I can’t believe The Matrix Resurrections exists. And I mean that in the best way possible. I mean, how often do we see blockbusters that are in direct conversation with themselves about whether or not they should even exist? Sure, you’ve got the Deadpools of the world that make snide, ironic comments about the derivative nature of Hollywood. But it’s exceedingly rare to see a multi-hundred-million-dollar film directly questions its very existence. Yet that’s exactly what Lana Wachowski does with The Matrix Resurrections. At times, it feels less like a sequel to The Matrix and more like a criticism about the need for sequels at all. And it’s fascinating to see the way that Wachowski weaves this idea alongside a film that, for all intents and purposes, acts exactly like most reboots/sequels do. It’s a dichotomy that shouldn’t work at all. And yet it does work. Brilliantly, in fact. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: Mild spoilers for The Matrix Resurrections follow.
The Matrix Resurrections
Directed by Lana Wachowski
Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon
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.
Set decades after the original trilogy, The Matrix Resurrections finds Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) back in the Matrix – seemingly, well, resurrected. Except something’s off. Neither of them fully remembers their past. Sure, they feel inexplicably drawn to one another. And they see flashes of their past through dreams and nightmares. But they’re otherwise different people. Trinity, now Tiffany, is a married mother while Neo, now Thomas Anderson, works as a video game developer who’s created a trilogy of video games about the Matrix. And naturally, since this is a Matrix movie, Neo eventually follows a metaphorical white rabbit through a door and re-learns the truth about who he is.
And that’s precisely where the film gets interesting. On the surface, much of The Matrix Resurrections reads as a direct remake of the original film, recreating multiple plot beats pretty closely. But it’s all intentional. So intentional that Wachowski even incorporates actual footage from the original trilogy in numerous scenes throughout the film. The footage acts as a stand-in for the video game Neo’s developed and as quick flashbacks showing Neo slowly regaining his memories. But the moment such blatant reliance on nostalgia starts feeling cheap, the movie directly acknowledges it – and begins to subvert it.
This time around, the central conflict revolves around the push and pull between nostalgia and progress. On one side, you’ve got the Machines literally trafficking in nostalgia, keeping those within the Matrix saturated with enough comfy nostalgia to keep them nice and submissive. And on the other side, you’ve got the humans in Io (the successor to the first trilogy’s Zion), moving forward and finding new ways to live and thrive. And that back and forth forms the life-blood of the movie, with Neo in the middle, one foot in the past, one foot in the future. So, naturally, the film hits all of the nostalgic Matrix beats you’d expect it to. But there’s almost a reluctance to it. It’s not an ironic, knowing wink or anything, but more of a disdain. Like the film would rather be doing something entirely different rather than retread what’s come before.
It’s pretty easy to read this conflict as a direct criticism of the culture that necessitated the existence of a fourth Matrix film in the first place. Honestly, if you walked away from The Matrix Resurrections with the impression that Lana Wachowski didn’t want to make it at all, I wouldn’t blame you. It certainly feels that way at times, and I think there’s some truth to it – especially given how unsubtle the film is about calling out certain companies that may or may not have made this very movie. But I also think Wachowski’s ultimate thesis here is that she’s longing for genuine creativity.
The movie frequently talks about how everyone flocks towards nostalgia. Everyone wants the comfortable, the familiar. It’s the reason we get sequels and reboots. But then there are “artists” – like Neo within the film, and like Wachowski herself – who long for the chance to do something new. And so, it feels like this is Wachowski’s way of bridging that gap. Her way of saying, “if this movie has to exist, and if it’s the only way I’m gonna be able to make something original, then I’m gonna make damn sure you know it.” Those feelings of endless creativity and disdain for conformity work hand-in-hand to deliver this exact movie. One which somehow respects what’s come before while firmly deciding it’s time to move on.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t always fully follow this line of thought. For as much conversation as there is about the nature of art endlessly repeating itself, there are large parts of this movie that do feel like needless imitations of the previous movies. And sure, Wachowski does a genuinely impressive job at making those recreations feel relevant to the bigger story she’s telling. But it doesn’t change the fact that they feel very generic Matrix-y. Nothing here is as groundbreaking visually as the bullet-time sequence in the first Matrix film, for example. And, to be fair, the film even acknowledges this early on. But acknowledging something while you continue to do it does end up feeling a bit hollow.
However, it’s easy to forgive that aspect considering how good the rest of the movie is – and how surprising it is that a blockbuster like this even exists. Regardless of how you feel about what specifically happens in The Matrix Resurrections – whether you’d have preferred a more traditional sequel or, like me, would’ve preferred something even more meta – it’s hard to not be thoroughly entertained by the film. It moves at a brisk enough pace to keep you involved with figuring out what’s going on without moving so quickly that it’s impossible to follow the plot. The action sequences, while not as amazing as past Matrix films, are still a lot of fun. And the performances are genuinely stellar. Both Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are exactly as good as you remember them being. And the new additions to the cast manage to shine, too. Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Groff easily steal the show, though. But to say anything more about their characters would venture into spoiler territory.
And honestly, the less you know about The Matrix Resurrections, the better. So much of the fun is watching the movie knowingly play with your expectations of a Matrix sequel. It’s a blockbuster that simultaneously feels safe and extremely risky. For me, that risk paid off enormously. I adored this movie, despite some of the problems it has. I think a part of me will always appreciate a film that feels like it came from a singular artist’s specific vision. And Wachowski’s voice feels present throughout this movie. In many ways, it feels like The Matrix Resurrections is more about her feelings towards mainstream Hollywood than about the actual characters of this franchise. And I adored that. But I can also see why that might prove less pleasing towards hardcore Matrix fans. Still, for a movie that nobody asked for, The Matrix Resurrections more than justifies its existence. And it’s all the better for doing so.
4.5 out of 5 wands.