the matrix reboot

The film industry has been all about chasing trends since its earliest days. So when something works, everyone making movies can’t help but pause and take note and wonder “Okay, that’s cool – how do we do that?”

We saw this happen most recently with Marvel Studios and their “shared universe,” where various characters exist under one larger franchise and can influence each other’s movies. It was seismic. Everyone wanted in on that business. And that brings us to a new trend peaking out over the horizon, one that feels very much like a continuation of the shared universe concept: the in-universe spin-off (or whatever everyone decides it should be called).

So let’s take another look at the reboot of The Matrix Warner Bros. is apparently working on right now. In fact, maybe we can throw out the word “reboot,” which is sooo 2005. It’s entirely possible that the studio is eyeing Disney’s new Star Wars model…and that the gears are turning.

The Rogue One Effect

Let’s start with a series of tweets from screenwriter Eric Heisserer, the Oscar-nominated writer of Arrival. Although he doesn’t mention The Matrix by name in this series of comments, the implication seems pretty clear. Let’s regroup below, after you’ve read them.

This aligns with a paragraph buried at the bottom of The Hollywood Reporter’s original article on the Matrix reboot, where they also name-drop Rogue One as a possible influence:

The idea of adapting The Matrix as a television series was nixed in recent months. But Warner Bros. sees a model in what Disney and Lucasfilm have done with Star Wars, exploring the hidden corners of the universe with movies such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or the in-production young Han Solo film. Perhaps a young Morpheus movie could come out of the exploration, as an example.

Honestly, if anyone knows anything about the general scope of what Warner Bros. is cooking up for the new Matrix movie, it may be the writers and the writers’ friends, who are undoubtedly taking meetings and sharing pitches as the studio attempts to figure out how to revive this franchise. Heisserer may not know what anyone is specifically planning behind-the-scenes, but he’s in the perfect position to know what questions the studio is asking and what they’re talking about with the various writers they are quietly inviting to their offices.

The appeal of Rogue One is obvious. Gareth Edwards’ spin-off film was able to use the ever-popular Star Wars name while doing its own thing separate from the larger series…and it did it to the tune of over $1 billion worldwide. For the studios, that’s a #brand being used to make a lot of money. For filmmakers, it’s a chance to play in a beloved universe without having to necessarily adhere to an established tone or be beholden to original characters or continuity. The “shared universe” just got an upgrade. It knows kung fu now.

The Matrix Reloaded - Evolution of Keanu Reeves

The Never-ending Franchise

So let’s ask the big question: are other popular movie franchises powerful enough to mimic the Star Wars model? After all, Warner Bros. and DC comics are struggling to emulate Marvel’s comic book movie model, and they have a vast universe of great characters and brilliant storytelling at their disposal. The Matrix, while groundbreaking and great and important, started losing audiences after only a few movies (although I belong in the camp that thinks the sequels are hugely underrated). The third film, The Matrix Revolutions, was a box office disappointment, making over $300 million less at the international box office than its predecessor. Creating a successful franchise, building a universe that people want to return to again and again, is a tricky and challenging business.

Star Wars has 40 years on its side, plus decades of comics and books and TV spinoffs and video games. The Matrix tried to get in on that business, but those video game spin-offs petered out after only a few years as audiences lost interest. Warner Bros. is surely grappling with this at the moment: is it possible to reinvigorate The Matrix so that it’s something mass audiences will be excited about again instead of just being a recognizable title? If the world of The Matrix was flexible enough to support Rogue One-style spin-offs, wouldn’t the third film have been a bigger hit?

In all honesty, I love the concept of Disney and LucasFilm’s Star Wars spin-offs. I love that they exist as a space where unique filmmakers like Gareth Edwards and Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a place to tell different kinds of stories in a familiar setting. But that universe is also vast enough (and popular enough) to accommodate that approach. Even if the Matrix reboot isn’t a reboot, even if it’s just more stories set in the post-apocalyptic world of humans and machines and virtual reality, it’s hard to see the mass appeal. At least not yet.

Star Wars eventually grew beyond George Lucas, but honestly, The Matrix never developed beyond the Wachowski sisters. It was their baby and, all these years later, it remains their weird, deeply personal child. Even those sequels, those contentious and fascinating follow-ups, are so ingrained in their personal sensibilities that it’s not clear what another Matrix story even looks like without their touch.

Then again, Star Wars had to take a first step into the deep end as well. In that series’ case, absence made the heart grow fonder and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace arrived 16 years after Return of the Jedi. It’s been 14 years since The Matrix Revolutions. Some may say the timing is right.

In the meantime, all we can do is just dream about who could make this an exciting prospect.

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