The Matrix Resurrections
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss will make you go “whoa!” at ‘The Matrix’ franchise’s mostly dazzling, almost-always-entertaining tumble back down the sci-fi rabbit hole.
December 24, 2021
Hordes of imitators have spilled ones and zeros claiming otherwise, but the greatest move The Matrix franchise ever made wasn't actually bullet time. Even 22 years after Lana and Lilly Wachowski brought the saga's instant-classic first film to cinemas, its slow-motion action still wows, and yet they made another choice that's vastly more powerful. It wasn't the great pill divide — blue versus red, as dubiously co-opted by right-wing conspiracies since — or the other binaries at its core (good versus evil, freedom versus enslavement, analogue versus digital, humanity versus machines). It wasn't end-of-the-millennia philosophising about living lives online, the green-tinged cyberpunk aesthetic, or one of the era's best soundtracks, either. They're all glorious, as is knowing kung fu and exclaiming "whoa!", but The Matrix's unwavering belief in Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss is far more spectacular.
It was a bold decision those two-and-a-bit decades ago, with Reeves a few years past sublime early-90s action hits Point Break and Speed, and Moss then known for TV bit parts (including, in a coincidence that feels like the product of computer simulation, a 1993 series called Matrix). But, as well as giving cinema their much-emulated gunfire-avoidance technique and all those other aforementioned highlights, the Wachowskis bet big on viewers caring about their central pair — and hooking into their chemistry — as leather-clad heroes saving humanity. Amid the life-is-a-lie horrors, the subjugation of flesh to mechanical overlords and the battle for autonomy, the first three Matrix films always weaved Neo and Trinity's love story through their sci-fi action. Indeed, the duo's connection remained the saga's beating heart. Like any robust computer program executed over and over, The Matrix Resurrections repeats the feat — with plenty of love for what's come before, but even more for its enduring love story.
Lana goes solo on The Matrix Resurrections — helming her first-ever project without her sister in their entire career — but she still goes all in on Reeves and Moss. The fourth live-action film in the saga, and fifth overall counting The Animatrix, this new instalment doesn't initially give its key figures their familiar character names, however. Rather, it casts them as famous video game designer Thomas Anderson and motorcycle-loving mother-of-two Tiffany. One of those monikers is familiar, thanks to a surname drawled by Agent Smith back in 1999, and again in 2003 sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. But this version of Thomas Anderson only knows the agent from his own hit gaming trilogy (called The Matrix, naturally). And he doesn't really know Tiffany at all, instead admiring her from afar at Simulatte, their local coffee shop.
Before Reeves and Moss share a frame, and before Anderson and Tiffany's awkward meet-cute, The Matrix Resurrections begins with blue-haired hacker Bugs (Jessica Henwick, On the Rocks). She sports a white rabbit tattoo, observes a scene straight out of the first flick and helps set the movie's self-referential tone. As a result, The Matrix Resurrections starts with winking, nodding and déjà vu — and, yes, with a glitch, with Lana and co-screenwriters David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) and Aleksandar Hemon (Sense8) penning a playful script that adores the established Matrix lore, enjoys toying with it and openly unpacks everything that's sprung up around it. Long exposition dumps, some of the feature's worst habits, explain the details, but waking up Anderson from his machine-induced dream — again — is Bugs' number-one aim.
The Matrix Resurrections' main task: reteaming Neo and Trinity, and getting them to realise that they even are Neo and Trinity. Once more, Wachowski knows where the saga's heart resides, that its existential dramas are about people, and that the bonds that bind us are our lifeblood. But now that Neo and Trinity inhabit a realm where a game series with the exact same plot as the first three Matrix movies is Anderson's livelihood, the path to simulation-dismantling love is unsurprisingly paved with difficulties. Here are three: the demands by Anderson's business partner (Jonathan Groff, Hamilton) for a sequel to the games, the blue pills prescribed by Anderson's analyst (Neil Patrick Harris, It's a Sin), and Tiffany's husband Chad (played by the John Wick franchise's director Chad Stahelski, who was also Reeves' stunt double in the first Matrix flick) and all he represents.
Reviving a romance last seen on-screen 18 years ago, raising its main players from the dead, bringing back other characters in altered guises, liberally weaving in clips from past films — stitched together as it is from oh-so-many familiar parts, you could call The Matrix Resurrections a Frankenstein's monster of a movie. Wachowski has found a rare way to make that a positive more often than not, however, because deprogramming the notion that anything is just one thing alone couldn't be more crucial here. That truth pulsates through the film's action, too, which can't live up to the original and doesn't particularly seem to try. Enough of the movie's fights and chases and sci-fi trickery still look stunning, but The Matrix Resurrections wants audiences to go "whoa!' over its ideas, emotions and meta-philosophising above all else. Even the warmer colour scheme — sorry, fans of futuristic green — casts this new tumble down the rabbit hole in multiple lights.
A film can be daring, evolve its franchise while mining nostalgia with care and savvy, and make the utmost of its biggest strengths — Reeves and Moss, clearly, who could melt faces with their chemistry. It can be both fun and funny, and also skewer the company resuscitating it (that'd be Warner Bros, with The Matrix Resurrections doing a superior job of making the joke than the studio's horrible Space Jam: A New Legacy). It can offer a sincere ode to love, human connection and perseverance, too, and transform old parts to make them feel different in the process. Still, while so much about The Matrix Resurrections dazzles — Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Candyman) joining the fold and rocking magnificent suits among them — sometimes it's just clunkily new and clumsily self-referential rather than fresh. Believing in Reeves and Moss remains its biggest superpower, though. If the energy from their timeless on-screen romance can help the world forget how underwhelming The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions both proved, it can fuel this mostly thrilling, almost-always-entertaining look back in the sci-fi mirror.