The Pitch: Here’s the problem with reviewing The Matrix Resurrections: At this point, we basically have to accept that the franchise peaked with the first installment. This isn’t meant as an insult, but an honest statement of fact– this is what happens when a film is a masterpiece. If 1999’s The Matrix is a nearly perfect movie, almost transcendent at some points with how it blended genre and technology in service of its storytelling, then yeah, it may be impossible to top it.
What makes Resurrections such a fascinating viewing experience, though, is the fact that the movie knows this. And, rather than try to shift the narrative to some different angle on the original, director Lana Wachowski, who co-wrote the script with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, decides to take on that problem directly. The result is a movie that is in direct conversation with itself and what came before (an ongoing theme lately), and while the routes it takes to get there are sledgehammer blunt at times, the points it raises are wild.
Also, in a time of uncertainty and fear, Keanu Reeves still knows kung fu. And we are blessed for that.
Right Back to Where We Started From: A good piece of advice, going into Resurrections, is to rewatch not just the first film, but the second and the third. This is because the fourth movie does continue the story of the trilogy, though it takes a little while to get to the point where it’s clear what’s happening.
While it’s no longer possible to deliver that same stunned amazement at the twists from the original — specifically the central conceit, that “reality” as we know is a simulation keeping all us happy energy-producing batteries entertained while in the real world, a scorched Earth is dominated by AI-driven machines — Resurrections keeps its cards close to its chest initially, before once again returning us to the fight for not just humanity’s freedom, but its soul.
Things begin with a direct homage to the original film that also introduces us to two new characters: a blue-haired hacker named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and a mysterious man who claims for himself the mantle of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). And then, we get to catch up with Neo (Reeves), or as his friends now call him, Thomas Anderson.
Blue Pill-ed: Much like at the beginning of the first Matrix, “Tom” is living a lonely and joyless existence, stuck in a cycle of work, gym, sleep, and medication, with occasional interruptions by his business partner (Jonathan Groff) and therapist (Neil Patrick Harris). What’s “Tom”‘s job? No spoilers, but it’s meta as hell. And that may be exactly what Wachowski is going for (while also having some fun with the circumstances which led her to make this film in the first place). As a new approach to making the viewer question the reality of what they’re seeing, adding such a meta touch is maybe or maybe not effective. It’s certainly the moment when some people are going to check out.
But it does offer up yet another opportunity for the film to grapple with the weight of what came before. As any good therapist will tell you, you can’t embrace the future without coming to terms with your past. Resurrections is very, very conscious of this even as the plot progresses forward, because once again, Neo needs his mind to be freed, and fortunately Morpheus and Bugs (who literally has a white rabbit tattoo) are there to help him find the rabbit hole.
I’m Not Letting Go: In this film, Neo doesn’t need an entire movie to know that what he’s really looking for is a person: the one and only Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). For as consumed as this franchise can get with its own mythology, it has been and always will be a love story, and functions best when approached on that level.
The plot of Resurrections is bigger than simply reuniting these two star-crossed souls, but in setting up Neo’s initial status quo and driving motivation, it leans heavily into that connection. Which is perhaps why the moments where this film does become truly transcendent are when Moss and Reeves share the screen; their chemistry has only gotten richer and deeper over the years, and Moss gets far more material to tear into than she did in the sequel films.
A New Player Has Entered the Game: Meanwhile, given the advertising leading up to the film, it might be a surprise to learn just how deep and exciting the supporting cast is — Abdul-Mateen proves once again why he’s becoming one of the most exciting young actors to watch these days, bringing his own spin to the concept of Morpheus as a character while wearing the most beautiful suits of the year. (Suck it, House of Gucci.)
Henwick is also a captivating entry point for the audience, saddled with no small amount of exposition but delivering both it as well as some intense action sequences with ease. Also, for those who watched Sense8, co-created by the Wachowskis, you’ll be delighted to spot a number of the Sensates pop up in small supporting roles here. Unfortunately, these characters get only just enough screen time to serve as an intriguing tease for future adventures — should Wachowski and/or Warner Bros. choose to continue their stories.
Lots of Guns: Even if you weren’t on board for the first film’s Baudrillard references, there was plenty of action to keep plugged-in minds engaged. But with Resurrections, the action might be the biggest disappointment delivered, at least in comparison to the other three films.
While there are a number of exciting set pieces, there’s not quite anything as iconic as the first film’s elevator lobby shootout, or Reloaded‘s epic-length freeway chase. Oh, there’s still action — including, yes, Neo doing kung fu — and with the exception of one mid-film fight scene that leans a little too much on shaky-cam, it’s well-crafted and exciting. These scenes just suffer in comparison to what came before.
Not helping matters are a few sequences that experiment with the manipulation of time on screen in ways that would feel truly cool and groundbreaking… were it not for the existence of Quicksilver in the kitchen during X-Men: Days of Future Past, and other similar sequences from the last decade or so.
Of course, the original Matrix popularized the concept of “bullet time” (as Resurrections literally jokes, one word or two?), but it’s hard not to want this film to kick the can slightly farther down the road. Still, even the different approach to action feels like a commentary on what came before, a conscious or unconscious acknowledgment of the way our society’s relationship with onscreen violence has warped over the last 20 years. There’s a dark twist to one action scene later in the film which some may find disturbing, but feels connected to a bigger point being made about these issues.
The Verdict: The themes of this film are dense, with so much to unpack beneath the surface; while the circumstances surrounding Resurrections being released day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max are of course not ideal, the opportunity to discover background details and pick out character names from the closed captions is a real gift for fans, whether they brave a new wave of COVID infections to see it in the theater or experience it at home.
Ultimately, where Resurrections most succeeds is in offering an apologia of sorts for The Matrix Revolutions, which for a while now felt like the way this story would always end. (Omitting the Matrix video games, as the film here largely does.) There’s a good 75% of that film which is rock solid, especially the sentinel attack on Zion (more movies need scenes where acclaimed theater actors pilot giant mecha suits).
But the seemingly senseless death of Trinity in Revolutions, followed by a muddled compromise between the humans and the machines brokered by Neo, wasn’t great at the time and has not aged well, and again, for years that was the ending we were left with. By re-engaging with its central romance, Resurrections provides, at the very least, a much more satisfying conclusion to the original franchise — and perhaps a new level of excitement for the future.
Is a sequel possible? Well, given the way that, for literally over a decade, a sequel to Revolutions seemed like a pretty impossible thing… never say never. The important distinction here is that Resurrections did as the title suggests, and resurrect real excitement over this wild world of leather bodysuits and cyberpunk philosophy and kick-punching. Lana Wachowski can jack us back in anytime.
Where to Watch: The Matrix Resurrections uploads on December 22nd, in theaters and on HBO Max.