2021 marks a resurgence for many franchises, but like many, they aren’t quite as brilliant as before. The same can be said for The Matrix Resurrections, the welcome sequel to the iconic 1999 sci-fi action masterpiece. Like the original, it takes place in a dystopian future where humanity is confined to a simulated alternate reality, known as the Matrix, where machines use human bodies as an energy source. But this time, there are many twists and turns, surprises and detours that prevent it from feeling like a total rehash. The new film, directed by Lana Wachowski (missing her sibling collaborator Lilly Wachowski), rehashes a lot of the same elements that made the first one an instant classic and cultural phenomenon. But despite the great pleasure of seeing many of the familiar returning characters with some nifty new ones as well, the action sequences, exposition, and philosophical ideas don’t feel as fresh or brilliant as before, and much of the execution is very similar to the original. But it’s not to say the relaunch and fourth continuation of the originals is a total disappointment, there are many satisfying moments to be found, making the end product flawed with many hits and misses.
It was inevitable that there would have been a new Matrix film at some point, considering how the last one ended on a very disappointing note, even with an uproarious climatic showdown between Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the final event of The Matrix Revolutions. And the fourth installment, The Matrix Resurrections, fails to achieve some of the films’ mind-blowing action, although it does include an impressively mounted final scene, but it’s the films’ clever opening act that involves meta layers of a reality within The Matrix that prevents it from a stale return. Also, the reunion of ardent lovers Neo (Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) is deeply affecting and easily some of the strongest character work in the franchise, and perhaps Lana Wachowski’s most moving character moments in her impressive career.
Many concerns have hovered over The Matrix Resurrections ever since its production days. Could Lana Wachowski launch another successful film starring 57-year-old Keanu Reeves and 54-year-old Carrie-Ann-Moss still climbing back into their leather jackets, wearing sunglasses, shooting automatic weapons, and cruising while defying gravity with impressive martial arts moves? Could the new film still measure up to the spectacular action and effects that were so towering in the original? Could Lana Wachowski helm this project without her sister Lilly? Will audiences still be in awe of this franchise nearly 20 years later?
The answer to the first question is yes, and the film certainly has enough scope. The technique and tone match the originals. Despite some of the action and aesthetics falling short, the film still has the feel and tone of a Matrix film. The film triumphs mostly with its drama, and there are a few solid set-pieces, but it does not come close to being as breathtaking and game-changing as the action that was on display in the original. Even The Matrix Reloaded offered an endless number of jaw-dropping action sequences that the new one doesn’t quite achieve. Lana’s strongest merits in the film, however, are in the character depth, which is handled with great delicacy and genuine emotion.
Lana Wachowski co-wrote the script with authors David Mitchell (who wrote the novel Cloud Atlas) and Aleksandar Hemon, cleverly filling in the gaps of the story thread of Matrix Revolutions where the final lines of the saga were the character Sati asking, “Will we ever see [Neo] again?”, to which the Oracle responds, “I suspect so. Someday,” In which Neo was awakened from the pseudo “reality” of the Matrix and who was instrumental in acting as a prophet or messiah in the Matrix Trilogy, when sentinel robots were exploiting humanity for an energy control grid.
If you recall, The Matrix Revolutions (2003) ended with Neo being carried away by machines after an epic battle with Agent Smith, and Trinity died in Neo’s arms once her hovercraft crashed. Both of these characters made a great sacrifice in ending the war between the machines and humanity. It was a triumph of reality over virtual reality, where humanity triumphed over machines. Or did it? Lana Wachowski goes even further deep into the rabbit hole with The Matrix Resurrections.
The Matrix Saga continues 20 years after the events of Matrix Revolutions, with Reeves reprising his role as Thomas Anderson, living in San Francisco, who’s now a video game creator of a popular video game. Thomas is also in a clean state and is oblivious to previous events, despite having a lot of déjà vu and some fragmented memories of previous events. These opening scenes involving Thomas working on a new video game unfold with a lot of amusing and equally clever meta nods and homages to the original trilogy. Feeling isolated and even psychotic, Thomas sees a psychologist named The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who persuades Thomas that everything he’s thinking about involving his memories of Neo and The Matrix is just a projection of his own creativity. Yet Thomas is still searching for something deeper, as something doesn’t seem right. In many aspects, the film is rehashing some of the same themes that were found in the original, but it works in just how meta and self-aware it is.
Thomas ends up questioning his reality more after he encounters a suburban mom named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) at a local coffee cafe. They shake hands and instantly feel an instant connection. Tiffany asks, “Have we met?”, and of course we know Tiffany is Trinity and Thomas is Neo. Without revealing too much, Neo and Trinity are trapped back in the Matrix and are in a reality within another reality that they originally liberated themselves from.
Meet Bugs (Jessica Henwick): a blue-haired gunslinger who’s like a young trinity with a White Rabbit tattoo who is sent from the city of Zion to track down Neo and free him once again from his mundane existence. She ends up joining forces with an alternative version of Morpheus (this time played by Yaha Abudl-Mateen) who also believes in Thomas/Neo, and he wants to pull him back into the actual reality by once again offering him a red pill. Other returning characters involve the return of Zion warrior Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith), who’s a general now and has aged decades older than Neo and Trinity.
The Matrix Resurrections ends up suffering from expository overload because it’s really talky with endless exposition where many loose ends are covered about what happened to Neo and Trinity. We also get plenty of action sequences, martial arts combat sequences, and shootouts where characters are still running up walls to dodge bullets. While entertaining, the action in The Matrix feels looser, rushed, and not as grounded as the action in the previous endeavors. When we return to Zion in the middle section of the film, the film loses some dramatic momentum, but the third act and climax of the film, along with the first half, is where the film works. The end result is a very hit-or-miss experience that is still an improvement from Matrix Revolutions.
After becoming a beloved internet sensation due to reports of being just a standup and courteous person, it’s really great to see Reeves back in form in one of his iconic roles. He looks great (wearing more modern and casual attire this time than leather), delivers a very contemplative performance with the same philosophical questions and retorts with the same charisma and arc as before, and in some ways feels like he’s an aging star trying to reprise a role for a paycheck. The same can be said about Carrie-Anne Moss, who hasn’t lost her chutzpah and grit from her Trinity character. Most importantly, the chemistry and romance between Neo and Trinity resonate with some moving and sincere emotions that bring them closer to the viewer.
Jessica Henwick (from Game of Thrones and who was splendid in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks) proves a worthy adversary, as a younger thespian who’s also augmented between the two worlds. This is a great actress in the making who certainly pulls every bit of skill and honesty into her performance. She brings just enough rigidity and intelligence to the role of a young woman attempting to once again awaken Thomas Anderson from the Matrix in very challenging situations. Some of the other casting is questionable, Jonathan Groff returns as Agent Smith, and while a skillful actor, he just doesn’t have the calculated menace of Hugo Weaving, who is certainly hard to replace.
In many aspects, The Matrix Resurrections is somewhat of an anti-sequel, as Lana Wachowski rehashes some of the same material but takes it to different terrain that does, in fact, eventually defy some expectations. There is certainly enough passion, soul, and vision in the film to prevent it from feeling like a typical retread. While some fan service is to be found, it feels earned, as it does in Spider-Man: No Way Home. If only the new film had just slightly more skill in the intermittently entertaining action sequences, it probably would have left a great impact like the original Matrix did. In the end, The Matrix Resurrections is a close-but-no cigar type of experience that certainly delivers some goods, but just doesn’t fully deliver on its full potential.