Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections had a tough task before it: To bring back to life a legendary franchise dragged down by lousy sequels almost two decades ago. All it managed to do is make the body twitch in familiar ways.
The first Matrix movie in 1999 was perhaps one of the most important movies of its time. The story blew people’s minds, and the revolutionary visuals would inspire filmmakers for decades to come. The sequels were arguably not nearly as good, but overall, it’s safe to say the trilogy became a staple of its time.
Now, over 20 years later, the ‘sequel-itis’ disease plaguing Hollywood has gotten to the Matrix franchise, and so now we have the fourth installment, ‘The Matrix Resurrections’.
So, is it any good? Well… I guess it depends on what you expect to see.
Is it a Matrix movie? Definitely. All the key ingredients are there – physics-defying action, lots of guns, long discussions about free will, reality, dreams, fate, love, etc. But the movie is so ‘Matrix’ that it becomes self-aware and goes full meta, and that’s where the problems begin.
The movie tries to be serious, but at the same time doesn’t take itself seriously, acknowledging that it is a Matrix movie and must follow some clichés of previous films. While it is funny for a while, it becomes painfully obvious that the meta jokes and over-reliance on the tropes that made the originals memorable is all the minds behind the film could muster. The movie even seems to confess this during a scene in which a group of creative directors discuss what ‘Matrix 4’ should be about.
But, if you came for the nostalgia, there’s a LOT of remember berries, and there is no doubt you’re in the Matrix universe. However, subtlety is not the strong suit of Matrix Resurrections. The film doesn’t just remind you about things, it actually replays footage from the original trilogy, and it does this way too many times. In fact, almost every other scene is a throwback to the original trilogy, and although the film does attempt to explain it as the ‘endless loop of events’ or whatever, it still gets old very quickly.
If you came for the action, there’s a fair amount of it, but it’s extremely disappointing – choppy, cheap, and dated. There’s an over-abundance of special effects that made the original trilogy revolutionary, but 20 years later, these effects have lost the luster of novelty. Sure, the throwback makes sense, but the movie doesn’t bother to get creative with these effects, or build on them in any way. It simply overuses them to the point they just get annoying, with the same moves (like Neo stopping a bunch of bullets) used in almost every action scene and several times in a row.
The fights also feel cheap. Although there is the usual amount of gravity-defying acrobatics and super-punches you would expect to see in a Matrix movie, none of them feel right. One of the contributing factors to this is the ridiculous number of cuts during the action sequences. It’s so absurdly choppy that it’s sometimes impossible to tell what is actually happening on screen or who just punched who. But even if you ignore that, the fight choreography itself feels extremely lazy and slow. You’d think perhaps it’s just because Keanu Reeves is old and slow, but that doesn’t seem to have affected his performance in the ‘John Wick’ movies, which felt fast-paced and intense without any superpowers, so it probably comes down to the talent behind the staging of the fight scenes. In this movie they clearly didn’t deliver.
But if you came for Matrix-style dialogues about free will and the nature of reality, with extensive exposition, then this movie might be what you’re looking for. There is a lot of talking, and if you don’t pay close attention, the entire plot could go over your head, or at least leave you with many burning questions. However, the movie doesn’t provide as many answers as you might hope.
Warning: The next paragraph summarizes the plot of the movie, and is thus one big spoiler. Skip to the one after it if you would like to avoid this.
The entire premise of the movie is that Neo and Trinity have been resurrected and must once again break out of the Matrix. It’s been 60 years since the events of ‘The Matrix Revolutions’, humans and machines are now at peace, and coexist in the city of Io. But the machines still rely on human batteries, so there are a lot of people stuck inside the Matrix. The old version was erased after Neo’s sacrifice, and a new one has been developed by ‘The Analyst’, played by Neil Patrick Harris. His matrix exploits human emotions by playing into people’s fantasies, and it proves to be the most efficient method of gathering human energy. At the core of this new matrix are the resurrected Neo and Trinity, who are hidden within the code and kept on a short leash, so as to prevent them from getting together and causing another system collapse. Neo is now once again known as Thomas Anderson, but this time he is a world-famous video game designer working at Deus Machina, and responsible for creating the popular ‘Matrix’ games trilogy. Basically, all of his memories have been put into the games, so now he believes that everything he went through was just the plot of the games he created. To keep him within this prison, his psychiatrist – The Analyst, keeps him topped up on blue pills and dissuades him from having any more ‘episodes’. Meanwhile, his boss at work is now Agent Smith, but with a fresh face, played by Jonathan Groff. Anyway, a group of humans from the outside world, led by a blue-haired girl named Bugz, eventually discovers that the legendary Neo is still alive and break him out of the matrix, asking him to once again save humanity. Once again free from the matrix, Neo insists that the group’s first priority must be to rescue Trinity, who, unlike Neo, hasn’t been suspicious of her surroundings and lives a cozy life with a husband and three children. Since she can only get out of the matrix through her own free will, Neo has to remind her of who she once was, and the love that they shared. Eventually, the heroes manage to get through to her and they break out, fighting a swarm of bots (which have replaced ‘agents’ as the villain’s foot soldiers) along the way. The movie ends with them kicking the Analyst’s ass and proclaiming that ‘they’ll be taking it from here’, presumably meaning they’ll make the matrix how they see fit, perhaps with a bunch of rainbows in the sky. The end.
While stuff does kind of happen throughout the movie, the overall impression it left me with was – uninspired. The movie doesn’t ruin the universe, but it also doesn’t really move it forward enough. Throughout the film, it felt like there was nothing at stake. Unlike the original trilogy, the future of humanity wasn’t really being threatened. The machines weren’t trying to exterminate the free humans; instead, they were just chilling in Io and growing strawberries together. All Neo really wanted was to just be with his love, and all the other characters wanted was to rescue a legend they’d heard about, and maybe get some more people out of the matrix. The stakes were so low that at the end of the film, it felt like everything that just happened over the course of 2.5 hours didn’t really matter at all.
And maybe that was the whole point of the movie – to make an uninspired and unnecessary sequel which acknowledges the fact that its existence is merely due to some studio executives trying to milk some cash out of a well-known franchise. The post-credit scene pretty blatantly states that ‘film is dead’ and they should have just made a Cat Matrix to have it go viral.
It’s unclear if The Matrix Resurrections is intended to launch yet another series of films, but with such a low-impact first installment, I wouldn’t get my hopes up that this will be any sort of improvement over the original trilogy.
Note: this review was written based on watching the full Matrix Resurrections movie in Russia, where its theatrical release came earlier than in other countries.