Return to Artificial Reality – Review of “The Matrix Resurrections”

Poster for The Matrix Resurrections. Source

I’m in the age group that first saw The Matrix in 1999 in theaters and was blown away by everything to do with the film. It was and still is a cultural touchstone, as well as being one of the most influential films to come about at the end of the 20th century. While the sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were not as good as the original, they expanded upon some of the existential ideas introduced in the first film. So where does the leave the latest film in the series, The Matrix Resurrections?

Better than the sequels but not as good as the original.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the film yet.

From a visual standpoint, Lana Wachowski knocked it out the park for this film. The film is a showcase for a mature filmmaker who has picked up a few new tricks over the years and it shows. Lana’s use of different environments as well as brilliant color palettes are a sharp contrast to the largely black/grey/green motifs of the original trilogy. There are a number of visual callbacks to The Matrix, particularly during the opening sequence and in the finale during the massive fight to escape the Matrix. The only issue I have with Lana’s work is the pacing at the beginning but I understand why she chose to spend as much time as she did with Neo going through the humdrum existence he’s been saddled with.

Bugs (Jessica Henwick), Neo (Keanu Reeves), and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) Source

Story-wise, the film felt like a homage to The Matrix as it does a unique story. Once again saddled with the name Thomas Anderson, Neo is now a game developer who created a video game called The Matrix, in a clear case of meta-narrative. The meta-narrative goes even further when it’s revealed that Warner Bros. (the company behind the original trilogy and the current iteration) is pushing for a sequel of The Matrix game, with or without Anderson’s involvement. The scenes of Anderson listening to the twenty-something development team discuss the themes and ideas behind the game feel very on the nose, which is by design. One can only imagine how many conversations or group meetings Lana Wachowski had to sit through that were similar in nature before this film was greenlit.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by some excellent stand-outs, specifically Jessica Henwick as Bugs, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus, and Jonathan Groff as Smith (replacing Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving, respectively). Henwick turns in a powerful performance as Bugs, the captain of the Mnemosyne (named after the Greek Goddess of Memory), who acts very much as the audience surrogate. While I was never a huge fan of the Netflix Iron Fist series, Henwick was one of the major bright spots on that show and I’m pleased to see her continue to get opportunities to show off both her acting chops and her skills as a martial artist. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II wowed me during his portrayal of Doctor Manhattan in HBO’s Watchmen series. In The Matrix Resurrections, we find out that Morpheus we knew is long-dead but Neo recreated him in The Matrix game as an amalgamation of the Morpheus he knew and Agent Smith. Abdul-Mateen brings the same subdued, thoughtful energy to his version of Morpheus that Laurence Fishburne did during the original trilogy. Last but not least, Jonathan Groff (who some might recognize from Netflix’s Mindhunter or as King George in Hamilton) brings quiet menace as a reprogrammed Agent Smith, himself a slave to the new Matrix’s creator, The Analyst.

With that said, this really is Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ film, without question. Although we go a good stretch of the way through the film without Trinity knowing who she is, the crux of the story is Neo and Trinity’s relationship, the dynamic that the two shared. One of the few missteps in the original trilogy was that their relationship never felt fully realized, despite the attempts by the two main actors to carry it that way. Here, we see the two of them struggling to reconnect through the haze of the new Matrix’s programming, providing a more satisfying conclusion when Trinity finally reawakens to her identity. The dread Keanu Reeves infuses in his performance as Neo is palpable, particularly during the sequences after he is removed from the Matrix and has to grapple with the artificial reality he’s been subjected to for decades. The ending of the film, where we see that Trinity is now a fully realized individual with the same powers as Neo, felt justified to me, particularly since the story had been laying the groundwork for it since the tail end of the second act.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). Source

While not as fun or innovative as the original film, The Matrix Resurrections was an enjoyable experience, one that I wouldn’t mind revisiting again in the future. The Matrix still holds a special place in my heart, both as a film buff and as a storyteller. The ideas explored regarding free will, the nature of reality, and how one can transition into a life of meaning and purpose still stick with me to this day. Ultimately, I think that is Lana Wachowski’s (and her sister Lilly’s) greatest contribution through these films.

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