1.5/4, 2020s, Action, Review, Science Fiction, The Wachowski Brothers

The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) - IMDb

#4 in my ranking of The Matrix franchise.

That was disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I like the original Matrix trilogy pretty evenly, finding its pretensions thin but the overall entertainment value of the hero’s journey inverted fairly consistent. There was always  room for the story to continue in some way, but when Lana Wachowski finally took up the offer to make the sequel, leaving Lilly who didn’t want to be part of visiting their past, Lana did it out of a sense of loss for the pair’s parents who died within a few months of each other. Deep emotion is an interesting place to begin the storytelling process, but it really needs to be molded with great care. The end result feels like a therapy session, filled with memories, deep emotion for the person telling the story that the one listening probably doesn’t share, and all over the place at the same time.

The Wachowskis have been telling the story of The Matrix for a while now, and they haven’t limited themselves to just the films. Beginning with The Animatrix and Enter the Matrix, they’ve pushed the edges of storytelling in the world well beyond the cinematic incarnations, ending with The Matrix Online, an MMORPG that advanced the story well beyond the end of The Matrix Revolutions. I never played it, but I’ve read enough to know of some of the bigger events, and The Matrix Resurrections picks up the story from there. And a lot happened that the audiences need to catch up on, including the fact that Morpheus died and was…reborn as a program. This stuff is getting weird from the beginning. I’m largely okay with weird, but never trust a Wachowski to deliver weird information elegantly or all that interestingly. The opening of the film is the exact kind of mess of ideas that really dominates the film for about its first three-quarters until it becomes a purer action spectacle.

Bugs (Jessica Henwick) is the captain of a ship that’s hacking into a modal, looking for Neo (Keanu Reeves), and they find a recreation of the events that began the first Matrix movie, but things are different. Trinity doesn’t get away, she gets pinned down by several agents and killed. Also, one of the agents is Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who saves Bugs and they have an information dump that’s supposed to get us caught up. And then we get to Neo, who is living in the Matrix as a game developer who had made a trilogy of games called The Matrix, a ploy by the machines to keep Neo controlled without completely wiping him out because he somehow is the source code of the new version of the Matrix that was uploaded over the old version of the Matrix. The lore of this whole thing is a mess, and so little of it ends up feeling necessary.

One of the major things going on early in the film is Lana’s efforts to figure out what a sequel to the original trilogy actually is. So, there is literally a scene where Neo and his game design team sit around and talk about what people actually liked about the first Matrix “game” (i.e. movie). It’s self-referential at a level that feels like an idea in a first draft that would get discarded later. By having to have characters in the movie figure out what a sequel to the originals would be, we’re getting a writer’s room discussion in place of anything like drama, and none of it ends up mattering.

Bugs and Morpheus manage to get Neo out after a failed attempt that turned into an action scene that got wiped out from Neo’s memory by Neo’s Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris). Bugs and Morpheus get Neo into a train in Japan, and the worldbuilding of the new version of the Matrix begins in earnest, and it’s never either all that clear or, really, all that important. The operators being visible at times in the Matrix feels like an idea with no real thought behind it. The use of mirrors as portals instead of phones is neat. The inclusion of bots as enemies is also an interesting idea, but the movie ends up going far overboard with it to the point that you wonder if there are all that many real people in the Matrix.

And then the movie’s plot actually starts. At about the halfway point. This wouldn’t bother me if what had come before had been interesting, but the Wachowskis have never been known for interesting characterization or elegant writing. Getting mired in lore and bad worldbuilding hobbles this film, and the film isn’t even done with it. You see, Zion no longer exists, replaced by Io, a community of humans and machines that came together in the sixty years now being sort of ruled (maybe?) by Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) who is angry at Bugs for going in to get Neo against orders. More than halfway through this movie, we really didn’t need a re-introduction to something like Zion, internal Io politics, and the actual introduction of the central point of the film: Neo and Trinity reuniting.

Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) is alive in the Matrix despite her death at the end of the original trilogy, and, like Neo, she lives thinking that she’s someone else. Neo wants to go back in and rescue her because he loves her, and he somehow convinces all of Io’s ship captains to join him in a mission to help without even saying anything to them. Such is the power of the myth of the One, I suppose. They all meet with Sati (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), the little Indian girl program from Revolutions, who has already developed a plan to rescue Trinity because the Analyst (who is the new version of the Architect) had her father purged. All told in just straight up exposition because Wachowski.

So sets up the action climax finale, complete with philosophical drivel about choice that’s been on repeat since the first film with just enough variation to make it sound sort of interesting. I have to say that I was rather disappointed with the action in this film. It’s not bad, but it ends up feeling pretty consistently flat after the opening sequence where Bugs and Morpheus meet and they use backdoors to go in and out of the action, flipping here and there. After that, it feels rather uninteresting and kind of bland. There’s also a shockingly dearth of it as the movie really gets mired in all of this other stuff.

And yet the point of it all is the reunion of Trinity and Neo. For all the worldbuilding, philosophizing, and lore, the point is this central relationship that was always stilted at best in the previous films, leading to me suppressing giggles at Trinity’s death scene in Revolutions because it’s so earnest and flat at the same time. That it takes so long to actually get to the film feels like the result of an unfocused writing process. And that’s probably what it was. Lana has come out saying very explicitly that the movie was about the death of the Wachowski parents. It comes from a place of pain and sadness, and it seems like there was no other voice in the writing room trying to help mold the disparate ideas into something like a cohesive whole. There’s also this assumption that the romance between Neo and Trinity was anything other than filler in between action beats in the previous films.

No, this movie was not worth any wait. It’s a jumble of ideas and emotions that never come together into a single vision, toying with the ideas of sequels, remakes, and reboots along with a host of other things important to only the most die hard of Matrix fans while treating the whole thing like a therapy session.

Rating: 1.5/4

11 thoughts on “The Matrix Resurrections”

  1. I just came back from watching it, and though it took me a long time to warm to it, by the end I was grinning ear to ear and felt just like I did at the end of the original Matrix.

    Took me a while to figure out why I felt that way, but I did figure it out.

    I do love sci-fi in pretty much all its forms. Over-the-top shoot-’em-ups are great and I love those as well. Hit me with as much sciency techno-babble as you can and please, the more over-choreographed martial arts scenes you can shove into the movie the better. Because yes, I love all that.

    But the reason I liked this movie as much as I did the first one is that it finally figured out what was most important to almost all Matrix fans: Neo and Trinity are finally, really together and get to kick ass, and it actually looks like they’ll have a future together.

    Maybe it’s because I know about Keanu Reeves’ own IRL tragedy and sadness and I’ve had a crush on Carrie-Anne Moss since forever, but it seemed extra satisfying for me to have that ending, as contrived and fan-servicy as it might have been.

    YMMV, and does. As for me, I’m grinning and happy tonight. Good flick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wrong!

      Jk

      What you felt is what I’m convinced Lana was going for. Despite my preset opinion about the emotional weight of the central relationship in the trilogy, I was open to Lana righting the ship and getting me onto the same boat. I think if the movie had simply focused on that more, without the stuff about the game, the new Matrix, and (especially) Smith, I might have found myself buying into it. It’s just that by the time the film got around to the central idea, I had checked out for so long that I was never coming back.

      Glad you enjoyed it, though. I’d never wish a bad time at the movies on anyone.

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  2. Thanks for reviewing this.
    I think I’ll skip it. I enjoyed the first Matrix movie quite a bit and feel sad there never was a sequel before this one.

    I can’t say I like the self-referential stuff in this, but it sounds like it also wasn’t as bad as I feared. The rumors were full of tranny propaganda and of ‘handing the torch’ from Neo to Trinity…that she was the REAL One.

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    1. Yeah, the rumors are making a lot out of molehills.

      There’s a scene where Neo’s team are discussing what the original video game (movie) meant, and it’s a montage of people saying a bunch of stuff including that it was a metaphor for the transgender experience. That’s it. It’s one line that’s borderline throwaway. If that’s the point of the film, then the other 2.5 hours are superfluous and don’t support it, which is weird.

      And the Trinity thing…

      Okay, I have never bought the romance between the two. Not in the first movie when Trinity declares her love and not in the third when she dies (and just keeps dying). It’s really colored my ability to get invested in the final parts of this film, but they’re ultimately the point of the film.

      What the idea ends up being is that the unique source code in Neo that makes him so unique isn’t just limited to him, it’s something that he ends up sharing with Trinity. It’s not a bad idea and actually kind of works with what the sequels did (the Architect’s explanation of how Neo’s attachment to humanity was more specific than the previous Ones, namely), which, in retrospect, opened up the idea that it was more than just Neo, that Trinity was part of that equation. It’s an idea I liked, one of the reasons I can’t outright hate the film.

      It’s just that there’s so much nonsense around it.

      The movie’s going to remain divisive for a very long time because it’s a mess narratively, but the heart of the film comes from a genuinely emotional place. The people that connect with that emotion are going to be forgiving of a lot of the movie’s other problems for a very long time because that part really speaks to them.

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      1. I completely missed the tranny bullshit when it was presented. Of course, I’m so deaf these days even with hearing aids that I will have to watch this again on Amazon Prime with closed captioning on it just to hear a lot of back and forth between the characters. Especially Bugs’ mumbled mouth-not-moving dialogue, of which I was able to hear exactly 0.00%.

        I like the idea of Neo and Trinity both being the One. I think Neo’s wrong that he never the One. I think he was, and it was clear he was based on his kicking ass against Agent Smith and his various minions in the original Matrix as well as a lot of his activity in the 2nd and 3rd iterations. Neo is so weak during this movie because he’s spent 20 years being drugged out of his coconut, it’s no wonder by the end he’s falling back on thinking he was never the One.

        And Trinity never realizing she is also the One is fine with me. She gets it in the end (phrasing?) and that’s great, because Trinity is easily my favorite character in this entire world, perhaps not even because of my mad crush for Carrie-Anne Moss. To me it doesn’t feel like more stupid “GRRRL POWERZ” like the entire MCU and DECU seem to be swallowed up by now. Just feels like a natural possibility based on the rules of the world as originally established.

        Imagine if the 2nd and 3rd movies had never occurred and this was the direct sequel to The Matrix. Hmmmmm, I like it. The script for this one would obviously change a lot, but maybe not that much. You wouldn’t have to retcon nearly as much as they had to here, and it might make for a better story. Never liked the 2nd and 3rd movies anyway. They were just a not-very-satisfying pair of actioners that mostly just confused the simple/awesome plot of The Matrix.

        As always, YMMV. I’m a simple man with simple needs in my movie consumption.

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      2. In terms of retconning to account for a new idea, Trinity being part of the “One equation”, so to speak, is honestly a better example of pulling it off. It fits surprisingly well.

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  3. the more they try to explain this world, (one assumes the original was set about 40 years in the future, circa 2039, to develop this level of technology, the animatrix first two segments give you that much, have you seen blade runner, black lotus,

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  4. Yeah this was a fairly blah movie. I can’t help but think that at times it was shot on that high frame rate that Peter Jackson tried with the Hobbit. 48FPS. Too much detail and made it look unnatural. I prefer the “film” look.

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    1. The first three were filmed with actual film which creates a certain texture in the image created because of the film grain that the stick is actually made of. There are ways to make digital film look more organic (Dune shot on digital, printed out onto film for a pass, and then scanned that film into the computer for the final steps), but that’s obviously not what Lana wanted.

      I’ve never been the biggest Wachowski fan, but the generally unimpressive nature of this film’s visuals seem to indicate that Lana is not the stronger of the two creatively.

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