The Matrix Resurrections rocks. Let’s just get that out of the way. If you’re a fan of the franchise like me (and maybe, hopefully, you revisited the trilogy like me) you may be terrified that a fourth film, almost 20 years later, could be very bad. It is not. It’s clever and smart, with entertaining action and wonderful visual effects. Basically, everything you could want from a Matrix sequel to the point where I walked out of the theater with that “I just saw a great movie” buzz. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece like the original film. There are knocks against it to be sure. But, for the most part, The Matrix Resurrections is both the Matrix sequel fans have been waiting for, and also one they never knew they’d needed.
Co-written and directed by Lana Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections is very much modeled after the first movie. It once again starts with Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) working a tech job he doesn’t love and beginning to notice the world around him isn’t what it seems. From there, we discover the differences. Thomas is now older and in therapy. Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is around, but she has another life and the two don’t know each other. Thomas also has a much bigger, more important job. A job that, to say what it is, would ruin one of biggest surprises Wachowski has for us this time around. As Thomas explores that job though, Wachowski is able to deal head on with those trepidations she, and the audience, have of this movie even existing. The choices are challenging and funny, yet poignant and powerful. Suffice to say, The Matrix Resurrections is well-aware that it has a lot to prove and its level of meta might be too much for some. I dug it though.
Parallel to Neo’s story we meet new characters like Bugs (Jessica Henwick). She seems to be a typical Matrix hacker like Neo and Trinity were in the original movies and that she exists at all begins to hint at some larger implications. Specifically that the events of the previous three Matrix movies are more important than we all realized. Bugs and Neo’s stories bounce back and forth, creating a shockingly dense first act filled with answers, questions, exposition and philosophy. Once it’s all locked into place though, and everything seems like smooth sailing, it’s anything but. At all times Wachowski’s script (which she co-wrote with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon) and direction works to subvert your expectations.
The biggest strength of The Matrix Resurrections is in the way the film has all the mystery and excitement of the original while building on top of its legacy. Wachowski very easily could have just wiped history clean of the lesser received sequels but instead the story she’s crafted is modern and unique while somehow also being hugely dependent on the past. Events from the sequels like Agent Smith infecting the Matrix, the Architect revealing the nature of The One, Trinity dying on the way to the Machine City and Neo brokering a peace deal with the Machines... all of these threads play a huge part in the complex narrative, and yet, the narrative also stands alone.
In fact, it gets to a point where Resurrections is maybe a bit too complex. Several characters, such as the new Morpheus played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, don’t always fit or seem clear. A few big plot points come completely out of the blue in what can feel like an easy cheat, and while it all ends up work well enough, the narrative is absolutely muddier than one would expect.
Another big component of the film is nostalgia. It plays a crucial role in the movie, both diagetically and non-diagetically, and Wachowksi is very careful about when to hit those notes. She drops footage from the other films throughout, highlighting both key moments in the action and the emotional journey of the characters, while also bringing the audience back to that time when they first saw the original films. There’s a danger the technique could have been overused, but it’s not, and it results in a few truly moving moments.
So, you get it. The story is complex and weird but it works. But you expect that from The Matrix. What you also expect are huge action set pieces and groundbreaking visual effects, both of which are on display in Resurrections. In comparison to the story, these aren’t quite as memorable. The action scenes are actually pretty sporadic and since there’s nothing in terms of visual effects that’s as evolutionary as bullet time, each feels more conventional than the previous films. The scenes are solid, fun, and include a few techniques that attempt to evolve or twist the bullet time concept, but overall still exist to slowdown the breakneck story than anything else.
What you get that’s new this time around is the overall look of the movie. Resurrections is a visually sumptuous movie. The originals were beautiful in their own way, but had a very specific palate of green, black and grey. Resurrections feels much warmer, with plenty of oranges and reds interspersed, that make the eventual heart of the film beat that much stronger. The cinematography by Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll really leans into emotion and romance which, eventually, becomes the point.
That romance, obviously, has to do with Neo and Trinity. Reeves and Moss each fall right back into their respective roles, wholly encompassing these now legendary characters, and the audience can’t help but swoon anytime they’re on screen together. So as the film becomes increasingly about why the pair don’t know each other and how they might once again, it’s very easy to fall further and further in love with it. The story builds toward this, the visuals are in service of it, and by the time you get to the end, that wild first act becomes nothing but set dressing for where it all ends up.
It’s hard to talk about The Matrix Resurrections without ruining some of its most exciting surprises or, frankly, after having only seen it once. This is, even more than the first three movies, a film built for repeat viewing. Nevertheless, after two decades away, the main thing fans need to know is that Resurrections is an excellent Matrix sequel that knows what you think you want in a Matrix sequel, and gives it to you in ways you aren’t expecting. Sometimes those things don’t work, but mostly they do, and as a result I’m confident to say: The Matrix is back.
The Matrix Resurrections opens December 22 in theaters and on HBO Max.
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