Fourth films mark an interesting moment for every film franchise. If your series is successful enough to earn a fourth movie, then surely you must have already penned a story that must be told in more than a trilogy. The thing is that most franchises usually drop the ball by the time their fourth movie comes out, in something that I’d like to call ‘The Curse of the Fourth Film.’
For some time now, we’ve been hearing about Lana Wachowski’s attempt at continuing the Matrix franchise, with a movie that was supposed to come out in May of this year. COVID happened, and now the film is set to be released by late December of 2021. However, the fact that a movie so close to being released still has a Wikipedia article named “Untitled fourth Matrix film” tells us a lot about the film’s production.
The Fourth Film Curse
What is it with movie franchises and their fourth films? What makes them any different than any other entries in their series? Whenever filmmakers create a new franchise, one with a story that cannot be told in just one entry, they usually aim for trilogies. The reason for that is quite simple: it works from a storytelling perspective.
Three movies let scriptwriters and filmmakers treat their trilogies as one big story instead of three separate films. Think of it as a play in three acts: the first movie establishes the characters and their motivations; followed by part two, where their ideals are challenged; and finally part three where they achieve their ultimate goals.
Movies like Superman IV and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides paint a bleak picture for fourth films, but let’s not forget that there are some success stories here and there. Case in point being Mad Max: Fury Road.
Where’s the Matrix Now?
It’s been nearly twenty years since we last saw a Matrix film, and it’s safe to say that we live in a drastically different world today. For one, complex philosophical sci-fi isn’t in vogue anymore, and neither are full-body black leather suits. It’s all about superheroes now.
The edgy cyberpunk aesthetic of 1999’s The Matrix was a product of the nihilistic underground culture of its time, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work in a modern setting. The same hopelessness we saw at the turn of the millennium is back in full force as a result of this unending pandemic.
That said, when the first Matrix movie came out, it was an original idea: a semblance of uniqueness in a sea of mass-produced entertainment. It spoke to its audience. It’s difficult to say if a fourth movie can retain that originality, especially considering how the Matrix sequels turned out.
The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions were controversial among fans, especially the latter one. Whereas Reloaded expanded on the Matrix mythos and characters in a bloated convoluted mess, Revolutions tried to end the franchise on a positive note, leaving many fans questioning if it was a proper sendoff to the characters they’ve grown so attached to.
By the end of Revolutions, humans are allowed to leave the Matrix if they wish, Agent Smith has been deleted, the Matrix has been rebooted, and all’s well that ends well. The fate of Neo, the franchise’s protagonist, is left vague as a blatant sequel hook. And that’s where Matrix 4 comes in, and how its situation relates to Mad Max and its incredible fourth film.
Matrix Fury Road
Let’s take a look at the Mad Max franchise: it began as a small indie film starring Mel Gibson that, against all odds, got itself a sequel. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is where most of the love for the franchise comes from: bigger, better, and louder than its predecessor, Road Warrior is pretty much the perfect sequel. And then, Thunderdome happened.
See, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is an interesting film. It’s not a bad movie, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t quite feel like a Mad Max film. It seems that, by 1985, the franchise had reached its natural conclusion, and thankfully, both George Miller and Mel Gibson understood this, and a fourth film in the franchise never happened.
That is until thirty years later, when Fury Road came and left everyone speechless with its superb blend of action, character development, and gorgeous visuals. If Road Warrior is the perfect sequel, then Fury Road is the perfect example of how to do a fourth film right.
Matrix 4 finds itself in a similar situation: the previous film, Revolutions, was panned by critics and fans, which pretty much gives the upcoming movie a fresh start. If fans disliked the ending to the original trilogy, Matrix 4 can undo it without alienating its fanbase.
There’s also the fact that much of the cast of the original Matrix trilogy is twenty years older now. Even though Keanu Reeves has kept himself busy with the John Wick franchise, seeing actors pushing sixty perform risky stunts and dispatching hordes of goons like it’s nothing can look a bit farfetched, even for The Matrix.
Now is the perfect time for Neo to assume more of a mentor role for a new generation that could take his place in the Matrix universe. Nevertheless, there’s still something else we need to address about the upcoming fourth film, and that is the astounding lack of things to address.
A Deafening Silence
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by social media and the fact that we can know every little detail of a film’s production before they’re done, but there’s been a suspicious amount of silence surrounding Matrix 4. We don’t even know its title yet and it was supposed to be released a couple of months from now.
Usually, when there’s so much silence surrounding a movie’s production, that’s a clear sign that things aren’t going as planned. Considering how hectic 2020 was, some degree of chaos is expected in any movie’s production, but this is The Matrix we’re talking about.
There seems to be a worrying aura of disinterest surrounding the project, both from fans and the studio. Be that as it may, the entire Matrix franchise is about to hit a point of no return with “Untitled fourth Matrix film.” Maybe we’ll get to see yet another case of a “so bad it’s good”, or perhaps we’ll finally get a proper conclusion to the series, jumpstarting a new and successful Matrix made for a new generation.
Whatever the case, Warner Bros. has little time to reignite interest in the franchise, and to deliver a proper movie worthy of the Matrix name. Be it good or bad, one thing is for sure: the worst thing a movie can be – even worse than being terrible – is mediocre. Let’s just hope that Matrix 4 turns out to be unique, for better or for worse.
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