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The Matrix Resurrections is 'numbingly familiar'

The Matrix Resurrections is 'numbingly familiar', writes Nicholas Barber – lacking the visionary ambition of its predecessors, the latest in the franchise is more like 'The Matrix Reheated'.

By CopperchaleuPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
Keanu Reeves

It's been 18 years since the Matrix trilogy concluded, so why has Lana Wachowski chosen to revive the franchise now? She offers one answer early on in The Matrix Resurrections. The film starts by establishing that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is no longer the super-powered messiah who freed the human race from its robot overlords in The Matrix Revolutions. He is a miserable software-programmer called Thomas Anderson once again, just as he was at the beginning of The Matrix. The twist is that he's world-famous for developing three influential video games titled, yes, The Matrix. With me so far? The next twist is that Anderson swore that he would never make another Matrix game, but he reluctantly goes back on his word after one of his colleagues informs him, "Our beloved parent company, Warner Brothers, is going to make a sequel to the trilogy – with or without us." So there we have it: Wachowski (without her sister Lilly this time) made The Matrix Resurrections simply because she didn't want someone else to do it behind her back.

Whether or not that really was her main motivation, this scene sums up the self-referential high jinks that run through the film's opening act. The idea is that everything we remember from the original Matrix trilogy was actually in Anderson's immensely popular game, so inane colleagues keep discussing the themes and the visual effects with him as if they were discussing the films. Depending on how generous you're feeling, Wachowski's postmodern jibes at her fans and paymasters will seem either audaciously iconoclastic or insufferably smug. But they're definitely lighter and sillier than anything in the cyberpunk extravaganza that blew audiences away in 1999. In fact, they're a bit like the wistful callbacks in T2: Trainspotting, and a lot like the self-parodying nods and winks in Peter Rabbit 2.

The best part of the opening scenes is that they raise the Total Recall-ish question of whether Neo's adventures happened at all, or whether they were all the delusions of a bitter wage slave. Did he ever fall in love with a woman called Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), or did he just spot a woman called Tiffany in a café and use her as a model for the gravity-defying martial artist in his video game? His therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) insists that the delusions will go away if he keeps taking his blue pills, and Anderson agrees. Even when strangers in snazzy suits start spraying machine-gun bullets around his office, he believes that his mind is playing tricks on him.

It's sweet to see the bearded, befuddled Anderson flirting awkwardly with Tiffany: Reeves has never seemed as vulnerable as he does in his melancholy scenes of faltering middle-aged romance. And the cheeky meta jokes certainly distinguish The Matrix Resurrections from the original trilogy. But the screenplay – by Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksander Hemon – can't sustain the playful ambiguity forever. Before long, the mystery is abandoned, and it's business as usual: Neo accepts that he's actually been lying unconscious in the far future, and that 21st-Century life as he knew it is a virtual-reality construct maintained by predatory machines.

After that, Wachowski gets up to her old Matrix tricks. In the ruined real world, there are gloomy underground cities, dingy industrial spaceships, robots with metal tentacles, and threadbare jumpers that you can't look at without feeling itchy. In the virtual-reality world, there are motorbike chases, noisy shoot-outs, and action set pieces in which people are either running up walls or throwing their opponents through them. And in both worlds, there are plenty of verbose speeches that are either profound or pretentious or a combination of both.

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The sunglasses have been updated, and the characters now have more tattoos, but those are the most significant advances

The film is still slick and stylish, with a scattering of provocative philosophical and political concepts, but considering that the franchise used to be synonymous with jaw-dropping innovation, much of The Matrix Resurrections is numbingly familiar. True, the sunglasses have been updated, and the characters now have more tattoos, but those are the most significant advances. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions may have been pretty impenetrable, but even they had a visionary, boundary-pushing ambition which is lacking here.

It isn't just the familiarity that is disappointing, either. Much like such other nostalgia-laden sequels as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, this one serves up all the signature ingredients, but none of them is quite as tasty as it was before. Perhaps The Matrix Reheated would have been a more suitable title. The fights are less coherent than they were in the first trilogy, the plot isn't as momentous or as urgent, the coats aren't as cool, and the characters aren't as memorable. Neo's main sidekick isn't Trinity but the blue-haired Bugs, played by Jessica Henwick; there is a dapper version of Morpheus played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; and there is a new incarnation of the evil Agent Smith, played by Jonathan Groff. All three young actors are talented and charismatic, but none of them is anywhere near as magnetic as Moss, Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne were. Still, at least Moss gets a few scenes of her own. Weaving and Fishburne don't appear at all, except in snippets of archive footage. You only have to recall Weaving's unique, spine-tingling delivery of the words "Mr Anderson" to appreciate that, without him, The Matrix Resurrections was always going to be a low point in the series.

Did Wachowski really make the film to stop anyone else doing it? Maybe not, but it's hard to discern any other compelling reason for this solid superhero movie to exist. It might have been better if she had left the latest Matrix sequel to someone else, after all.

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Copperchaleu

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