The Matrix Resurrections Trailer Makes You Realize How Muddy Most Modern Blockbusters Look

"The Matrix Resurrections" trailer has dropped, and it's a vibrant, flashy reminder of how much fun color can be in cinema. While there's plenty to break down from the trailer, the thing that stood out most to me was the use of high-contrast color and bright lighting — something you don't see much of in blockbuster movies these days. 

Going From Green to Rainbow

While the original "Matrix" was notoriously tinted green, it was still highly contrasted and full of color. Bright colors even played a vital role in the film, differentiating between the red pills and blue pills that opened or closed your mind. There's also a breathtaking scene with a woman in a red dress that captures Neo's (Keanu Reeves) attention no matter how hard he tries to look away. 

The Wachowski sisters' filmography is full of rainbow-colored movies, ranging from the 2008 live-action adaptation of the cartoon "Speed Racer" to their existential time-hopping head-scratcher "Cloud Atlas" (2012). "The Matrix Resurrections" looks to be almost as colorful as those films, despite some of it being in a reality that's supposed to mirror our own. Even something as simple as the sun setting over the ocean looks stunning here, with the bright oranges of the sun reflecting across the deep blues of the water. Compare that shot to any of the wide city shots in the "Avengers" movies, and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. There's no desaturated color-correction, no attempt to make anything look "gritty" that ends up removing both color and character from the shot. Just gorgeous, bright colors. 

In Praise of Luxurious Lighting

While color-correction in post-production has a lot to do with how complete images appear on screen, lighting on-set plays a huge role in the quality of the final image. Many big-budget blockbuster flicks are shot almost entirely on sound-stages, and often the lighting is at worst dim and at best uninspired. If things are lit well enough for us to actually see everything going on, then they're usually overlit, removing contrast and shadows. Director Lana Wachowski and cinematographer John Toll, who won an Academy Award for his work on "Braveheart," really show off their skills with lighting reminiscent of science fiction cinema of the 1980s. Bold move for a movie coming out in 2021.

Light and shadow are used to visual perfection here. The sun on Neo's face actually looks warm. People's faces are illuminated by their digital devices as they ride together on an elevator. Bright, almost blinding white light is used to represent knowledge, glowing behind the red pill and then an open doorway, likely leading to the outside of the Matrix. Characters stand out from their surroundings, instead of blending into them like amorphous gray blobs. The colors and lighting look upgraded even from the previous three "Matrix" films, embracing a more vivid and dynamic aesthetic.

Deliver Us From Gray and Beige Blockbusters

It's not surprising that "The Matrix Resurrections" is colorful and visually interesting, given the Wachowskis' track record as visual effects boundary-pushers. Some of the techniques they used for the first film changed the way action movies were shot. Movies in the early 2000s constantly tried to capture the visual aesthetic of the first "Matrix", often ending up looking like a black and green mess. Following the success of the Christopher Nolan Batman films, which had about as much contrast as a bag of potatoes, many studios moved towards more "realistic" lighting and cinematography for their blockbusters. Even the more colorful Marvel films, like "Guardians of the Galaxy" or "Thor: Ragnarok," struggle with a lack of depth and having any kind of meaningful lighting. After all, it all has to be matched to a green-screen background put in later, and having any kind of complex lighting may make that match more difficult. 

Where that leaves us is with big blockbuster movies that look like the latest "Call of Duty" video game, with too much bloom, either too much or not enough shadow, and lighting that renders even the most interesting location completely flat. Every shot in this trailer looks good as a still, with careful composition and attention to detail. Everything is crisp and well-defined, giving the shots the appearance of three dimensions on a two-dimensional medium. 

Regardless of how "The Matrix Resurrections" shapes up story-wise, it's guaranteed to be one great-looking movie. Hopefully other blockbuster directors will get the hint, and we can start seeing more color and contrast return to the cinema.

"The Matrix Resurrections" debuts in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021.