Nearly twenty years after she concluded the revolutionary Matrix trilogy with her sister Lilly, Lana Wachowski returns to the series with The Matrix Resurrections. The franchise reboot we never knew we needed, Resurrections is a wonderfully strange and baffling film, less of a fourth entry in an ongoing saga and more a personal reflection on the original trilogy.
Green code streams down the screen. A phone rings and connects. “Did you hear that? Are you sure this line is clean?” You know the score, we’ve been down this path, and we know exactly how it ends. We might not be able to see it, but we’re all stuck in these weird repeating loops. On paper at least, The Matrix Resurrections ticks all the soft-reboot boxes: the return of beloved characters, cameos, callbacks and remixed themes from the original. But in practice, it is a deeply personal film: a metatextual reflection on the success of the original trilogy. Most importantly, it is a deconstruction of the ways that revolutions are co-opted and repackaged by the powerful to be sold back to the masses.
Lilly Wachowski doesn’t return as co-director here, while Morpheus and Agent Smith are reskinned (now played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff respectively). Bill Pope, the cinematographer who defined the iconic look of the original films, is replaced by Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll. It’s impossible to ignore these changes, so instead Resurrections embeds them into its story, picking through the broken pieces of its forbears, assembling new ideas from the wreckage of the old.
WARNING: plot spoilers from this point onwards.
Amongst all the thrills of a first act that self-consciously remixes that of the original, Wachowski blends in a sense of middle-aged ennui that asks what happens to the victorious after the war is won. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a middle-aged game developer who found fame with his trilogy titled – yep – The Matrix. But wouldn’t you know it, the company, Deus Machina – owned by ‘beloved’ parent Warner Bros. – are demanding the fourth game that Thomas swore he’d never make. Hey, nobody ever accused the Wachowskis of being subtle.
The strange blend of action and world-weariness turns out to be deeply compelling, though much of its momentum is lost after the first act. Thomas, freed and returned to his true identity as Neo, must rescue Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who remains somatised by the system, living as Tiffany. Sadly, the ‘why’ is largely absent. It is never made remotely clear why the machines, whose fractious peace with humanity appears to remain largely intact, want Neo and Trinity back in the matrix. Nor is it ever really explained why the humans, led by Bugs (a scene-stealing Jessica Henwick), would risk that peace to save Neo, beyond a vaguely defined fanboyish sense of duty to him.
Nevertheless, the emotional core of the film is clear as a bell, buoyed by Reeves and Moss’ palpable chemistry and excellent performances across the board, especially from Henwick, Abdul-Mateen and Neil Patrick Harris’ The Analyst. And while some of the questions left unanswered are more frustrating than tantalising, the sense that human and machine life has transcended its binary opposition is nicely established, imploding the idea of illusion and reality in ways largely unrealised by its predecessors. Much like The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions before it, The Matrix Resurrections is far from perfect, with a lack of clear stakes at the heart of its problems. But unlike the other sequels, its pacing and emotional clarity succeed in bringing us along for the ride anyway, while the sense of mystery that made the original film so compelling finds new life. And while its philosophical ideas are usually gestured towards than fully explored, the ponderous tone of the other sequels is mercifully absent here.
Resurrections may not be the revolution in filmmaking that its predecessors once represented, but why should we expect it to be? The film doesn’t owe us another bullet time and criticising it for its less impressive action and smaller scope seems to be roundly missing the point. In short, The Matrix Resurrections is not The Matrix 4, and those looking for another sequel in the ongoing franchise are likely to be disappointed. Instead, freed from expectation, we can see The Matrix Resurrections for the strange, flawed and unapologetically personal thing that it is. Welcome to the desert of the real.