When a new sequel to The matrix was announced, I thought that sounded like a terrible idea.
When the first trailer came out, I was like, “It actually looks great, and I’m extremely interested in what they’re doing with this story.”
Now that I have seen it, I am between these two extremes. Matrix resurrections doesn’t stick all of its landings, nor quite succeeds in justifying its own existence. But to his immense merit, he takes a lot of risks and does a lot of interesting things. And if you just want the branded action scenes (with a lot of slow motion), then there’s a dime a dozen. Even when it’s a mess, it’s a mess well done.
In truth Matrix form, Resurrections opens by forcing you to ask lots of questions. It starts with a new character, Bugs (Jessica Henwick), spying on what could best be described as a shot-for-shot remake of the original film – except that she notices it’s “wrong.” She seems familiar with the “real” story, and she knows it’s not it. Her confusion continues when she meets someone who calls himself Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), despite not being the Morpheus we know and love.
Cut elsewhere, and we see a familiar face: Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who appears to lead a relatively “normal” life as a normal human, not as a divine hero named Neo. He is a video game designer who rose to fame for a game trilogy titled – Surprise! – The matrix. He seems to have a hard time figuring out what’s real in his life and what was part of his acting, so he regularly visits a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) who tries to keep him grounded in that reality.
The mystery of this opening is irresistible. What is going on? Isn’t Neo dead? Is he trapped? Are we watching a sequel, reboot, or something else? We see a lot of ‘real world’ analogues to The matrixfantastic elements, including a black cat named Deja Vu. Maybe Thomas is just crazy. Maybe Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) is just her fantasy version of the pretty woman in the cafe, Tiffany.
Before you know it, you descend back down through the mirror and into the rabbit hole. Questions are fun when asked. Unfortunately, not all questions have satisfactory answers.
Thomas’s business partner (Jonathan Groff) has some nasty, surprisingly meta-meta news. “Warner Bros. is going to do a sequel to the trilogy,” he said. “They will do it with or without us.” Right now, it’s hard not to imagine that director Lana Wachowski, half of the sibling duo that created The matrix, shares his personal experience directly with the public, especially given rumors that Warner Bros. was actually exploring more of the films in the series without them.
This narrative meta-layer is the kind of thing you’ll love or hate, but it’s not the crux of the story. It’s not dead Pool, where the fourth wall is constantly broken, and it is not Space Jam: a new legacy, where the aim of the film is to remind you of the films that came before it. Resurrections walks a fine line, but mostly stays on the safe side, daring to do something new instead of something easy. Even when he draws on nostalgia, he does so with a twist.
Once you get through the long build-up and start to get a feel for what’s really going on, the tale becomes more of a sci-fi love story. Neo will go to multiple worlds to be with Trinity again, and while it might be a story as old as time, it still works.
No member of this cast calls him. All the actors, old and new, seem to want to be here. Reeves and Moss both give the feeling that they haven’t missed a single milestone in 20 years and yet also have two more decades of experience under their belt. If nothing else, it’s good that Resurrections gave us the opportunity to see them play these characters again.
When that ends, however, there are lingering issues that some people will find it difficult to see past. A villain’s motives for allying with Neo never quite make sense, for example, while other aspects of the plot make it seem like they can only be explained by: “Well, we thought that would be cool.”
Yet if a Matrix the sequel was really inevitable, so I think we’re lucky that Lana Wachowski is giving it a go. It’s not all great, but at least it’s interesting.
Matrix resurrections (C +)
R (for violence and a bit of language). 148 minutes. In wide distribution.