Reboot of “Matrix” is a terrible idea
The utter creative bankruptcy represented by the news that Warner Brothers is developing a reboot of “The Matrix,” the wildly original 1999 blockbuster film about the last stand in a war between humanity and the machines that have surpassed them, is too obvious — and honestly, too depressing — to dwell on.
It was deadening enough to watch Hollywood repeat the same story beats over and over again in genres like superhero movies that were designed to repeat and reset: Seeing the industry prepare to cannibalize its own most creative blockbusters makes me wonder whether mass culture wouldn’t be better off if the San Andreas Fault just opened up and swallowed the 30-mile zone.
And the idea of going back into “The Matrix” isn’t just bad because it so destroys my hope for the future of original action movies that I’m tempted to give all this up to go study illuminated manuscripts in a vault somewhere. From a financial perspective, the virtue of remaking an existing property is that it comes with high “pre-awareness” baked in: Warner Brothers can trust that viewers are basically familiar with the essential concept behind “The Matrix,” so the company doesn’t have to waste time explaining it and can just get around to selling the new version. And on this score, the strength of “The Matrix” also represents a risk for Warner Brothers: “The Matrix” comes with a kind of pre-awareness that may prevent a reboot from truly standing on its own.
One of the most enduring conceits of “The Matrix,” and one of the film’s strongest visuals, is the choice between a red or blue pill that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a leader of the anti-machine resistance, offers to hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves), who has been exploring elements of the world that seem to have a certain wrongness. The red pill will offer Neo a chance to see and understand the reality of his existence, but at the risk that he will be shaken to his core, perhaps even shattered. The blue pill will return him to a relatively comforting existence without answers to any of the questions that have been dogging him, but with his equanimity and sanity intact. Neo chooses the red pill, of course, and our adventure begins.
But even if a rebooted version of “The Matrix” were to take us in a radically different direction, what would the red pill reveal to the next main character, and to us? And what would it mean? Even if he or she doesn’t use the red pill at all, what would audiences perceive the movie’s real messages to be?
I ask this, because in the years since “The Matrix” hit theaters, that scene has been repurposed as a device for various factions of the alt-right, most famously so-called men’s rights activists.
If nothing else, I can’t imagine that directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the directors of the original movie and its sequels, who are both transgender women and have emphasized the value of diversity and female leadership in their work, would support or even be minimally neutral in the face of such a repurposing of their concepts.