In 1999, the Wachowskis changed the face of cinema forever with The Matrix. Now, more than 20 years on, the franchise – with returning stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss – is returning to multiplexes over the holidays. With the second (and probably final) trailer dropping this week, along with the announcement of a tie-in metahuman video game, the anticipation amongst fans and newcomers alike is high.
When the sun set on the Matrix franchise – literally, for those who remember it – in 2003’s The Matrix: Revolutions, there were some lingering questions that fans have waited years for the answers to. What, exactly, happened to Neo? Would the peace he managed to negotiate with the machines last? And perhaps most pertinently of all: would we see these characters again, somewhere down the road?
After a long period of dormancy, we may finally be getting some answers. The Matrix: Resurrections is only a couple of weeks away from cinemas, and the hype behind it is building. With a recent tie-in feature at the 2021 Game Awards, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss appeared to introduce The Matrix Awakens. Part interactive experience, part impressive tech demo for the newly-built Unreal 5 engine, the preview shown at the awards takes players on a journey with The Matrix Reloaded-era digital versions of Moss and Reeves, in character as Trinity and Neo respectively.
We see the player riding shotgun for Trinity as she does some dangerous driving to avoid agents chasing them both – it is here we can see the next-generation graphics used to construct the engine on full display, as things like slow-motion target selection and near photo-realistic explosions are happening while the player avoids the hazards of agents attempting the famous jumping over cars maneuver from Reloaded.
After this breathtaking sequence, the demo changes gears and focuses on the impressive features of the Unreal engine. For those not in the know, the Unreal company has built engines for a lot of current-gen open-world videogames, and with Unreal Engine 5, has incorporated the latest in graphics and AI technology to bring us the next step in open-world rendering. The world looks near photo-real – incorporating intelligent light design based on real-world weather patterns, and the aforementioned inclusion of metahuman NPCs with dynamic facial features. As Keanu himself says, we are closer than ever to the digital world being indistinguishable from our own.
Building a New World
Incorporating the Matrix into promoting this new gaming engine makes sense. The original iteration of the franchise was always future-focused, and now we are living in a time that in some ways was predicted by the original film. Considered by many a landmark moment in film-making, the pioneering of effects like bullet-time and other visual wizardry – along with the combination of Hong Kong-style martial arts stunt work and shootouts – made The Matrix into a cultural phenomenon. The sequels are less well regarded, but still have their moments.
Tie-ins aside, the new film from Lana Wachowski (this time working solo after creating the original trilogy with her sister Lilly) looks like it will continue the legacy of innovation established by its predecessors. The trailers have offered us small, exciting glimpses into this new take on iconic material. From Neo’s fuzzy memory of the events of the first three films, to the recent reveal of Jonathon Groff’s character as being a new take on Agent Smith – it looks like this film will take what is already mind-bending material in a new and interesting direction.
Returning to long-dormant franchises can be a double-edged sword for both creators and fans of the existing material. On the strength of averages, approaching a return to the Matrix with caution is probably a wise course of action, from a purely logical point of view. But the same themes that made the original iconic – man vs machine, and by extension, heart vs logic – make it hard to not get caught up in the emotion of it all. The Matrix was revolutionary in so many ways, and for a generation (including yours truly) it was the blockbuster that ushered in the current wave of VFX-heavy action blockbusters. After all, what is Neo if not a riff on a superhero? Only much better dressed. I for one will be waiting, ticket in hand, eager to see what Wachowski has come up with all these years later.
Check out the trailer here:
The Matrix Resurrections will be out on Boxing Day in Australia and will be reviewed by FIB at a later date.