'The Matrix Resurrections' review: There's some glitches in challenging sequel
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Growing up in a culture emboldened by 1999’s groundbreaking “The Matrix” and its back-to-back sequels four years later guaranteed audiences would take the red pill and go down the rabbit hole if given the option. Well, it took longer than expected but Lana Wachowski’s meta fourth installment “The Matrix Resurrections” seems perfectly content with fulfilling its own prophecy. Sadly for all her scope and ambition, Wachowski, working without sister Lily, can’t seem to overcome the repetitive cycle in which “Resurrections” is trying to, in essence, deconstruct. The insistent need for content and the belabored point of corporate consumerism was something “The Matrix” already touched upon and from the beginning Wachowski tells us “Resurrections” is literally going to be the same thing, but that doesn’t make what follows any less repetitive. If you find yourself enamored with the world-building and well versed in Matrix lore, “Resurrections” should do the trick, though casual viewers (maybe you’ve seen “The Matrix” three or four times but don’t care much about the sequels) might struggle to latch onto the bigger picture.
Still, “The Matrix Resurrections” deserves commendation for taking a bold swing although the irony is this film only exists because of name brand recognition. You take “The Matrix” away from the title and you’d be hard-pressed to find a studio willing to finance something this massive with as much narrative exposition and dizzying action sequences as this one. Not since Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” has a finale left me gobsmacked in its attempt at challenging the viewer even if the results are less than satisfactory.
As you might remember, “The Matrix” was revolutionary upon release, a “Star Wars” for the nineties babies headlined by Keanu Reeves’ Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, a cyberhacker who discovered he was living in a computer simulated world orchestrated by Sentinel machines harvesting humans for their energy. He rejected authority and swallowed the red pill, opening his mind to the wondrous possibilities of the “real world.” Cut 20 years later and Reeves is still playing Thomas Anderson, but something feels different. Especially if you remember how the series ended in 2003, however, Warner Bros shows no shame in literally bringing back the franchise (and its two main characters) from the dead. As one character in “Resurrection” murmurs: “If you don’t do it, Warner Bros. is just going to make us do it anyway.”
Anderson, now decades older, is living in San Francisco working as a video game developer whose trilogy called “The Matrix” garnered multiple awards and accolades for its mind-bending gameplay mechanics, including the use of bullet-time (yes, really). Though work on his new project has commenced, Thomas can’t stop locking eyes with a woman named Tiffany (Carrie Anne-Moss) at the local coffee shop because she looks awfully familiar to the Trinity of his game. (Then again Neo, the protagonist of the game, looked a lot like Thomas too). While it’s an ingenious method Wachowski utilizes to showcase the cultural euphoria surrounding “The Matrix,” and how tough it would be to create a sequel that could emotionally live up to the 1999 classic, “Resurrections” hints at something broader and playfully toys with expectations before falling back into the same tireless rhythm.
It wouldn’t be as harmful if “Resurrections” wasn’t so reliant on callbacks and easter eggs to “The Matrix” as Thomas can’t tell whether the cut scenes from his “Matrix” game are memories of a forgotten past or the psychotic break from reality his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) seems to think it is. Either way, it’s the jumping off point for “Resurrections” as other prominent supporting players, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Morpheus, Jessica Henwick’s badass warrior Bugs, populate into the film to try and free Thomas’s mind…again.
It’s a disappointing venture that grows more irksome each time a character monologues for 15-minutes explaining how the Matrix rebooted after a long hiatus; signaling “Resurrections” isn’t going to strive for more creatively (understandable considering the reality-altering narrative exhausted in 2003). But it’s a bummer the action sequences, while sometimes posh and visually immaculate, can’t hold a candle to previous installments. Reeves and Mateen get a few minutes to throw down, kung-fu style, inside the Matrix void, except it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
Mostly, “Resurrections” is fueled (and almost salvaged) by the Neo/Trinity romance which becomes a definitive plot device near the latter half of the film. Credit to Reeves and Moss who feel like they’ve never left these roles, but they're trapped inside a film literally running circles around itself. It won’t be hard to understand the survival of humanity hinges on our ability to unplug and communicate with each other, but it doesn’t negate how in the end we’re all stuck inside an endless loop begging for a wake-up call that might never come.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS opens in theaters and on HBO MAX Wednesday, December 21st.