Resistance having other tools and tactics than the ones that we have already seen. Certainly Michael B. Jordan, being the actor for the upcoming Marvel Black Panther film, would make a good lead and perhaps even a nice younger version of Morpheus: if rumours about the new Matrix film being a prequel to the trilogy are to be believed.
But why stop there? Why not restart the cycle? Why not have The One as a woman of colour, or someone who is transgender, or otherwise from the LGBTQ+ spectrum? You can make this the flagship of a new series of films, perhaps another trilogy, or more comics, and animated features and anthologies. There is so much material to work from when you consider that there were at least, as I said, two entirely different versions of the Matrix – The Paradise Matrix and The Nightmare Matrix – before the Modern one we know? Surely something from those, maybe even the post-war pre-Matrix factory where humans were gruesomely experimented on and added to the burgeoning network could be depicted or adapted into something entirely new for the cinema.
The Architect and The Oracle could be played by two entirely different actors, or the same actors with different attire or mannerisms. We could see AI programs we’ve never seen before, or old ones with new interpretations. The Matrix itself could be so much more varied than the twentieth to twenty-first century background that we’ve got to see in the films thus far. And if the comics and game have already done a lot of this, well like I said, there is plenty of material to borrow from in order to create another cinematic experience. The fact is, a reboot of the Matrix with some variations of the usual theme – updated perhaps to fit the view of audience members and fans living in the aughts – could be an interesting story.
Let’s play a game, if you will pardon the unintentional wordplay. Imagine the new Matrix is presented to the public and fans alike. You have this new character who is supposed to be The One. Let’s say she is a female character of colour, as I mentioned earlier. You get to watch her choosing which pill she will take in the Matrix, just like Neo, under the guidance of a mentor who isn’t Morpheus. She gets the truth of the Matrix revealed to her and then later meets another crew: including a pragmatic female love interest for instance.
However, this Resistance is smaller. Perhaps leaner and meaner for it. They are on the prowl for possible traitors to Zion. And Zion itself has a much smaller population. Perhaps we get even more insight to how this society of Zion functions. It may have changed gender norms and identity dramatically, complete with the cybernetics it has always embraced due to the nature of their world. Who knows: perhaps even the family units are different now with multiple parents and non-monogamous relationships. It doesn’t take our protagonist long to realize that she is The One, as her mentors and perhaps the Council of Zion point out to her. Maybe she even meets The Oracle, who is portrayed as a younger woman now or another gender entirely, and adapts to her lessons far more quickly. One possibility, since we are already playing this game of speculation, is that her main goal is to actually free more people from the Matrix in order to bolster the flagging, aging population of Zion: or to find parents aside from The Oracle for the majority of orphans – poor children that flunked out of the Matrix due to their active minds – in the city.
Our protagonist and the Resistance are constantly on the run from the scavenging missions into lost places in the ruined offline world from Sentinels with many more varieties of design. At the same time, the Agents in the Matrix look…. different. They aren’t men in black anymore but pale men and women with dreadlocks like the Twins from The Matrix: Reloaded. These Agents have the ability to become transparent and avoid damage like their counterparts in the previous iteration of the Matrix.
And it’s only as Zion gains more successes and The One becomes far more powerful with each encounter in the Matrix that she decides – that she knows – it’s time for her to fulfill her ultimate destiny and defeat the Machines once and for all. She has dreams of other people, men and women and humans, telling her their stories and how it is her time. Perhaps her mentor isn’t a real life human or an AI but something else: something that communicates with her subconsciously in the Matrix itself and feels eerily familiar to both her and the audience: in concept if not in anything actually more definite.
Eventually she has her own journey and iteration of the quest with the Keymaster, perhaps a little boy in this case, and finds another version of The Architect that confirms something that her disturbing dreams and visions have already told her: that she isn’t the first One. She finds out that there have been other Ones, and The Architect presents her with the two choices that Neo was presented with in the original trilogy. Perhaps on the way here many Resistance members died. Maybe she is thinking about her girlfriend back in Zion assisting The Oracle in integrating more gifted children into a human-machine ergonomic, and the children themselves.
Perhaps The Architect tells her to use her vision, her powers, to see into the Matrix – to see the pathway to the Machine City of 01 and see he isn’t lying about their capacity to utterly decimate Zion to the ground. She also knows that if she does nothing, all the humans in the Matrix will die along retaliations on Zion. And so, she does the unthinkable: she makes the decision to sacrifice herself by returning to the Source and saving everyone else, those she can, for the greater good. However, as her code is consumed and she dies in the Matrix, the images of all the Ones that came before her tell her that their experiences and knowledge, their memories, will be saved somewhere safe in the Matrix – perhaps The Oracle herself tells her so – and that she will one day be remembered, just as the others…. and perhaps another One will make a different choice.
The cycle continues for yet another one hundred years. And the Matrix is rebooted…. into its sixth cycle. You read that correctly. In the world of The Matrix, the Modern Matrix has had six iterations every century in which it’s had to be reloaded in order for it to keep functioning and from crashing. That is six centuries in addition to however long the Paradise and Nightmare Matrices lasted for along with the original factory prototype. That is a lot of time and at least, if you include Neo, six Ones: people who could have had many different backgrounds, personalities and reactions to the choice that The Architect gave then. Of course, Neo’s choice was different as those of the others were to maintain the status quo and the “greater good.”
But I could see our strange little speculative game ending where Neo is training with The Oracle and he sees a memory of our protagonist. Basically, in case you didn’t already catch on, what I am suggesting is that Warner Brothers and the creators of the new Matrix film could create that prequel that we’ve been hearing rumours about: except instead of it being about Morpheus and his freedom from the Matrix and his development as part of the Resistance it could take place in one of the previous iterations of the Matrix and centre around The One before Neo, a person who had to make that grim choice that he avoided and yet in doing so still provided an element of hope with which to leave the viewers. Something like this would be interesting because, technically, the Matrix would get rebooted, not just as a franchise, but in the story of the film.
And while I would feel more comfortable with the Wachowski sisters on board with this project, a film like this could lead to other films and media. What did the other Ones do? What were they like? What would an adventure in Paradise or Nightmare look like as animated features? What kind of comics narratives can you create from this? What happened in previous iterations of the Modern Matrix? Was it always depicting the same time period? And, for that matter, what can a cinematic perspective do with the future of the Matrix after the cease-fire between humans and Machines?
I suppose what I am trying to say here is that there can be so many more stories to tell. There are so many choices to pursue. And didn’t the other Matrices fail because of a lack of choice, or far too simplistic ones? Isn’t the suspension of disbelief and a sense of continuity integral to gaining the attention of a human being? Isn’t that how good entertainment happens?
The point is the Matrix has always been rebooted within the world of The Matrix. The question is, depending on how far production on this film goes, what story will the creative team choose to tell, and will you be one of those that choose to watch it?