"What if I am not who I once was?" asks Neo (Keanu Reeves) about halfway through The Matrix Resurrections, which is only one of probably a hundred self-conscious winks and nods to the dangerous nature of making such a belated sequel to the original Matrix trilogy (1999"2003). If you remember back to 2003, The Matrix Revolutions ended with Neo-an anonymous computer hacker-turned-savior-sacrificing himself and securing a tenuous truce between humanity and the machines that had taken over the Earth and turned human beings into batteries whose minds were kept busy by jacking them into the titular simulated world. Revisiting it for the first time in more than a decade, I was struck by how the ending of that film is more open-ended than I remembered it, which means there is arguably room for the narrative to continue, even though the apparent finality of Neo's demise seemed to have closed that door. But, if we have learned anything by watching Matrix movies, it is not to trust what you see or what you think you know or what you think is "real."
At the beginning of The Matrix Resurrections, we find a middle-aged Neo, seemingly alive and well, living a humdrum existence under his Matrix identity Thomas Anderson. He is now working for a video game company where he designs a popular series of games called-you guessed it-The Matrix, which are based on the characters and events of the previous films that he apparently does not consciously remember. He senses that something isn't right and is plagued by strange dreams, which he confides to his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris). Neo's hair is long and he has a beard (both of which are later self-consciously addressed by another character), but he is otherwise the same character, so we know it is only a matter of time before he is pulled out the simulacrum and forced to recognize the reality of his true existence. He learns that it has actually been 60 years since his previous exploits, and his lover and partner, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), is also apparently alive again despite having been killed in the third film, although she lives in the Matrix as a suburban wife and mother named Tiffany who has no memory of him.
As with the previous Matrix films, there is eventually a great deal of exposition explaining Neo's new existence and this new version of the Matrix that still holds captive most of humanity. He is reunited with a number of previous characters, including Morpheus, who is now a computer program played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (we do see Laurence Fishburne in many of the film's numerous flashbacks to the original trilogy), and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), who is now an octogenarian in charge of Io, a new city in which humans and machines work together. He also gains some new allies, including Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a headstrong young pilot, and her crew. Oh, and Agent Smith is still lurking about, although now in the guise of actor Jonathan Groff.
The Matrix Resurrections was directed and co-written by Lana Wachowski, one-half of the sibling duo who wrote and directed the original three films (her sister, Lilly, decided to sit this one out). Wachowski wrote the screenplay with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, both of whom worked on episodes of Wachowskis' Netflix series Sense8 (2015"18) (Mitchell also wrote the novel on which their 2012 film Cloud Atlas was based). On the production side, Wachowski has surrounded herself with long-time collaborators, including multi-Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll, who shot Cloud Atlas and the Wachowskis' most recent feature, Jupiter Ascending (2015); editor Joseph Jett Sally, who started as an assistant editor on the Wachowskis' Speed Racer (2008) and edited 24 episodes of Sense8; and production designers Hugh Bateup, who was supervising art director on the earlier Matrix films, and Peter Walpole, who has worked as an art director and production designer on multiple episodes of Sense8.
The result is a film that feels very much of a piece with the previous Matrix films, which is both a virtue and a stumbling block. As Harris's analyst tells Neo, people crave the comfort of certainty, and there is something nagging about The Matrix Resurrection's very existence. As good as it is at times, you can't quite shake the feeling that it is all profoundly unnecessary. Given that the Wachowskis' post-Matrix cinematic forays have all been commercial and critical disappointments to varying degrees, it is tempting to see Wachowski's return to the franchise that ensured her pop cultural legacy as sadly opportunistic (in an interview, she said that making the film served as a form of consolation after the death of both of her parents). As much as I didn't like Jupiter Ascending, I still recognize it as a daring attempt to make something different and, if not original, at least allusive to a host of different literary and cinematic forms than we typically see.
The Matrix was an unexpected game-changer when it came out in 1999, which is something that Wachowski couldn't possibly hope to duplicate here (part of the problem with the previous sequels is that everyone had outsized expectations that they would break new ground, as well). She does put together some fine action sequences, including a nighttime motorcycle chase through a vertiginous cityscape in which Neo and Trinity are besieged by thousands of Matrix denizens who have become like rampaging zombies, and there is also a decent amount of heart for a film whose franchise is often associated with the cold, sleek coolness of designer sunglasses and long black coats. The romance between Neo and Trinity was never one of the more compelling aspects of the earlier films, but Wachowski essentially stakes Resurrections on its emotional resonance, which may be the make-it or break-it line for viewers deciding whether this series needed to be resurrected at all.
Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Warner Bros.
Overall Rating: (2.5)
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