Review: The Matrix Resurrections
By Matthew Huntley
January 30, 2022
Does Neo control the Matrix or is it the Matrix that controls Neo? That’s just one of the questions we’re asking ourselves as “The Matrix Resurrections” starts to unravel. Others may include: Didn’t Neo and Trinity die at the end of “The Matrix Revolutions”? If so, how are they alive now? Why is Morpheus a younger version of himself, not to mention played by a different actor, compared to the other major characters? With so many scene and dialogue parallels between “Resurrections” and the original “Matrix,” especially at the beginning, is the former simply regurgitating the latter?
To its credit, “Resurrections” eventually answers all these questions and more, and it does so in a mostly satisfactory and credible way (or at least as credible as any “Matrix” film can). One quality the heavy screenplay for “Resurrections” doesn’t lack is exposition and it goes out of its way to clearly, if laboriously, explain why things are the way they are in the latest Matrix universe. It expounds so much, in fact, that even “Matrix” novices may be able to walk into this fourth installment of the once wildly popular franchise and understand what’s happening. What’s more is that no matter how familiar one is with either “The Matrix” films, comic books, novels, or video games, “Resurrections” keeps us engaged and wanting to understand more. And yet, by the end, no matter how many satisfying answers and payoffs the film provides, we’re not quite sure it was worth our time, and we question its necessity.
After the disappointing and much maligned “Revolutions,” you might be wondering if “Resurrections” was just a way for the studio and filmmakers to make amends. On the contrary, they take this new chapter seriously and perform their due diligence in terms of looking at the Matrix universe from a fresh angle. Writer-director Lana Wachowski, who, with her sister Lilly, wrote and helmed the original trilogy, doesn’t mail anything in here, but instead makes the setup for “Resurrections” surprisingly clever and interesting.
In the film, six decades have passed since the events of “Revolutions,” and we learn the ceasefire Neo (Keanu Reeves) negotiated with the CPU of the machines has ended. You’ll recall the underlying premise of “The Matrix” was that artificially intelligent machines took over the planet and essentially turned humans into dormant batteries, relegating their bodies to lie motionless in pods filled with pink goo as their minds were plugged in and distracted by the Matrix, a simulated reality of Earth that was monitored by agents. Humans in the Matrix live blindly and oblivious to the harsh truth that they are slaves, and the world is, in fact, an ashen wasteland, rife with pollution, gray skies, and dilapidated cities.
With peace between humans and machines now dissolved (after the machines learned they couldn’t sustain themselves without humans’ bioelectric energy powering them), the dystopia we saw in the original “Matrix” films has been reinstated. But just as the machines have regained power and control, a group of determined Resistance fighters have maintained hope that Neo is still “The One,” or savior, who can bring about everlasting balance and harmony, as the prophecy says.
One of these Resistance fighters is the fresh-faced Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who, with her operator Seq (Toby Onwumere), discovers a modal within the Matrix that is running old code in a continuous loop. The code renders scenes suspiciously like the classic opening sequence of the original “Matrix,” of which Bugs knows the history. It is in this modal that Bugs also finds a young version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), or rather, a programmed version of him.
Bug extrapolates that this anomalous modal could only mean one thing: Neo, or some remnant of him, still exists. And, as it turns out, a middle-aged Thomas Anderson (Neo’s alternate identity) is indeed “alive” and well and living in the Matrix, and he’s once again a programmer, although a much more respected one because this time around he’s the brains behind a highly lauded and successful video game called, wouldn’t you know, “The Matrix.”
Yes, “Mr. Anderson,” as his business partner Smith (Jonathan Groff) calls him, works for a software company called Deus Machina and he’s designed and developed a game trilogy that mirrors “The Matrix” movie trilogy. This aspect of the plot naturally makes for some snappy, elbow-nudging meta as Neo’s cohorts, including the obnoxious Jude (Andrew Lewis Caldwell), all talk “Matrix,” opining on the series’ virtues, shortcomings, deeper meanings, influence on pop culture, etc. The movie, as we’re watching it, has just enough self-awareness and winks to the camera without going overboard and becoming smug or exhausting.
Fortunately, the film’s self-analysis serves a purpose beyond just making it cute and savvy. The constant discussion and insights into “The Matrix” perpetuate Thomas’ beliefs that he didn’t just dream up the idea for the game randomly or through luck, but that it’s somehow an extension of his true self and reflects his real-life memories. But how can that be? Isn’t he currently living his one and only real life?
This cognitive dissonance eats away at Thomas, and despite being a popular game designer, he’s a tortured individual—lonely, anxious, and anti-social. The little happiness he does feel comes from his frequenting a coffee shop and observing a woman from afar named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), although we know her as Trinity. She’s always there with her kids and husband, and without knowing exactly why, Thomas senses a deep connection to her, and when they finally meet, she feels it too.
At the same time, Thomas is haunted by trippy visions and intense moments of déjà vu, which he relates to his psychiatrist (Neil Patrick Harris), but his doctor insists his nightmares and dark thoughts are merely the result of irrational triggers and that Thomas should just keep taking the blue pills he’s been prescribed to keep his mind at ease. Of course, “Matrix” veterans know it is the blue pill, versus the red one, that prevents him from thinking clearly and seeing the world for what it really is. When Thomas simply can’t take it anymore, and the sites of black cats and mirrors drive him to the point of near mania, he feels he has no choice but to end things by jumping off a building.
That’s where Bugs and company come in, and in typical “Matrix”-style, she and her crew rescue Neo’s physical body and introduce him to the real world—again. From here, what transpires is not too far removed from the trajectory of the original “Matrix”: Neo “wakes up” and becomes acquainted with flesh and blood humans; he’s informed about dire state of the world and learns what happened over the past 60 years, which includes the beloved city of Zion getting destroyed and a new city, IO, being founded by Niobe (a heavily made up Jada Pinkett Smith, reprising her role from the last two films) and other survivors; and Neo and his fellow Resistance fighters embarking on a rescue mission, this time to save Trinity. Naturally, revved up shootouts, car and motorcycle chase sequence, and gravity-defying, bullet time right scenes ensure.
Of course, there are many more details, updates, and new (as well as old) characters to speak of, which I won’t reveal, and all these hold our attention and keep “The Matrix Resurrections” moving at a solid pace. Despite its too long runtime (it clocks in at just under two and a half hours), the plot is always interesting, the visuals are consistently sharp and striking, and the special effects are once again state of the art. Plus, there are a few unexpected plot twists and moments of witty humor that catch us off guard, such as when Neo responds to the question of whether he can still fly.
What’s also surprising is how much we come to genuinely care about the human characters and their yearning for love and freedom. Wachowski develops them beyond just slick-looking, cartoonish people donning black trench coats and cool sunglasses. The movie pauses enough and gives the characters enough one-on-one screen time to have real conversations about what they think and desire, especially Neo and Trinity, whose relationship takes on greater meaning than before, perhaps because we see shots of their younger selves from the original trilogy intercut with their present ones, which allows us to gain a sense of their history. This sincere human element is something we don’t expect from a “Matrix” movie.
And yet, with all this said, as impressed as we may be by the quality and effort put into this third sequel, and as much as it doesn’t come across merely as a hollow cash grab, “The Matrix Resurrections” ultimately lacks spark. It’s rhythmic and thoughtful, sure, but it’s also too slow and the energy level never spikes beyond a certain threshold to make us feel excited or put us in a state of awe and/or eager anticipation the way the other films in the series did (or any good film does). The action sequences, as well produced and convincing as they are, are more admirable than entertaining. And as much as they give to it, the filmmakers and returning cast members seem tired. We sense their dedication but not their enthusiasm. It’s as if a part of them is always asking, “Wait, why are we making this again?” I’m not sure they know, and their perceived uncertainty affects us, because it leads us to ask, “Wait, why are watching this again?”
Perhaps this was inevitable, given the amount of time that has passed between the original “Matrix” trilogy and “Resurrections.” As franchises age, they simply can’t have the same impact they once had, and because “Resurrections” doesn’t ignite us to the point where we feel we must keep watching it, I can’t quite recommend it. It does hold viewers, but it’s not essential viewing. If there’s going to be a “Matrix 5,” I would suggest it be driven by a whole new set of characters struggling with a conflict other than human versus machine. I don’t know what the story could be, but if the plan is to keep this franchise going, I think it needs to break away from what it’s already done and the people it already knows. As Morpheus once said, it needs to “let it all go.” Maybe then, “The Matrix” series can leap into territory and once again make us say, “Whoa.”