If you think the original Matrix trilogy from the visionary directors, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, took you to the edge of the looking glass, think again. Whilst the steampunk world of the Matrix may seem to operate in a very limited space featuring high-kicking, leather-wearing revolutionaries fighting against oppressive controllers, it is more like an endless, expansive rabbit hole of endless ideas and fascinating concepts.
Heading straight to video and DVD in 2003, a month before the release of the sequel film, The Matrix Reloaded, The Animatrix is the perfect illustration of the franchises’ creative potential, featuring a pandora’s box of ideas of varying genre and tone. Boasting nine separate stories each directed by separate animators and film directors, The Animatrix is an eclectic scrapbook of concepts that shows off the sheer size of the Matrix universe and questions every corner of its rich existence.
As with any anthology film, The Animatrix creates a vibrant mosaic that explores every aspect of its subject, even if not every one of its nine short stories works as well as the last. Whilst the flashy Final Flight of the Osiris and narratively empty Matriculated prove to be only pieces of superfluous fan service, the likes of World Record, Detective Story and Program make up for lost time. With each story focusing on an exact, unexploited area of Matrix lore, each moment is given its chance to shine, no matter the final quality of the short experiment.
Whilst Detective Story toys with the criminal underworld in the style of a monochrome comic strip, World Record delves into the life of an athlete who pushes himself to such physical exertion that he momentarily exits the facade of ‘The Matrix’. The latter in particular is an enlightening tale that provides truly endless possibilities into the future of the franchise, bringing the short story to life with fantastic direction from Redline and Ninja Scroll director Takeshi Koike.
Bulging with creative juices, the pièce de résistance of the straight-to-video film is the extended short story, The Second Renaissance, conceived and written by the Wachowski sisters and directed by Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time filmmaker, Mahiro Maeda. Beyond the masterpiece that is the original iteration of The Matrix in 1999, The Second Renaissance is likely the next best piece of content ever created for the franchise, detailing life before ‘the Matrix’ where humanity engineered their own downfall. A brutal, gory and terrifying tale, this short story demonstrates the scope of the Matrix universe, as it wonderfully illustrates a fantastical tale of the robot uprising and political infighting in beautiful stylistic animation.
No doubt inspiring other anthology films such as Star Wars: Visions and even Marvel’s What If? series, the Wachowski’s demonstrated how short stories can be an excellent way to explore a yet undiscovered world, putting feelers out as to where the future of the Matrix series should head. Wherever Lana Wachowski and writer David Mitchell chose to take the series in The Matrix Resurrections, the Animatrix serves as the perfect reminder that the franchise isn’t as limited as both Reloaded and Revolutions suggest. Just how far the rabbit hole can go now depends on Resurrections.