Once upon a time, The Matrix blew audiences away with its cerebral story, crisp action and masterful special effects. Rapidly becoming the jewel of the Wachowskis, it carved itself into the minds of the public and became a touchstone of early 2000’s cinema. But as time went on and with each entry into the trilogy, the flaws became more and more apparent. The story and action felt more at home in a videogame, the special effects drowned out near everything else about the films and Keanu Reeves’ wooden acting dropped his career opportunities like a rock, only recently coming back with his John Wick series. By the end of the trilogy, The Matrix was parodied and ridiculed into oblivion. And now it’s back.
Written and directed by Lana Wachowski, The Matric Resurrections stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathon Groff, Christina Ricci, Toby Onwumere, Max Riemelt, Eréndira Ibarra, Priyanka Chopra, Andrew Caldwell, Brian J. Smith, with Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett.
Warning: Spoilers for both the movie and the previous trilogy are to follow.
So the big question I kept asking myself when watching this was, why? Why was another sequel needed? The Matrix Revolutions might not have been the best movie of the trilogy but it certainly ended the films in an appropriate and final way. Trinity dead, and Neo sacrificing himself to purge the rogue program Smith from the Matrix, putting an end to the Machine War and saving humanity. Thus completing his Jesus parallel that had been hammered into the series. So the decision to inexplicably bring them back and repeat points of the trilogy just leaves the question, why?
Oh, wait. They answer why in the most metatextual, tongue and cheek way possible, Warner Bros. wanted them to. In fact, there’s an entire section of the film where characters mock the trend of Hollywood retreading the same ground over and over again. This feels like a way to cover their bases, in a, “ha ha, yeah we know we’re doing the very thing that we’re mocking” kind of way. But here’s the thing, just because you’re mocking your own unoriginality, that doesn’t shield you from derision because of that unoriginality. The latest Space Jam made that same mistake and look what happened.
And tongue in cheek is another problem this movie has. The original trilogy, however ridiculous it got, still treated its story and its threats seriously. But here, everyone is quick with a quip or witticism or some other tension-breaking remark. It’s like they walked out of a Marvel movie or something. And the worst of this has to be Neil Patrick Harris’ The Analyst. The central villain of the movie, after the reveal he plays his character like a cartoonish tech CEO trying to impress the stockholders with the latest gadget. Which in this case happens to be the technology to just bring people back from death because apparently that’s something the machines can do now. Which is a shame because he was much better earlier in the film when playing the role of a dissonant, gaslighting psychologist.
The rest of the actors aren’t much better. Jonathon Groff lacks any of the menace that made Agent Smith the iconic villain he was (and yes, his very first scene spells it out by way of flashbacks to the previous films that he’s the new Agent Smith). And Jessica Henwick has the duty of delivering the lion’s share of exposition but delivers it in a barely audible whisper half of the time. At least Keanu’s more stilted acting makes sense this time around as a near-amnesiac figure fresh off his meds.
Sadly, The Matrix Resurrections offered more than few chances to make an interesting film. Whether deconstructing the complacency felt the populace while plugged into the Matrix, or even how humanity has become comfortable in their hidden bastion to the point where they no longer risk saving people from the Matrix. But instead leans heavily into nostalgia baiting and near constant references to the original trilogy. Makes me wonder why they just didn’t leave it alone.