Review: The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

While it made me miss the meticulous craft of the original… it also made me cry.

Comparisons to the first The Matrix (1999) aren’t merely inevitable, they’re literally part of The Matrix Resurrections: the two films are in dialogue, through cross-cuts, recreations, projections, and, well, literal dialogue. So when we find ourselves in a dojo training simulation with Neo and new-Morpheus, it’s impossible not to feel the absence of the famously meticulous storyboarding that went into the original film, to miss the combination of Bill Pope‘s cinematography, Yuen Woo-ping‘s fight scene choreography, and Zach Staenberg‘s editing, all coming together to craft compelling and iconic scenes. Resurrections has action concepts and performers worthy of better showcasing, but its generic visual sloppiness fails to leave us with indelible, much less iconic, new imagery.

I get why, thematically, Resurrections is messier (in a variety of ways), but precision was such a huge part of the first film that it keeps this instalment from feeling as worthy as it could, if not should. While the second and third films, Reloaded and Revolutions, are messy in other ways (dialogue, pacing, dialogue, structure, oh and did i mention dialogue?), visually they still continued with that precision (the freeway scene in Reloaded alone earns that film a rewatch). Resurrections veers in almost the opposite direction: while it’s the biggest bleeding heart of the series, certain scenes (particularly the action and fight scenes) still have opportunity and need for a more deliberate hand, at the very least to showcase more clearly the very practical effects they went to all the trouble to create, only to then capture and cut together with no distinctive style, or even coherence.

The Matrix was about the future – if not ours, certainly its creators’. Resurrections is about the present, overtly and messily so. Subtlety was never a concern of these films – and yet, apparently they weren’t unsubtle enough. In the years since The Matrix was released, its progressive political motifs have been co-opted by real-world conservative ghouls; meanwhile, sibling directors The Wachowskis have both come out as transgender women, and have had to explicitly state their film’s subtext as a trans allegory.

Twitter exchange:
Elon Musk: Take the red pill.
Ivanka Trump: Taken!
Lilly Wachowski: Fuck both of you.

Resurrections‘ self-awareness and meta commentary necessarily leaves little mystery as to its real-world concerns and drivers (the villain literally uses the word “sheeple”). Despite all this, while there’s a palpable, righteous, and justified fury in Resurrections, its fight is ultimately, miraculously, not against its villain, but for hope and love.

If the sight of Neo and Trinity reconnecting isn’t enough to elbow you in the feels, the chemistry between human fine wines Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss might just bring you to tears.

Resurrections lets its obligatory sequel inclusions get in the way of its newer, more potentially interesting ideas. Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Smith (Jonathan Groff) are redundant distractions (and did the Merovingian turn up just to literally scream lyrics from the theme song from The Nanny?). These returning characters (and not always even the original actors) take up time and attention which might have been better spent on other things, like fleshing out The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) with as much care and fun as the original Smith, or depicting the “swarm mode” concept as effectively as the other Agents in the original film.

Resurrections could also have spent some time exploring the new generation’s alliance of humans (more Jessica Henwick as Bugs, please!) and “sentients”, or machines who have defected to join the human resistance. One of the many subtext-as-text monologues which made this viewer emotional is when Naiobi (Jada Pinkett Smith) tells Neo: “They believed it could only be us or them. This city was built by us and them.” In a world which simultaneously pressures them to replicate their seismic cultural impact while also mangling their messaging and persecuting them for their very identities, the idea that either Lana or Lilly Wachowski might still believe in the power of connection and understanding, much less fight this hard through such a treacherous landscape to champion that earnest message again and again in maligned film after maligned film over the course of an incredibly turbulent career, is… well, capital-R Romantic.

More Trinity!

I hear the criticism that there isn’t enough actual Trinity in Resurrections. While I agree that it’s disappointing that we didn’t get to spend more than a few minutes with her, I do understand that the point perhaps wasn’t to bring Trinity back for us – it’s about the journey toward her making choice for herself. Perhaps this story should have been told from her perspective more literally, or at least shown us more of her side of that journey. But my reading of Neo and Trinity, since the original Matrix, is that their visual similarities are deliberate: their stories have always been the one story. In one pivotal moment, Neo is about to step through the mirror, and The Analyst appears to try to “talk” (gaslight) him back to “reality”; in the film’s final scene, it’s Trinity who beats down this abuser for subjugating them both. Though Resurrections depicts Thomas Anderson’s specific steps, it conveys both Neo and Trinity’s singular journey.

As much as Lana Wachowski wants to make sure you know that this was a studio-mandated sequel, she also clearly has something to say. Resurrections is nothing on the original, but it’s a mess with heart, whose self-importance is a commentary on a world that has, in more ways than one, been asking for it.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

PS. Fun trivia: Neo’s reflection is played by Stephen Roy, real-life husband of Carrie Anne-Moss (Trinity) since 1999, the year in which the original The Matrix is set. Her on-screen husband (as Tiffany) is played by Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves’ stunt double on the previous Matrix films.

Further Viewing

“My dad died, then this friend died, then my mom died,” Resurrections director and co-writer Lana Wachowski told the International Literature Festival Berlin. “I couldn’t have my mom and dad, yet suddenly I had Neo and Trinity, arguably the two most important characters in my life… this is what art does and that’s what stories do: they comfort us.”

The Matrix Resurrections is a fine occasion to revisit a bunch of breakdowns and behind-the-scenes which reveal the craft that went into the original 1999 film:

Over the years since their release, The Matrix sequels, Reloaded (2003) and Revolutions (2004), have been revisited, reassessed, rewritten, and re-read: