Director Lana Wachowski once more returns to her breakthrough film The Matrix. But she doesn’t just return for easy nostalgia. So many other long-awaited sequels have done so and ended up being disappointing marketing vehicles.
The Matrix Resurrections digs up not just the shades, the leather, and the kick-butt visual effects. It also brings to light what really made The Matrix stick out from other action pictures. The big ideas of questioning society and rallying against the status quo are live and well in this film.
A sense of mystery once more returns to the series. We witness Neo (Keanu Reeves) without memories inside the simulation. He still believes himself to be Tom Anderson, a quiet yet competent programmer.
Shades of his previous life start popping into his memory. He starts seeing visions of himself as the hero who fought Agent Smith and led a rebellion against the machines. He takes pills to keep these visions at bay.
So many questions linger. How did Neo come back to life after the events of the previous film? Why does the married woman Tiff (Carrie-Anne Moss) look so familiar? What’s the real plan behind all of this?
This film goes meta right out of the gate. In the first act, we learn that Tom is the developer of a video game series. This video game is a stand-in for The Matrix franchise based on both the storyline and the literal name of the series being The Matrix.
The games are bickered over by the developers as they are signed on for a sequel. They argue about what The Matrix is all about, whether it’s a metaphor for cryptofascism or just mindless guns and explosions. How familiar these debates sound.
It’s an interesting aspect to explore considering the cultural relevance of The Matrix. It’s a film series that has shaped our media landscape but is still argued over its subtext. Even if Lana Wachowski finally confirmed the film she co-directed was really an allegory for being trans, there are still those who debate this long-held and recently-confirmed observation.
The World of Choice
One theme that is for certain in this film is the illusion of choice. The Matrix has mostly been recognized through the scene where Neo was offered a blue or red pill by Morpheus. Red reveals the truth while blue keeps him comforted with the status quo.
The choice is for Neo and choice becomes the element of humanity worth fighting for. It’s not enough to just know the truth that machines are placing humans inside a virtual world. It’s up to the individual to choose if they will do something about this.
This bodes well for the ultimate reveal of the villain. The villain is not just a controlling sociopath but an egotistical sexist. He’s the perfect embodiment of a world that is trying to halt an unstoppable change.
Shades of the Past
The sequel features a few more returning players but in different forms. Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is present but more in the form of lingering code merging with agent DNA. Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) is still among the resistance but far less likely to jump into a fight after a war that has made her weary.
Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff) is also back but acts as a conflicted program, no longer in full control of the Matrix. There’s also the strange cameo of the returning The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). He’s perhaps the most meta of inclusions for how he directly calls out sequels and franchises in a hilarious rant.
What’s brilliant about these returns is that nearly all of them question The Matrix as an entity and an external piece of culture. It’s not just the blatant criticism served up by The Merovingian. It’s how Morpheus becomes a seed of rebellion within the system and how Niobe has been beaten down by the attrition of it all.
If you only find yourself drawn to Matrix for fights, you may be pleased to know this aspect hasn’t been forgotten in all the postmodernism. There’s plenty of showdowns with runners versus agents, especially with the kick-butt addition of the latest gunslinger, Bugs (Jessica Henwick). Every fight from the train battle to the city-wide chase is overflowing with guns, fists, explosions, and wicked freneticism.
The good news with the action is that they don’t go for more bullet-time effects. Pop culture has had its fill of that for over twenty years. The bad news is that there probably won’t be anything as mind-blowing as Trinity shooting an agent in the face or Neo battling a horde of Agent Smiths.
That is, of course, only based on the legacy of the Matrix and its action. There’s nothing here that will redefine the genre but still a lot of pleasing sequences. It’s still every bit as exciting as the deconstruction of itself, though one is certainly more powerful than the other.
Conclusion: The Matrix Resurrections
This is every bit the sequel that we needed right now. It’s the Matrix movie that has evolved enough to more than just a reprisal. It not only zooms past the the lackluster nostalgia-baiting of other films but calls them out as well.
There’s little doubt this will be a highly divisive film. The meta nature is not going to be everbody’s cup of tea. But if you’ve endured an onslaught of too many franchise revivals that find little unearth, Resurrections is the cure to franchise blues.
Did you see The Matrix Resurrections? Did you watch in the theater or on HBO Max? How does it rank among the other Matrix movies? Is it better than Spider-Man: No Way Home as a film with returning characters? Let us know in the comments below.
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