The Matrix Resurrections might be a passable, if overly bloated, foray into the realm of visceral science fiction filmdom were it not the fourth installment of one of the most beloved franchises ever to grace the genre. Let us not get ahead of ourselves, however.
Directed by Lana Wachowski instead of the typical Wachowski-sister duo (who were the Wachowski-brothers when last we were guests at the Neo dinner table), Resurrections is a direct sequel to 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, continuing the story of “the wool that has been pulled over our eyes” in an ongoing struggle of humanity versus machines of our own creation.
With roots tracing back to 1999 when the first film of the franchise was released to critical acclaim upon an unsuspecting civilization, the sheer perfection of just about every single aspect of the piece is what makes the franchise’s slow and painful fall from grace all the more disappointing.
To most of the world, the original film was followed by a pair of lackluster sequels that, while introducing a few interesting elements, failed to live up to the incredible potential of the first entry.
To we science fiction geeks, the film trilogy was supplemented by additional canon material in the form of things like the Enter the Matrix video game and the Animatrix animated shorts. The whole package was a solid if steadily declining in quality mind-bender from first entry to last, but, despite its shortcomings, managed to conclude satisfactorily back in 2003. This makes the decision to revisit the material nearly twenty years later all the more baffling.
Though Lana Wachowski assures the contrary, all signs point to another (notoriously struggling) Hollywood cash grab. Upon conclusion of the film, whether or not this was actually the case is no clearer.
The story this time begins with Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) having been reinserted into the latest version of the Matrix with apparently no memory of their earlier selves, their connection to one another or their humanity-saving antics.
Things get meta when we find out that Neo – or Thomas Anderson as he is known within the Matrix, has been working as a successful video game developer this time around. The game he developed just so happens to be called The Matrix Trilogy, and, a work of fiction to him rather than an actual memory, it roughly allows players to experience the events of the first three films.
While this concept appears clever enough at first, it quickly becomes the catalyst for an overwhelming number of fourth-wall-breaking references that suggest the exact opposite of Lana Wachowski’s assertion that the film isn’t a studio-mandated cash grab on a beloved preexisting franchise. At one point, when discussing The Matrix video game with Neo, his boss says, “I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company, Warner Bros., has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy. They informed me they’re gonna do it with or without us.”
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to begin to suspect they aren’t speaking metaphorically here.
While we have to admit that seeing some of the original crew back together on screen is undoubtedly charming, the film itself has literally no elements to justify its existence. The story, particularly that of why we’re returning at all, is lazy at best. Many fans of the original series wondered if the events of the third movie didn’t leave itself a beautifully hidden backdoor for potential sequels in that perhaps the reason Neo could see without eyes and could disable sentinels in the “real world” was that they had never actually left the Matrix at all. That perhaps Zion and the machine city and all that transpired was simply another layer of the deception that was the simulation.
Unfortunately, none of that proves the case with the fourth entry. Evidently, the Neil Patrick Harris program decided to rebuild the two characters and, somehow their bodies, and pop them back in for reasons.
While securing the entire cast was clearly not possible, the substitutes for Morpheus and Agent Smith are so poor as to make a viewer seek out anything starring Lawrence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving respectively strictly out of solidarity. Even odder still is the choice to interlace the abundant exposition presented with literal scenes of the first film projecting on the walls of the backgrounds. The decision here was probably to soften the proverbial edges across the franchise but all it made us do is wish we were watching the original.
The biggest crime, though, with Resurrections is a complete lack of focus. The original trilogy prided itself on stuffing in some of the grandest questions of reality, human nature and the definition of existence around every corner. By comparison, Resurrections seems content with poking fun of pop-culture archetypes like modern tech company corporate bros and the nature of the media itself. Entertaining enough quips, perhaps, but a far cry from Simulacra and Simulation.
The narrative itself is as equally meandering, with no clear villain (or stakes at all, for that matter) ever manifesting. About the greatest heights the story here hits are simple explanations for things like why phone-booths were necessary in the old movies and how Neo’s touching a mirror that turned to liquid after having taken the red pill originally was significant.
All in all, and despite how this review may make it seem, The Matrix Resurrections isn’t a particularly offensive film, nor will it fail to entertain. If it was a standalone commentary, even one from Lana Wachowski, it would have been entirely passable. Its biggest flaw is that it is canonically connected to what many consider the finest example of visceral science fiction film-making ever undertaken.
The disappointing original sequels (The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions – 2003) may not have managed to live up to the potential of the 1999 original but did manage to avoid the label that seems most fitting in describing 2021’s Resurrections: Unnecessary.