Having concluded a trilogy with apparent finality, The Matrix returns almost 20 years later with an unlikely fourth instalment. This time only half the Wachowski’s are back to direct —as Lily decided not to rake over old ground, whereas Lana was inspired to revive their characters as a salve for real-life grief —and The Matrix Resurrections duly steps into a pop culture landscape that’s changed radically since the millennium. The Matrix (1999) was a seminal moment in cinema; it evolved how sci-fi/action movies were made, gave 1990s audiences a taste of 21st-century digital filmmaking, and helped to popularise its own anime and martial arts influences in the west.
There followed a decade of Hollywood movies that borrowed ideas, visuals, and techniques from The Matrix (most famously the ‘bullet time’ effect), and even today echoes of its influence are still felt. The divisive sequels —The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) —weren’t to everyone’s taste, but even they helped push big-budget cinema to new technical heights. And in real life, subjects The Matrix explored (artificial worlds and intelligence ), have only grown more relevant with huge advancements in virtual reality and A.I. (Not to mention the internet’s social impact on our lives.) It’s bizarre to consider that when The Matrix was released, going “online” was still a novelty and most people were on dial-up connections using 56kbps modems!
The risk in reviving The Matrix is surprisingly low, as the original sequels aren’t held in high regard by most people, so one could even claim The Matrix Resurrections is hotly anticipated because it could fix the perceived damage to the brand. Yes, it’s the post-prequels Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016) situation all over again, even down to how much this film stokes nostalgia. But does rebooting The Matrix prove to be a wise idea, returning to this universe from a more sophisticated vantage point, or is this an indulgent retread that wastes everyone’s time for lazy thrills?
Sadly, despite a big swing and some intriguing ideas and updates to the lore (mirrors replace phone booths as portals), The Matrix Resurrections is more of convoluted retread more than a bold new chapter. I won’t ruin the big surprises, but it’s impossible to review the movie without revealing anything whatsoever, so plenty of first act spoilers will follow. The opening half-hour is the best, as we’re reunited with Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) and realise he’s now a world-famous video game developer who created a popular trilogy called “The Matrix” — sound familiar? His business partner (Jonathan Groff) reveals their bosses at Warner Bros. now want a “Matrix 4” — ooh, meta! —but Thomas is more concerned about keeping his sanity from slipping, again, as his everyday reality and the fiction of his games have started to blur. In particular, a motorcycle enthusiast called Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) has taken his romantic interest, but she’s married with kids, and so his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) prescribes a course of blue pills to stop Thomas attempting to commit suicide again.
Of course, we’re fully aware that Thomas is correct in his belief that reality is a sham —duh, this is a Matrix movie — and it seems others are determined to pull Mr Anderson out of this eerie simulation and back to reality. Those include the crew of the Mnemosyne, led by Bugs (Jessica Henwick), and a younger incarnation of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) that frankly causes more headaches to include than creating a new character to perform the same function. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is starting to make a career out of stepping into the shoes of characters other black actors made their own, after Candyman (2021).
Lana Wachowski clearly didn’t want The Matrix Resurrections to follow the same path of its sequels, so she wisely decided to create another “puzzle” within the realm of what The Matrix allows. And this leads to a lot of meta-textual commentary about The Matrix movies (with callbacks, parallels, and identical shots), and unnecessary sequels in general. It’s the Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) or Last Action Hero (1993) of the franchise. The studio were apparently going to make another Matrix, with or without the Wachowski’s at one point, so it seems like Lana perhaps swooped in to avoid a remake.
And this does some new things (like adding more comedy and romance), even if the mirroring of visuals and repeating dialogue from the earlier movies makes it seem like a glorified remake at times. Ultimately, this plays like a self-aware redo of The Matrix —with Mr Anderson again having to be convinced he’s The One by folk from outside his false reality —which is either going to work for you or not. I thought elements of this were interesting because it makes a bold choice in having clips from the original movies (well, “games”) play on screens around the characters. But it was also disappointing that the story arc was so familiar, and thus predictable, as Resurrections goes out of its way to insert half-subliminal shots from the original to remind us we’re just seeng an “alternate version” of the same thing.
Whatever your response to this meta approach is, one thing most people will agree on is the failure of The Matrix Resurrections in terms of pushing the envelope. It’s not even a particularly good action movie because the fights aren’t shot or choreographed well, making them rather tedious and difficult to follow. And there’s simply not enough of them to break up the story, let alone one that stands out from the pack—like the iconic lobby shootout from The Matrix, or the ‘Burly Brawl’ and freeway chase from Reloaded.
The climactic motorcycle escape sequence is the best, but even that seems small-scale and too reliant on Reeves stopping bullets in mid-air. The actors apparently trained to perform their stunts for real (as they famously did for the trilogy), but there’s no thrill in seeing that this time because everything’s edited so choppily and the fights rely too much on VFX . Neo basically uses The Force most of the time, which becomes tiresome. Considering what The Matrix did for action cinema in ’99, it’s unforgivably how pedestrian the action in Resurrections looks and feels. The film even avoids doing its signature “bullet time” effect too. How on earth that was allowed to happen is anyone’s guess, as it’s like a Rocky movie not showing any boxing.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss do what they can in these roles, although Trinity is kept off-screen for a significant chunk of time in the middle and Neo rarely stops looking confused. A lot of the story hinges on audience’s being invested in these characters as a great romantic love story, which is a questionable decision. Neo and Trinity’s relationship was a big part of the trilogy, but the stakes of Resurrections in having Thomas release his girlfriend from captivity isn’t as gripping as literally saving mankind from slavery.
The film thankfully doesn’t undo the fact The Matrix Revolutions ended with a peace agreement between humans and machines, and some of its most interesting scenes are seeing what the future became as a result of that ceasefire, but without there being a clear reason for humans to need The One back in action… Resurrections just seems unnecessary. And it certainly doesn’t offer much for fans, in the end, beyond a means to undo the deaths of its two leads — which, for me, actually tarnishes Revolutions in retrospect and makes that movie weaker than it already was.
Overall, The Matrix Resurrections is a missed opportunity. It doesn’t deliver anything that rivals the original trilogy visually, the stakes are much lower, the meta nature of its concept starts off interesting but soon becomes convoluted, it replays familiar story beats, the new cast don’t leave much of an impression (although things may have been improved by focusing on Bugs more than Neo), and poor Jonathan Groff has to step into the shoes of Hugo Weaving and decides to not even bother attempting Agent Smith’s iconic line deliveries! Maybe it was a wise decision to avoid doing a poor imitation, but then why confuse matters over how Revolutions dealt with Smith and instead create a new and improved agent for Neo to grapple with? And why cast Broadway star Groff as a villain, as he isn’t in the least bit threatening?
There are just too many maddening questions about The Matrix Resurrections and why it exists, but the biggest is ‘why did they bother, if this is all they could come up with?’
USA | 2021 | 148 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Lana Wachowski.
writers: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell & Aleksandar Hermon (based on characters created by The Wachowskis).
starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas & Jada Pinkett Smith.