Sequels that arrive many, many years after the previous entry don’t typically fare well, and while most deserve their fate even the great ones (Blade Runner 2049) often fail to reach the same audience. Lana Wachowski‘s The Matrix Resurrections — her first feature without sister Lilly Wachowski — is at risk of falling into that latter group. It’s fantastic in its blend of action, meta shenanigans, and epic love story, but it’s undoubtedly not going to be the sequel some fans are hoping for. But fuck ’em. This is exactly the kind of wild swing the sisters are known for, and while they don’t always work (Jupiter Ascending) the result can sometimes be awe-inspiring magic (Cloud Atlas), warts and all. The Matrix Resurrections is among 2021’s best and most ambitious films.
It’s been decades since Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) worked on The Matrix, a popular video game trilogy about people realizing they’re inside a computer simulation and then fighting the machines to break free. Warner Bros. wants a follow-up, and they’re planning to make it with or without the game’s creator, but Thomas resists the pressures of his business partner (Jonathan Groff) and takes his concerns to his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris). Therapy became a recurring thing for Thomas after suffering a nervous breakdown in which he thought the premise of The Matrix was real and that he was in fact Neo. His other recurring habit involves a stop at a particular coffee shop in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a married mother of two named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss)…
The film kicks things off with the arrival of a new character named Bugs (Jessica Henwick). She and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, don’t worry, it’s explained) are here to wake Neo up — again — as the peace negotiated at the end of 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions has been broken by the machines. Sounds simple and straightforward enough, but Wachowski and friends have more than a few surprises up their leather sleeves including laughs big and small, a sweet romance, and a dissection of sorts of the expectations that go into tentpole sequels.
The Matrix Resurrections is a blast, beginning to end, but it’s one loaded with a fairly unique concoction made up of equal parts sincerity and funfetti. There’s some seriousness here, mostly in the form of the love story between Neo and Trinity and the themes about being true to yourselves, but there’s also plenty of playfulness, gibberish, and spectacle. We may not get another vfx revelation like bullet time here — despite a character saying they need exactly that — but action fans should be satiated by the execution and scale of the film’s fight scenes, shootouts, and stunts. This is big entertainment, and Wachowski is enjoying the hell out of her return to the world that made her name.
She’s not the only one, either, as Reeves is clearly having a grand time putting a newly bewildered spin on Neo. From the utter silliness of his early reactions — he’s borderline channeling his doofus from the Bill & Ted films — to his utter delight at discovering he still has his karate chops, Reeves is committed to Neo’s new situation at every turn. That includes the love story between he and Trinity. If you recall, both Neo and Trinity die in Revolutions, but as the title implies here they’re both back and in need of each other.
That connection is ultimately the key in The Matrix Resurrections to unlocking it all. While characters muse about the original trilogy being an allegory for trans experiences or the oppressive reach of capitalism, the film ultimately comes down to the shared affection between people. Neo and Trinity’s love, presented here with legitimately romantic power, is the most obvious, but the love between friends, between humans, is every bit as strong. It’s no groundbreaking revelation to say that a people’s only chance at escaping unwanted bondage is by working together and exhibiting both strength and sacrifice, but Wachowski knows it’s a truth that bears repeating.
The script (by Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksander Hemon) offers up a stew of sentimental observations, silly jabs at corporate franchise culture, and techno-gibberish — “synthesize the bio-sky! use the corpuscular modifier! something something anomeleum!” — but even the beats that don’t quite land leave a smile on your face as they float by. There’s a lot going on here, but rather than feel like a tug of war between what Wachowski wants and what she feels compelled to include to satisfy the suits at WB, it all works to create a big-budget spectacle the likes of which we rarely see. That’s par for the course with the Wachowskis, though, and one need only look at their filmography to see that and be grateful for it.
Returning characters, both those mentioned and those you’ll discover for yourself, are all good enough, but The Matrix Resurrections shines nearly as strong with its newcomers. Henwick’s Bugs should, in a just world, launch her into a very busy career as she captivates with personality, skill, and action chops. She’s the one we first see explode into action, and there’s a freshness to it even as some of the beats are modeled on the films that came before. Slow-motion leaps and flips while shooting have been copied over the years, but Wachowski and cinematographers Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll make it seem as if they invented the shot. Both Abdul-Mateen II and Groff, meanwhile, infuse the film with much of its humor and a little bit of goofiness.
Viewers might feel apprehensive at first, especially as the film’s meta aspects seem to be setting itself up by suggesting a fourth entry needs to outdo its predecessors in every way. The Matrix Resurrections pays the idea lip service, but it’s clear that Wachowski isn’t really interested in simply giving the studio and fans exactly what they think they want. Instead, she’s giving these characters — and viewers engaged enough to willingly chuck aside their expectations and just go for the ride — exactly what they deserve. Here’s hoping more movies and filmmakers find a similar willpower to blow up the template and fall in love with possibility all over again.
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