The Matrix has you. We are in an unprecedented age of cynical sequels. Movies as brands. Content is king and content is everywhere. Accessible at the swipe of a finger. Films have not innovated or adapted to match our present context of use. The integration of multi-directional cross-media promotion has been undersold to us. The future that The Matrix promised us, of gorgeous big-brained action movies never came. It rose with thunderous potential in the films by the Wachowski sisters and then all the movies became events. But were they events worth attending? Were they the future of movies or simplistic outings that fulfill only our most basic impulses? The Matrix Resurrections gets to have it both ways.
The Matrix Resurrections gets to be a thoughtful and searching examination of its own creation. It gets to be Lana Wachowski examining her traumas directing through big tentpole action filmmaking. It gets to be a Godardian reflexological remapping of prior The Matrix movies, literally replaying their moments on the screen, to investigate what they meant and how the audience has perceived them. It is all too rare for the big budget film director to have an open canvas upon which to paint with bold psychology, the exact trauma of what they’ve created taking on a life of its own. Resurrections resurrects not just The Matrix and the singular Wachowski sister’s relationship to the prior trilogy but also presents an opportunity for popcorn psychology, wherein the audience’s memetic relationship to the material is deeply internalized and ingrained within the new prime text of the film.
The Matrix Resurrections gets to be all of these things. And it’s damn good at them, too, thoroughly presenting a self-examination with all of the blockbuster bloat of its contemporaries, yet unwavering in the self-actuality of its beliefs. It says to overthrow the archaic systems of power. To probe deeply within ourselves and find our truths. More than a simple over-designed Actioner, the film is a trans woman retaking total control of her own narrative, by rejecting the symbols as they have been adapted, and precisely reshaping them to suit the original mission of the text. It is profound, sometimes it is trying, but always, it is Lana Wachowski’s.
The film is also patently funny. It’s not funny the way modern movies are. It’s funny in a deeply metatextual way, connected knowingly to the memes and the internet culture that The Matrix perhaps prefigured and made pathways for. In real life, Keanu Reeves shows up at Electronic Entertainment Expos and The Game Awards. Wachowski knows this is how we perceive him, not as John Wick, but as a common man of the people who is so deeply ingrained in our entertainment culture, that he has become a cross-media fixture. And Lana wants to play with that idea.
Hilariously, Keanu Reeves plays Neo as a The Game Awards-winning game designer who has created a trilogy of games called The Matrix but is struggling to tell reality apart from the games he is making. This comes in the immediate aftermath of a superb showing of a The Matrix demo on Unreal Engine 5. The headline has been, finally video games are nearing reality, without any uncanny valley. But in the movie’s world, Neo now lives in uncanny valley. He knows, somewhere inside of him, that he’s programed all these games based on some internal memory, that it’s not just a game. Through some convoluted but greatly entertaining series of leaps in logic, this inevitably brings him back to The Matrix. It’s a terrific way for the new entry to play out, humorously reframing past entries, while offering ample legroom for Lana to expand some entirely new ideas.
This reviewer felt throughout the movie that this was an entirely new way of making a sequel. It feels that insistent, that fresh, that it felt reinvigorating, either in contrast to the swath of recent cash-ins on our childhoods, or singularly as its own purpose-driven means of content creation. There is even some invention within the casting. Keanu Reeves is perhaps a better actor than he has ever been and the extremity of the new material never feels too demanding. He’s once again paired with a wonderful Carrie-Anne Moss, and time has done nothing but made their instant chemistry more nostalgic. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II takes the reigns as the new Morpheus and it somehow works, even right next to the footage of Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus. Jonathan Groff plays a new Agent Smith with surprising charm and Neil Patrick Harris chews the scenery and steals his scenes as The Analyst. All are well matched to the material.
Within the film as a video game as a film meta, The Matrix exists in the picture as it does in our imaginations. It’s still sturdy and alive because it always has been. Even going solo, Lana Wachowski directs with tender care for the material and with refreshing new ideas that ought to rightfully become a standard for this sort of throwback sequel, but probably won’t. The framing still exists within the cinematic understanding of a history of action movies but it exhibits perhaps only less flair for such things than the original The Matrix. Fair play. The Matrix Resurrections is a one of a kind film. It stands alone in a year of regressive big budget films as the one that has something to say.