One by one, the great franchises of yesteryear are offered up to please the eldritch pact made with nostalgia. Now it is The Matrix’s turn. The coolest movie of 1999 became the most divisive trilogy until somehow Palpatine returned, and now filmmaker Lana Wachowski returns again to the world she created with her sister so long ago.
While the movie sidesteps the obvious potential joke title of The Matrix Rebooted in favor of Resurrections, a central concept to the story, it is nonetheless very self-aware that it is a distant sequel following a popular trilogy. The first act is especially littered with many jokes underlining that detail, centered around Thomas Anderson, the Matrix identity of Keanu Reeves’s Neo, who is working on the fourth video game in a series he created. There’s even a moment that may nod toward the truth of the genesis of the movie itself; Jonathan Groff, who plays Mr. Anderson’s business partner, states that Warner Brothers wanted to go forward with another installment regardless of their involvement. One has to wonder if this moment is a sincere tip of the hat from Lana Wachowski. A declaration that she’s only here to avoid watching someone else try to tackle their world.
This air of cleverness, the self-awareness of what is happening, hovers over the entirety of the film. While the original Matrix films had their comedic moments, it’s a bit surprising how many of the events of Resurrections play for laughs. Too many, to be quite honest. Like many of these contemporary retreads of popular stories, Resurrections is weakest when it favors the originals over its own new story. The movie introduces a fun concept to justify many of the new faces in the cast and explain away the absences of those who haven’t returned. But it quickly turns into a tiresome gimmick. At first, it’s an interesting method for making the audience question the story but devolves into a carousel of recycled characters from the previous trilogy.
If all this is an attempt to satirize the concept of reboots, which dialogue early in the film suggests it may well be, it does so at the expense of everything new that does exist in the film. The real world that a redpilled Neo awakens into is now mired in a new conflict, one that is as much machine against machine as against humans, but it doesn’t ever clarify what that conflict is. There are many moments in the film where it’s not clear who the villain actually is. A pair of opposed adversaries torment Neo but what their actual goals are, the who or what they ultimately serve, remains unclear even in a movie full of the franchise’s trademark exposition dump speeches.
Resurrections treats these new ideas and the new characters like the Copper Tops, the human batteries plugged into the Matrix. They are simply vessels sacrificed to keep the energy pumping from act to act. Of all the new characters introduced, it’s hard to say if any actually got an arc, and even when it seems like the momentum is building for these fresh faces to get a hero moment, their story threads end up discarded by the intense focus on Neo and Trinity.
This is especially true for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jessica Henwick who we both meet in the cold open. The movie sets them up as co-protagonists in the film, only to end up as glorified rabbits for Neo to follow. Both of them essentially fill the same role and neither fully gets to. It’s a true loss considering a generation of filmgoers may not have even seen the trilogy and might have viewed these characters as entry points.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have plenty to enjoy. Similar to the previous sequels, when it hits its highs, it delivers. The ambition of it is obvious, the pacing rarely stalls out, and Keanu has a lot more fun with the role than he did in the trilogy. He brings a lot of his relaxed vibe from more recent years. Though Lana Wachowski directs solo this time, fans of the sisters’ trademark visual styles will be happy to know there’s plenty on display here. We have no modern equivalent to the groundbreaking bullet-time moment of the first film. However, a series of visuals in the final climactic action sequence that is skin-crawling, visceral, and horrifying. And both Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris bring in surprisingly menacing performances which is not a sentence I expected to ever type.
It seems both praise and condemnation to say it, but the legitimate best way to sum up the feeling of watching Resurrections is “my, that certainly was a fourth movie in the Matrix film series.” Which, depending on how you felt about the last two movies, may or may not be a hard pill to swallow.
3 out of 5
The Matrix Resurrections opens December 21 in theaters and on HBO Max.