Following the release of the groundbreaking 'The Matrix', Lana Wachowski ('Speed Racer', 'Cloud Atlas') finally accepts the red pill that studio execs have been trying to get her to swallow for 20 years, taking audiences on a journey once again to the "real world". So after all this time, taking into consideration how iconic and monumental this franchise is, is 'The Matrix Resurrections' any good and worth the wait? Well, it's not as simple as that - almost purposefully so.
If nostalgia is a poison that is destroying Hollywood, then when the green Warner Bros. logo covered in matrix code opens the film, I was well and truly convulsing and gasping for air. My teenage self was absolutely giddy with excitement in revisiting the characters and this world that has meant so much to so many and for so long. But there has to be a reason for these films to exist. It needs to say something more than just "Oh, remember us? We're back, and we come with new merchandise." From the outside, Lana Wachowski seems above that, so seeing what she has in store for the fourth instalment is exciting.
The cardinal sin that so many belated sequels and reboots commit is reminding the world that the original exists - and is substantially better. So the way Wachowski opens this film is curious, if not completely spellbinding. To even discuss the plot is difficult without entering spoiler territory, so I will be as vague as I can in revealing that we open the same way the original does, but from a different perspective. Nothing I say here isn't revealed in the trailer, but somehow, after dying at the end of the "trilogy", Thomas Anderson, aka Neo (Keanu Reeves, 'The Matrix'), is back in the Matrix, and something just doesn't feel right to him. In an opening act that is so unbelievably meta you simply have to applaud the sheer cheekiness of Wachowski, Neo is in familiar territory to audiences, who both know that there is something bigger at play out there. He talks it over with his boss (Jonathan Groff, 'Frozen'), and confides in his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris, 'Gone Girl'), but nothing brings him more joy than when he gets to admire Tiffany, aka Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, 'Memento') at his local cafe, who somehow is also alive, trapped and "blue pilled".
It's a completely immersive and surprisingly funny opening act that laughs at its own iconic status, as well as the preposterous notion of producing a sequel after all these years. It's a fascinating stance to take, and even more surprising considering the ticks of approval the corporate fatcats must have sanctioned. Wachowski expressively points the finger at those trying to appropriate a body of work that doesn't belong to them. It's a genuinely brilliant and refreshing take on Hollywood sequels, and maybe something that other franchises could learn from in the years to come.
Unfortunately, after this first act, once audiences will already be full of glee and adrenaline, everything becomes one, big, sloppy mess.
It's too easy to say this film is either entirely good or bad - or more accurately, it's too difficult to say. Should I review this film for what it presents to me on screen, or how it made me feel while watching it?
What made the original franchise so compelling and timeless is sorely lacking in this latest edition. Regardless of how many times you watch 'The Matrix', you will always leave with the sense of dread that you might not really exist, and your subconscious is being coded by machines. However, with this new iteration, it feels small and specifically designed for Neo, as though he was in his own little version of it. Without that attached feeling, the stakes of Neo's latest quest just don't have the same impetus, and I found myself not caring one way or the other what happened. This might be partly to do with how the trilogy ended, meaning that unless the scope and scale were going to be matched, I didn't find the reason for its existence.
More to that point, I'm not convinced that what audiences really wanted in revisiting this world was Neo and Trinity, so perhaps we could have re-entered the Matrix with completely new faces and characters. Jessica Henwick's ('Love and Monsters') Bug and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's ('Candyman') version of Morpheus bring much-needed fresh energy, but they aren't given the time or respect to have fleshed out characters. Although, I have to take this opportunity to highlight the magnificent wardrobe donned by Adbul-Mateen II, displaying a serious set of costume changes. I understand making Neo and Trinity front and centre for obvious reasons, and their position there makes for quite a romantic film, but it sometimes felt more like expensive fan fiction.
If nostalgia is a poison that is destroying Hollywood, then when the green Warner Bros. logo covered in matrix code opens the film, I was well and truly convulsing and gasping for air.
I don't want to discuss what I would have preferred to see, because that's not my job. What I am here to say is that 'The Matrix Resurrections' is so caught up in its past and its reason to exist that it ends up not knowing what it wants to be. The action is decent and well-choreographed - whilst not holding a flame to any of the predecessors - but it just gets lost in the plot. It's not a complicated story, nor a boring one, but it's completely lacking in the scale we have come to expect from such a visionary director, so you start to ask yourself why people are even fighting.
'The Matrix Resurrections' sits somewhere between relying on old faces, and extracting something from new ones. There are projections of the original trilogy in certain scenes which are used as both exposition reminders, and friendly nods - and I'm not sure you can have it both ways. It in no way felt like returning to the same world - which I certainly admire - but then with all this going on in the foreground, is Wachowski driving the nostalgia, respecting it, or running from it? It tries to make fun of the concept while also leaning into it, so it's difficult as an audience member with a relationship to the original to ascertain if I'm watching this to feel what I felt 15 years ago, or am I looking for something new?
So much of me wants to give 'The Matrix Resurrections' more than three stars, because it's so bold and nothing like what blockbusters are these days - but I can't. Likewise, part of me wants to give this less than three stars because, ultimately, I left the cinema feeling disappointed and maybe even worse, void of glee - but I can't do that either. Therefore, three stars feels about right. It's a cautious recommendation, but a recommendation nonetheless. It's colourful, it's ambitious, we get to see Neo and Trinity again, but it also lacks any real spark or reason to exist.
I sincerely hope and expect Wachowski to continue making interesting and paradigm-shifting art, but perhaps it's best to lay this franchise to rest, as Neo himself once did.