So what, exactly, is The Matrix Resurrections? Is it a reboot, a remake, a sequel? Well, it’s all three. After almost twenty years, we get both a progression of the story from The Matrix Revolutions and a new beginning of sorts, where everything gets wiped clean. It’s both a continuation and a commentary – while Resurrections is smart and aware enough to poke fun at the current state of tentpole blockbusters, it’s not so meta that it forgets to tell the story it wants to tell.
It’s a dense film, so dense at points that it can be disorientating to try to keep up. This feels intentional on writer/director Lana Wachowski‘s part; at times The Matrix Resurrections is an overwhelming experience, and difficult to parse when so much information is thrust upon you every moment in every direction. You know, like real life these past few years.
Writing a review of this material while avoiding any detailed description of the plot is difficult, because so much of The Matrix Resurrections depends on how well some plot beats are presented. An awful lot happens in this movie. If you’re a fan of this franchise so far (and that includes The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, two films that had decidedly mixed reactions from the audience), you may be used to that.
If you did not enjoy the sequels, this one won’t change your mind; in fact, it will likely solidify your opinions about them. Lana Wachowski seemingly has no interest in ignoring those films to placate an unsatisfied audience. Personally, I have no problem with that – I have been defending those films for years and will happily continue to do so, so Lana Wachowski planting her feet and committing to continuing that story is just fine by me.
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a software designer for Warner Brothers, and who created a trilogy of massively multiplayer online role-playing games called The Matrix, all of which were wildly successful. Anderson is having trouble discerning his game from reality, and his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) has him in therapy sessions and downing blue pills like candy.
It doesn’t help matters that Anderson’s boss, Smith (Jonathan Groff) tells him that he has to ditch his current gaming project, Binary, to return and make a fourth Matrix game, which is the last thing Thomas wants to do. Even with all the therapy and success, everything feels off to Thomas, and when he meets a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) at the local coffee bar, they seem to recognize each other from… somewhere.
So, when Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Bugs (Jessica Henwick) appear and tell Thomas that, yet again, he is trapped in the Matrix, It is very difficult for Thomas to believe. After all, he created the Matrix. He knows every nook and cranny, knows all the characters, and the story.
It’s a fiction from Thomas Anderson’s mind, so how could it be real? It is all another form of control, even more insidious and secure than the previous iterations of the Matrix, because this time, Anderson/Neo is in a prison that he built himself. He is as connected to the Matrix as he ever was; indeed, he and Trinity are both a part of the very fabric of the Matrix itself.
This time, programmers of this iteration of the Matrix do not give a damn whether or not its denizens realize that everything is a simulation and nothing is real. There will be a lot of pausing at home from people seeing it on HBO Max because there are many Easter Eggs throughout the film that you will want to try to catch them all. In this Matrix, the people are so worn down by everything that the concept of freedom does not even occur to these people stuck inside.
They are drones, repeating patterns inside the Matrix, and it would take something truly world-changing to shake them out of their malaise. How do you free a mind that not only does not want to be free, but also has no capacity to understand what “free” even means? The Architect from the previous Matrix thought that human despair was what kept people inside, but that program was wrong. It’s not despair, but distraction. And in this new Matrix, as in real life, distractions are everywhere.
What has happened inside the Matrix these past twenty years? What has happened in the real world? Does Zion still exist? Why does this Morpheus appear to be different from the Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) we remember? Did the peace that Neo brokered in The Matrix Revolutions last? How did Neo and Trinity survive the events of that film? All these questions are answered, some satisfactorily, others not so much. But I admire that Lana Wachowski commits to all of it.
Much of Resurrections goes beat for beat with the original Matrix film, but the context is changed. It’s a little like hearing a beloved song change genres – imagine hearing The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” remade as a twenty minute EDM dance track. What is familiar becomes subverted, and what we remember becomes even more multifaceted and strange.
After many years of seeing legacy sequels, franchise returns, and seemingly endless cinematic universes, The Matrix Resurrections gleefully rips up all the tropes and patterns to find something that continues to endure and resonate. There is a reason we continue to return to these stories, whether it is out of comfort, or an unwillingness to challenge ourselves, and Lana Wachowski wants to examine it all as she explodes it all. As I said, this is a dense movie, with quite a bit happening on multiple levels.
The new additions to The Matrix saga are all wonderful. I particularly love Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Morpheus, and this is likely to be the character that has the most controversy. But I love what Abdul-Mateen and Lana Wachowski have done with the character. The significance of Morpheus to the greater story is immense, and while we may miss Laurence Fishburne in the role, Abdul-Mateen makes it his own. Yahya Abdul-Mateen has, over the past few years, quietly gathered some iconic characters to his roster, and I’m pleased to see what he does in the coming months and years in genre cinema.
No less an important characters, Jessica Henwick’s Bugs is aptly named, as they seem to be one of a very few people willing to push the boundaries of the Matrix, and Bugs has never given up hope for Neo’s return. Henwick is wonderful in the role. Jonathan Groff is having so much fun that it’s contagious; he’s riffing on previous iterations of his character but he’s also making that character his own.
Neil Patrick Harris plays an enigmatic character known simply as the Analyst, but what he represents may be the key to understanding the fabric of the Matrix itself. Unlike his predecessor, the Analyst knows exactly what people want to hear to keep them enslaved. Harris has a wonderful speech in the second half of the film that could be describing the nature of the Matrix just as easily as he’s describing the nature of our addictions to the world today.
The Matrix Resurrections is not happening in a vacuum. Lana Wachowski has been paying attention to all the societal changes in the years since the original films, and she puts it all in the movie, especially to those who have misunderstood what these films represented over the years.
So what of Neo and Trinity? Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return, and they have stepped right back into those characters with ease. While The Matrix Resurrections is many things, one of the most important aspects to the entire series is the earnestness of Neo and Trinity’s love. It is not cynical, or pedantic. Lana Wachowski lost her parents in recent years, and she has stated in interviews that one of the reasons she wanted to return to this series is because she saw a purity in the Neo/Trinity relationship that reminded her of her own parents’ relationship, and the nature of their love was a way for Lana to keep her parents’ love alive.
That is a beautiful ideal, and Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss fill that love onscreen. Both performances are stellar. Reeves makes his yearning to find Trinity real, and Trinity makes her need to have Neo in her life again just as real. Both also still have it physically, and both tear it up in action scenes as well as they ever did.
People may not remember the impact The Matrix had on audiences in 1999. But I assure you, as someone who was there, it was substantial. One of the reasons, I think, that the subsequent films were not as embraced as the first is because it’s hard to catch that lightning in a bottle a second or even a third time.
I also feel that audiences were not as receptive to the message those films were trying to impart. These were always parables, and here’s the thing about parables – most of the time, many who heard the parables didn’t get it, or didn’t want to hear it.
I fear that Resurrections may have similar issues with the audience. I have loved The Matrix films through thick and thin, and Resurrections fits right in there for me. It may not for others. I expect that I will be watching The Matrix Resurrections many times in the years to come, and hopefully, Lana Wachowski will be allowed to tell these stories for as long as she wants. The Matrix Resurrections is a worthy addition to The Matrix saga, and is just as relevant and resonant as it ever was.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS REVIEW SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10
The Matrix Resurrections opens in theaters and IMAX screens on December 22, 2021. The film will also be available on HBO Max for 31 days from the film’s theatrical release.