The Matrix franchise has always struggled to come out of the shadow of the first film, one which set forth so many new ideas, both in its story and filmmaking. The two films that came after 1999 hit expanded upon the mythos of the Matrix and the real world, taking themes and ideas from cyberpunk fiction leading up to it and commenting on it, all the while telling a rather simple story at its centre. With ideas for so many sequels and spinoffs floating in Hollywood since the culmination of the final instalment, it needed to take a special story for both audiences and the Matrix’s creators to return to the digital playground.
Note – this review will be free of spoilers.
The Matrix: Resurrections is an interesting film that is so obsessed with the wonder of its past accomplishments that it sometimes forgets to serve a satisfying narrative of its own. Before I go into details, it must be clarified that Resurrections is indeed a direct sequel to Revolutions and not a smart/soft reboot as many predicted it to be. Well, not entirely. Taking place a good amount of time after the third film, Resurrections sees Keanu Reeves’ Neo once again in the Matrix, oblivious of the events of the trilogy being real. In a smart, if a little too meta, subversion, the Matrix’s seventh incarnation keeps the events of the trilogy as an in-world video game created by Thomas Anderson/Neo. The first half of the film takes this premise and uses it to put Neo (and the audience) in a mind-bending loop of suspecting what’s real and what’s not.
While that first half is full of references, callbacks and too much usage of old footage in the spirit of self-aware commentary, that doesn’t save the film from a predictable plot once the curtain gets pulled over. Director Lana Wachowski knows that chasing the same visual style of the old films may be an exercise in futility, but in an effort to distance the new instalment from the old, Resurrections ends up feeling more pedestrian than any film in its genre should be, both in its look, its action choreography and writing. The Matrix trilogy is well known for its signature colour palette and beautifully choreographed action scenes, with the cinematography proudly keeping everything in view.
I had fun with #TheMatrixResurrections in the first hour with its meta narrative setup, but not when the actual story kicks into gear. It may be the weakest entry thanks to uninspired action, bland exposition & convoluted excuses about its very existence.— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) December 21, 2021
In Resurrections, not only does the new Matrix look boring and uncharacteristically clean, but the action is also taken a few notches down to the “been there seen that” well. Gone are the wide, long shots that let the action speak for itself, replaced by incessant editing and special effects that turn into visual noise.
While it’s a shame to not see Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus and Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith return in those roles, their ‘replacements’ (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff) do an entertaining job, although at the cost of being quite uncharacteristic. The returning cast, including Carrie-Anne Moss’s Trinity and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe, is a welcome sight, instantly switching back to their characters as they would have evolved over the passage of time off-screen. Jessica Henwick is an instant highlight, taking what could have been an unnecessarily annoying character and turning her into a wholly new, original, and just as cool person that I’d love to know more about.
It’s funny how just last week we saw Spider-Man: No Way Home being criticised by a few for its use of nostalgia when The Matrix: Resurrections uses it blatantly to shield its poor execution. While Spider-Man takes previously known elements to craft a new story that is true to its characters, The Matrix: Resurrections is way more into the idea of using old scenes as a shiny distraction from a thinly veiled plot.
The Matrix: Resurrections has a few cool ideas about the role digital spaces play in our modern lives, but other than that its unhealthy obsession with repeated callbacks and references to the original films stop it from telling an interesting story.