Driving to the theatre to watch the Matrix Resurrections, I had Rob Dougan’s “Clubbed to Death” playing on loop, rewiring my brain to the conspiracy theory-esque “is reality fake or real” thought loops that the franchise induced when I first saw it as a teenager. Like many who throng to watch such movies, I was ready to be red-pilled.
Keanu Reeves is back as Neo, as is Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity. Naturally, both of them are older. Perhaps this may make it harder for a younger audience to self-insert, which is why we are also introduced to “Bugs”, the blue-haired rebel played by Jessica Henwick (you may recognise her as one of the Sand Snakes from Game of Thrones) and “Morpheus”--a flamboyant and sentient program based on the red-pill dispensing character he is named after.
And while watching Neo and Trinity together on the big screen again may be fan service enough for some, there are those fans of the Matrix who were in it for the plot, not the romance. This is partly why the second and third Matrix films were considered a let down, as it sidelined some of its philosophical themes for a more generic “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl”.
The Matrix films are deep and riddled with symbolism. Thousands of academic articles have been written on its sublime and implied meanings, from it being a metaphor for trans identity (the Wachowski siblings who made the film both transitioned after its success to become trans women) to its use of Biblical themes and names.
Perhaps it is the Animatrix (2003) that best defines the lore of the series, as that provided the context for the war between human and machine, as well as background stories of some of the characters who appear. The tragedy of Resurrections is it fails to build significantly on any of this lore, seemingly lost as it is in the limbo between being a reboot and being a sequel.
In Resurrections, Neo has once again lost Trinity, by virtue of their memories being reset and the two of them returned to a new form of the Matrix. Now, Neo AKA Thomas Anderson, is a video game developer. The name of his video game? The Matrix.
The movie uses this plot device to turn meta, attempting multiple times to be self-aware (at one point, the actors lament that Warner Bros was insistent on a fourth iteration of the video game being released, and possibly many more). There are brief discussions on creativity and originality and on the banality of rebooting an old franchise. While self-aware, the film invariably becomes what it mocks.
To truly succeed Animatrix and Revolutions, the film should have better engaged with the ethics of humanity co-existing in a post-apocalyptic world with the very machines they once tried to exterminate. There are signs of human-machine cooperation in this film and some AI characters are humanised well. But the world-building, while promising, is all too brief.
Like with the older films, Morpheus is tasked with bringing Neo back into the real world. If Lil Nas cosplayed Morpheus, the result would be this sentient programme. While Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s performance makes for enjoyable viewing, it turns the film’s tone a bit too goofy for the subject material.
Keanu Reeves seems to sit uncomfortably in the skin of the character that made him famous. There is a bit too much of John Wick and Johnny Silverhand in his performance, and he never quite seems fully “Neo”. Though this is also partly due to the plot’s recasting of Neo as a game developer and suicide survivor, who is unsure of his true identity.
The plot’s focus on the love between Neo and Trinity feels tired, by this point. "Love is the genesis of everything" reads a line from the directors in the end-credits. If you were hoping for a more reflective take on our Zuckerbergian reality from the series that invented the idea of a metaverse, this film, sadly, fails to be truly reflective.
By contrast, the supporting character, Bugs, feels more relevant to the series. As a non-binary character, who even reflects on the unnaturalness of binary choices like red or blue pills (and therefore, binary choices like gender), Bugs’ feels like a more refreshing addition to the plot than the renewal and repetition of Neo’s love life.
The look of the film feels true to the franchise. In the 18 years that have passed since the last Matrix film, its tropes have been done to death by far too many movies. After having seen so many imitations of Neo’s backwards-flailing “bullet time”, it is relieving to witness the original again.
While enjoyable, Matrix Resurrections feels like a reboot in a sequel’s clothes, albeit neither look seems to suit the film.
Does this film reflect the original vision of the Matrix series? Lana Wachowski is the solo director for this film, with Lilly Wachowski absent and seemingly not too keen on the film either (her Twitter bio reads “Not on the new Matrix film, so stop asking me”). While the ending leaves room for more sequels (and the lore certainly supports this), the film itself feels like it contributes little to the canon.
If you want to pick up a once-shelved Matrix obsession, you may be better off watching the original Matrix films, or Animatrix, or even the cancelled video game Matrix Online (whose lore has also been deemed canon). But if you’ve seen those, and crave more green-tinted Matrix content, then this film may satiate part of that hunger.
The red pill is supposed to wake you from a comatose state into an understanding of truth. The blue pill is supposed to let you slink back into a reality you’re comfortable in. Resurrections treads the odd line between the two, leaving fans of the franchise neither wholly re-immersed in the lore, nor satisfyingly comforted by the tropes of a feel-good action film. Watch the Animatrix instead.
Film: Matrix Resurrections
Director: Lana Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Neil Patrick Harris