Twenty-two years on from The Matrix, and around 18 years since the two sequels, Lana Wachowski returns to the franchise, this time without her sister, Lilly. Somewhere around 2018 there were rumours of a reboot starring Michael B. Jordan. In the event, The Matrix Resurrections continues the original storyline, with Keanu Reeves as Neo/Thomas Anderson, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, with a return for Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe. There are recasts for the roles of Morpheus (here played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen from Aquaman), and Agent Smith, who is revealed through the course of the story.
Events pick up many years from the events of the previous films, with Neo back living as Thomas Anderson. He is working as a video game developer and has become a legendary figure as game director for a trilogy of games known as The Matrix. He is working for a character played by Mindhunter‘s Jonathan Groff, a man whom the audience will know instinctively there is more to than meets the eye. With the game published by Warner Bros. there are demands for a new instalment of the game franchise, with the film showing us lots of sequences of the staff debating what a fresh episode would be, in conversations that would apply to this film too.
READ MORE: Listmas 2021 – Most Played Music
In addition to his work, Neo spends a lot of time with his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), with whom he discusses his memories of the Matrix – which he is unclear in his own mind about the reality of – while being given a regular supply of blue pills. In his regular visits to his local coffee shop (Simulatte) he usually sees a married mother of three known as Tiffany, which as she is played by Carrie Anne-Moss reminds him of Trinity from his games/memories – the man she has married is played by Chad Stehelski: Keanu’s stunt double and director of the John Wick films – literally a Keanu stand-in. When Neo meets a new version of Morpheus (who is a computer programme in this version) and a young lady called Bugs (Jessica Henwick – also sporting a tattoo of a white rabbit), he is drawn back towards his role as ‘The One’ (the nature of which is also discussed at length here). Entering the real world once more, he learns that 60 years have elapsed, with he and Trinity having been repaired by machines for their exceptional capabilities as power sources. The film then becomes a love story, as Neo attempts to give Trinity the truth and a free choice to leave the matrix.
The first half an hour of The Matrix Resurrections fully engages the viewer with a raft of ideas on the nature of free will, a big change in terms of what exactly represents good and evil in this new era – with programmes and machines working alongside humans in many cases. There are fascinating hints as to what might be coming, with blink and you’ll miss it replacements for our leads’ reflections in mirrors or a table. Whereas the Neo of the sequels became a god, with limitless power and complete assuredness of his purpose, this version fears he has lost his mind, and has no idea what to believe. At one point he is stood at night on his building’s roof, downing wine and drunkenly considering whether he should try to fly. Trinity/Tiffany has a family but retains an existing feeling of being drawn to Neo – there is just something about him that is stirring a distant memory. The Matrix itself is a new iteration, that has given Wachowski the excuse to ditch the sickly green filters of the original trilogy. Neo has aged and changed with time, and now exists in an environment that is far more pleasant to look at. So far, so promising.
If there is one complaint to be had with the first act of the film, it is purely with the amount of meta-commentary going on. Whilst it is interesting to consider that had the Matrix been created as an IP today it may well have been a series of video games, it is also tiresome to have quite so much commentary on the battle between art and commerce. No amount of introspection can hide the fact both of the original sequels were ponderous, self-important tosh, led by a man refusing to essay more than one expression. The Matrix Resurrections corrects this, with a characterisation of Neo that feels more real and relatable than anything since the first half of the first film. There are also, though, far too many flashbacks to the events of the earlier films. This feels a little lazy and pandering. The film, however, starts strongly enough to suggest that real, fresh ideas have been brought to the table, with much of the off-putting verbiage of films two and three ditched.
READ MORE: Session 9 – Blu-ray Review
Once Neo is out of the Matrix, however, it starts to play more like a remake. Neo’s exit is very rinse and repeat, and the basic goals of our characters are not so different from in 1999. Niobe is given a decent amount of screen time and plays morally grey, but the amount of old age make-up used to put Jada into the body of an elderly woman does not stand-up to the scrutiny the camera puts on it. What we have at this point is a film that is comfortably more entertaining than the sequels, but a pale copy of the original, albeit with a stronger lead performance from a seasoned actor now in his fifties and demonstrating more range than usual.
Finally, and most disappointingly, the action is merely okay. There are no set pieces that would crack even the top-five for this franchise, and Neo seems to be doing little but forcefields in the final act. With the quantum leap forwards that technology has undergone in the last two decades, that a Matrix film can arrive and not be a stand-out in action terms is something of a shock. This adds up to a film that does everything reasonably well but takes a nosedive after a first half an hour that was suggestive of something special. It is still a decent watch, however, and those put off by the series’ increasing pretentiousness as it delivered its sequels will find this much more refreshing, and at least somewhat evocative of that 1999 experience.
The Matrix Resurrections is out now in cinemas.