Neo and Trinity should have stayed dead.
Sorry for that spoiler for 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions. If you didn’t see that one, don’t worry, you’ll be no more or less confused by The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth instalment no one had planned to make until long-delayed reboots became financially indispensable for the holders of that intellectual property. Some of them have even been good. Keanu Reeves himself starred in a good one last year with Bill & Ted Face the Music. The Matrix Resurrections is not the latest exception to the rule.
To start to convey what is so bad about The Matrix Resurrections is to commit yourself to a single point of entry, and to identify why that particular sin bears the largest responsibility for the complete and total failure of the film. Alas, this goal is nigh impossible. I’ll just start listing things and see how I go.
Could it be that Lily Wachowski was the talented Wachowski sister all along? Her sister Lana has a solo directing credit this time, and let’s just hope Joel Coen doesn’t fare this poorly in his own solo outing with The Tragedy of Macbeth. Despite being responsible for some truly risible movies – does anyone remember Jupiter Ascending? – the Wachowskis have at least always retained the explosive dynamism of their visual approach. Alas, that’s entirely gone here.
The things that made The Matrix The Matrix were many splendoured, but they all boiled down to one word: innovation. The 1999 film took fight choreography, gunplay, visual effects and noodle-frying philosophy, and innovated all of them in one fell swoop. Say what you will about The Matrix Reloaded – that’s the second one – but at least it took the ideas and visual signatures from the original and gave them an exponential push outward.
The Matrix Resurrections tries to do that along a different dimensional plane, with results that are so cringe-inducing, they cancel out whatever sense of cleverness might have inspired the effort. It’s 60 years after the events of the original trilogy, and Thomas Anderson is now the world-famous tech genius responsible for a trilogy of all-time best-selling video games called – get this – The Matrix. Watch out Scream, because Lana Wachowski is going for your winks and self-referentiality with all the gusto she can muster.
That’s right, in this version of the matrix, the erstwhile Neo has made a game version of The Matrix, and the story picks up with his business partner (Jonathan Groff) demanding a fourth instalment of the one-time game trilogy. Thus kicks off a brain-storming session by game designers about what they need to have in the fourth movie – er, game – to give it that “classic Matrix feel.” Much discussion of “bullet time” ensues.
It’s hard to see this as anything other than someone’s idea of a joke, maybe a protest by Wachowski about being compelled to make another Matrix movie, and her latent desire to tear it all down along the way. Humour is not a solid tonal match for The Matrix, particularly as executed here. Several characters exist solely as the vessels for eyeball-rolling comic relief – as in, they both roll their own eyeballs and cause us to roll ours. That makes some sense for Neil Patrick Harris, who appears as Anderson’s therapist (and something more). It makes zero sense for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who is playing Morpheus in this movie – apparently only because no one asked a very willing Laurence Fishburne to reprise the role.
Carrie-Anne Moss does reprise her role of Trinity, or Tiffany, as she is known in this iteration of the virtual world, in which she’s married with kids and only gets a vague sense of déjà vu from Anderson. She makes out easily the best of any of the actors. She has no competition from a forgettable supporting cast containing zero breakout stars, but Reeves might have challenged her as the only actor whose star wattage was needed to make the project worth doing.
Reeves looks really uncomfortable with the material, and that goes beyond the decision to keep him as Thomas Anderson – a depressed, cowardly version of Thomas Anderson – a lot longer than might have been necessary. Whatever character he created with Neo, who was always a bit of a cypher, that character is nowhere to be found here. If Lana Wachowski really was ambivalent about making this movie, Reeves seems a lot more so, especially when he’s asked to deliver undignified fan service like the line of dialogue “I still know kung fu” – which is wedged awkwardly into a random action sequence without even a pause to let it set in.
And let’s talk about those action sequences. They are ugly and incoherent. The ballet of the ground-breaking Matrix fight scenes has turned into more of a drunken lurching, shot from a middle distance that’s too close to provide any perspective but too distant to seem intimate. The gunplay is, if this is possible, even worse. It isn’t scaled back to recognise a greater sensitivity about gun violence. Instead, it just becomes weightless and lacking in stakes. Characters unload full clips of ammo at each other from five feet away and miss their targets completely. Remember the whole “If you die in the matrix, you die in the real world” thing? That’s not a problem because everyone here is such a bad shot.
Everything about this movie is limp, lame, tired and spent. As another indication that Wachowski knows this, she continues to provide snippets of the original films – not once or twice to provide necessary context, but dozens of times, even regularly including footage of poor forgotten Larry Fishburne. Hugo Weaving is another actor we see in the clips who is sorely missing here.
It’s a sign of creative surrender to rely so heavily on an earlier piece of art in your new piece of art. It also invites the comparison to that piece of art. The Matrix Resurrections does not benefit from a comparison to The Matrix. It does not benefit from a comparison to the sequels. It does not even benefit from a comparison to Jupiter Ascending.
One of this film’s most tiresome repetitions is characters being offered a red blue or a blue pill. We get it, that might be the most meme-able moment to emerge from the original film. If the red pill/blue pill choice were offered to Lana Wachowski in the decision to make this film, with blue representing the passive choice to continue the status quo and leave this a trilogy, she should have downed a whole bottle of the blue and asked the doctor for a second prescription. Reviews like this are designed to help readers like you make a similar choice without any pharmaceuticals whatsoever.
The Matrix Resurrections is currently playing in cinemas.