Review: In Resurrecting The Matrix, the Fourth Installment Feels Stale and Sadly Familiar

It’s astonishing that there are those criticizing how Spider-Man: No Way Home bends multiple Spider-Man universes in on themselves, but they don’t seem to have any issues with the latest Matrix movie doing virtually the same thing, albeit in a very different way. And perhaps that’s the excuse people need to chastise one and praise the other. But both films are fully loaded with junk science, a bit of magic, and a whole lot of philosophical nonsense that asks the question what is real and what isn’t (or what is, but comes from another universe). In my review of No Way Home, I described the film as a big hug, which I’m sure made some people cringe, and that’s fine; some of those people probably didn’t get enough hugs when they were children, and now they resent any and all hugs in the world. On the other hand, The Matrix Resurrections is a top-to-bottom mess and reveals no reasons for it to exist aside from familiar characters getting to say things like “bullet time” and “red pill/blue pill” again.

What fun.

Matrix Resurrections
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

The first thing you have to know about Resurrections is that Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves, with a full, if patchy, beard) is not dead but instead is back in the version of reality that is a construct, like when we were introduced to him in 1999’s The Matrix. Now, he’s the world’s most famous video game designer thanks to a trilogy of games he made called The Matrix (go figure!), which strangely follow the exact same plots as the three Matrix movies, including characters, situations and wild action. As a result, his games are the most successful in history, and the company he works for essentially tells him that they are going to make a fourth game with or without his input (word is that the creative forces behind the films, the Wachowskis, were told the same thing by Warner Bros., which is name-checked in the film).

Anderson also keeps running into a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), a wife and mother of two teenagers, who bares a strong resemblance to his game’s character Trinity, and he wonders if his seeing her at the same coffee shop day after day is a coincidence. All of this is ripe fodder to go over with his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris, credited only as The Analyst, so we know he’s up to no good), who seems to have reasons for all of Mr. Anderson’s mental dalliances. We also immediately hate Anderson’s boss (Jonathan Groff), who seems to have an affinity for reciting Agent Smith’s dialogue from the video games/previous movies; and sure enough, it turns out that replacement-Hugo Weaving is Agent Smith in disguise but with a slightly different agenda. Anderson’s road through the Matrix across three movies was a rough one, so it’s no surprise he needs therapy and is beyond hesitant to go back into the “real world” again after it effectively destroyed him.

Much like the characters in Resurrections, audiences are going to experience a great deal of déjà vu. Although what they see may resemble the preceding trilogy, some things are going to feel a bit off, especially when Morpheus reappears in Anderson’s life, urging him to red pill his life once again and return to finish his work as Neo in the Matrix. This time around, the iconic character is played not by Laurence Fishburne, but by the great Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (HBO’s Watchmen, Candyman), an actor I will watch in anything at this point. He’s a remarkable simulation, but why not simply create a new character (he asked rhetorically)? Jessica Henwick’s scrappy fighter Bugs is a genuinely cool and interesting addition, who acts as the closest thing to the audience the film offers. She spends a lot of time reliving moments from the previous films from the sidelines, noticing that certain elements feel off to her (you and me both, sister). Between her and Morpheus, they run through a Best Of The Matrix trilogy screening session with Anderson, trying to convince him that the real world is where he belongs, and shockingly enough, eventually he gives in.

During the course of the movie, we also get glimpses of familiar characters like a much aged Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), now a leader, as well as stark-raving-mad Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), I guess because known quantities are always better. We also meet a few newbies, including a blink-and-you-miss appearance by Christina Ricci and a spirited supporting role in Sati (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), who provides a few missing pieces in the final war between humans and machines. The biggest shock may be that some machines don’t want the humans to lose, and are happy to assist them in their battle.

Working solo in the director’s chair this time, Lana Wachowski (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon) has taken on the nearly impossible chore of reviving a franchise she thought was complete, and turned it into practically the gold standard of fan service by saying “Look, even in this fictional world, that thing you love is beloved as well.” People can say it’s a new brand of meta filmmaking, but it never felt new to me. She takes every opportunity to bring back an actor (or at least a character) whenever possible, to reference touchstone moments from the original trilogy with alarming regularity, and to extend the mythology using almost entirely the benchmarks and lingo we’re all familiar with. It may look and feel different from other recent examples of nostalgia-mining (No Way Home, Ghostbusters, Avengers: Endgame), but it’s the same routine in different packaging. And by digging deeper to see if the rabbit hole has another rabbit hole beneath it, the film feels stale and sadly familiar.

Is there any real doubt that the object of Resurrections is to give Neo and Trinity the happy ending they deserve? Not from where I’m sitting. The visuals and action are impressive at times, but that’s because Lana Wachowski is a gifted filmmaker who has birthed dozens of great ideas in the world of genre movies. The Matrix Resurrections feels like a book report on Neo, Trinity, and the rest of the gang. And like most book reports, huge sections of it were copied off the internet.

The film is now available in theaters and is streaming on HBO Max.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

3 Comments

  1. You have completely not gotten the messages! Many didn’t get the first three movies either… though they might have thought they did… Nothing new under the sun.

  2. “say things like ‘bullet time’ and ‘red pill/blue pill’ again.”

    “Bullet time” is never said in any Matrix movie, because that would have been dramatically breaking the 4th wall, something that wasn’t done in the first three movies, and honestly, if you respect the narrative conceit of this fourth one, isn’t strictly speaking done this time either.

    Otherwise, spot-on review. Just trying to keep you honest. Maybe use things like “‘knowing kung-fu’ and ‘red pill/blue pill’ again”?

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