So here we are for déjà vu, supposedly caused by a glitch in the Matrix when ‘they change something’. The Matrix Resurrections, released nearly 20 years since the series concluded (with 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions) certainly feels like that repetitive black cat from the original movie.
Change something? Haven’t we seen this all before?
The world of cinema was reshaped dramatically in the wake of 1999’s The Matrix as directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski (along with martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping) heftily raised the bar on what an action movie could do.
Considering how the original trilogy ended (spoiler alert: with some finality), the release of a fourth film garnered rather a lot of excitement, notwithstanding the fact that most Wachowski movies since haven’t achieved comparable critical or financial success (Cloud Atlas being an exception).
Yet as the familiar electronic strains of The Matrix surging theme hum out of your speakers you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d uploaded yourself into the wrong movie.
The initial cascade of code is an almost shot-for-shot remake of the 1999 original and the literally identical scenes that follow continue the bafflement.
We know we are dealing with a race of artificial intelligence who farm humans as batteries for power and trap our minds in a digital recreation of reality, but Lana Wachowski still elicits a string of ‘bwuh?’ moments right out of the gate.
All is not as it seems of course, as is on brand. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves, Wedding Destination) is simply running a ‘modal’ simulation within his best-selling game The Matrix.
The movie goes about as meta as you can go, with a plethora of self-referential jokes tagging along behind Reeves’ iconic character. With Trinity – sorry, Tiffany – only an unrequited affection spotted across a coffee shop (Carrie-Anne Moss returning) and Anderson seeing a therapist who prescribes blue pills (Neil Patrick Harris), the division between reality and fantasy is once again proving problematic.
The Matrix Resurrections is at its best in such moments, as it was with the first movie: how can we define reality? The meta approach takes great joy in subverting our expectations.
With Anderson back in a daily grind, albeit in a much more successful position than before, but creatively unfulfilled, what is there to look forward to? Had the movie continued to toy with us in such a way (see the episodes ‘Frame of Mind’ from Star Trek: TNG and ‘Normal Again’ from Buffy The Vampire Slayer for excellent examples) then the movie would have gleefully carved out its own identity.
Without giving anything away, it isn’t long before things inexorably collapse into familiarity, albeit with some new faces.
With no Laurence Fishburne or Hugo Weaving the script undergoes uncomfortable gymnastics to retain core characters which never seem to serve the story beyond rehashing past glories with worrying frequency; guff about the advancement of human and machine relations simply spin the wheels between predictable tentpoles.
Is The Matrix Resurrections Worth Watching?
Watching The Matrix Resurrections is like a greatest hits set from a covers band with nothing but an amusing name in their favour (The ‘Nay-trix’ perhaps?).
There is a case to make that after the original Matrix movie the Wachowskis always struggled to fill up that universe with any more actual plot. Even if you think so (and I do), Reloaded and Revolutions at least packed in plenty of kung fu and stylish action sequences to entertain your eyes.
Resurrections generates no standout moments beyond half-hearted reshuffling of past glories; the ‘bullet time’ revolution literally takes one of the most innovative filming techniques of its time and turns it into a cheek-puffing snorefest.
Even the fight scenes are flat insipid affairs. More than once during a murky sequence a punch was thrown by a character I didn’t even know was there, so poor was the fight geography. Neo is hobbled by more than age.
I’ve gotten this far in the review without even mentioning the new gaggle of characters because, and no disservice to the actors, who cares?
With the exception of Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), none of the other human characters have any depth to them. Niobe – last seen piloting battle hovercraft and now the leader of the new humans – at least has weighty decisions to ponder. The remaining collective exist purely to push Reeves through the plot and coo at how legendary he is.
There are glimmers of a better film within Resurrections if Lana Wachowski had chosen to ditch the nostalgia and turn her allegorical creations into a comment of life in an era vastly different to when she left it.
This addendum rings hollow, like the machines it populates itself with. Despite a cast generally performing well with what they have (Neil Patrick-Harris starts strong until he develops a hint of the moustache twirl in his demeanour) and a rather by numbers ‘the power of love conquers all’ motif, The Matrix Resurrections lurches from the dead only to shuffle back to the office in compliance.
Words by Mike Record