Stacy Gillis says in the acknowledgements section of this treatise on The Matrix film trilogy called Cyberpunk Reloaded that the book emerged from her and her students’ frustration "at the lack of useful sources on such a seminal text". It is true that although The Matrix has become part of the film studies curriculum, there is not much in print about the series, although there is plenty on the internet, which is only logical for cinema’s first mass phenomenon connected to virtual reality and the cybernetic revolution. The second and third installments of the series may have been received more tepidly than the first one, but the cult amongst trendy geeks and academics continues.
Andy and Larry Wachowski’s franchise was a hip academia’s dream come true: a film designed for teenagers that used Jean Baudrillard’s theory on hyperreality, multi-ethnic characters and S&M-influenced costumes. Never mind the basic Christ-like storyline of the first film and the dubious taste of the imagery, often over-described as ‘cool’; it cottoned on and fully embraced a new sensitivity, although it was not as visionary (and good looking) a cultural artifact as Blade Runner 17 years before.
Cyberpunk Reloaded brings together a varied compilation of articles to satiate the appetite of the most avid fans. Patchy in quality, both in insight and the quality of the writing, it sheds light not only on the series itself but, perhaps even more importantly, on its actual analytical reception per se. The latter aspect should interest non-fans who are curious to find out what the fuss is all about.
The volume is divided into two sections. The first one, called Media Intertexts and Contexts, includes articles that probe into cyberpunk theory, virtual reality, the videogame version of the series, hypertextuality and a reading of the film from the perspective of the femme fatale in cybernoir, the latter written by Gillis herself. This section requires a certain familiarity with cyber-jargonism and a taste for scientificism; it takes deep-focused reading to absorb the ideas and theories being postulated on page. Contributors include Aylish Wood, Andrew Shail, Diane Carr, Dan North and Thomas Foster.
The second section is slightly breezier and is dedicated to more ‘traditional’ approaches from the discipline of film studies such as race and fashion. Perhaps the best contribution to the volume is found here, courtesy of Claudia Springer, who writes about the idea of ‘coolness’ as a black characteristic historically appropriated by white hispters since the days the Beatniks adopted it as part of their strategy to achieve ‘authenticity’. Spring’s crisp, uncluttered writing makes a compelling (critical) analysis of racial relations in The Matrix: "Neo learns sartorial style and nonchalance from Morpheus, his hip black guide who shares his name with the Greek god of dreams and proves he is a hipster by teaching Neo the difference between phoniness and the real thing", she points out, convincingly.
Lisa Nakamura makes a similar analysis, except that her view is more positive about the film’s treatment of racial relations. She says: "This…particular deployment of racialised identity in these films marks race itself as an essential quality of being ‘real’, or being human, with whiteness occupying the null zone all too often claimed by whites in the ‘real world’, who envision and often represent themselves as having no race or culture. The trilogy takes whiteness’ claim to universality, normativity and control and attempts to turn it on its head."
Anne Cranny-Francis writes about the kinetic drive of the series, focusing on the idea of movement that is one of its main motifs. Elsewhere, Pamela Church Gibson focuses on costume, adopting a writing style that wouldn’t be out of place in a trendy fashion magazine. Kate O’Riordan returns to the cyberpunk theme in her essay and makes an interesting observation when she writes that "the Matrix reproduces the modern anxiety over loss of the authentic through its obsession over concepts of the real". Catherine Constable turns the focus on Baudrillard and her essay requires familiarity with the work of the French philosopher. Paul Sheehan closes the volume with an insightful proposition whereby cyber as ‘space’ is "a form of imaginary space not unlike the stage, the screen or the pages of a novel". He then refers to Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello’s seminal 1921 Six Characters in Search of an Author’ before developing his thesis further.
Overall The Matrix Trilogy Cyberpunk Reloaded achieves relevance points for its multidisciplinary editorial approach, which makes perfect sense for a book analysing a hypertextual film text that, regardless of aesthetic preferences and artistic value, is hugely relevant to postmodern