There’s nothing Hollywood loves to do more than retread old ground. Box offices are filled with tickets for sequel after sequel. Corpses of peacefully resting franchises are forced out to make a quick buck, and they are often completely unremarkable and fade to irrelevance as quickly as they are farted out (metaphorically). Its new favorite vessel for retreading old content is the “soft reboot,” a term that has come to mean a movie that reboots an old series in the same universe but focuses on different characters (think Star Wars: Force Awakens). This brings us to the two soft reboots in this article: The Matrix and Scream. Both are franchises brought back from the dead to create a soft reboot and both attempt to provide meta-commentary on their own series.
These two edgy ‘90s franchises were created in reaction to film trends at the time. The original Scream was a horror movie where the characters discussed other horror movies. The filmmakers were able to use this format to comment on problematic trends rampant in the horror industry – like the “pure virgin” trope – and regenerate interest in horror as a genre after years of stagnation. The Matrix, similarly, provided commentary on a lot of sci-fi tropes and was thoroughly groundbreaking with its initial premise of the world being a simulation.
Both hit movies spawned a series of films from their original directors. Lana and Lilly Wachowski made two Matrix sequels – rounding out the trilogy – and Wes Craven created three more Scream sequels. Both series had conclusive endings with most main characters dying by the end. Wes Craven, the director of the first four Scream films, died in 2015. The final Matrix sequel, The Matrix Revolutions came out in 2003, and the final Scream sequel, Scream 4, was released in 2011. So why bring back these franchises now?
For whatever reason, Paramount (the studio behind Scream) and Warner Bros. (the studio behind The Matrix) decided now was a good time for a soft reboot à la the recent, very successful Star Wars sequel trilogy.
Despite doing OK at the box office, both films failed critically. Scream (2022) suffers from terrible writing, cringe-worthy dialogue and an unrelenting pace that lessens the impact of scares throughout the movie instead of increasing them. Everything in it feels tired and bland, a bit like an AI tried to write a horror movie. The Matrix: Resurrections looks terrible for its high budget of $190 million, with cinematography that looks at worst like a Hallmark movie and at best like an OK sci-fi TV series. Much of the action feels limp, and the two-and-a-half hour film suffers heavily from second act sag.
Scream (2022) was significantly less successful as a soft reboot than The Matrix Resurrections. Since Scream (1996) was so meta and included characters giving commentary on film trends, this movie felt obliged to do the same. But none of it felt genuine or necessary. Horror at the time of the original Scream was a dying genre. According to Vox, horror had been “reduced to derivative, repetitive slasher flicks: stab, wipe, repeat,” so the 1996 Scream’s commentary on this genre felt fresh and new. But when this movie tries to do the same thing, the critiques feel vapid. Early in the movie, character Mindy Meeks-Martin sits everyone down to guess who the killer will be and talk about modern horror movies. She name-drops so-called “intelligent horror” directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster. But horror is a very successful genre today, with quality films that have novel settings and fresh stories coming out every year. Because of this, Mindy’s commentary holds no weight. She just lists the names of random horror directors without saying anything about them.
The Matrix, on the other hand, is meta for entirely different reasons. According to Deadline, Warner Bros. was going to make The Matrix sequel whether or not Lana Wachowski, one of the two original directors, got involved. And so, begrudgingly, she agreed to join the project to try to salvage something from a boring sequel to her and her sister’s magnum opus. Her contempt for Warner Bros. runs throughout the script, and knowing that it was made out of spite makes the movie far more enjoyable, even if it’s not great overall. There is one scene, in particular, that feels as if it may have literally happened to the director. A Warner Bros. executive meets with Neo and says that they will make a sequel to his original trilogy of games with or without him because investors think it's a good idea. This kind of meta-commentary holds similar weight to the original Scream because it actually has something to say about corporate culture in Hollywood, unlike the other soft reboot.
The Scream (2022) executives have Spider-Man: No Way Home to thank for getting people back into theaters, which is where horror always performs best. With these fairly successful opening weekends at the box office, it looks like we may have more tired sequels to tired reboots to 20-year-old series in the near future. Yay Hollywood!