The Matrix: Resurrections (2021)
Directed by: Lana Wachowski Rated: R Runtime: 2h 28m Studio: Warner Bros.
Screenwriter: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Jonathan Groff
The Matrix: Resurrections, director and creator Lana Wachowski take to heart the motto of House Greyjoy from the TV show Game of Thrones “what is dead may never die.”
As the film’s title might suggest, characters make a comeback in the fourth installment of the Matrix franchise, and the trailer gives it away too. If you haven’t seen any of the original three Matrix films, don’t read this review. By default, it will spoil them, which I am against doing. However, Resurrections is chalked full of flashbacks, references, and actual clips from all three of its predecessors, so it would be impossible to review this without bringing them up.
I like a film where I can try to figure out the plot versus having it spelled out for me because some filmmaker or studio thinks I’m too ignorant to follow along otherwise. You understand my meaning if you’ve ever seen a Christopher Nolan film. The Matrix: Resurrections, on the other hand, is the cinematic mind fuck of the other variety. The one where I ask myself what did I watch? Usually, that doesn’t happen in the first ten minutes or less, but this film did. I’m pleased I didn’t pay to see this in theaters.
In typical Matrix-style, there’s too much talking with an overload of technical jargon that many viewers won’t understand. In the film, they use the term modal/window pane. This term can have a few meanings, mostly mathematical and dealing with web pages. Its rationale is thrown out in a ten-second line that if you miss or don’t understand, you’ll be confused about what’s going on. That, of course, makes it hard to watch a movie when you’re busy trying to figure out what you missed. So, allow me to explain a bit if you want to watch this film and don’t understand webpage technical speak.
When a game developer, for example, wants to add new content or fix something with an existing product, they do so on computers in what is referred to as a sandbox. That way, they can’t inadvertently crash a server, think of playing a game online with others, or cause errors they can’t fix. The sandbox keeps all the testing contained until the developer wants to let it become a part of the program. I hope that makes sense. That is what they mean by a modal in this film. Bugs (Henwick), the new white rabbit, observes something that she understands as truth, something from the past, yet knows it’s wrong. That leads to the question of why? Enter the plot.
We learned man made machines and artificial intelligence in the trilogy, duh. At one point, the AI of machines went to war with mankind, and we lost. Machines took over the Earth. With no method of producing power the same way for themselves, the machines decided to grow human beings and use them as batteries. The Matrix was constructed to keep the billions of podded humans subconsciously oblivious to reality. In that, they allowed two main programs to run the system. That was, of course, a big reveal, the whole point of the second movie- getting to the architect. Culminating in the third film where Neo (Reeves) has a choice (not really.) Any of his options have a list of outcomes the machines find calculatedly acceptable, even wiping out Zion and starting over with a select few “freed” people. Those people won’t remember any of it, like wiping a hard drive and starting over. It’s a sick outlook on the ideas of fate, destiny, and free will. That no matter how hard you try, especially if you don’t know you’ve already lost, you are fucked. That twist about mankind’s chances was like a slap in the face. On the one hand, it was a good ending, as far as non-happy ones go. Yet, what was the point the Wachowski’s seemed to give the finger to everyone after creating all that?
A viewer needs to remember those points about the original trilogy when watching the fourth installment. That no person has a choice, free will doesn’t exist. And the machines can wipe you like a computer, which is what the human brain is essentially, and put in what they want. That is how we find Neo again—saved by the machines and re-podded. In retrospect, he was carried off in the third film; he could have just been unconscious. Why fix his eyes, though? So Neo is reverted to being Mr. Anderson, another blue pill of the Matrix. Trinity (Moss) had rebar through her; she was dead! So I questioned while watching this how human was she? How much of her was synthetically replaced? The movie doesn’t address that at all; that’s an observation. Or why neither is, visually, 60-years older.
The logic, the construct for Neo/Thomas’s place in the Matrix again, isn’t original. I get the rationale; it’s a fitting “role” to put Thomas’s persona into after two decades. So he needs to be “freed” again. Yet this time, the Matrix is different. It’s gotten smarter about how to keep humans from wanting freedom. Sure it’s a reflection of people today being compliant and jacked in more to portable devices; straying from that is the architect of this. Well, he’s not an architect anymore; he’s an analyst. The parallel of an analyst and a psychiatrist is amusing, but Neil Patrick Harris does it so convincingly.
While the addition of Henwick and Harris are well placed and logical, those of Mateen’s Morpheus and Groff’s Smith is not. The logic is that Morpheus and Agent Smith’s characters were the cause and effect of Neo/Mr. Anderson’s freeing and growth in the original trilogy, therefore he would need a representation of them again. Except that Smith was obliterated, purged, deleted, whatever, and Morpheus is long dead too. Yet, “what is dead may never die” springs up again because Lana Wachowski has a problem letting go. While Mateen is an exceptional actor, his Morpheus comes across as a cheap knockoff, a poor duplicate of the original with none of the commanding presence Lawerance Fishburne gave to the character. Groff’s Smith is an off-putting show of bad acting, or what I imagine it was like for him at his casting call audition. Like a drunk guy at Comicon embarrassing himself in front of Hugo Weaving. Yet, the Matrix (the system) seemed to get off on its display of a toxic work environment with a boss who was completely comfortable, causing an employee with known PTSD to be triggered. Yes, that’s an evident and well-deserved middle finger to Warner Brothers by Lana Wachowski.
The script for this film sucked. The story’s entire emotional resonance rests on how much you liked the Neo/Trinity love story in the first place or The Matrix trilogy in general. A script should be like the soul of a project, and The Matrix: Resurrections feels like a ghost. Reeves and Moss look tired, like their hearts were not in this project; others were utterly forgettable. In terms of entertainment, there is little meaningful purpose to be found in this movie.
The plot has holes and questions that are never addressed, let alone answered. This lack of attention to detail creates an uneven pace far from seamless or cohesive. That, of course, is a significant reflection of the structure of the film, the direction. It highlights how much Lana needed Lily’s help with this project. The messages and themes crammed into this film go way beyond an excellent philosophical discussion creator. It’s a hot mess. Like throwing too much shit into the blender for a smoothie and thinking it will taste fine. Sure, there’s conflict and resolution, but how it’s propped up and how you get to the end is a gigantic waste of time and brain cells.
Visually it was fine, the sets, costume, etc., a far departure from the look of 1999. The music was as expected, fitting and relevant- except the Rage Against the Machine cover during the credits. What kind of mood were they trying to elicit with that?
When The Matrix first debuted, it was visually ground-breaking for others in cinema regarding what they could do with special effects. It’s part of what made The Matrix such a hit, things like bullet-time. Twenty years later, with nothing like that to hold it up, Resurrections highlights just how vital a great script is and how much nostalgia alone doesn’t matter in cinema. Resurrections is a rampant display of why “what is dead may never die” should very much have stayed dead from all parties involved. The Matrix: Resurrections shouldnever be on anyone’s watchlist, and I wish there were a blue pill to make me forget I ever did.
-A Pen Lady