In 1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski took us through the looking glass with The Matrix, a groundbreaking science fiction movie. Now, in The Matrix Resurrections, Lana Wachowski takes control of the whole illusion for a romance movie built on having another chance with the ones we love.
Self-aware, candid, and drawing from each previous Matrix movie, this sequel is an affirmation of what the franchise means to one of its creators. Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and Agent Smith (Johnathan Groff) are brought back, though not all wearing the same face as before, for an exercise in art immortalising what means most.
Though callbacks are regular, comparisons to other instalments are difficult, as is finding other action movies operating on the same wavelength. Well-meaning and bold, this film is also messy, over-wrought, and sometimes unsure of what it’s trying to say. But all of that contributes to a sense of one person using the greatest means at their disposal to bear their soul to the world, and that much alone makes it necessary.
In the ongoing war between humans and machines, two resistance members, the reborn Morpheus, and Bugs (Jessica Henwick), discover that Neo and Trinity have been re-inserted into the Matrix. A prolific game designer, Neo’s now famous for creating The Matrix trilogy as videogames, and his studio wants to do another Matrix game, and the staff are full of weak ideas, satirising the many misreadings of the ’90s classic. Trinity, meanwhile, is a regular at a local coffee shop Neo is quietly enamoured with, but he can’t think of why.
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Neither are particularly happy in their lives, and when Neo is broken free, it becomes clear Trinity must be too. To explain the hows and whys of all this would involve paragraphs of philosophy around virtual selves and the architecture of this artificial world and algorithms and so on. The things to know are Neo and Trinity are necessary linchpins to keeping the Matrix stable, and once one is removed, the house of cards starts collapsing.
The Analyst is the enemy, ruefully played by Neil Patrick Harris, who does what he can to give life to his droll explanations, ala the Architect’s speech from The Matrix Reloaded. Among the encounters, Smith stands as an agent of chaos, inhabiting the body of Johnathan Groff, who takes on the role with theatrical gusto. Though still taking glee in throwing Neo around, Smith has a shared interest in not being ensnared by the endless, repeating cycles of the machines.
So, you’ve got three bodies – the human resistance, Smith, and the Analyst – vying for control. Bouts of martial arts, gunplay, and bullet-time ballet are regular and just as kinetic as before. A Wachowski picture has always meant some of the most distinctive cinematography and movement in American filmmaking, and this dose is mesmerising. Corridors and warehouses are turned upside down in glorious fashion, affirming that Christopher Nolan is not the only blockbuster director who can bend physics to his will.
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Between these quickfire Cirque-du-Soleils, we get a tour of the universe as it is now. Modern technology allows entry and escape through mirrors rather than phone booths, and we’ve got holograms and some members of the crew are actually programmes that broke free from their digital overlords. The human city has evolved, led by Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe, to incorporate more machines.
Neo and Trinity’s efforts in The Matrix Revolutions didn’t end anything, but they changed everything. Some AI now sees the value in humanity and want to join to help them prosper. Small drones, and other helpful bots, float around providing assistance. Life is improving through cooperation, embracing each other as opposed to wanting only eradication. Perhaps simply as a platitude, it stands with the core theme that love is all that matters.
Plenty of time is given to expositing what’s happening and why; a holdover from the sequels where it’s believed hearing something explained is as exciting as seeing it. Like the sequels, these are the weakest moments, co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon unable to massage lore dumps into something that sounds like what anyone would say out loud. Yet where the dialogue might cause some yawns, the beautiful visuals provide ample distraction.
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The hovercraft Mnemosyne is filled with little gadgets and lived-in nooks; vistas and city streets are stunningly lit, and there’s a slight twinge of impossibility to the fight environments that keeps one on the edge of their seat. On a sheer craft level, The Matrix Resurrections is glorious in the same way as its predecessors, and seeing the aesthetic is a reminder of why this franchise has stuck in people’s minds.
Your mileage may vary on whether or not this accounts for some ramshackle scripting, but seeing something this incredible in scale and ambition that’s so clearly one person’s vision is refreshing. It stands with Dune as one of the most distinctive big-budget films of recent times: huge, expensive, and uncaring if not everyone’s on board.
Reeves and Moss are so wholly comfortable being Neo and Trinity again, too, that it’s a wonder it took this long. In the credits, Wachowski dedicates the feature to her mother and father, and you can sense the grief, bargaining, and uncertainty in the drive towards retrieving Trinity. We can’t bring those we care about back, but we can immortalise them in our art. I’m glad Wachowski shared her fantasy with us.
The Matrix: Resurrections hits theatres on December 22, 2021.
The Matrix: Resurrections review
Though unwieldy, The Matrix Resurrections is a worthy sequel from one of our best sci-fi filmmakers.