The Matrix prequel I want
The Matrix is one of the most influential movies of all time. Whether it really holds up two decades later can be debated, but back in 1999 many of us agreed that it was nothing short of a masterpiece. The film was visually impressive with effects and techniques no one had ever seen before. The action was extremely memorable and the story, while maybe not the most original to ever be put on screen, was thought-provoking. I loved this movie. And so did lots of others.
When the two sequels came out in May and November of 2003, a combined trailer for both of them was released. I don't know how many times I watched it. Might be close to a hundred. I was truly hyped. And again, so were lots of others. The general consensus seems to be that Matrix: Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions are nowhere near as good as the first movie. I suppose that's fair. A lot of people were disappointed by the self-satisfied overabundance of pseudo-philosophical quotes. The first Matrix film can conclusively be interpreted as a metaphor for the passion of Christ, while also borrowing from other religions and spiritual movements. The sequels carried on in that tradition, amped it up and probably tried to seem smarter than they really were. People were bored by the Architect's complicated monologue and longing for more cool Neo action. Again, fair.
Personally, I quite like Matrix: Reloaded. And even though the third movie is my least favorite of the three, I don't actively dislike Matrix: Revolutions. It's a fine trilogy that shows all the signs of a movie franchise that wasn't originally meant to be more than one stand-alone film. Yet here we are, and I for one am not unhappy with what we got.
However, these movies are not what I actually want to write about. The film industry has been kind of obsessed with sequels, prequels and remakes over the last couple of years. And while those things can be amazing when done right, they usually aren't. A fourth Matrix movie has been announced as well. I know little to nothing about that project and have no opinion on it at this point. The film that actually inspired me to sit down and write this blog post is something else entirely: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It's by no means a great movie, although there are good aspects to it (that hallway scene at the end ... damn!!), but what it did for Star Wars as a whole was really interesting: By fixing one of their major plot holes, it actually made the old movies better. Now that is fascinating to me. It isn't the first time a movie or TV show has ever done that (I remember Star Trek: Enterprise explaining why Klingons looked so different back in the old movies), but it certainly was effective in this case. And that got me thinking:
What if The Matrix had a prequel that made all three movies better?
I thought about it ... and it seems quite doable. If the right people put some time and effort into it, we could very well improve the whole Matrix franchise without changing a single thing about the movies. We could address the criticisms, explain why things are the way they are, raise the emotional impact of certain scenes and really revitalize this whole universe without taking anything away from what's already there. So here are my (not at all structured) thoughts on the ideal Matrix prequel:
I'm picturing an animated TV show. Two seasons. The first one about Morpheus and how he got freed from the Matrix, about his training, his relationship with Niobe, his first encounter with the Oracle ... all that good stuff. The second season would take place a couple of years later, when Morpheus is already captain of the Nebuchadnezzar and we would follow the story of him meeting and freeing Trinity, thereby making the whole Matrix story-line a trinity in itself with the focus shifting from Morpheus to Trinity and then on to Neo while certain elements (leaving the Matrix, trying the jump, visiting the Oracle etc.) repeat themselves, but in different ways.
I would put a lot of focus on Cypher's story as well. He is believed to be a stand-in for Lucifer, the fallen angel (again with the not so subtle religious references). Seeing his fall from graze could be fascinating. He'd probably start out as one of Morpheus' most loyal crew members before something (Morpheus' obsession with finding the One; or maybe even the arrival of the new second in command, Trinity, whom he has desires for) slowly changes his mind. Maybe he just sees too much pain and death and simply can't take it anymore. He might start out as a pushover and then slowly become cynical. There's a certain appeal to just forgetting about everything and starting over from scratch. I want Cypher to be relatable. A tragic character rather than an evil one. And I think there are more than enough hints toward this in the film.
The way I would approach this show is mostly by taking lines from the movies and trying to find/create the deeper meaning behind them. For a movie of this length, there isn't a lot of dialog in The Matrix. Some characters barely have lines at all. Take Apoc and Switch for instance: They're barely characters. There's so much potential though. Switch's last words before Cypher pulls the plug are "Not like this. Not like this." It makes me wonder ... what if we actually knew her character? What if we'd gotten to know her over the course of several episodes? If we knew that she wanted her life to matter? That she wanted to truly fight the oppressive system, to leave a mark, to die on the battlefield doing something important? Instead she dies in the most unspectacular way possible. Even a heart attack usually gets more screen time. A shot in the head gets more blood. She's simply unplugged. What gravity could this scene have if we knew her better? The emotional weight of the scene could be raised to completely new heights.
We could see how Chypher first meets Agent Smith. The movie lets you assume that they may have had secret meetings in fancy restaurants more than just once. What if that's not it though? What if Smith really just found Cypher at the perfect time, when he was at his lowest. I picture a scene after an important fight Many resistance members have just died at the hands of the Agents, the police or the military. I can see Cypher kneeling on the ground, clenched fists touching the corps of a friend he just lost. His face covered in sweat, blood and tears. It's not the first time. And what for? A reality that can give you none of the pleasures of the simulation you grew up in? Why watch all your friends die on the battlefield of a war you just can't win? I can see Agent Smith appearing on the other side of the battlefield, calling Cypher "Mr. Reagon". Asking exactly those questions out loud, making them more real, more devastating. Telling Cypher that there is a way out of all this. That he could give him a new life, make him forget. All he needs in return are the codes. Cypher, in tears, replies that he doesn't have them. Smith, in his signature calm way, says something along the lines of "Surely a man in your position has the means to acquire this information." And after a long pause, Cypher, with a tremble in his voice, says "I'll think about it." Smith nods. "Let us know when you have reached a conclusion, Mr. Reagon." The Agent walks away, letting Cypher live. What a great and powerful scene this could be if portrayed and lead up to well. How much more depth it would give to the character.
Getting the Agents right
Even though you might not realize it on first viewing, Smith was always shown to be different from the other Agents. Right from the beginning he seems more intuitive, more clever, more human. He is, no doubt, a superior version of the Matrix's defense system. An updated program that could be introduced about halfway through the second season of the show, leaning itself to a neat cliffhanger. When he introduces himself to Morpheus in the first movie, the latter replies that all agents look the same to him. That, of course, is the intention behind their bland design and not exactly extravagant naming (the other two agents in The Matrix are called Brown and Jones, the upgrades in Matrix: Reloaded are named Thompson, Jackson and Johnson). Agents aren't supposed to have individual characteristics. We don't even get their names in the movies. It's a bit ironic that the one named Smith has the most attitude. He is the only individual among them, maybe indicating that there was already something special about him even before Neo "set him free" and he became a virus rather than a part of the Matrix's defense system. I would just love to hear Hugo Weaving reprise his iconic role, if only as a voice actor.
It is stated in the first movie that whenever you see an Agent, you either run or you die. Morpheus' fight on that truck in Matrix: Reloaded can be seen as some sort of plot hole or attributed to his newly enforced belief in Neo as the One. Whether Morpheus should have been able to stand his ground in that movie can be debated, but it happened and we'll live with it. However, throughout the entire show, Agents should be seen as a deadly threat. Efficient, almost indestructible killing machines, though not exactly known for thinking outside the box. The resistance fighters only escape by outrunning or outsmarting them. And that's why Agent Smith would work so well as a late addition to the show. He's the updated version of Agent that is sent after the other two repeatedly fail to capture Morpheus and the other resistance leaders. He's sent to fix things. To end the constant annoyances. And through small details, like his slightly disgusted sniffing, the show can show right from his introduction that he doesn't really want to be there. He wants to get the job done, so that he's allowed to leave the simulation again and return to the core.
Just the knowledge that no one in the show is able to fight an Agent and survive can create some real tension. If the creators are not afraid to kill off some major characters, that is. We need to see that the stakes are real. We need to get to know people before we watch them die.
One thing that was criticized a lot about the sequels (and for good reason) was the seemingly random introduction of a whole bunch of characters that we're suddenly supposed to care about (or at least remember who they are). We have the Merovingian and all of his henchmen (including those weird ghostly twins), his wife Persephone, the keymaker, Seraph, Niobe, Ghost and all the other captains and crews, the Architect, Niobe's new boyfriend Commander Lock ... and tons of others. Honestly, it's A LOT of new characters. I get that some of them were first introduced in The Animatrix and some just kind of needed to be there ... but for the general audience it's quite exhausting. It's hard to care for someone who only has a couple of sentences in the movie (much like Switch).
This is where a prequel show can really shine though. It can take the time to introduce Niobe and her crew. Lock. Some other resistance fighters. That should all come rather naturally. They don't need to be exactly the same people they are later on in the movies. Maybe Morpheus and Lock get along pretty well at some point. Maybe Morpheus and Niobe get freed from the Matrix around the same time and fall in love early on in the show.
I would also really love to see the Merovingian established at some point. The crew of the Nebuchadnezzar doesn't seem to know about him, but maybe the crew of the Logos or the Osiris encounter him. He's a collector of rare programs and a representation of the devil, so that should make for an interesting episode (or an arc that spans more than just one episode).
I want to see Seraph, still with his wings. I want to see how he loses them. Maybe he's working at Club Hell at one point but then in the end decides to help Niobe and her crew escape? I haven't googled "Seraph" but I image there's some mythological background that can be used. I also want to see an episode about the Keymaker and how the Merovingian captures him. I want to hear someone mention the Architect. I want new audience members to wonder who this ominous Architect is. I want to get to know the crew of the Osiris (especially those two who were attending their sexy training inside the Construct in The Animatrix). I want to care about them.
And of course I want to see the Oracle. I want to hear what she tells Morpheus and Trinity. I maybe want a hint at her eventually changing form in the future. I want a scene where some Elder or engineer in Zion points out how some of the city's foundations are so much older than the rest. How it almost seems like part of it had been built from the wreckage of a much older city and how he can't make any sense of it. I want an episode near the end where we see a day in the depressing life of Thomas A. Anderson. I want him to eat noodles at this one place he later refers to. A want to see the devastating effects of a déjà-vue where they change something significant and a lot of resistance fighters die. I want to see another weird Zion rave orgy.
I think it was Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic, who in his review of The Matrix said that he didn't really like the acting (or rather the direction). He made the point that everyone's just displaying an insane amount of emotionless 1990s coolness. Even Neo's and Trinity's love is only explored through little dialog and some fucking. It was a stylistic choice that may not have aged too well. It is true that there is very little to no real emotion on display in any of the Matrix movies.
I believe an effort can be made to explain this though (albeit not very well). Maybe in the beginning, when they are still inside the Matrix, a lot of characters do show emotions (like panic, fear, depression, anxiety ...). Maybe part of their training is to let go of all that. To not show any weakness when confronted by Agents. To act instinctively and logically, not out of fear. Maybe that can be a theme on the show. Morpheus starts out a normal human being, but then later on in the second season, he's a lot more collected and therefor more in control. I agree that "Get rid of your emotions" is not exactly the best message one could give to an audience (in fact it's a rather bad one), but it would make sense within the narrative and the universe. There could be some subtle comments on the irony of trying to free humanity by suppressing the very thing that truly makes you human. Maybe the Oracle could share some wisdom on that. Maybe a good writer could even find a way to have this controlled suppression of emotion be linked to the almost primal rave orgies that Zion is so famous for. Maybe that's some kind of compensation. I'm reaching here.
Look, all I'm saying is: I'd watch that show.