‘The Matrix’ Gets A Firmware Update in ‘Resurrections’ (Movie Review)

Time to dive back into the machine world, as The Matrix Resurrections opens this weekend in theaters and on HBO Max (for 31 days). Two decades after computer programmer Thomas Anderson followed the white rabbit, solo director Lana Wachowski (Lilly is not involved) and several key members of the original cast have returned. They’re older, wiser, and still quite knowledgeable of kung fu.  Shot during COVID, this is the last major film of the year from Warner Bros. Keanu Reeves is sporting his John Wick look, but can he still do his Superman thing? How will newcomers like Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, and Jonathan Groff fare in the virtual world of green ones and zeros? Surely, Carrie-Anne Moss can still outrace any agent on her Ducati, right? One thing’s for sure: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II certainly looks like the best Morpheus cosplayer ever.

I’ve long believed that while Lilly and Lana loved making their game-changing trilogy, they were never eager to return to the source of their immense success. Producer Joel Silver has been in their corner for years, though, so Warner has churned out quite a few endeavors from the pair of auteurs that often failed to generate profit. Speed Racer is beloved by a small but vocal minority (including me), but it was a financial bomb. Cloud Atlas was well-reviewed, yet the studio’s hope for multiple awards was not to be. Jupiter’s Ascending was bold yet another financial misstep. After several non-Matrix-level successes, I assumed Warner Bros. would eventually step in with a “make a Matrix movie, already!” plea. And here we are.

The thing is, Lana and Lilly aren’t really the same kinds of filmmakers anymore. Lilly has primarily focused on television. Her work on Showtime’s Work in Progress is funny, thought-provoking, and not at all concerned with visual FX wizardry (I love it). Lana hasn’t worked on a big project since Sens8 with Lilly for Netflix years ago. That show was sci-fi in ideas but nowhere near the grand spectacle of a feature like Jupiter Ascending.

This is a long way of saying watching The Matrix Resurrections was akin to seeing George Lucas’ The Phantom Menace sixteen years after Return of the Jedi (We are eighteen from The Matrix Revolutions release in 2003). Gone are the gunmetal green hues and self-serious tone, although there’s still plenty of time for exposition dumps. The direction of the actors? More generous. And as a first of sorts, this fourth entry features well-timed comedy (Thankfully, not of the Jar Jar Banks variety).

I don’t wanna spoil too much, so here’s the basic premise: Thomas Anderson (Reeves) is a hugely successful video game designer. His tremendously successful gaming trilogy, “The Matrix,” has inspired a generation to question their own reality. However, it’s been ages since a new iteration, so the suits, like his boss (played by Groff), and fans are begging for a revamped return to the world. Yet Thomas isn’t happy. He’s rich but feels empty.

The only aspect of his life that’s sort of fulfilling is when he grabs his morning cup of joe at Simulatte. The coffee’s fine, but he thinks another regular named Tiffany (Moss) is a dead ringer for the Trinity he created in his game. But it was just a game, right? Despite the constant focus groups and brainstorming, “The Matrix” was Thomas’ one creative spark. He can’t just go back to that well again to make more content just because the market demands it. He has the restlessness of middle age but can’t seem to focus. Is Mr. Anderson okay?

This setup sees Lana working overtime to be very meta. There’s even a cat named Deja vu owned by Thomas’ psychiatrist (Harris). I could go on about how a character played by Candyman’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is convinced he’s Morpheus… and is only half right. Or how Jonathan Groff’s character sure talks like Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith. For a good portion of the first hour, Resurrections is surprisingly funny as Thomas fumbles towards his eventual red pill moment. Reeves, in particular, is doing great work balancing his middle age concerns with genuine moments of shock and awe. Thomas’s original persona was only in a handful of scenes before Neo took over in the first film. Here, more time spent with Thomas is a big plus.

As far as concepts go, Lana’s deconstruction of her work is fascinating. Often, it’s not just Reeves’ Anderson but other characters like the charming Bugs (Fenwick) who act as the audience’s surrogate — stand-ins for the director’s ideas.

Harris’ therapist has a compelling monologue that breaks down how today’s world is not about facts but feelings. It’s essentially Lana’s breakdown of how she and her sister’s work has too often been co-opted by political agendas that have had no real basis beyond an individual’s personal connection. As funny and as tongue-in-cheek as the film can be, the feeling of menace (which is hardly a phantom anymore) is quite palpable. I’m sure there will still be wrongheaded interpretations on Resurrections, but I’m pleased that Wachowski’s themes of diversity and inclusivity have only expanded since 1999. Priyanka Chopra Jones has a small but essential role that strengthens such notions.

As great as these ideas are to see played out as banter among the characters, the verbal sparring is much more effective than any of the fight scenes. I’m not sure if it’s because of less rehearsal time or COVID restrictions but stunning choreography, a staple of the series, is notably less impactful. Too often, editing and shot compositions hide the performers’ moves. I have no doubt Reeves can still do kung fu (he’s undoubtedly nailing gun-fu in the John Wick films), but I can’t enjoy the feats of physicality in The Matrix Resurrections the way it’s presented nearly as much as I could with the previous entries in this series.

This doesn’t ruin the film, but it is a noticeable dent for a franchise that revolutionized blockbuster martial arts scenes. On the other hand, there’s plenty of action with tons of extras that employ a new kind of bullet-time that looks great. In a nighttime cityscape, an extended motorcycle chase through a sea of zombie-like beings is terrific.

Still, better than any other Matrix film (including the original) is the chemistry between Reeves and Moss. Both are in their fifties now, and there’s an absolute joy to be had seeing them onscreen together again. They may be slower in terms of action, but they’re a kinder Neo and Trinity. I think it takes a bit too long to get to the Trinity we’re waiting for, but when it happens, it’s glorious.

The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth Matrix film, but it’s not content to simply be just another installment. Lana Wachowski’s return to the groundbreaking sci-fi world she helped create has evolved with humor and a lighter touch. Returning stars Reeves and Moss deliver some of their best scenes together regardless of some less-inspired action moments. Sure, there are more than a few glitches over the course of the film’s 150-minute run time that could have been addressed ( and less reliance on reused footage surely would have made a better viewing experience), but the attempt to address the past as well as forge a new path is much appreciated. If we somehow get a sequel, plug me in. I’m game.



1 Response to “‘The Matrix’ Gets A Firmware Update in ‘Resurrections’ (Movie Review)”

  1. Brian White

    You’re too kind sir 🙂