Movies like The Matrix come along once in a generation. The Matrix exists in the same rarefied air as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and The Avengers. But unlike its pop culture brethren, there hasn’t been a Matrix follow-up in almost 20 years.
What’s kept Hollywood from churning out Matrix spinoffs and sequels? The optimist in me wants to believe it’s because no one found a way to recreate the magic of seeing The Matrix for the first time. But we all know that’s not how Hollywood works. For studio execs, a great idea is less valuable than a bankable franchise with nostalgic appeal.
Just like Thanos, a Matrix reboot was inevitable. The only question was whether the franchise’s visionary directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski would helm the project. The answer: yes and no. Lilly stepped away from the series, leaving Lana to co-write and direct The Matrix Resurrections.
So here’s the million-dollar question: does Lana Wachowski capture lightning in a bottle a second time? No, not even close. But that statement doesn’t do the film justice. Wachowski isn’t interested in creating another genre-defining action flick.
Instead, the film is a vessel to explore what interests Wachowski at this stage in her career. The result is a tentpole release that feels of two worlds. Resurrections combines the quirky self-reflective leanings of an arthouse film with the big-budget spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster.
It’s been decades since Thomas Anderson, aka Neo (Keanu Reeves), and his band of freedom fighters ended humanity’s war with the machines. Though killed in The Matrix Revolutions, Neo is somehow still alive, and once again an oblivious prisoner inside the Matrix.
Neo, now a world-famous video game designer, doesn’t remember his past life in the real world. He instinctively knows something is wrong with his reality, and channels hazy memories of his old life into best-selling video games.
After discovering Neo is still alive, Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and her team of freedom fighters hatch a plan to break him out. But before Neo can once again become humanity’s saviour, he must rescue his true love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) from inside the Matrix.
Resurrections wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie’s cheeky first hour makes it clear reboots suck while basking in the warm glow of the audience’s nostalgia. At least the script isn’t afraid to let viewers in on the joke.
Wachowski playfully acknowledges that the film has giant shoes to fill and goes out of her way to carve out a new identity through trippy self-examination. The story’s first act is a meta-commentary on studio filmmaking, soulless corporate cash-ins, and trying to live up to an impossible legacy.
Resurrections has plenty to say about how people become slaves to nostalgia, even as it celebrates 20-year-old Matrix movies. It’s an odd thematic choice that doesn’t build towards anything meaningful. The film calls out creatively bankrupt reboot culture while trying to invoke warm fuzzy feelings for this franchise through easter eggs and flashbacks.
In true Matrix fashion, the experience is a head-trip and put me into the same WTF frame of mind I felt watching The Matrix for the first time. The problem is that Wachowski leaves these narrative threads dangling once the action kicks into high gear. It seems like the film has something thoughtful to say about treasuring memories and reliving past glories, but these notions get dropped in favour of shootouts and motorcycle chases.
It took me a while to wrap my head around the series’ new look. Scenes occurring inside the Matrix no longer have a sickly green tint to them. It’s a simple cosmetic choice with massive implications, telling Matrix fans they’re seeing this familiar world through new eyes.
Resurrections is a direct sequel that feels like a reimagining. Even the way characters carry themselves feels different than what we’ve seen in previous films. Everyone in the original movies acted so damn cool. Whether waxing philosophical or kicking ass in a gunfight, people spoke with the measured, emotionless inflections of the Terminator.
Folks in Resurrection still fire off wordy exposition, but this time out, the humans don’t seem so buttoned-up. Both people and machines feel rougher around the edges and bristle with personality inside and outside of the Matrix. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Morpheus stands out for adding colourful new dimensions to the fan favourite character.
I didn’t need Resurrections to blow my mind with groundbreaking special effects, but I was hoping for more spectacle than what the film delivers. Gun battles and fistfights lack imagination, and they’re less impressive than what we see in the TV show Gangs of London. The choppy editing and shaky camera work give Resurrections’ fight sequences a grittier look and feel, but lack the style and flair that defines the series.
Despite my gripes, I still had a blast during Ressurection’s final 30 minutes. The movie didn’t get better towards the end, but my love of the series finally kicked in down the home stretch. It’s like a nostalgia bomb went off around the two-hour mark, yanking me back into the story. I don’t expect anyone but Matrix diehards to have this reaction. Despite the rush at the end of Resurrections, it was too little, too late, and didn’t change how I feel about the film as a whole.
Resurrections barely works if you haven’t seen the previous movies. The film assumes you’re already invested in Neo and Trinity, their love story, and humanity’s fight against the machines. You could start the series with this movie and still get something out of it, but that would require frequently pausing the action to consult Wikipedia.
Resurrections should appeal to moviegoers like me. I’ve spent two decades thinking about this series and its mythology. I watched the animated prequels, played the video games, and spent way too much time wondering what happened to this world that I hold so dearly. And yet, I walked away from this movie with no desire to revisit Resurrections’ world.
Experiencing The Matrix Resurrections is like watching a star athlete come out of retirement. It shows flashes of what made it special, but it’s mostly a shadow of its former self.