Why the first Matrix movie will always be the franchise’s best

On March 31, 1999, an action movie was released that would change the movie world forever. It would combine action sequences that rivaled anything that had come before it, a cyberpunk setting straight out of a novel, and the existentialism one would typically only find in a college classroom. The matrix immediately became a cultural powerhouse, bringing red pills against blue pills, bullet time, trouble in the Matrix, and amazing shades to the masses.

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With an audience pulling in over $400 million, it was inevitable that sequels would be made. But like many other franchises before and after The matrix, the sequels haven’t lived up to the massive expectations that the original set did. It’s one of the few problems with having a wildly successful predecessor: most of the time, whatever comes after it will only live in its own shadow.

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Why Sequels Seem Dull

The sequels did what anyone would do with an unexpected mega-hit. Lily and Lana Wachowski have gotten bigger, but as the saying goes, it’s not always better. They even created related media like the Animatrix and a video game with live cutscenes filmed from the set of The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions. The story got huge and so it needed more to tie into the already thick Matrix lore. But as fans of other massive franchises know, the bigger you get, the harder you can fall.


The matrix was overgrown with weeds of its own history to the point of not cutting itself. Scenes of character minutes and minutes followed on ideas that mostly confused the audience. The sequels introduced audiences to some amazing concepts and ideas, but they weren’t presented as additional content to the story or action of the original. Instead, they were presented more like the content itself, with the action only serving to interrupt conversations. The major consensus of the sequels is that the movies went epic, but got muddled in their attempt to develop their own lore. They just weren’t as tight and precise as The Matrix and the massive ideas they faced only made it worse.


The ideas have grown and evolved since the first installment, but the action has lost most of its magic. The first film had a balance between everything from action to philosophy. Each character had motivation, and the film presented questions, but answered them along the way. The sequels went down their own rabbit hole and didn’t really know what to do with some of their characters. For example, Morpheus was very present in the first film, because his motivation was at the heart of the story: did he find this one? But by the end of the movie, that question is answered and instead of giving him something new to remember, he’s lost all motivation in the sequels. For a character as massive as Morpheus, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the film’s run. For the most part, the only characters that had anything of depth and growth in the sequels were Trinity and Neo, the two biggest characters in the trilogy.


The iconography of the original

With all of that in mind, perhaps the main reason why sequels will never live up to the level of the original is part of the aforementioned problem of the hugely popular successor. Simply put, the first movie caught lightning in a bottle, and it was naïve to think that any movie after that would live up to the expectations that were created. There have only been a few sequels in the past that have met or even surpassed its predecessor, such as the Lord of the Rings or Terminator 2. These all had high expectations to meet, but they met them by changing the formula, while keeping the skeleton of what made it great in the first place.


The first film was a combination of a well-thought-out singular story, massive ambition, and a passion to create something new and amazing. While it always had its philosophical moments, it wasn’t just a rinse and repeat of heavy, endless conversations about choice and fate interrupted by action sequences. Everything had a purpose, and there was no fat to remove.

Now in hindsight, The matrix the sequels aren’t as bad as originally claimed, they’re not great, but they’re okay, and that goes for Resurrections. For the most part, the sequels were held to an impossible standard of living up to the hype of its predecessor as well as appealing to their target audience of action movie junkies. Simultaneously, they had to re-immerse themselves in the philosophy that had become embedded in the film’s DNA. But what made the first movie great was that it took that ethos and seamlessly submerged it into a tightly constructed action movie that would last for generations.


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