I’ve met some people who like The Matrix sequels — Reloaded more than Revolutions, but they’re out there. I’ve never met someone who thought The Matrix sequels were anywhere close to the first movie. In my own opinion, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions are ambitious, interesting messes. At worst, they’re total disasters, and two of the most disappointing sequels ever.

It was all the more disappointing because much of the creative team from the original movie returned for the sequel, including the Wachowskis as writer/directors, all of the main actors, and cinematographer Bill Pope. The latter offered a unique perspective of what went wrong when he was a recent guest on cinematographer Roger Deakins’ new Team Deakins podcast. Pope says the sequel’s production was the total opposite of the first. Here’s what he said (via Indiewire):

Everything that was good about the first experience was not good about the last two. We weren’t free anymore. People were looking at you. There was a lot of pressure. In my heart, I didn’t like them. I felt we should be going in another direction. There was a lot of friction and a lot of personal problems, and it showed up on screen to be honest with you. It was not my most elevated moment, nor was it anyone else’s. The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, ‘Actors don’t do natural performances until you wear them out.’ So let’s go to take 90! I want to dig Stanley Kubrick up and kill him.

Wanting to dig up a dead guy just so you can kill him again ... that’s intense.

Pope’s explanation makes sense, and it certainly matches the style of performances in the sequels, which are a lot stiffer than in the first movie — apparently by design. It is a little surprising to hear how little freedom the team had on the sequels, given that typically creators who prove themselves with a blockbuster are given more creative free rein on the follow-up. (Plus, the sequels are so weird and choked in quirky techno-philosophy they don’t necessarily feel like movies that were being overly controlled by studio executives.)

Whatever went wrong, Pope did not take the red pill a fourth time; he did not return to be the D.P. for The Matrix 4 which was shooting right as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. (John Toll, who worked with the Wachowskis on Jupiter Ascending, is the cinematographer.) At present, that sequel is scheduled for release on April 1, 2022.

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