What The Matrix 4 needs to convince us to take the red pill again

Keanu Reeves is headed back to The Matrix again for a fourth installment of the groundbreaking sci-fi saga. The initial confirmation of what’s currently being called The Matrix 4 generated no shortage of headlines, and it also prompted quite a few questions — particularly involving what a new chapter could add to the post-apocalyptic cyberpunk franchise.

With Reeves and fellow franchise star Carrie-Anne Moss returning for The Matrix 4 (with possibly more familiar faces to com), and original co-director and co-writer Lana Wachowski helming the project, all of the pieces are in place for a return to form. But exactly what shape that form will take is still a mystery. Here’s what we need to see in a new chapter of The Matrix series to make a return to that universe worth jacking in.

1. A new dimension

The first chapter of The Matrix introduced audiences to a world in which everything we — via Reeves’ audience surrogate, Neo — thought was real was actually a facade. It swept us along on a dissection of the very natures of humanity and sentience, set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic future in which machines harvest human beings for energy, while attempting to discern the contents and fundamental structure of our souls. Much of what the machines did and why they did it was an enigma wrapped in endless layers of riddles that Neo was forced to contend with as he came to grips with his abilities in both the real world and the artificial existence within The Matrix.

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A new film set within that universe can’t simply throw more riddles at us. In order to justify a return to The Matrix, we need to discover that the story — much like Neo’s world — has more layers to it than initially believed. Whether it’s a change in the balance between the machines and humans, a new role to play for Neo and his allies, a deeper dive into the simulation, or a revelation that changes everything we thought about The Matrix or the reality the characters perceive, something needs to make us sit back and say, “Whoa.”

2. A world worth fighting for

Say what you will about Cypher, the Judas character played by Joe Pantoliano in The Matrix who betrayed his shipmates in exchange for a comfortable life within the simulation, but he had a valid point about the real world. It was a dark, dirty, desperate life for the humans freed from The Matrix, forced to constantly run from vicious machines that outnumbered and outgunned them. One can almost understand why Cypher was willing to sell his soul for a return to a faux-life of ease and comfort.

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Although subsequent installments of the franchise showed us a bit more of humans’ daily lives when they weren’t fleeing machines — basically, a nonstop, sub-terranean, cyberpunk rave — the series never really gave audiences a world that seemed undeniably worth, well … saving. If we’re going to return to the war between humans and machines, here’s hoping we get to see humanity creating a world for itself that feels precious and important enough to justify everything that the protagonists endure. The machines need to be stopped not because they’ll end a kick-ass party, but because they endanger everything that makes us human.

3. Bleeding-edge effects

The Matrix was a groundbreaking movie for a long list of reasons, but its most prominent and obvious achievements — and the element that secured one of its four Academy Awards — was its innovative, cutting-edge visual effects. In both its “real” and simulated worlds, The Matrix used visual effects that seemed light years ahead of anything audiences had seen on the big screen before. Whether Neo was jumping off a skyscraper only to bounce off the pavement below, inverting the laws of physics in mid-battle, or running up walls in slow-motion amid a hail of bullets, every scene in The Matrix and its sequels was a unique, fascinating feast for the eyes.

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A new film set within the worlds of The Matrix will need to look to the future, and then look far beyond it for whatever’s next when it comes to digital effects. The first movie was a game-changer for both the sci-fi genre and visual effects in general, and although the sequels delivered plenty of visual spectacle, they occasionally coasted on the prior films’ visual brand. In order for a return to that world 15 years later to have a lasting impact and feel authentic, the new film will need to raise the visual effects bar all over again. Visual effects have come a long way since 1999 when The Matrix premiered, but if anyone can figure out a way to push the boundaries of what can be done and how it can be brought to the screen, it’s Lana Wachowski.

4. Fresh, fascinating fight scenes

Along with its visual effects, another hallmark of The Matrix and its sequels were the acrobatic, physics-defying, bullet-filled fight sequences that filled all three installments of the trilogy. The films earned plenty of praise for their action sequences, which blended aspects of Hong Kong cinema, classic martial arts movies, and more modern “gun-fu” fighting techniques. Those sequences only got more complex as the series progressed.

One of the reasons Reeves is back in the spotlight is the success of his 2014 film John Wick and the action franchise it spawned, and one of the primary elements that made John Wick so fascinating is its masterfully choreographed fight sequences. In many ways, Reeves’ performance in John Wick and its sequels evoked a lot of what made The Matrix so entertaining, so it makes sense that he’s being brought back to the latter’s sci-fi universe.

If a new Matrix movie is going to work, we need more of that innovative approach to action that made The Matrix so memorable. Audiences need to be energized by what’s happening in the film and feel like what they’re seeing is the farthest thing from the usual big-screen brawls. It will be a big challenge, certainly, but we’ve seen Reeves do it not once but twice now.

There’s no official release date for The Matrix 4 at this point, and no indication of when production will begin on the film.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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