Not only was The Matrix a groundbreaking movie in 1999, the sci-fi classic still has one significant advantage over all the sequels released after it.
As faith in The Matrix franchise flounders it’s essential to remember that back in 1999, The Matrix was initially so successful because of an advantage that its subsequent sequels lacked. At the dawn of a new millennium, The Matrix was an innovative adventure, blending action, philosophy, and heavy science fiction themes at a time when Hollywood was still firmly entrenched in formulaic popcorn movies like True Lies or Armageddon. Nothing had changed very much from the ’80s way of making blockbusters, with explosions substituted for character development, and it offered something different and thought-provoking.
Four years after The Matrix made its impact, two sequels Reloaded and Revolutions were released in the same year, and the trilogy departed from the focus of the first film in many ways. As the philosophy became more complicated, the fights more elaborate, and the characters more numerous, it became a challenge for the Wachowski sisters to keep a handle on their own creation. By the time the highly-anticipated fourth movie The Matrix Resurrections debuted in 2021, it seemed like what made the original movie special in the first place had been completely forgotten about.
The Matrix’s Special Effects Gave It A Huge Boost
Not only did The Matrix have an interesting story, but its special effects also blew away the competition. With high-concept visuals, it stood apart from other clunkier action movies, setting the groundwork for polished action franchises like Bond reboot Casino Royale, and even John Wick. It gave the world Bullet-Time, an effect that used 120 still cameras each capturing a single shot to create the illusion of motion, which revolutionized the action movie genre.
From Neo and Smith’s fight scene and Trinity’s very first skirmish with agents, The Matrix used visual effects to lead the way toward a different method of experiencing action movies. Not only did these visual effects look great, they were also pushing the boundaries of FX technology behind the scenes. Like Star Wars or Titanic, it was part of a rare cohort of films that changed movie making with a story that necessitated the invention of new ways to tell it.
Why The Matrix Sequels Could Never Measure Up
The Matrix felt novel and original when it debuted, almost guaranteeing that anything the Matrix sequels did would never measure up. With more time spent with characters manipulating the fabric of the Matrix, as well as the human revolution in Zion, Reloaded and Revolutions both went bigger with everything from special effects to philosophical themes. While it dialed back some of the special effects, Matrix 4 was too meta for its own good, relying on self-referential and satirical commentary on the franchise to absolve itself from being responsible for any shortcomings.
Elements that worked well in The Matrix became oversaturated and superfluous in the sequels, and like so many Agent Smith clones, consumed by a sense of overkill. It was suddenly possible to have too much of a good thing, and instead of trying to one-up The Matrix, those involved in the franchise should have acknowledged the impossible and instead focused on what was best for the story, which could have included not making any sequels at all. Instead, as far as some are concerned, there’s only ever been The Matrix, and anything else is just a glitch.
MORE: Why The Matrix Trilogy’s Original Ending Is Still Better Than Resurrections