THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is a $150 million middle finger to the “establishment” of mega-franchise reboots. This wacky movie that took some aggressive swings was some of the most fun I’ve had at the theater in a while, and it’s going to piss so many people off. And I can’t wait to watch it again.
It’s fitting, really. If the first film in 1999 was built on a foundation of bringing down the system, shouldn’t this one be too? And shouldn’t it take into account how the system has changed? If the first film was about how the world isn’t real, this new one is about how today’s world is too real.
By this point it’s commonplace to say that THE MATRIX blew my mind. But it did. It remains to this day one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I watch this tightly edited, narratively crisp cyberpunk hero’s journey at least once a year. Sometimes more. That first scene of bullet-time action put my brain in a blender.
When they announced the sequels, I’m pretty sure my grades slipped for an entire year as I thought about nothing else but their release dates. I couldn’t wait to get back into the world to hang out with Neo and Trinity and Morpheus. And holy shit, WE’D GET TO SEE ZION. The last human city! Built underground, near the Earth’s core, where it’s still warm!
And then the movies came out. And they were … well, they were confusing as shit and a little underwhelming. It took me at least a decade to figure them out and come to appreciate them in their own special way. But even with my renewed appreciation, the MATRIX sequels always felt like they were written too quickly. Which, as it turned out, they were. Warner Brothers rushed the sequels into production after the first movie made a gazillion dollars.
It’s been 18 years since we last saw Neo battle the machines in THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. It was time well spent. Your mileage may vary in your appreciation of this new film’s story, but you’d be crazy to call it rushed. This thing was thoughtfully constructed. It’s smart, unexpected and yes, it’s meta as hell. But it’s polished, courageous, emotional, and updated in an original, unexpected way that you hardly ever get with most decades-after reboots. I kept thinking of how dissimilar my experience watching RESURRECTIONS was to watching THE FORCE AWAKENS, another reboot hoping to cash in on nostalgia. That movie played it totally safe and took no swings, RESURRECTIONS swung for the fence and—mostly—cleared the bleachers.
It’s pretty hard to talk about this movie without spoilers. I’ll just say that THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS digs deeper into the world—or in this case, both worlds, the real and the simulated. What happened after the events of the last movie? What were the consequences of Neo brokering peace between man and machine? The last film ended with so many questions and this movie answers many of them in interesting, mostly satisfying ways.
Keanu Reeves brings a totally different kind of energy to Thomas Anderson than he did in the first movie. Gone is his relentless curiosity about discovering the truth that we saw in the first movie. In this new version of the character, Reeves leans hard into the “prison for your mind” situation, representing Thomas Anderson as an easily-triggered mess, clinging on to the medication prescribed to him by his therapist and losing what few threads of sanity he has remaining. It makes total sense for this new story. Without getting too deep into spoilers, this new version of the Matrix in which we find Neo’s consciousness imprisoned seems purposefully engineered for him, and only him, so it makes sense that it weighs heavily on his ability to determine what’s real. He’s awkward, afraid, has panic attacks and nervous tics, and drinks. In a way, Reeves lets us see a version of Thomas Anderson if his mind was never freed at all and he reached his 50s still stuck in the Matrix.
While I was captivated by the plot of the movie, I can’t honestly say the same for the action. Which feels exceedingly depressing to write. The action set pieces in this new movie disappointed me. The original film had such an outstanding look that I appreciate more upon every repeat viewing. Neo’s final fight with Agent Smith in the subway station remains one of the most expertly shot and choreographed fights in movie history. It has a coherent visual language, sense of place and scale, with character motivations that are immediately understandable.
RESURRECTIONS feels less sure of itself. With a few exceptions, scenes lack emotional heft and visual clarity. The camera cuts and moves too often. Shots seem filmed way too close, preferring peoples’ faces over their bodies. While the characters and plot are unmistakably MATRIX, this new movie doesn’t look like it belongs in the same franchise. Which is just weird. It makes me wonder what we’d have received if Bill Pope, the original director of photography, had returned to film this one.
As disappointing as that is, I still can’t stop thinking about this movie. THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is the anti-sequel sequel. It has a lot to say about modern society’s addiction to media and, more boldly, misinformation. While it doesn’t have that signature visual style that blew my mind as a kid, it has a story that does.
It’s not in any way what I expected out of a fourth MATRIX film, and it makes me wonder what I even expected in the first place.