The Matrix Resurrections, 2021.
Directed by Lana Wachowski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Christina Ricci, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Lambert Wilson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Daniel Bernhardt, Ellen Hollman, Brian J. Smith, Toby Onwumere, and Eréndira Ibarra.
Follows Neo who is living a ordinary life in San Francisco, where his therapist prescribes him blue pills. However, Morpheus offers him the red pill and reopens his mind to the world of the Matrix.
If there is any franchise not only deserving of a rebooted serialized continuation but one that could thematically expand upon everything laid before, The Matrix is a top-shelf choice, considering the digital world itself was already in its sixth variation during the original landmark achievement in both storytelling and visual effects (and I don’t make that statement lightly; The Matrix is still absolutely one of the most revolutionary film experiences of the past 30 years or so).
Bullet-time didn’t just take off cinematically; it became prevalent everywhere. Soon after, the video game series Max Payne was developed and released, enforcing slow-motion gun-fu as a fresh, exhilarating, and vital tactic for survival). The Matrix is no stranger to gaming adaptations, either, with Enter the Matrix serving as one of the better movie tie-in games throughout the industry’s history, and creators, the Wachowskis, giving gamers their blessing to shape the narrative’s evolution with The Matrix Online. This might sound like a pointless multimedia history lesson without having seen The Matrix Resurrections, but games play a more prominent role than one might expect here, although not to the degree that the story is going to lose cinephiles. Lana Wachowski (returning to the director’s chair without her sister Lilly, writing this new installment alongside Cloud Atlas collaborator David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon) excels at tapping into this link while taking a critical lens to the notion of nostalgia.
It’s also admirably humble regarding where The Matrix stands in the pop-culture landscape, thoughtfully meta (there’s a reference to Warner Bros. inside the actual movie itself that staggeringly sums up entertainment nowadays and probably what Lana Wachowski was facing before properly getting started on this sequel), and balances and understanding of fan expectations and what made the franchise popular with bold new ideas. Without getting into specifics, aspects of the Matrix that benefited our protagonists are now turned against them in beautifully and stunningly visually crafted clever sequences.
Of course, that hero is once again Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves once again embodying the role that turned him into a bonafide Hollywood superstar), here living out a similar mundane lifestyle and an office job as seen in The Matrix. A prologue makes clear that The Matrix Resurrections takes place an unknown amount of time after The Matrix Revelations (thrilling action aside, thankfully, this continuation knows not to indulge in the frustrating elements of the sequels), signifying that Thomas has no recollection of anything that happened across that trilogy, including his superpowered alter ego Neo (also messianically known as The One). Equally bizarre, Thomas has encounters with Trinity (a returning Carrie-Anne Moss), now a married and dissatisfied housewife and mother going by the name Tiffany. Both suspect something is off.
What ensues is somewhat of a remix of The Matrix, upgrades and all (mirrors are the new portals, replacing outdated telephone booths), but nowhere near the same movie. If anything, the story goes off in its own direction while honoring past themes, yet also challenging them in the form of the suspicious Analyst (a brilliantly mischievous turn from Neil Patrick Harris) functioning as Thomas’ psychiatrist, together assessing the meaning of his dreams that are essentially scenes from the original trilogy (often cleanly utilized with archival footage in the background). Or are they dreams?
There are also new versions of beloved characters, notably Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s spin on the effortlessly cool Morpheus and scene-stealer Jessica Henwick as the tattooed, blue-haired acrobatic sharpshooter Bugs, bearing a resemblance to Trinity. She’s trying to wake up both Neo and Morpheus to reality, given some excellent shootout fun coupled with some awe-inspiring stunt work (it also appears that some of the John Wick team assisted here). More intriguingly, she’s a vessel into some of the more fascinating and pressing heady questions that The Matrix Resurrections poses, ones that tie right into our obsession with the past and nostalgia. It’s safe to say that the prologue sets the stage for the clever re-imagination to come.
It’s a given that all of these characters will find themselves fighting some battle against a powerful antagonist, but what’s pleasantly refreshing is the personal, more human stakes The Matrix Resurrections chooses and embraces. There’s a relentless amount of stylistic speed-manipulating action here (with Jonathan Groff playing a new brand of Agent, comfortably slipping into the selfish and menacing role). While it’s evident that both the digital world and reality are far from perfect (there’s an incredible timely monologue about how so many are sadly willing to embrace their own version of truth), this is ultimately a bombastic, visually phenomenal, epic tale of reconnection.
There are some other familiar faces popping up (Jada Pinkett Smith reprises her role as ship captain Niobe to spout some exposition regarding the aftermath of the Sentinel war and hope). In typical fashion, there are bits of dullness whenever the story enters that reality. Still, the pacing is on point enough to snap back into either something philosophically probing or an adrenaline rush of action. And there is a handful of genuinely exhilarating set-pieces involving exploding train cars traveling through portals, shockwaves, telekinesis, and swirling aerial combat moves gracefully captured by cinematographer Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, set to a rousing score from Wachowski collaborator Tom Twyker and Johnny Klimek. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are also both more than capable to keep up with such intensity, with the latter receiving some tremendously awesome key moments. With that said, it does feel one more grand fight scene away or missing something small from achieving the masterful status of the original.
It’s safe to say that The Matrix was a game-changer for many different reasons across many different people and mindsets (I haven’t even addressed the transgender allegory of the original narrative, but I’m sure those more qualified to speak on that will elaborate on how that fits here), so much so that the script for The Matrix Resurrections dedicates a sequence to pondering such things. I can’t say why you specifically might love The Matrix, but I am sure that with The Matrix Resurrections, Lana Wachowski has it in store for you while confronting remake and nostalgia culture head-on. It’s also unabashedly romantic, once again cementing Neo and Trinity as a dynamite romantic duo. May all of these things continue to live on and inspire other artists for generations to come.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com