Inexplicably, This Is Happening

The Matrix 5 Is In Development

Today we received news that, well, I legitimately thought I wouldn’t have to report: The Matrix 5 is, for some reason, in pre-production. Anyone that pay attention to blockbuster filmmaking, and this franchise in particular, should know that while the first film, The Matrix, was a massive success, it’s first two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, were met with more mixed reactions, both from audiences and critics. While the second film was a financial success, pulling in $741.8 Mil at the Box Office (in a time where breaking even $500 Mil was a rare thing), it wasn’t much loved. And this was reflected in the returns of the third film, which came out six months later and only managed to wrangle $427.3 Mil (not even as much as the original movie). That’s why the franchise went dormant, only releasing a few video games for close to two decades.

The franchise did even come back to theaters until 2021 with The Matrix Resurrections, and while the end of COVID could be blamed from at least a little of its lukewarm reception, the fact is that that the movie didn’t even managed to make back its own budget, making a sad $159 Mil against a production budget of $190 Mil. Returns like that tend to kill a franchise, and since director Lana Wachowski essentially tied up the story right back where the first film in the series ended, there really isn’t much need (or anywhere for the series to really go) from here, one would assume.

In fact, with it being the start of April, and this news seeming so outlandish on its face, I actually have to triple check sources to make sure this wasn’t some elaborate prank announcement. But no, this is real. For some reason Warner Bros. has decided that what audiences want (despite all evidence to the contrary) is another film in The MatrixA speculative future story with superhero and anime influences, The Matrix not only pushed viewers to think about the nature of their own reality but also expanded what filmmakers could do with action sequences and filming. It then launched a series of movies, games, and comics, creating a franchise still talked about today. series. Low Box Office returns be damned, this was a franchise that could be milked and so the powers that be will try and milk it for all it’s worth. That’s blockbuster filmmaking today.

Make no mistake, there was a point where I thought the idea of a sequel to The Matrix would be something I’d want to see. While the first movie has a fantastic ending that precludes really needing to see anything else – Neo defeats the agents, proves he has the power to remake the Matrix at his will, and then gives a warning to the system that he’s coming all before flying off into the sky to be SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. (ike, that ending is top tier, no notes) – I was still one of the many fans absolutely ravenous for another trip into the franchise. There was such potential for the world and the possibility of seeing the war to end the robots, while Neo kicks all kinds of ass, seemed too good to be true.

And it was, because the resulting sequels, while interesting, were nowhere near as involving and absorbing as the original. They lacked the specific blend of high concept and brutal action, but I think the real issue is they lacked heart. The first film was a hero’s journey of a sort, with Neo discovering who he was meant to be. The second film basically has Neo at the end of his journey, and while he’s still the primary protagonist, all the films can do is up the spectacle and try to put other characters in danger as a way to “up the stakes”. They lack the soul of the original, and that left them feeling like inferior versions. The four-quel, meanwhile, is a tired rehash of the first film, less interesting and with less to say about the universe.

Amusingly, The Matrix Resurrections does have a lot to say about how stupid it would be to make another sequel to The Matrix. It goes full-on meta, putting literal conversations had with WB executives (we assume), with Lana basically writing Neo as a version of herself, reluctant to make a sequel to his “hit games” (because in the universe of The Matrix, the stories were made into games, not movies) and being told, “we’ll make this with or without you.” So she made a sequel, but she made it bad, more working through the bullshit she had to deal with coming from WB than showing any concern about actually making a good movie. The Matrix Resurrections is a bland movie, verging on a bad one, but it is hilarious to see Lana spike the movie so hard in an attempt to ensure no further sequels would happen.

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to have worked. “Somehow, The Matrix returned.”

But still, there was a point where I could see how a sequel to The Matrix could have been viable. Before WB forced Lana into making the movie, there was discussion about having Michael B. Jordan come on as a new hero, doing some kind of legacy sequel/reboot that could have maybe seen the next iteration of Neo (as played by Jordan) waking up in the Matrix, and then the battle for the universe resuming once again. That’s actually not that far off from a pitch I wrote even earlier (not that I think anyone at WB reads this website) and it does make for a nice way to reboot the series while respecting the continuity. With the ending of the fourth film, though, that idea basically doesn’t work now.

The currently in pre-production film was pitched by Drew Goddard. The writer / director will handle scripting and directing duties for this new film, and the idea was greenlit based on a pitch he made at WB. Lana is set to executive produce (which, in Hollywood parlance, means she owns a piece of the franchise and gets a credit just for having worked on the previous films), but otherwise the Wachowski sisters won’t, in any way, be involved in this new film. It’s said that the movie is “a new idea that we all believe would be an incredible way to continue the Matrix world, by both honoring what Lana and Lilly began over 25 years ago and offering a unique perspective based on his own love of the series and characters.” That is really just a lot of empty studio speak, so very little is really known about what would come next.

Whether you think a new sequel could really “honor the legacy” of the franchise or not, the reality is that the franchise is damaged goods. Where other legacy sequels have come out to rave reviews and many tickets sold (think Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Top Gun: Maverick) audiences didn’t bother tuning in for a fourth The Matrix. Some of that can be blamed on COVID yes (although by December, 2021, it was also a clear message that most viewers felt that three films in the series had been enough. Hell, with the reception the third film got, I think most would have been happy if the series had stopped with one.

Even when you take into account that, post-pandemic, audiences seem to be less and less interested in big-budget sequels, these kinds of movies still tend to make more than the paltry $159.2 Mil of The Matrix Resurrections. Hell, the DCEU is ending and audiences still came out to the tune of $400 Mil-plus for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and that film was absolutely panned by critics. A sequel to a series from two decades prior should have at least been able to match that, right? Again, one would think.

All of this is to say that it’s hard to understand the reasoning behind this decision from Warner Bros. If this film does get into production and eventually comes out (which, with Zazlav at the helm, is never a guarantee) there’s every chance this could be a spectacular bomb. I like Goddard as a writer (I think his scripts for The Cabin in the Woods and The Martian are both great, for example) and I have no doubt that whatever he comes up with could be good (assuming his idea really is on point and that WB doesn’t executive meddle it into the ground). But will audiences care? I have my doubts, and they’re very strong doubts indeed.

So yes, a fifth film for The Matrix is in development. It’s planned for release. This isn’t a joke, or a prank, or some elaborate April Fools gag. Warners signed off on this and we all get to sit back and see just how much this explodes when it finally lands. My bet: it ends up a massive, egg on the face, no one comes out of this looking clean, disaster. But we shall see.