The Matrix: Resurrections
The mind-bending computer simulation tricking people into believing they’re in the real world returns for another outing in Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix: Resurrections.
It goes without saying that The Matrix was an era defining movie that played a massive part in shaping the blockbuster landscape from then on. Bullet time, creative use of slow motion, the digestible exploration of complex existential ideas and many other elements all came together to form something that audiences were captivated by. The sequels were massively criticised due to a significant drop in quality but the third film appears to have a definitive ending that makes the existence of another film a confusing prospect.
In some ways, that’s exactly what The Matrix: Resurrections is about. The first act starts to explore the idea of what this property has to say through the use of Thomas A. Anderson aka Neo (Keanu Reeves) as a video game designer famous for making a trilogy of Matrix video games. He and his team are mandated by the studio to make a fourth even though Thomas believes that the story is done. He is told that it’ll be made whether he’s involved or not so he might as well get to work.
In theory this acts as a commentary on the glut of “legacy sequels” that have cropped up in an effort to ask direct questions around why those in charge feel they’re necessary. One of the strongest scenes in the film involves the team brainstorming a way for this new Matrix project to be innovative, relevant and true to the spirit of the original. A variety of ideas are thrown around with many of them being obviously ridiculous therefore setting up the notion that this project possibly shouldn’t exist. It’s a strong start and suggests a narrative that will work to subvert that by proving legacy properties can evolve beyond the nostalgic connection that prompts their re-emergence.
Unfortunately the film completely fails to do this. Any commentary on reviving nostalgic properties is surface level and the story does nothing radical or new with the concept. It ends up being what the worst examples of these kinds of films are; a bland retread of what came before in an attempt to recapture the emotional connection audiences had to it the first time around. It follows the familiar beats with the questioning of reality, adjusting to the idea of learning the truth after being deceived for so long and taking that knowledge to make the world better somehow. The mystery is gone because we saw The Matrix a long time ago so we as the audience know what it is, Any impact is gone because Neo has been through this before so adjusts really easily once his memories return and the broader existential questions fade into the background to the point of barely being addressed at all. It doesn’t help that any time it looks as if time will be spent musing over the implications of a particular idea it’s interrupted by an action sequence that leaves the idea all but forgotten.
Other attempts at comment on the very existence of this film take jabs at other properties such as Star Wars where the actions of the previous generation don’t seem to matter because the world the characters inhabit has reverted back to a riff on what it was before. The same thing happens here as people are still trapped within the Matrix being manipulated by the machines and the real world is still a Hellscape where people are under constant threat but there is a slightly different approach to that idea. Reverting to less than ideal systems is something that is hugely relevant to today with things being dealt with in society that were believed to be extinguished or at least massively diminished so it’s easy to feel hopeless and that progress is impossible but The Matrix: Resurrections promotes the idea that a return to a less than ideal situation doesn’t mean that positive actions didn’t matter. Neo’s efforts aren’t invalidated by the fact that the world he left behind isn’t a paradise as he set a precedent for others to take up the fight and work to create that better world. This gets muddled by the fact that Neo is supposedly needed to return and show everyone the way but addressing it and attempting to put a hopeful slant on it is certainly notable.
To its credit, The Matrix: Resurrections at least tries to embrace this by tilting the focus to the love story between Neo and Tiffany/Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss). Without spoiling too much, it becomes evident that the world of the Matrix essentially revolves around them with the key to making meaningful change coming from them finding each other again. It’s very much a love story about how coming together makes people better than they ever could be alone but the message gets muddled among the white noise of everything else being touched on. Keanu Reeves and Carrie Ann Moss recapture their strong chemistry from the prior films -even if Reeves struggles with emotionally driven dialogue- and there is a strong case made for investing in them overcoming adversity to come together again. That part works really well so the film has a strong emotional hook but it’s too busy to realise that’s where the focus should be.
There are some standouts among the rest of the cast such as Jessica Henwick’s Bugs; she acts as the audience surrogate who idolises the generation that came before her and explains how the world works to newcomers. Despite her obvious function within the plot and the fact of her existing to be this generation’s Trinity she is an engaging character played wonderfully by Jessica Henwick. Should this iteration of the franchise continue she could reasonably carry it. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II works well enough as a reskinned Morbius but ends up not being all that essential to the overall experience.
The film boasts two villains; Jonathan Groff appears as a reincarnated(?) Agent Smith and Neil Patrick Harris takes on the main antagonist role as the Analyst. Groff is good but he’s a pale imitation of Hugo Weaving and seems unable to decide if he is doing an impression of that performance or not. He is at his best when he isn’t but there’s no weight to his connection to Neo because the film doesn’t do enough with it. Neil Patrick Harris is excellent if underused. His campy sinister affectation is very entertaining and spices up the reams of exposition he has to deliver. The writing does him no favours as he never comes across as a decent threat but NPH gives it his all and it pays off.
In terms of action the film is a mixed bag. There are lots of throwbacks to the previous films with slow motion gun battles and extended martial arts sequences but nothing this film offers even attempts to expand on what was delivered before. The Matrix was iconic in the way it blended visual effects and traditional action so arguably taking this further in a way that can dazzle audiences isn’t possible but everything here is so by the numbers. At times there are shameless retreads of what came before such as the Dojo sparring sequence with everything else at least feeling familiar. The best sequences are the more visceral combat oriented ones where the environment crumbles around the combatants. Those involved feel present and the setting itself becomes part of the sequence. Unfortunately those sequences are countered by borderline incomprehensible chaos in the third act. Ultimately, The Matrix: Resurrections fails to justify its own existence and numbers among the unnecessary retreads of popular properties.
A disappointing revival of The Matrix franchise that has some interesting ideas that it fails to fully explore and a general failure to justify its own existence. The film starts well by setting up the idea of how unnecessary legacy sequels can be and almost promising to prove that legacy sequence can evolve beyond what prompts their existence. It fails to do this and other interesting ideas such as a bleak world not invalidating the actions of the previous generation fade into the background, often interrupted by an action sequence that renders them forgotten. The film does tilt to the Neo/Trinity relationship by developing a narrative whereby the world effectively revolves around them. Keanu Reeves and Carrie Ann Moss have engaging chemistry but the film is too busy to realise that the focus should be there. Jessica Henwick delivers a strong turn as Bugs and rises above the writing. Jonathan Groff can’t decide whether he should do an impression of Hugo Weaving or not and Neil Patrick Harris delivers an excellent sinisterly camp performance. The action is mixed with nothing new or innovative thrown in but the more visceral combat driven sequences where the environment crumbles around the combatants are impressive. This is countered by borderline incomprehensible chaos in the third act. Ultimately, The Matrix: Resurrections fails to justify its own existence and numbers among the unnecessary retreads of popular properties.
- a strong opening setting up commentary on the existence of the film itself
- compelling messaging around the actions of previous generations
- tilting the narrative towards the Neo/Trinity love story
- Keanu Reeves and Carrie Ann Moss continuing to have great chemistry
- Jessica Henwick elevating beyond the material she is given
- Neil Patrick Harris’ sinisterly camp performance
- failing to explore any of the ideas in detail
- constantly interrupting interesting moments with action sequences
- Keanu Reeves struggling with emotionally driven dialogue
- a narrative that is muddled by trying to do too much
- treating the concept of the Matrix as a mystery when that is no longer relevant
- action that doesn’t attempt to push any boundaries
- leaning heavily on what came before without meaningfully expanding on it
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