Note: this review contains some minor spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections.
This is generally the point where we would launch into a grand opening about the importance of The Matrix and how it revolutionised blockbuster cinema. Or how the sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, hugely divided audiences. But you already know that road. You know exactly where it ends.
So, here’s the thing: the film-makers also seem to be all too aware of that, given how much it’s etched all over this latest instalment. It’s understandable. One can only imagine how the Wachowskis must feel about their greatest artistic achievement, seeing how the original trilogy has been so thoroughly dissected, imitated, reinterpreted, and even appropriated by factions with entirely contrary motivations.
Still, Lana Wachowski has chosen to go back, and reinsert us into this new, entirely self-aware Matrix. It even begins with new characters studying and passing commentary on The Matrix’s jaw-dropping opening scene, with Trinity and the original players this time substituted for stand-ins. This is a theme which permeates throughout the rest of the film. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, excellent in the surprisingly good Watchmen TV series, assumes the role of Morpheus Reloaded, and has a lot of fun with it too. Smith, meanwhile, so memorably played by Hugo Weaving before, is here given a facelift in the form of Jonathon Groff. Jessica Henwick’s Bugs doubles up as both a new character and a tag-team substitute of sorts for Trinity.
As it transpires, Thomas Anderson/Neo is back in the Matrix, or at least an updated iteration of it. And this is where it goes full meta, as he is revealed to be the genius creator of The Matrix Trilogy video games. His boss, Smith, tells him that they’re going to make a Matrix 4, with or without him. You get it, right? The parallels with real life are so on the nose it could give you nose-bleed. None of this is helping Anderson, who is undergoing constant therapy and popping pills like it’s 1999 again—except there’s no party to go to this time. Not to mention that he’s pining from the periphery for the married-with-kids Tiffany/Trinity.
It’s an interesting concept, and is intriguing enough to draw us through the first act of the movie. Needless to say, this doesn’t last, as Anderson is once more extracted from his mundane simulated world back into reality. It’s all ignited via a pretty bland shootout, which in turn gives way to a far more interesting action sequence on a train, though one particular part largely riffs on Inception’s superior hallway fight.
All of this leads us to the world as it exists post-Revolutions. We are introduced to several interesting concepts involving machine evolution (and, indeed, revolution) along with new alliances. However, this is where the problems begin. Because everything grinds to a juddering halt. All of the best ideas are regurgitated at us in heavy-handed exposition. This really would have benefitted from an Animatrix-style treatment, expanding and informing the wider mythology, rather than being reduced to underdeveloped backstory. Worst of all, the returning Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Niobe is given a distracting makeover which brings to mind Gary Oldman’s Drexl in True Romance. Not only that: she’s transformed into a somewhat close-minded authority type, which jars heavily when compared to her character in Reloaded and Revolutions.
By way of numerous clunky lines of dialogue, and clichéd plot contrivances, we are belatedly jettisoned towards the next crucial phase of the movie. There are a few obligatory brawls—Neo does still know kung-fu, after all; he even tells us this directly. Yet these fights are strangely lacking in energy and verve, directly referencing superior moments from The Matrix. It’s all hugely devoid of imagination and visually dull. It’s almost inexplicable how low budget it looks. And, once more, the pacing is all over the place. It speeds up when it should be slowing to grant impact to its finer plot machinations, and slows to yawn-inducing degrees when it should really just be getting a move on.
The original trilogy treated us to stunning imagery and any number of memorable cinematic moments. It was also bold and hugely ambitious in its story arc. Regardless of any criticisms levelled at Reloaded and Revolutions, they at least had a degree of courage and integrity, telling their own story, without getting bogged down by fan service. It’s as if the criticisms of those two movies have been taken so much to heart that the whole focus here is on literally resurrecting Neo and Trinity and giving them a happier ending in response. In doing so, however, Resurrections‘ plot steamrolls over almost every other beloved character.
It seems that, in trying to reinvent The Matrix, and examine the series’ relevance this many years down the line, Wachowski has forgotten most of what made it so electric and vital. The philosophising is all very good and well, but why reduce the all-important action scenes to such lifeless husks? It’s almost as if they were an after-thought, instead focussing on a tale of love rekindled as Neo and Trinity are reunited. This lack of care makes the final act a grind. In turn, it lessens the importance of granting an epilogue worthy of the characters.
Ergo, Resurrections’ meta-musings are an unwelcome distraction. It attempts to both skewer and cash in on its legacy. In reducing Neo’s own legacy within this fictional world, it also deadens its impact. Reloaded and Revolutions were interesting in the way they toyed with the concept of saviour myths as programmed cultural constructs. Here, the emphasis is instead switched to Trinity as being equally, if not more, important. That’s laudable, especially since Trinity essentially regressed to not much more than a glorified Neo-sidekick in parts 2 & 3. The problem is that even this new direction rings a little hollow, since she is again side-lined for long periods, and cast as a MacGuffin for much of the running time.
We end up, then, with an overwhelming sense of what-could-have-been. How disappointing that it’s finest moments lie within the trailer and the excellent soundtrack. If only this much attention had been paid to the potholed narrative and graphics.