for violence and some language
Keanu Reeves, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Christina Rrcci, Carrie-Anne Moss
Grant Hill, James McTeigue, La
Warner Bros. on
It's unusual for a series lasting four movies to follow the consistent downward trend evidenced by The Matrix cycle. The first movie, 1999's The Matrix, started things off with a bang. Sadly, the first sequel, 2003's The Matrix Reloaded, was merely ordinary. The conclusion of the original trilogy, 2003's The Matrix Revolutions, was disappointing and bloated. Now, all these years later, along comes The Matrix Resurrections, and it proves to be not only a soulless attempt to exhume a buried franchise but a turgid slog. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that, given nearly two decades to develop and refine a narrative, this is the best they could come up with?
Having struggled through the seemingly endless 150-minute spectacle, I'm still not sure why it exists. The point seems to be to find a way to resurrect the two main characters who died in The Matrix Revolutions, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). There's no rhyme or reason to a lot of what happens and, because it's apparently possible to bring characters back to life, any potential suspense is effectively neutered. As eye candy, the action sequences retain some pizzaz but the "uniqueness" of their presentation has long since lost its flavor. The directorial stylings of Lana Wachowski (working without her previous partner, sister Lily) are largely indistinguishable from those of Michael Bay.
In the early going, The Matrix Resurrections offers some intriguing possibilities as it enters a meta rabbit hole. After a prologue that introduces a new character, Bugs (Jessica Henwick), and a new iteration of an old friend, Morpheus (now played by Yaha Abdul-Mateen II), we are reunited with Thomas Anderson (Reeves). We know he's Neo but he doesn't. He's a game designer whose mega-successful, breakthrough trilogy, called The Matrix, has made him a geekdom celebrity. He's in the process of designing a new game but he's increasingly distracted by flashbacks. When he meets a woman, Tiffany (Carrie-Ann Moss), the connection is instantaneous. They feel they know one another, but the reason remains elusive.
Of course, it turns out that Thomas Anderson's world is inside The Matrix. Neo and Trinity, who died at the end of the third movie, have been physically resurrected and exist in special pods. The movie never makes a compelling case why they couldn't have been left dead. Of course, when Thomas starts to wake up and realize who he is (taking the red pill, of course), everyone inhabiting the Matrix suddenly wants him dead, including The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), whose seeming niceness makes him an effective megalomaniac. In a surprising twist reminiscent of Terminator 2, old nemesis Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff) has become an unexpected ally. This might have been more meaningful had Hugo Weaving returned. With a different face, Smith is as anonymous as his name suggests.
The ending represents one of the biggest, messiest, most incoherent orgies of meaningless special effects in any recent would-be blockbuster. I had no idea what was going on. Powers are gained (and lost) for no particular reason. Everything blows up. People fly (and fall). Neo throws his arms out in front of himself so often that it becomes comical. Perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention. Perhaps if I had been more invested, I would have understood. Perhaps the filmmakers should have given me a reason not to mentally check out before the halfway point.
Movies like this - continuations of long-dormant franchises that have gone dark for a good reason - should not be made. A few of them make money but most are ignored. Relying on nostalgia is an uncertain game as the makers of the latest iterations of Predator, Alien, and Ghostbusters (to name only a few) have learned. It takes more than bringing back Keanu Reeves (who is now better known as John Wick) and Carrie-Ann Moss (who has moved primarily to TV shows) to do the trick, and the gaping holes left by not featuring either Laurence Fishburne or Hugo Weaving (except in flashback clips) results in disappointment. Yaha Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff are imposters and we keep waiting for the real actors to make an appearance. They don't, of course (Fishburne was never approached and Weaving had scheduling conflicts), and the possibilities offered by a true reunion are dashed.
After the release of The Matrix Revolutions, I wondered whether fans would have been better served by allowing the open-ended conclusion of The Matrix to stand. Now, two decades later, I'm certain that's the case. Instead of enhancing the overall experience, expanding the universe, and extending the narrative, the sequels have proven that the sparks of creativity and originality evident in The Matrix were anomalies. The Matrix Resurrections is a waste of time and money. For fans of the series, it's a betrayal that deserves to be ignored and forgotten as soon as possible.
© 2021 James Berardinelli
Cinemas About Town