The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Return to the source.
In 1999 the Wachowskis released The Matrix, a brilliant cyberpunk sci-fi thriller that introduced the world to ground-breaking effects such as ‘bullet time’ and familiarized Western audiences with the technique of wire-fu. Apart from its exceptional effects, The Matrix told a mind-bending story about choice and breaking free from a corporate world, giving the protagonist one of the most famous choices in cinema history: choose either the blue pill or the red one. The Matrix’s cultural impact changed the landscape and redefined the genre forever (it also won a bunch of shiny gold statuettes). While there’s been continual debate whether its follow-ups, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, are any good, the Matrix series has always had two types of fans: those who adore the original but don’t think much of its sequels, and those who love the entire trilogy. The Matrix Resurrections, which comes to us eighteen years after we left Zion, might only please those in the latter category, as the film is a messy, self-aware continuation/reboot/rejig that offers very little to justify its existence.
It genuinely feels as though writer-director Lana Wachowski (whose sister Lily is MIA this time) didn’t even want to make the movie. The story takes place sixty years after the events of Revolutions, where Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back in the Matrix — a simulated reality resembling our own, shaped by machines to pacify human minds and power the artificial intelligence. Now living under his original identity of Thomas Anderson, Neo is a successful video game developer in San Francisco who created a trilogy of games called The Matrix, based on dreams and hallucinations he’s had in the past — we see a lot of footage taken directly from the previous movies (inserts that many will find jarring).
Thomas is under pressure from his boss, Smith (Jonathan Groff), to create a fourth Matrix chapter, claiming that the parent company that owns his gaming studio Warner Bros. is going to make another installment with or without him. The think team comment on today’s lack of originality and attempt to create something as revolutionary as ‘bullet time.’ Whilst this is meta commentary it feels too on the nose, as if Lana is having a go at the higher-ups that demanded a fourth Matrix. Heck, Neo’s nemesis Agent Smith is now the corporate head honcho. Lana even contemplated never finishing the darn film after production was forced to shut down due to Covid-19. Anyhow, Anderson’s dreams are intensified every time he bumps into a striking mother named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) at the local coffee shop, who reminds him of Trinity from his games; but she’s married to Chad, stuntman and John Wick filmmaker Chad Stahelski. Struggling to separate ‘reality’ from ‘dreams,’ Thomas is seeing his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who’s prescribing blue pills to keep him sane.
Truth be told, the opening thirty or so minutes of Resurrections isn’t without merit as Lana and co-writers David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2012), and Aleksandar Hemon, Sense8 (2017-18), attempt to dissect the cyclical nature of popular trends, along with our reluctancy to break free from the lives and narratives we’re comfortable with. Once Thomas comes face to face with Morpheus 2.0 (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a character from his video games, who convinces him that his life is a shiny illusion, Thomas decides to unplug. From here, the movie begins to lose steam by focusing on a mission to reunite lovers Neo and Trinity, with filmmakers doubling down on the pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo that tarnished the second and third Matrix outings. Sure, we get a nice middle-aged love story surrounding Neo and Trinity — it’s great seeing Reeves and Moss together onscreen again — and learn what’s happened in the intervening years, visiting new Zion, now called Io, where Neo reconvenes with Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Still, it all feels kind of hollow, the film more talky than action-packed, trudging along with endless scenes of muddling exposition.
Even the action is underwhelming; cinematographers Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll give the movie a glossy sheen that makes specific movements and effects look ugly and uncanny. Gone too are the excellent visuals that gave 99’s film that anime-come-to-life feeling, as well as those washed-out emerald vistas that made it easy to distinguish the world of the Matrix from the subterranean caves of Zion. The FX, on the whole, are okay but aren’t at the level one would expect from such a prestigious title — a cute manta ray robot that helps our protagonists rescue Trinity stands out, but given that this is a Matrix movie, you’d expect something a bit more eye-popping.
While it’s great to see such a sizeable LGBTQ+ cast in a big event film, most of the performances are substandard. Whether he’s playing Thomas or Neo, Keanu Reeves looks about as confused as the audience. Carrie-Anne Moss kicks ass in her few scenes as Trinity; I just wish she had more to do. And while Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff do well as Morpheus and Agent Smith, respectively, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving’s presence is sorely missed. Lambert Wilson reprises his role as The Merovingian, who turns up in one of the movie’s most baffling sequences; for some reason, he looks like a hobo and rants on about ‘originality,’ saying indecipherable garble like “You gave us Face-Zucker-suck” and “This is not over yet. Our sequel franchise spinoff!”
Elsewhere, Jessica Henwick, Love and Monsters (2020), is quite affable as blue-haired rebel Bugs, who captains the new Logos hovercraft, named Mnemosyne, in the ‘real world.’ Sadly, Bollywood sensation Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Baywatch (2017), struggles to stand out as an exile program called Sati. Even Neil Patrick Harris, Gone Girl (2014), fails to leave a mark as antagonist The Analyst, the architect behind the current iteration of the Matrix. Worst of all, is Christina Ricci (presumably in this film because of her role in 2008’s Speed Racer), who’s totally squandered as a bureaucrat in Thomas’ office and has about twenty seconds of screen time — seriously, what an absolute waste!
All things considered The Matrix Resurrections is a missed opportunity. While some might get a kick out of being back in the world of The Matrix or spotting the multitude of Easter eggs that Lana’s peppered throughout — the Analyst’s cat being named Déjà vu is my favorite — Resurrections is still a massive disappointment. After seeing this perplexing mess, I honestly feel as though the franchise reigns need to be handed over to another filmmaker if studio Warner Bros. seriously hopes to continue with the series. But for now, there’s a pretty big ‘glitch in the Matrix.’
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)