Review: 'The Matrix Resurrections' (2021) Dir. Lana Wachowski
Two decades after 'The Matrix Revolutions', the resurgance of action-man Keanu Reeves in the John Wick trilogy sparked embers for the return to the once groundbreaking sci-fi franchise...
Two decades after his experience with AI programme The Matrix and his battle against the machines to save humanity, Thomas Anderson (Reeves) has put his experiences into creating a video game called 'The Matrix'.
Everything he lived now feels like a dream, and he is content to live a normal life in the real world, managed by pills and therapy to stem the flashbacks and visions. Yet there is something not right.
The true world is calling. The war is still raging. Morpheous (Abdul-Mateen II) and a small band of rebels bring Thomas back to the real world to help fight the new Matrix system and save Trinity (Moss) who is held captive by the machines he must now battle once more as Neo...
With John Wick coming out of nowhere in 2014 and putting Keanu Reeves firmly back on the map of pop culture and action cinema, it's safe to say the studios waited to cash in on the resurgance of Reeves and his popular back catalogue. With Bill & Ted Face the Music in 2020 nearly thirty years later from the previous film causing ripples of notsalgia, it's the franchise that helped put Reeves into action cinema that caused most interest. 18 years after The Matrix Revolutions seemingly ended the mind-bending franchise, never say never in the world of science fiction. Neo has returned for more philosophical, reality shifting action.
This is a continutation of Neo's story, be it a rather conveluted and often confusing one. Reeves get the chance here to flex his sub-standard acting chops and his desire to be an action hero again amidst a whole host of new cast members. It's actually a welcome sight to see him stand front and centre getting involved, rather than appearing in an extended cameo and letting everyone else tell a story. His Neo is the Neo we left in 2003, not a new version of John Wick, and he does a good job picking up the black coat and sunglasses again. Eventually.
Thanks to identifying a few glitches and errors in the "game" itself, a band of rebels find that only they can pull Neo back out into the real world and battle the machines still at war with humanity in the dank, dangerous future of slimy good pods, sentient beings and shaved heads. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris are the new faces here who represent good, evil and everything in between for Neo's journey. Are they truly important to the overall franchise? It's safe to say not really, and there is nothing they add to the final frames of Revolutions.
Just as audiences wrap their heads around the first three Matrix films and what was or wasn't real in the story, along comes a sucker-punch fourth entry from director Lana Wachowski (flying solo this time).
While the exploration of Neo and Trinity is slow going (Trinity only really comes into play for the final twenty minutes), Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss - be her wasted - slip back into their roles comfortably. They get to explore what happens when the mind has been beaten and abused for many years, and the conflict within after suffering so much hardship. These little moments are probably the best of the film, as not even the action offers anything new.
It's the old Matrix but new. Very new. We have new incarnations of Morpheous and Agent Smith, and from the start we are treated to the premise that the entire previous trilogy was just a video game born from the mind of Neo himself, but now plugged into a more dangerous version of the Matrix itself. A brave choice to inject new angles into the franchise, but there is something unsettling about seeing Morpheous not as Laurence Fishburne or Smith not as Hugo Weaving. Those actors created the roles that became part of the franchise as much as bullet time and green-tinted cinematography, so without them, it just feels off. Ourn new Morpheous is sidelined as a secondary character who doesn't hold the morality as he once did, and Smith is simply forgetful and witout any menace.
The story capitalises on developments in visual effects and the audiences desire to be challenged with the inclusion of more sentient beings, CGI characters and new weapons / computers within the human world that Neo and his team use. Yet it feels stale. It doesn't feel new or fresh anymore. While the first act is the best with some exploratory exposition and character / world building, the second slips into so much exposition and lenghty monologues by key characters that it becomes boring. The third delivers what the franchise is always remebered for in the action stakes, but again, it's nothing new and comes too little too late.
No amount of slow-motion, new bullet-time or loud gun play and fist fights can recapture the imagination and, dare I say, nonsense fun that was experienced two decades ago. There is nothing that stands out in this entry such as Neo vs Smith, the freeway chase or the Zion war. It's simply lots of meta nods to what the Matrix franchise is all about, with new characters wearing sunglasses, cyber-punk costumes and holding dual pistols.
The original trilogy started and ended in just over 5 years of barnstorming cinema with new techniques, narratives, moral questions and film-making technologies introduced across three films. Resurrections actually makes you apprecaite the original three, because this feelss like a step backwards and a film that slips into generic sci-fi territory taking itself too seriously, with very little new techniques, morals, narratives or film-making technology on show that the brand was so alluded to decades before.
The Matrix Resurrections is a welcome return for Keanu Reeves as Neo, but a not so welcome return for the franchise itself. This "epilogue" isn't needed. With unimaginative action, dull exposition and slow pacing, it's time for audiences to take the blue pill.
'The Matrix Resurrections' is a co-production between Village Roadshow Pictures and Venus Castina Productions