Set sixty years after the events of the original Matrix Trilogy, The Matrix Resurrections once again tells the story of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) – aka Neo, aka The One – being freed from the literal and philosophical cyberprision called the Matrix and teaming up with a group of rebels to defeat a new AI enemy. Only this is a new and improved version of the Matrix, and we learn that Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is one of its slaves who needs to be freed.
With so many possibilities that could be done with the world of The Matrix, I was excited to see where this 4th installment could possibly go. But once the credits rolled I was left bitterly disappointed with a film that felt more like Star Wars: The Force Awakens where the story is so similar to the original film of the franchise that a more appropriate title would have been The Matrix Rehashed. To be honest, that sounds like a better film than the one we actually got.
Thomas Anderson is a successful game developer with mental health issues whose success was built around a trilogy of games he developed based on the events of the original Matrix Trilogy. Similar to how Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 references the existence of The Blair Witch Project, so too does Resurrections. However, instead of characters referring to the previous movie as a film they are aware of, the Matrix Trilogy is treated as a story developed by Anderson in the format of a game. Which doesn’t really work visually as the Resurrection filmmakers constantly insert footage from the previous films and they appear as scenes from a movie, not a game.
When a testing program Anderson has written with old Matrix code is hacked, a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is released and Anderson is, once again, given the opportunity to take the red pill to free his mind. Upon learning he was once again a prisoner inside the Matrix and that the love of his life Trinity is now imprisoned within it, he decides to team up with Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and her crew on the hovercraft Mnemosyne to free Trinity and defeat the new AI who runs the latest version of the Matrix.
Keanu Reeves reprises his role as Thomas Anderson/Neo, though he’s not slipping into familiar old shoes this time around as this version of the character is very different. Anderson is older, with a different personality to that of the young, rebellious, employee programmer portrayed in the original films. He’s a successful game developer with a business partner (Jonathan Groff) and a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) who keeps him heavily medicated to combat his mental issues. This is a more complicated version of Anderson and while Keanu was able to deliver the goods in the original trilogy, he’s not able to deliver a performance that does this role justice.
Carrie-Anne Moss also reprises her role as Trinity, albeit a very different version. Within the new Matrix, Trinity is now “Tiffany”, and married with kids. She also happens to buy coffee from the same shop as Anderson. Only now she’s not a hunted computer hacker, but works on motorcycles and enjoys riding them. Unlike Anderson, whose mind is struggling with accepting his reality, Tiffany is very much a slave to this new Matrix and may not be ready to be unplugged from it.
This is a much more nuanced version of Trinity and Moss is great playing the character, despite the bad script and poor direction. The only issue I have is that she never gets enough screen time. There’s a major turning point for her character that comes late in the story that feels unnatural because we don’t get to see enough of her journey to warrant the sudden change.
Lana Wachowski (Matrix Trilogy, Jupiter Ascending) returns as co-writer (with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon) but solo director for this installment without sister Lilly Wachowski, who co-created the original trilogy with her. Wachowski is a seasoned filmmaker however I’ve always felt that The Matrix is the only decent film she’s put out with her subsequent filmography paling in comparison. The Matrix Resurrections reinforces this opinion as she’s crafted a lifeless, superficially substantive film that’s inferior to the 1999 blockbuster in every way possible.
There are two major elements that make Resurrections pale in comparison to the original trilogy. The first is the story, which didn’t need to be told. By the end of the film I didn’t feel anything majorly new was explored – it’s just a rehash of the first film albeit with a modified version of the Matrix that uses a different method of controlling its population.
It feels so rehashed that I’m tempted to call it lazy. Like an 80’s action movie sequel that just hits all the same plot points of the previous movie to quickly put out another film and cash in on the success of the original. Except there’s nearly two decades of space between this and the last film in the franchise, so the time for “cashing in” might be long gone.
What fuels this feeling is how this new film constantly self-references the original trilogy, to the point where footage of the previous films is projected in the backdrops of scenes to contrast to moments in Resurrections, though here they’re supposed to be footage from the games. They’re overused to the point where it feels like Wachowski is parodying her own work, like using material that’s so deliberately familiar because you no longer want to take a risk.
Also letting this film down in a major, perhaps irredeemably, way is how mediocre the action is. The original Matrix not only challenged our minds with its philosophical questions about reality and choice, but its themes and ideas were complemented by some of the most dazzling and memorable action sequences ever put to screen. There was a stylized way that the fight sequences were filmed and choreographed, elements completely absent in Resurrections.
Instead of the precise, stylized, easy-to-follow and exquisitely choreographed fight sequences we’ve come to expect, we’re treated to clumsy, cluttered, and chaotic action scenes that are difficult to follow and come off as second-rate imitations from the Bourne Trilogy. There’s no single defining moment, no iconic fight, nothing even remotely approaching the epic quality the original films had in spades. What happened? It’s so unimpressive that it doesn’t even feel like it belongs in the same universe as the others.
The Matrix Resurrections is a well-produced disappointment of a movie that didn’t need to be made, serving only to remind us how exciting and innovative the original films were. This is a cynical exercise in franchise-revival filmmaking that lacks the story, substance, style and action of the originals, insulting fans by bringing back memorable characters and reducing them to mere shadows of their previous glory. The original Matrix challenged audiences; this one is just challenging to get through.