The Matrix: Resurrections is a lot of things simultaneously: an on-the-nose meta escapade for the fans, a love story, a social commentary of today’s technological world. Above all, it is one of the best blockbusters of the year. It is the Matrix sequel we have been waiting for.
The Wachowskis have always had a knack for creating visually original stories, but the majority of their works have been met with mixed reviews. Although not all their films might be great or even entirely coherent, there is a fair amount to enjoy and appreciate in each of their films. Bound (1996), Speed Racer (2008), and Cloud Atlas (2012) have found their place as cult classics. They are directors who I appreciate more than I like, but I can still admit that they changed the action game with the worldwide phenomenon that is The Matrix. The slow-motion bullet time, the red or blue pill conundrum, and Keanu doing kung-fu are some of the most memorable moments in contemporary pop culture. Now, 18 years after sequels Revolutions and Reloaded, Lana Wachowski goes solo to deliver the franchise’s fourth installment, The Matrix: Resurrections.
Mr. Anderson, aka. Thomas Anderson, aka. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is stuck in a trance where he doesn’t know if his reality is a physical or mental construct, leading him to visit an analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) so he can get to the root of things. None of the methods he has tried are working for him, so a visit from his old friend Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) wakes him up and he chooses to follow the white rabbit once again. After all these years, if he has learned anything, it’s that that choice (while it may be an illusion) will be the way out of or into the Matrix. The One already knows what to do, but this isn’t the same place he once knew. The Matrix is now a stronger and far more dangerous place than ever before.
The Matrix: Resurrections contains some of the same flair and style that the original Matrix had back in 1999 for a number of reasons, but the most notable one is the self-referential approach to the film. Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film, Bergman Island (one of my favorite films of the year), took that same approach to tackle writer’s block and dysfunctional relationships, and it worked perfectly. Lana Wachowski decided that the best way to conclude the action romp was to take this route. That is a bold decision, as doing so can make or break a film, and it’s a very beloved franchise. Nonetheless, Wachowski makes it work with callback after callback. One might argue that the tactic is just nostalgia-baiting, or that it’s a film only for the fans; I disagree.
Most recently, big blockbuster films have gone down a “nostalgia is everything” route for their narratives, like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Spiderman: No Way Home. Those are examples of films that use an excess of nostalgia to hide the fact that if you took that aspect away from the picture, there isn’t a single creative bone in their cinematic bodies. Suppose you were to take the nostalgia out of the respective pictures. In that case, their narratives are just mediocre attempts at action/fantasy flicks full of conveniences and zero creativity, with the directors at the helm “following orders” for the box office ticket. Resurrections is a film that shouldn’t work at all with its meta-like strategy, yet it does. It’s a reinvention of the franchise with touches of what made the original so groundbreaking.
In an interview with NME, Keanu Reeves described the film as an “examination of the past." Neo feels conflicted about what happened at the end of the third picture because he doesn’t know if he’s in or out of the Matrix. In addition to that, he's searching for his purpose in life, although a part of that life may be an illusion of some sort. The Alice in Wonderland notion of seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes sets us up for something that exceeds our expectations to deliver a broader and bolder scope of that kinetic and mind-boggling Matrix popcorn fun. Yet, beneath all the commotion and chaos, there is a beating heart: the bond between Neo and Trinity. He doesn’t want to lose her again. That’s what makes the film more than just another big-budgeted action film.
The audience aches to see the cyber-punk lovers back together again. Still, as we approach the big reunion, the film provides us with some good, stylish action fun with considerably more substance to chew on than the other sequels of the franchise did. While its first act sees Wachowski pulling technical tricks out of her sleeves to make the audience feel the disorientation of Mr. Anderson (occasionally contributing to a feeling of aimlessness), the second one pulls more of the emotional strings, providing a worthy conclusion.
Resurrections could have easily been a mess of Southland Tales proportions. Instead, it gels smoothly as a reassessment of the franchise and a reflection on why we revisit a lot of these imaginative stories again and again. The Matrix: Resurrections is a divisive joint, but I don’t care; I enjoyed it tremendously.