Ok, lets talk about the Matrix again – in a serious way, avoiding all the trivialisation and commercialisation which diminished its sociopolitical impact for real – an impact which may never be really intended. But, aren‘t we over taking the Matrix seriously…?
It is nevertheless, a highly influential franchise. And professionally in studying Cognitve Neurosciences I am hooked on discussing and pondering about what is real and what is not for our interconnected societies of brains, crunching facts, fiction as stories in language, code, visual metaphors and numbers every day…
What did we get catered so far: a metaverse of metaverses? We all live in the Matrix? A joke for the proletariat of powerless low-income families longing for social change, feeling unhappy in a socially controlled program where they do not get proper jobs anymore? A designed Matrix probably would have evened that out. Well, Elon Musk thinks we are inside of a simulation, too, only he is in control of a big bunch of it. Both could not be more right, as the Matrix was never about the majority of energy-giving biomass in pods (however senseless and unfeasible that may be) but about the narrative of the saviour, the ONE, the nerd who becomes a hacker-god. A single frog in a cubicle which gets to kiss the princess and still had a hard time in believing himself. To free the masses from a yoke would be too distracting for the prince – and the princess, who are too busy to fight their fate. And being a nerd, they might only care for themselves and amping up their avatars and what they can do inside of a game, not leaving the house anymore.
Matrix became its own lore, its own benchmark and that diminished the philosophy-induced trilogy of high-grossing cinematic spectacles, our Millenial version of Plato’s cave. Socrates was right asking Glaucon about the nature of fiction and reality and Plato retold it with verve, not omitting that the inhabitants of the cave love the shadow play on the wall more than the truth and would rather tear apart a prophet than finding an exit for themselves.
So, at the turn of 2021/22 we live to see a fourth layer of a Hollywood version and expect the 4th wall to be shattered, the audience to be dragged in, a pull down the rabbit hole, becoming Alice. Does that still work? Nope, not when Big Tech is scaring us now. We have sense of its meaning, we are not surprised anymore – having lived with the evolution of the internet since the first dot.com burst. And overall, the Matrix stole the concept and word already from William Gibson’s Neuromancer published in 1984. But, we may have always been rather the rabbit, the annoying bunny with the pocket watch, too busy to listen. We hope there is revelation, we hope there is solace, we hope someone explains the shadows for us. But all we get is entertainment and some quips on the past. And we develop our own hate for the prophet.
Spoiler alert, read ahead at your own risk:
A clever new layer? A mindless repetition? A postmodern loop which eats its origins, deconstructs its history and concepts? Maybe. I am neither happy or satisfied nor angry or annoyed after watching it – rather floating somehow in between. And that is not necessarily a bad thing – but it is also not good or excellent. What we see is a pendulum from one extreme to the other, but ultimately being stuck all too long in the middle grounds. It evoked feelings they can play upon – part of what the Matrix does according to the Analyst in Matrix IV – but way not enough after the initial meta-meta part. The first third is bringing us back into the zone what „The Matrix“ could do – in best case – bending our mind about what is real and what is not. But in facing the impossibility to redo the freshness of Matrix I, one desperate but fun resort might be to make fun of the Matrix portraying the cast creating a sequel of a game inside of the product of the fourth movie itself. The process of brainstorming what a sequel should do is part of the movie in a highly enjoyable meta-approach where all the annoying fandom and half-wits getting only a quarter of the problem and even the mother company Warner Brother get their legs pulled. We care for a Neo who forgot about the adventures in the Matrix and about reality, who lives a „normal“ life of a world famous game designer. I loved the brittle tension between Moss and Reeves when they had to interact in a simulated version of a Starbucks, being awkward, but open.
More of this, more insecure Mr. Anderson and psychotherapy, more bubblebaths with a rubber duck on his head, more ennui, please. We all got annoyed with the Matrix, at a certain point. Here the protagonists are and are doubtful that it is a good thing they compare themselves with characters in a game. Yes! If Lana Wachovski would explore more of that, boldly, staying with us here as well, the prosumers, the insecure people inside of the Matrix, this could have been a resurrection of the concept and the genre. But then the „real“ resurrection gets glued over like a blueprint and follows closely the plot of Matrix I, staying in the grey zone in between, in between the mirrors. I started to wish for the grey gruel they ate in Matrix I as a soothing delicacy reminding us for real about former nitty-gritty patina of a dystopia chosen, a moment in our media-history when this world and its characters, its design, contrasted the rest of sci-fi productions out there, who wanted to be „different“ but did not deliver. The first one (as often said) was an innovation-spewing rollercoaster ride, redefining „mind-bender“ and action like only a few before and after. Sequel 01 & 02 muddied the waters and did never live up to the promise.
One cannot create an update for a masterpiece – impossible, you may say. But Blade Runner did the magic trick and the same director spun Dune into a major tale after 32 years of nobody challenging David Lynch with a top notch production and fresh eyes. So it is difficult, but doable and the team behind Matrix IV show glimpses of this potential they still harbour, but only a few and not forged into that fast paced, tight knitted drama with a great score and proper character evolution – more a regression like in therapy. The elegance and the dance is missing and over some maybe well intended stretches it feels somewhat forced. It feels like Lana Wachovski who worked miracles in Sense8 with Babylon5 show runner and writer J. Michael Straczynski tries to overcome, sublimate, wrestle down her own creation like Dr. Frankenstein his monster. She is working alone without her sister Lilly and gives it a shot 20 years later, in my feeling an honest one for a third of the new movie. She has the wits, the bang, the money and two iconic actors who did not age too much to be still convincing in their key-roles. And indeed the actors are not the problem, Reeves and Moss look great, ready to deliver a more vulnerable, mature version of the first Matrix, with us as the audience hopeful that a cherry picked new start finally blend into a grown-up take on fiction vs. reality – this time for real.
Well, not really. Lana opted (or was forced to opt) to deliver far too much fan-service and got stuck in her first version. Nothing gets resolved, much gets cited, almost nothing innovated. Some considerations for all three sequels: Why are they choose fighting and killing bystanders over hacking and „fusing“ with the Matrix, changing it for the better, freeing the minds of the enslaved masses? He already was once god in there, so what the f… happened? Is he not the Neo anymore who stopped 4 Sentinels with his bare hands in Matrix II – in the „real world“? That was always non-sensical without the real world of Zion also being a simulation. How the hell did he do that, if he is not plugged into a „game“? What is now the real reality? „Matrix“ in Latin means „uterus“ so all the pods and the metaphor of getting „reborn“ make sense, maybe a little too much sense…
All the explanations being concocted up to explain this sound a bit cheesy, making him the One, the Jesus (or Beejesus if you will) also in the real world. An anomaly, a genetic mutation? A super sensitive wifi-kungfu-machinecode-reader interfering with the connections between machines? And how does he do this physically, with his body? I still guess we would need another layer of meta to really explain him shutting down sentinels by raising his hand – actively. Or Io still hiding (how are they powered, how fed?), the strange Zion reference which makes the attack political, Neo’s abilities outside the Matrix etc. might be just bad writing, that is all.
He cannot fly in the new Virtual Matrix update – fine, who cares? The gender bashing is fun, although, and I never liked the last 2 seconds in the end of Matrix 1, which gave all the serious action a kind of cheesy twist of DC’s Superman. But he should see the code and should be able to alter it, that was an achievement – he bled for that. The hell, he resurrected the dead already. Why do we need guns, extended silly dirty fights crashing through pillars, walls and sinks and shooting everybody without hitting all too many? Not necessary anymore, please. Neo shields well with his power…good, so why do we have to wait for 2hours until he confronts the Analyst again? Why is he not hacking the Analyst’s bullet-time? For the effect to show us what the creators can do with the concept? – well, that is dramatically not enough. We would need a more considerate approach above the cute romanticism and getting the princess out of the glass coffin. There is more to do. Even the gory Walking Dead think at a certain stage about how to continue without always fighting, how to build without violence…
Paraphrasing and expanding the harsh critique of the „Lexikon des Internationalen Films“ we may conclude about Matrix IV: „… whose initially appealing concept of the first two sequels based on a solid first shot might no longer be suitable as stable grid of coordinates for a playfully stimulating concept with philosophical echoes. Under clearly recognizable commercial signs in the second half and with a lot of fan-service, only the outer main threads are spun on in another episodic structure bending back in bullet time onto the first chapter, with the continuation largely getting rid of the intellectual diversity in favour of the signature kung-fu moves, ample dusty fistfights, shell-case ridden shoot-outs, motorcycle chases, base-jumps and the usual war and battle without any attempt to build up or free the people. Why not changing the unconscious slavery of the masses finally? On the contrary, the virtually caged humanity is Zombie-like cannon fodder for the main couple‘s romantic reunion, solving nothing. Back to square one.“