Review: The Matrix Resurrections

With a growing trend in reboots and so-called “legacy sequels”, it was only a matter of time until The Matrix was resurrected (sorry). However, this is one franchise that should never have been revisited: The Matrix Resurrections squanders early promise and shits the bed, and surprisingly for me at least, making the much-maligned Reloaded and Revolutions look much better than ever before.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is an award-winning video game designer who regularly struggles with perceiving what’s reality and what’s his imagination. He continually encounters Tiffany (Carrie-Ann Moss) at his local coffee shop, and feels he knows her; while his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) helps to assuage his concerns about his mental state. However, he keeps encountering others who tell him his reality is a sham, and starts spiralling out of control…

While Reloaded and Revolutions were disappointingly obtuse, slathered in terrible CGI and absolutely no patch on the original film they followed, Resurrections starts incredibly promisingly given it was a sequel we never wanted nor thought we’d get. One of the two original directors, Lana Wachowski, was enticed back by Warner Bros, and she co-writes this script with author David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon.

The first third of this film is truly excellent – really intelligent, overly mind-bending in its metatextual and near satirical structure. As we get to know Thomas, we start to see how clever the script is: his games are incredibly familiar, and a lot of the dialogue in this section is hilariously on-the-nose and snappy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film this cleverly meta, and while it maintains this, Resurrections is excitingly unconventional and interesting, playing with your expectations and perceptions.

It’s also an insight into what Wachowski felt about coming back – there’s a surprisingly strong seam of cynicism that I’m surprised got past the studio. Clever tie-ins into our modern world and the original films’ psychoanalysis and philosophy only add to this. In turn, the editing by Joseph Jett Sally helps hammer home the sheer unreality of the premise and Thomas’ fragmenting mental state, employing flash cuts of scenes from the original to strong effect. Sadly, as the main plot comes into focus, it gets worse and worse, culminating in a ridiculous series of events that essentially boil down to: isn’t love great?!

It’s a real shame that an incredible start is squandered, and so much of what made the original so great is once again forgotten – unlike the first two sequels, this film doesn’t even feel that much of a part of the same series. A lot of the failings of more recent Wachowski sister movies (Jupiter Ascending is the most recent and… well, read my review) is that their penchant for OTT has been completely indulged, whatever the impact on the rest of the film. As a result, everything they’ve made for while has been… pretty shit or very out-there, in a bad way.

Resurrections is no exception – while it harks back to the originals (literally, by using actual flashbacks), it doesn’t have a lot of what made those so good, and what made them feel consistently the same series. This is the case whether it’s the major failing of not bringing back original composer Don Davis and his very memorable score, or the really quite staid and cheap action scenes that are nothing like the trailblazing, thrilling fights and bullet-time extravaganzas of the first three movies.

Some hand-to-hand fights are excellent, but nothing near what we’ve come to expect from Reeves films since John Wick stabbed us in the eye. For such an influential series, the action here is really poor. There’s a lot of slow-motion, and not even much in the way of special effects. It feels cheap, which is mad given how much I’m sure Warner Bros splashed out. There’s also no peril – something that the first film had in spades. You never doubt everything will turn out fine here, so it’s less exciting.

While the film has a rather different look (ably and brightly lit and shot by cinematographers Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll) to the originals (for good reason), it immediately feels like a different universe – which takes you out of the mindset that this is the same part of the same series. From there, the lack of memorable music (except at certain points, and too rarely) means it doesn’t sound the same, while the new score from Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer is terrible – it often sounds like a random soundtrack from an even worse film has been left on by accident.

Acting-wise, Reeves is definitely far better in the aforementioned superior first third, balancing great comic timing with a rapidly degrading sense of self and malaise. After that though, it’s like the character is forgotten about or simply a victim of plot circumstance – he’s swept along with events, asking all the questions as Mr Exposition, rather than being an agent (badumtish) of his own story.

Carrie-Ann Moss is barely in it, but features in some of the better scenes, in terms of acting and performance, that the film has to offer. Some of the top moments are quiet conversations and discussions between Moss and Reeves, which reinforce just how good their chemistry was and continues to be. While a lot of fuss is made of the character, she has less agency and less to do here, and in my opinion is failed by both the plot and script.

Beyond these two, the only other actor that really makes any sort of impact is Jonathan Groff, as Thomas’ games company boss (to reveal his name would be a spoiler). Suffice to say, Groff’s got a great ability to mix smarm, menace and comedy, and in a very physical role he’s more impressive and more interesting than most of the cast. He projects a visceral threat while also maintaining an air of cool, like he ended up in the film by accident having fallen in from a better movie.

That’s it for good acting and characters – Neil Patrick Harris’ therapist is staid and feels like he’s been ported in from an unrelated, more ironic movie; while Jada Pinkett Smith struggles through old-age prosthetics to give some life to Niobe, one of the only returning actors and characters, and is absolutely not helped by her character’s motivations and feelings changing on a whim.

There are also two quite significant newcomers who are failed by the material too. Jessica Henwick’s Bugs was enigmatically teased in trailers, but is essentially a superficially interesting character given stupid, baseless motivations and reasoning for actions she undertakes. Henwick does what she can with the material she’s given, but the character could have been so much more interesting with a better script.

Finally, Yahya Abdul Mateen-II plays who I can only refer to as “Morpheus”. Paying tribute and homage to Laurence Fishburne while also bringing his own level of cool and comedy, the actor is better than the material again. He does what he can, entertaining when allowed to be and doing what’s possible within the strictures of the plot, but I felt bad that he has to be a reference to a past character rather than his own thing. That again just speaks to the muddled thinking here.

I don’t think, despite the excellent first third, that I can recommend Resurrections to anyone, especially those who loved the first Matrix (and parts of its sequels). It’s such a shame that once the intelligent elements of the film are dispensed with it gets exponentially worse – perhaps it was better to just leave the original series alone, but at the very least I can now appreciate Reloaded and Revolutions nearly 20 years after being disappointed by them!

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