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REVIEW – ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ is Stuck Between the Past and the Future

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The Matrix is a franchise that seemed unlikely to ever be rebooted, and yet one where a reboot made so much sense within the universe. After all, the overarching idea behind the actual Matrix within the franchise is that it is a constantly recycling simulation. It makes sense then that over two decades after the release of the original The Matrix in 1999, Warner Bros. finally re-teamed with Lana Wachowski, half of the sibling duo who directed the first trilogy, for The Matrix Resurrections.

The result is a high octane, nostalgic thrill ride with a little bit too much self awareness and an unnecessarily convoluted (even by Matrix standards) plot. Ultimately, The Matrix Resurrections feels more like a mulligan than a fresh start, but still plants enough intriguing story seeds to warrant additional films.

The Matrix Resurrections premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22nd.

The Matrix Resurrections Theatrical Poster
The Matrix Resurrections Theatrical Poster

Official Summary

The Matrix Resurrections reunites Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as cinematic icons Neo and Trinity. Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. And if Thomas…Neo…has learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of—or into—the Matrix. Of course, Neo already knows what he has to do. But what he doesn’t yet know is the Matrix is stronger, more secure and more dangerous than ever before.  Déjà vu.

The film also stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Angel Has Fallen,” TV’s “Gotham”).

Lana Wachowski directed from a screenplay by Wachowski & David Mitchell & Aleksander Hemon, based on characters created by The Wachowskis. The film was produced by James McTeigue, Lana Wachowski and Grant Hill. The executive producers were Garrett Grant, Terry Needham, Michael Salven, Karin Wachowski, Jesse Ehrman and Bruce Berman.

Wachowski’s creative team behind the scenes included directors of photography Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, production designers Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole, editor Joseph Jett Sally, costume designer Lindsay Pugh, visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, and composers Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents, In Association with Village Roadshow Pictures, In Association with Venus Castina Productions, The Matrix Resurrections. The film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. It will be in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan on December 22, 2021; it will be available on HBO Max in 4K UHD, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (English only) on supported devices for 31 days from theatrical release.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix Resurrections. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix Resurrections.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

THE GOOD

It should come as no surprise that The Matrix Resurrections is ideally watched on an IMAX or similarly large screen format with the best audio options available. The original Matrix films were visual wonders, with innovative filmmaking and cinematography that have been eagerly imitated over the last decade, and the latest film carries the technological torch well. There’s fantastic action, incredible exploding set pieces and, of course, a pulse pounding chase scene. If you watch The Matrix Resurrections expecting a thrill ride, then buckle in because it delivers the intensity.

At its core, the story is unabashedly a love story between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). You might think that the first trilogy was about their love, but while their relationship was an important part of the overall plot, it wasn’t the whole basis of that story. Here, the story is completely focused on the love that the couple shares, why they are apart, whether they can be reunited, and the implications of their love for the rest of the world.

The first Matrix trilogy arguably fell short when it came to Moss’ Trinity in a few ways. First and foremost, her death was contrived and unnecessary and worse, it felt that way. It seemed that Trinity only died because the Wachowskis wanted Neo to move forward alone and couldn’t think of a more meaningful way wrap up her story. Second, while she was first introduced as a uniquely kick-ass hero every bit as interesting and capable as Neo or Morpheus (originally played by Lawrence Fishburne), her arc faltered in the later films and lacked true development. The Matrix Resurrections seems intent on righting those wrongs, and in that way, the fact that the film feels like a do-over isn’t a bad thing. It is however a tight rope to walk on, because correcting a finished storyline is no easy task, and the way this film handles Trinity is a mixed bag. First, the explanation for her return (because again, she died in the third film) is glossed over in the most cursory way possible. The Matrix films have a way of saying the least with the most amount of words, and that is once again true here. Suffice it to say, Trinity is back because Lana Wachowski wanted her to be back, and that’s okay because frankly, many fans wanted her back anyway and it’s much easier to forgive a messy storyline if it corrects a previous messy storyline.

With Trinity back, do Moss and Reeves still have the beautiful chemistry that we saw a decade ago? The answer is a resounding yes. Sure, the film makes a half-hearted attempt to keep the two characters apart and add some hurdles to delay their reunion. But the end result is never in doubt and again, that’s okay, because fans want to see Neo and Trinity together again. Moss and Reeves remind us all why nostalgia is so attractive. The two are so good together and present a perfect mix of comfort and familiarity with fresh and new.

Beyond Reeves and Moss, the best performances are delivered by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jessica Henwick. The two newcomers also share a crackling chemistry and feel like perfect fits for the Matrix universe. That’s no small task, especially with Abdul-Mateen, who plays a different version of the iconic Morpheus. Abdul-Mateen plays the character with a completely different attitude and tone, and yet strangely feels similar to Fishburne’s original. It’s a difficult balance that the talented actor is able to pull off without nearly as much material as Fishburne was given. Henwick, who had to turn down a chemistry reading audition for Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in order to pursue this role, pops in every scene she’s in. She has an effortlessly dynamic energy that you can’t help but follow, which makes sense for her role in the film as Bugs, the human embodiment of the white rabbit that first led Neo to the Matrix. Perhaps the most important part of their characters and performances is that they are interesting enough that more stories are certainly warranted.

Not to be outdone, Neil Patrick Harris is another welcome addition to the Matrix world, as the obnoxious yet charmingly arrogant Analyst. He does such a wonderful job of aggravating the film’s heroes and its audiences that you can’t wait for the moment when he’s kicked in the face.

Sequoia (Toby Onwumere), Lexi (Eréndira Ibarra), Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and Bugs (Jessica Henwick) in The Matrix Resurrections. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Sequoia (Toby Onwumere), Lexi (Eréndira Ibarra), Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and Bugs (Jessica Henwick) in The Matrix Resurrections.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

THE BAD

As exciting as a reboot can be, part of the reason that The Matrix seemed unlikely to be revisited (every “re” word seems like a potential future title for this franchise), is because it’s so difficult to capture the unique freshness and innovation of the original. When the first film was released in 1999, pop culture was completely dominated by the first return of Star Wars with Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Few expected an original science fiction film from a relatively unknown directing duo with just one other feature film to their name to change filmmaking.

20 years later the Wachowskis aren’t the new kids on the block anymore, and the elephant in the room is whether another Matrix film could really be something new. In explaining why she didn’t return for Resurrections, Lilly Wachowski mentioned that it felt like it would be going backwards. Indeed, being caught between the old and new is the central issue that the film struggles with. A franchise that symbolized fresh and innovative ideas back in 1999 is now one that leans heavily on nostalgia.

With any film that reboots a franchise, there’s always the question of why this story needs to be told. Unfortunately, after The Matrix Resurrections ends, the question remains. The idea of questioning reboots is directly addressed multiple times within the film itself in a meta way. Neo, re-ensnared in the Matrix as a famous video game developer, is forced to reboot his successful game by the developer’s parent company…Warner Bros. What follows is a series of moments where executives are stuck together in brainstorming sessions wrestling with what “The Matrix” (the video game) actually is. It’s a part of the film that is so overly self aware that it virtually yanks the viewer out of the story and aggressively forces us to confront the uncomfortable reality that maybe Lana Wachowski didn’t really want to make this film.

The unsuccessful balancing of old and new is further reflected in the casting. As much as seeing Neo and Trinity reunited helps to buoy the film, Jonathan Groff as an inexplicably new Agent Smith fails completely. Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s revamped Morpheus is a tough pill to swallow (pun intended), but forgivable because the explanation is passable and the character isn’t actually the same from the original films. With Agent Smith, the character is in fact the same, and it’s completely unclear why he looks different, particularly when juxtaposed with the return of Reeves and Moss. Perhaps Wachowski thought that a new version of Smith would be easily accepted considering he is computer generated character, but the fit is awkward at best. If the always brilliant Hugo Weaving, who played the original Agent Smith, was unavailable or unwilling to return, having Neil Patrick Harris play the villain was enough and we certainly did not need Agent Smith 2.0.

As mentioned above, both Jessica Henwick and Abdul-Mateen perform admirably with what they are given, but both are disappointingly underused. They are given roles that seem like they should be important but are ultimately undeveloped and sidelined. As the film ends, you can’t help but feel that Bugs and Morpheus 2.0 should have been the focus of the story, with Neo and Trinity in supporting roles. Unfortunately, there’s no torch being passed here, and I hope we don’t have to wait 20 years to see more of Bugs and Morpheus 2.0.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix Resurrections. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix Resurrections.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

THE POC-Y

One of the many wonderful things about the Matrix films is that they always highlighted diversity as a strength. Thankfully that’s one element that translated well in Resurrections. Especially in recent years, many fans have come to realize that Reeves, whose father was Chinese-Hawaiian, is Asian. In a recent interview with NBC Asian America, Reeves mentioned that his “relationship to [his] Asian identity, it’s always been good and healthy.” Adding Henwick to the cast, whose mother is Singaporean-Chinese, bolsters the Asian representation for a franchise that borrows so heavily from Asian themes and aesthetics.

Abdul-Mateen is a welcome replacement for Fishburne, and we see the current leader of human civilization led by a Black woman with the return of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe (though we can’t ignore the fact that Pinkett Smith is awkwardly outfitted with prosthetics and Niobe is needlessly aged to the point that it makes little sense from a story perspective, especially compared to Neo and Trinity).

Priyanka Chopra Jonas as a grown up Sati is also a fun nod to the original films, though she wasn’t given enough to do in the story and it certainly would have been nice if she was made more integral to the plot.

From a pure representation perspective, probably the strongest area for Resurrections is in the idea that Neo is not actually “The One” and in fact that there is not one…but two. Elevating Trinity as more than just a character that exists in support of Neo is a nice twist to the savior trope and one that I hope is more fully explored in the next film.

THE RATING – 3/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 3
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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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