The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon
Directed by Lana Wachowski
It came as a surprise when I saw a new Matrix film in production. It seemed like a film series that, while successful, was done. Yet, Lana Wachowski decided to make a stand-alone film that revisits this world. I would argue that this doesn’t work as a coherent, cohesive movie but is a fantastic piece of therapy put on the screen. What I mean by that is that Lana has stated in interviews that the idea for Resurrections came out of her grief following the death of her parents. She expressed that she felt such an aching loss from their passing and found herself drawn to two of her favorite characters: Neo and Trinity. In this way, Resurrections is part of Lana’s healing process, and thus I enjoyed it more than most big-budget movies I’ve seen in a while.
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a successful video game designer, having helmed the iconic Matrix game series two decades prior. He’s stuck in loops, though, feeling a growing dissatisfaction with the grind, feeling that there is more to his life than this. Warner Bros. has contacted his company and says they are going forward with a sequel to The Matrix, and he can either get on board or not. Cracks in his reality begin to show when he encounters Tiffany (Carrie Anne Moss), a married mother he bumps into repeatedly at a cafe around the corner. His therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) encourages him to keep taking the little blue pills that help him deal with his paranoid delusions. But as you know, this is all a facade, and our protagonist is really Neo. Someone has brought him back from the dead and keeps him trapped in the Matrix. But why and how are the mysteries this film explores.
A line can be cut down the middle of this movie. The first half is encroaching on satirical genius, completely deconstructing Lana’s experience two decades after making The Matrix with her stand-in being Neo. The second half feels terribly rushed as there are so many things to get to, and filmmakers clearly are uninterested in drawing this story out across multiple movies. The end result is that the audience is giving overflowing riches on screen; it’s just a complete narrative mess. But that’s okay; Lana Wachowski is digging deep into her thoughts on creating corporate products versus personal art. Deeper under that, through Neo and Trinity, is Lana’s escapist fantasy. You can’t bring your parents back from the dead, but you can bring back two iconic heroes and give them the send-off they deserve.
It’s beautifully fitting that Spider-Man: No Way Home came out last week as it’s the perfect picture to compare to The Matrix Resurrections. NWH does a slick, professional job presenting something that appears like a labor of love when it’s about as craven a corporate product as possible. Marvel films and Spider-Man, in particular, refuse to critique themselves or explore anything beyond the surface. They are very sterile, plot-oriented, and can masterfully plaster over their cracks. Matrix Resurrections feels like a real person making a movie. There are uneven sequences that feel like they have been edited down to montages. Christina Ricci shows up in one scene and is never seen again, which I am still trying to figure out. Everything from the previous movies is here but more significant and more minor in some ways. We get the sort of ending that is a complete crowd-pleaser. But it is not done in a way that will satisfy most of the audience. I fully expect people to hate this movie, and that’s totally fine. I don’t love it, but I respect the hell out of Lana Wachowski in I never would for a Marvel director.
There’s a lot of talk in this movie about the constricting nature of specific stories. We’re given all the things that will make us happy: references to the old film, the return of familiar faces, an ending that offers Neo & Trinity the sort of empowerment that left fans dissatisfied with the original conclusion. But, the audience is also poked and prodded, mocked a little for wanting more of the same, and questioned about just the point of telling the same stories repeatedly. Lana Wachowski is trying to make a big point: if we don’t go deeper with our treasured stories, they are dead fruit on the vine. Are the narratives that big billion-dollar corporations handing us genuinely making us feel better, or are they designed & crafted to press buttons in our lizard brains?
I am always all-in on a sequel that pushes viewers into uncomfortable places. That’s why I found The Last Jedi to be one of the most vital pieces of Star Wars media possibly ever. I am also not a fan of the Wachowskis’ body of work. I’d say I rate most of their movies okay, except for Speed Racer, which I think is one of the best family films ever made. I can never deny the personal signatures etched across the screen with everything they make. They make the movies they want to see, whether you like it or not. Is Resurrections everything I hoped it would be? Nope. Will I be rewatching it again soon? Probably not. But, I think this is the film with heart that the Holidays needed, something No Way Home tries to artificially make itself.