Few movies from 1999 can boast as much as The Matrix. A groundbreaking effort, both in terms of its special effects and its allegoric mentality, The Wachowski‘s post-apocalyptic, philosophical action film pushed the boundaries of modern cinema, exceeding audience expectation in the process.
Maintaining a cultural relevance in the decades since essentially allows such a property to be revisited too, with The Matrix Resurrections similarly opting for the same temperament as the original as it forces its audience to reconsider their reality. Of course, a sequel to such a trilogy as The Matrix has a fine line to toe between honouring those that remain loyal to the original films – sequels Reloaded and Revolutions both released in 2003 – and opening itself up to new eyes. Not an easy task, even for someone as intelligent and progressive as director and co-writer Lana Wachowski.
For starters, there’s immediate baggage that comes with the return of lead characters Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). Both definitively deceased characters – Neo’s death at the conclusion of Revolutions put forth a truce between the raging war of man and machine – Resurrections has its work cut out from the jumping point, and to its credit it manages to execute such a return in a way that shouldn’t irk the dedicated viewer.
Neo and Trinity are still very much the focal point of Resurrections, though, as to be expected, a slew of characters – both new, familiar and reinvented – are introduced throughout in order to pad out what is essentially a love story. The notion that Resurrections is opting to fulfil some kind of “woke agenda” too is not quite the film’s M.O. either. Yes, it’s a meta film in the way it quite brazenly references itself and parent company Warner Bros., but these films have always adhered to a more inclusive mind-frame; it just took the industry a little while longer to catch up.
Whilst the first Matrix film is the one title that Resurrections most heavily references – it literally uses footage from the film as a type of guide throughout, both assisting audiences and a confused Neo, who, for the most part, goes by his “human” moniker Thomas Anderson, on the expansive 148 minute journey – this continuing chapter honours all facets that came before, with Jada Pinkett Smith‘s return as General Niobe playing into the rebellion and fruitful uprising that came with Neo’s original sacrifice.
Unfortunately, the majority of Pinkett Smith’s narrative feels like a manifestation of unnecessary exposition; not assisted at all by an odd, almost caricature performance from the actress who lets the heft of aged make-up she’s caked under do the majority of the work. Exposition is certainly needed for a film as intricate as Resurrections though, so the idea of Niobe’s return and her explanations for what took place in the years since makes sense, it’s just when so much of the film to that point has been explaining the confusing ins-and-outs of proceedings – either through original footage or knowing dialogue – the momentum-breaking mentality that comes with her appearance is all the more experienced.
A difficult film to unpack that’ll prove incredibly divisive amongst the fanbase – though I suspect that’s entirely what Wachowski intends – The Matrix Resurrections has big, bold ideas that it doesn’t always succeed at executing, but it absolutely deserves credit for attempting so. There’s a wonderful comfort in seeing Reeves and Moss in these roles again, and the energy brought about through such performers as Neil Patrick Harris (as Thomas’ concerned therapist), Jonathan Groff (as a reformation of Hugo Weaving’s cult villain Smith), Jessica Henwick (as Bugs, a rebel serving as “the audience’s eyes”), and Yahya Abdul Mateen II (as an alternate version of Laurence Fishburne’s classic hacker Morpheus, the actor a far more colourful interpretation that manages to stand entirely on his own) keeps the film at a consistent elevation, even if the material never matches the inventiveness of the previous films.
Re-entering The Matrix was always going to be an unenviable task, even for the original creator, and the fine line between familiarity and freshness is one Wachowski toes to a mostly fruitful outcome. Her films have always been bigger in concept than what the final product reflects, and Resurrections isn’t any different, but as a sequel hoping to stand on its own two feet independently, it earns a mostly firm stance.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Matrix Resurrections is screening in Australian theatres from December 26th, 2021. It will be released simultaneously in American theatres and digitally on HBO Max from December 22nd, 2021.