Director: Lana Wachowski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick
Any story, novel, play or film with genuine longevity is in some way changed by its own legacy. When the idea, its symbols and values add up to something larger than that initial kernel, that initial nugget. When a lived-in experience has been added by an audience. Ownership. Entitlement. How does that distort what it means? And what now for those who told the story? These questions – and anxieties – are all over The Matrix Resurrections; Lana Wachowski’s wildly meta, oddball attack on the doldrums of modern mainstream cinema.
In the near-20 years since The Matrix Revolutions supposedly called curtain on the this gun-totin’, bullet-timin’ franchise, American popular cinema has been programmed to death. The superhero movies that The Matrix joyfully pilfered from have swarmed and overwhelmed the system. They’ve become boilerplate, drab and – seemingly – all there is. The domineering MCU is an endless shuffle through the same recycled plot motions with identikit colour palettes and increasingly loathsome characters. Saturation point hit years ago and now we’re stuck in a mire of featureless content. It is The Wheel. It’s become it’s own Matrix; a controlled imitation of real-life filmmaking. A simulation of originality. It is sleep and it is death.
The Matrix Resurrections goes damned hard to try and wake us up all over again. Too hard, at times. It’s a bold, brash, bonkers and bracing thing to try and absorb all in one go. It’s just as well it leaves you with the crazy urge to relive it’s dizzy flavours ASAP.
You’ll need more than one of these red pills. The opening stretch is deeply confusing. But, like any shock to the system, it’s necessary to pull you out of the comatose world Disney and co. have lulled you into. Awakenings can be so difficult.
At first it seems like a broken facsimile. A literal retread of the 1999 blockbuster. A degraded photocopy. The Agents have Trinity surrounded… It’s the same hotel… But that’s not Carrie-Anne Moss… Are we in the next iteration of the Matrix? Is The Architect’s program re-running itself? Will there be a new ‘One’?
A new someone is looking on, however. Bugs (Jessica Henwick) is watching in the walls, and she senses something’s wrong, too. She’s here to waken someone from the Matrix, but it’s not a person… this time it’s a program… named… Morpheus?? What the hell is going on?
Cut to Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) jolted out of his own reveries at his desk. Were we just witness to a daydream? It’s twenty years since Anderson achieved worldwide celebrity with his trilogy of Matrix games; video games as lifelike as movies that changed the world. And now Warner Bros. Entertainment want to resurrect the franchise, whether Anderson is onboard or not. Because everyone just wants sequels these days.
In this dizzying manner, Lana Wachowski weaves what feels like her own version of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare; a freakish facsimile of the story we know, with faces we recognise but a jumbled sense of history and identity. It’s disorientating and more than a little bit worrying. Did the first three films mean nothing? What of that venerated thing called Legacy?
I will say this. Let go of your entitlement. The Matrix isn’t yours. That’s binary thinking. Allow things to change and evolve.
Having Reeves and Moss back is pure joy in and of itself, but Wachowski takes a leaf out of David Lynch’s recent playbook. Resurrections acknowledges the importance of nostalgia, plays with it tremendously, but doesn’t dawdle on it, instead striding forward in new directions and invigorating itself with new characters. Bugs is a case in point. God-awful name aside, she’s one of the highlights of the entire franchise, and Henwick makes every second of screen time matter. And then there’s Jonathan Groff, taking the legacy (that word again) of Agent Smith and doing something new and exciting with it. There’s no short supply of magnetism up there on the big screen.
A sense of restless forward motion propels the film, but it also provides challenges. There are big conceptual ideas here and reams of clipped exposition that Wachowski and her co-writers have clearly had time to settle with, but which we’re given precious little opportunity to digest. In other words, classic Matrix. Lots of baffling technobabble, and the frequent sense that you’re being left behind.
If that sounds frustrating, remember that re-watches are possible, and encouraged. They’re particularly encouraged by the wealth of gorgeous moments and bravura set-pieces that Resurrections provides. Where the prior films are remembered for their dour green tint (something those early DVD releases leaned into), Resurrections plays beautifully in a wider palette, playfully toying with the contrasts and compliments of red and blue. This is a beautiful blockbuster, one that frequently reminds us how often others simply… aren’t.
And, when the action hits, it hits hard. In light of the glut of airborne supermen, Resurrections steers away from this iconography into more physical spectacle. Things feel weighted and difficult. But also breathless in a way rarely seen since Fury Road.
And, to it’s credit, a little ramshackle too. Reeves is older. Moss is older. Granted, they’ve aged like fine wine, but Resurrections – like Twin Peaks: The Return again – is in part about reconciling time passing. About worrying that maybe you’re past your best. And, joyously, about rediscovering yourself and the confidence this requires. And yes, this does feed into the wider trans metaphor that all of The Matrix encompasses. It’s everywhere here, but now it prickles with a new sense of optimism. It peacocks, and that’s great fun.
I feel like I’m tantalisingly talking around so much. That’s the byproduct of a culture where spoilers lead to tantrums and a pre-conceived sense of something being ‘ruined’. So let’s end with some core advice.
Don’t hold too tightly to your notions of what The Matrix should be. This is a daring reworking of a dusty property. It is invigorating because of the sense of danger it walks toward, because of the risks it takes with an established property.
It is a challenge to the ‘fans’, but it is also quite keenly for them; Resurrections does not hold your hand if you haven’t seen the original trilogy over and over and over again. Bit foggy on Reloaded and Revolutions? You will need to revisit them.
But it’s also fun, fleet-footed and very romantic. In fact, there’s more heart here than in any of the previous films. You can feel the fondness felt by it’s makers.
An admission. I’m lukewarm on those original movies and, if pushed, I’d even say Reloaded is my fave. I’m not your regular Matrix ‘guy’, and that’s ok. But this movie made me feel more for all of them combined. It bundles them together and then, thrillingly, adds. It’s a ribbon than encircles them, and then weaves a beautiful bow.
Wachowski has used the clout of the previous films to make one hell of a goofy, popping-candy flavoured experience. I can’t help but admire that. And I do want to go again…
27/12/21: UPDATE!!! I have been again. The number below used to be an ‘8’, but now – bravely, brazenly – it’s a