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A movie gem to stream this long weekend: The Animatrix

The modern summer blockbuster season can make it seem like every action movie is a superhero-laden, explosion-filled, $200 million popcorn flick — but in reality, there’s plenty of diversity in the action genre. For the month of May, we’ll be counting down action movies that fall outside of the modern Hollywood norm. This week: The Animatrix.

Long before Marvel was using interconnected movies and TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to tell a grand, cross-platform story, there was 2003’s The Animatrix. The animated action movie — which was originally released direct-to-DVD — was created to bridge the gap between The Matrix and its sequels, with a series of talented writers and directors contributing their own short films set within the Matrix universe.

The best of the short films is probably “The Second Renaissance,” which fills in the backstory on the war between the humans and the machines. “The Second Renaissance” shows the conflict to be much more complicated than it seemed in The Matrix, where the humans heroically rebelled against the cold, emotionless machines that enslaved them. “The Second Renaissance” reveals that the humans were actually the first to strike, rejecting a peace treaty from the increasingly sentient machines, and setting the stage for a devastating global war.

For those who are interested in The Matrix’s overarching lore, background like “The Second Renaissance” — which fundamentally alters the way you watch the movies — will likely prove most compelling. But on a pure storytelling level, I’m also partial to the stranger, smaller, more personal segments. Take “Beyond,” which follows a group of kids who enjoy playing in a glitch in The Matrix — and never fully understand what they discover — or “Detective Story,” a film noir-inspired tale about a gumshoe who takes on a missing persons case that leads to a deadly brush with the Matrix.

I’ll let you discover the other shorts for yourself, because part of the fun of The Animatrix is being surprised by the zigs and zags taken by each installment, as the film gleefully dabbles in different genres, tones, and art styles. It’s also, unfortunately, the final bright spot for The Matrixfranchise; the two subsequent Hollywood sequels were extremely disappointing, and some mediocre video game spin-offs failed to keep the series alive.

But The Animatrix is more than just a weird relic of a time when The Matrix was a big enough franchise to sustain an entire direct-to-DVD, anime-inspired spinoff. Even today, it shows that the basic premise of the Matrix series is versatile can sustain an infinite number of creative reinterpretations. When Hollywood inevitably decides that it’s time to reboot The Matrix, I hope they look at The Animatrix, and realize the full, flexible potential of the world the Wachowskis created.