The Matrix Resurrections attempts to revive the dormant Matrix franchise for a new generation. It covers the right words, but is it a good movie? Read on to find out.
(SOME SPOILERS MAY HAVE BEEN HACKED) A cottage industry of philosophy books sprouted up after The Matrix was originally released in 1999. A bookstore could have had an entire section dedicated to the books written by armchair philosophers and professionals alike arguing the deeper meaning of the movie. Questions of free will versus determinism were batted around, illusions of reality were discussed, Neo as a New Age Christ were argued, and others saw The Matrix as a modern retelling of Plato’s Cave. In recent years some people have argued that The Matrix is an allegory for the Wachowskis’s transition from male to female.
At this point in cinema history if some or all of these theories are or are not correct is almost a non starter. What is important is the power the movie had, and still has, to spark debate and conversation. Very few movies since have sparked as much debate as The Matrix. You are unlikely to see any dissection of a Spider-Man movie that delves into concepts of fate and free will or an Avengers movie doing a deep dive into metaphysics. However, The Matrix Resurrections demystifies everything that made the original a groundbreaking work of science fiction.
WELCOME (BACK) TO THE REAL WORLD
We’re re-introduced to the world of the Matrix under the guise that the original trilogy was a massively popular computer game created by Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), aka Neo. Warner Brothers, the parent company of Deus Machina (God Machine), wants to make another sequel “with or without” Anderson’s cooperation, but it has to be better than the original. It’s a lofty goal and one that never comes to fruition because the actual movie starts before anything else is said about the new game.
While coming up with ideas for the new game several unnamed characters shoot down past theories of The Matrix and insert their own theories about the movie. At the same time they criticize remakes, reboots, and sequels. Later, a resurrected Merovingian doubles down on this sentiment and declares how unoriginal things have become. The Merovingian cries about how “originality mattered.” The irony in his comment is that The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel and not a very original sequel. Lana Wachowski has indeed given us all a “face-Zucker-suck.”
I HAVE DREAMED A DREAM BUT NOW THAT DREAM IS GONE FROM ME
The Matrix Resurrections is missing the excitement and tension of the original because there is no tension or excitement in the movie. Agent Smith is no longer a real threat to humanity or to the machine city. There’s no war between the machines and humans. Neo’s pact made with the machines at the end of The Matrix Revolutions is still intact. In fact it worked out so well that the new movie introduces cute machine sidekicks. Even Niobe, a heavily made up Jada Pinkett-Smith, has a machine friend. It’s all very Disney for a non Disney movie.
Things only seem to happen when Anderson is once again taken out of the Matrix and brought back to the real world. Neo has to be told that everything he did in the past is still in effect. The truce between the machines and humans still holds. He’s introduced to the crew of the Mnemosyne who idolize him as a legend. Everything seems to be fine as can possibly be in the real world. But if there is no conflict then there is no story. So what is a movie to do when there is no conflict?
I STILL KNOW KUNG FU
Neo and his new friends decide to free Trinity from the Matrix. It’s at this point where some semblance of a Matrix movie starts. The Mnemosyne fight bots on a train, exiled programs from the previous version of the Matrix, law enforcement agents, and a swarm of angry bots controlled by the Analyst. In a call back to The Matrix, Neo and Trinity dodge bullets and fight helicopters. It’s all rather dull because we’ve seen it all before, but this time Trinity and Neo aren’t fighting to save humanity they’re fighting just to be together again.
Ultimately The Matrix Resurrections is a love story with an obscenely large budget. There’s an argument to be made that the Matrix trilogy itself was a love story. It was Trinity’s love that brought Neo back to life in the first film and Neo’s love saved Trinity in the following films. However, the love story wasn’t all there was to the first three movies. The Matrix wouldn’t have had the staying power it has had if it was just a love story. All that is left once the obstacles of the original trilogy are removed is a run of the mill love story with some science fiction elements.
TAKE THE RED PILL YOU STAY IN WONDERLAND
Promotional materials for the movie hyped up the red and blue pills made famous in the first movie. By now the red pill blue pill choice has worked its way into our collective language. Even the uninitiated know what it means to take the blue pill or red pill. There’s no question what choice Thomas Anderson would make when Morpheus offers him a choice between the blue pill and the red pill.
If Neo needed any incentive to take the red pill he’s shown scenes from his past, actual scenes from the other movies, to convince him that what he’s been feeling is real. Throughout the movie we’re inundated with scenes from past Matrix movies. It’s almost enough to make another character made famous by Reeves utter “Woah.”
I KNOW THIS STEAK DOESN’T EXIST
There will be those who call the movie “meta.” It’s not meta, but a bad device used to further an already boring story. It’s also not as original as some will lead you to believe. Wes Craven in the aptly named Wes Craven’s New Nightmare blurred the lines between reality and fiction. Actors are called by their Nightmare on Elm Street characters and vice versa. Heather Langenkamp reads from Craven’s screenplay as the same events unfold on screen. Director Karel Reisz paralleled the struggles of the characters in The French Lieutenant’s Woman with the struggles the main actors have while filming the movie of the same name. David Lynch practically lives in the metaverse.
More than self-aware metaness these flashbacks serve to catch the audience up to speed on what occurred in the original trilogy. It’s almost excusable. Memories get foggy and need to be refreshed. Scenes from past movies are edited between scenes of the new actors playing the same character. How would we know that game designer Smith is the same Smith originally played by Hugo Weaving if we weren’t shown a scene from a past movie? The obvious answer is that the truth would come out as the story progressed. However, the script doesn’t let any questions develop before answers are provided. Everything is shown to us using scenes from the past Matrix movies.
YOU PLAYED A VERY DANGEROUS GAME
But all these flashback scenes are a smokescreen to blind us from the needlessness of The Matrix Resurrections. Screenwriters Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon seem more interested in creating an all inclusive movie where they can use words like “agency,” where women take center stage, and have scenes where characters point out how attractive they think Neo is. Some people would say The Matrix Resurrections is “woke” science fiction. There’s nothing wrong with the label if there was a good movie under the label. The screenwriters are in such a rush to get to the end credits as quickly as possible and to show the audience how clever they are that a story of any interest is never developed.
The Wachowskis’s track record since the first Matrix trilogy has been less than spectacular. Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending followed Matrix Revolutions. The budgets increased for each movie however the box office returns did not. One reviewer called Jupiter Ascending “an example of a particularly depressing sort of bad blockbuster.” Another review called the movie “baroque and corny.” As for Speed Racer, the reviews weren’t any better. One review of the movie said “you could look at it with the sound off and it wouldn’t matter.” The reviews for Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis’s most ambitious movie since The Matrix, were more positive, but even a handful of positive reviews couldn’t guarantee box office success.
It’s only been very recently that some of these movies have been given a second chance by some audiences. However, this reevaluation has very little to do with movies actually being good and everything to do with how the audiences view the Wachowskis. Truth be told, you can look like the person creating a movie and the movie can still be bad. Your personal affinity for the creator has no bearing on the quality of the movie. Perhaps, in time, The Matrix Resurrections can also become a “good” movie, but as it stands today it’s far from the classic trilogy and offers very little to cheer about.