This post contains major spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections.
The analyst might be The Matrix Resurrections‘ villain. But he’s not writer-director Lana Wachowski‘s main target in the film. That honor goes to the movie’s own existence. Because the ultra-meta fourth installment in the franchise is a treatise on Hollywood’s seemingly unstoppable nostalgia machine. That doesn’t mean the movie is a complete indictment of that machine, however.
The beginning of The Matrix Resurrections is about as subtle as a beautiful woman in a red dress. It’s hard to miss what’s happening, since Resurrections is more than self-referential. It’s about the fact it was even made and that you’re watching it. The film opens with new characters commenting on what you’re seeing right now. All while they watch a recreation of the original film’s opening. “Looks like old code,” says one. “It feels really familiar,” says another. Yes it does. Because as Bugs soon adds, “We know this story.” (A statement that proves prophetic as the film hits many of the original trilogy’s same beats.)
But just in case you missed any of that, Wachowski has Jonathan Groff’s unaware Agent Smith take the movie from heavily implied meta commentary to explicit meta commentary. He’s the head of the business side at a video game company. A company that years ago made a wildly successful trilogy of games called The Matrix. Games created by Thomas Anderson that featured characters and dialogue that exactly match up with the movie trilogy. And if that’s not enough, we learn that Warner Bros. itself—the studio behind The Matrix movie franchise—wants to revive the video game series with an unlikely fourth entry.
“Things have changed, the market’s tough,” Smith tells Anderson. “I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company Warner Bros. has decided to make a trilogy to the sequel.” And that decision is not up for debate, even from the person who created the whole thing. Warner Bros. is “going to do [the sequel] with or without” the game studio’s involvement. Since Anderson has no choice if a Matrix 4 is going to happen or not, he reluctantly agrees to do it. The person responsible for the original trilogy begrudgingly accepts something he swore he never would.
It doesn’t natter if this conversation happened in real life. (And it doesn’t seem like it did.) The scene’s intention is clear. This seeming inevitability of a reboot drove Lana Wachowski to make this movie on her own terms. If it was destined to happen—and Blade Runner 2049, The Batman, Animaniacs, and countless other Warner Bros. reboots says it was—she wanted some control over the franchise she helped create. That’s better than entrusting it to someone else. That doesn’t feel like much of a choice. Because when it comes to Hollywood’s desire to remake everything, choice is an “illusion.” Not exactly an ideal reason for an artist to make anything.
What follows is more meta commentary on what it means to actually revive a franchise. Focus groups drive the game’s development. Not artistic merit or honest storytelling. And people who had nothing to do with creating The Matrix throw out meaningless corporate buzzwords in a futile attempt to explain its success. Again and again they try and distill a complex, spiritual work rich with meaning into simple, easy to understand terms. There’s a grossness to the entire endeavor. Why would anyone—a studio, director, or actor—want to do this? Because as one developer who didn’t even like the original says, “Reboots sell.” Considering as an audience member you’re watching this reboot, he’s obviously right.
Wachowski presents the game’s development as a series of identical recurring events. Which is another major theme of the film. The characters are all “trapped inside these strange repeating loops.” But it’s not just them trapped. Nor is it the monotony of life in a corporate world that puts you in those loops. It’s also the audience that is trapped.. They’re voluntarily seeing the same things over and over again. A fact Groff’s Smith also addresses directly. “That’s the thing about stories,” he says, “They never really end, do they? We’re still telling the same stories we’ve always told. Just with different names. Different faces.” In the case of this movie, that’s frequently literally true. That Smith ends that scene by saying “I’ve spoken to marketing,” the whole project—and therefore this whole movie—feels like it might be both a tragedy and a comedy.
Like the original Matrix, this film ultimately ends up being about escaping these loops. As Trinity escapes her virtual prison. So it’s not unreasonable to think Resurrections is making the argument against its own existence. You might walk away thinking it scolded you for even seeing it. That by supporting this reboot you’re only feeding the machine that made its unnatural creation inevitable. Maybe if people stopped seeing retreads they’d go away. Maybe we have to make the choice for ourselves to break free from nostalgia’s grip on our past, present, and future. Only then can movies finally move forward to create something entirely new. The original Matrix was exactly that, something entirely new. And yet, Resurrections isn’t that nihilistic. It’s not a complete indictment on reboots, nostalgia, or its own existence.
Groff also tells Neo he’s excited to be going back to The Matrix. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’s performances indicate they were too. They’re both great in the film. Each is each fully invested in this movie. And unlike the original trilogy, the film gives audiences something Revolutions deprived them of – a happy ending. Neo and Trinity don’t sacrifice themselves. They get a fairy tale ending. Because for as much as this movie mirrors the original trilogy, the two of them standing on a roof in silhouette as the sun rises behind them on a new day can only exist in this movie. It’s as though the film says, “This is what you wanted? Well here it is.” And “it” is beautiful and hopeful. Because if we all have to be here making and watching this film we might as well make the best of it.
And who doesn’t like to remember the things they loved? As pretend Morpheus says, “Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia.”
And because Resurrections isn’t concerned with subtly, it ends with Neo and Trinity telling the Analyst he gave them something they never thought they could have. “Another chance.” Not just at life, but at playing these characters. Lana Wachowski might not love the reasons she needed to make this movie. Nor the process that goes into bringing it to life. But she doesn’t love it any less. And she certainly wants you to love it too. Nostalgia is like anything else; it’s not inherently good or bad. It’s how you use it.
The reasons The Matrix 4 exists are anything but pure. Just because you feel forced to make something doesn’t mean you can’t make something you’re proud of. And it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t make The Matrix 5. Reboots do sell.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.