After more than half-a-decade of recorded success, the “remakequel” trend in Hollywood is still going strong. After the successes of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, Ryan Coogler’s Creed, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, David Gordon Green’s Halloween, and Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate, the prevailing mindset in the industry continues to recognize that there’s no upside to remaking a movie or rebooting a continuity when there’s the option to revive major franchises with new chapters that are specifically built to echo the past.
And now it’s The Matrix’s turn. Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections is very much a project that feels cut from the same cloth as those major productions, as what’s old is new again, and redemption is sought for previous disappointments.
In that effort, the new blockbuster is mostly successful, as it builds on the established canon, has its own raison d’etre for bringing back the world and characters, and unleashes a series of explosive set pieces – but it’s also a production that stands out as being exceptionally uneven. The first act of The Matrix Resurrections is an absolutely blissful cinematic experience; the second act is a slog burdened with the over-familiar and heavy doses of plot; and the conclusion is fortunately solid enough to make up for the missteps that precede it.
Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon, The Matrix Resurrections picks up approximately 20 years after the events of the original trilogy, and reintroduces Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) as a world-famous video game designer and cofounder of the company Binary who has some messy psychological issues. While he’s generally able to keep it together and live a normal life, he is occasionally plagued by feelings of unreality, which his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) is more than happy to tamp down with a prescription of unmarked blue pills that keep Thomas’ mind at rest.
Things begin to change as a result of a confluence of two events – specifically Thomas meeting an oddly familiar woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), whom he feels he knows despite having never met her, and a programmer named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) who has been freed from The Matrix and discovers a new version of legendary hacker Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). The protagonist is put on a path to not only rediscover the delineation between the real world and the digital one created by machines, but also reclaim the lost, powerful love that once successfully changed existence.
It’s a strange thing to say, but the beginning of The Matrix Resurrections is almost too great for the good of the movie, as it creates a high bar that the rest of the film can’t match. After nearly two decades of the Wachowskis refusing to make a new Matrix movie as a cash grab, the first act of the new sequel unleashes spectacular Gremlins 2-level meta cynicism that is utterly delightful, with a new iteration of Smith (Jonathan Groff) set up as Thomas Anderson’s business partner who is greenlighting a new version of their company’s biggest hit: The Matrix.
Lana Wachowski very clearly has a blast tearing into the corporate side of Hollywood (Warner Bros. is even made to be the Binary’s parent company), and the movie effectively builds the story alongside these satirical developments – with Neo being the substitute for the filmmaker, not only struggling in the clash between business and art, but getting lost in the mix between creation and reality.
Save for some cool action, the middle of The Matrix Resurrections is surprisingly dull.
Unfortunately, The Matrix Resurrections is unable to sustain that wonderful metafiction energy as the plot takes over. The movie is at first able to get away with the way it mirrors the events of the original 1999 blockbuster, with characters aware with the original narrative directly pointing at the similarities and differences between the way things are unfolding, but that “wink wink” energy fades away and what’s left is the film just bringing back familiar beats and catching audiences up with what’s been happening in the world outside of The Matrix.
After an opening that makes such a strong argument for the existence of the story, the gut of The Matrix Resurrections falls into the same kind of exposition traps and clunky plotting that made The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions such disappointments back in 2003. There’s entertainment compensation in the form of a big warehouse fight with some exciting choreography and cinematography, but it’s a drag given what it follows.
The third act of The Matrix Resurrections gets the movie back on track with an explosive and exciting climax.
The Matrix Resurrections is troublesome for a long stretch, and you get concerned that it won’t be able to pull out of the nose dive – but it does, and it delivers a successful conclusion that works primarily because of the palpable passion that Lana Wachowski has for Neo and Trinity. The movie’s attempt at action innovation don’t hit the spectacular highs of “Bullet Time,” as the introduction and application of what’s referred to as “Swarm Mode” in the chaotic finale is a bit too reminiscent of assorted zombie films we’ve seen in the last 20 years, but the insanity keeps its two protagonists at the heart of it all, and it works because of an authenticity and intensely broadcast connection between them. The punching, kicking, and shooting is cool, but it’s made satisfying because of the relationship at the center of everything.
The wild swings in The Matrix Resurrections almost certainly mean that the film is going to get a divisive response, as audiences are likely to love the parts that work, and hate the parts that don’t, and their ultimate takeaways are going to be dictated by which stand out more prominently in reflection. At the very least it’s an exciting return to the roots of one of the most groundbreaking movies in history, and, thanks to a low bar, the best Matrix sequel we’ve seen.