The Matrix Resurrections
At the movies these days, between remakes, sequels, prequels, reboots and reimaginings, everything old is new again. In the last two weeks alone, these are/will be six major new releases that belong to at least one of those categories. Many of them bet very heavily on audience nostalgia. They contain tons of references (some hidden for fans only, some an integral part of the plot) that basically amount to “hey, remember when X happened?!” The idea is fans of the old thing will love the new thing because it spends so much time reminding them of how much they loved the old thing (that is essentially the entire premise of Ghostbusters: Afterlife). As it turns out, The Matrix Resurrections, a sequel coming eighteen years after the original trilogy concluded, is as annoyed by this trend as a lot of viewers are.
For those not around in 1999 (or too young to have experienced it at the time), it is difficult to properly articulate exactly how groundbreaking The Matrix was. Made by previously unknown filmmakers, it combined philosophy, anime, comic books, videogames and kung fu choreography to create something truly fresh. It was a massive hit that permeated the pop culture landscape for years and spawned two sequels that made a lot of money (especially The Matrix Reloaded), but weren’t nearly as well-received.
The story was over. There really wasn’t anything more to say with Neo, Trinity and Morpheus. The fact that Lana Wachowski (making her first movie without her sister, Lilly) understands this and had no interest in making The Matrix again just because Warner Brothers wanted to take advantage of a popular existing property, is the main reason The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t feel like a waste of time.
This isn’t mindless action or lazy fan-service. Wachowski has made a commentary on modern entertainment that happens to exist in a sequel that pays lip-service to building on franchise mythology. Not that any follow-up could match its sense of wonder, but it is not as fun as the original. It also doesn’t feel quite as ponderous as Reloaded or Revolutions (though it lacks their high-points). However, the action/philosophy balance still leans decisively towards the latter. Those who hated the last two for that reason will probably be equally disappointed here.
Despite a seeming disdain for dipping back into this well, Resurrections is overflowing with love for its two main characters. It is great to see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss back playing Neo and Trinity. Without getting too deep into it, the plot revolves around the connection between them and familiar concepts of existence and free-will. Reeves plays older Neo kind of like younger Neo, with more maturity and less divinity. He and Moss have very good chemistry together and fit into these roles as though no time has passed.
The positives include the characters, the commentary and the way they use references to the first three almost as gags. They are baked into the plot in a knowing way, like there is a glitch in the matrix. As far as the negative goes, unfortunately, the action belongs at the top of that list. It neither tries to do something new nor comes up with a spin on the style The Matrix popularized. The fight scenes seem so rote, like the movie knows they have to be there, yet it isn’t particularly interested in them. There is nothing memorable in the visuals or special effects. It is by far the weakest in the series in that regard.
The sense of discovery is long gone from this franchise. Still, Lana Wachowski doesn’t assume we’ll enjoy our trip into the matrix just because we’ve been there before. On the contrary, she seems to resent that idea. Oddly, The Matrix Resurrections works both as nostalgia and as a critique of contemporary blockbusters. Its plot is okay and its action is fairly bad, but there is enough entertainment in its refusal to be the exact same thing one more time, that it certainly makes for an interesting watch.
3¼ out of 5
Keanu Reeves as Neo
Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity
Jessica Henwick as Bugs
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus
Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst
Jonathan Groff as Smith
Directed by Lana Wachowski
Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon