Every so often a movie comes along that does more than take popular culture by storm. It causes people to have serious discussions about the world around them. It alters the collective consciousness. The world becomes irrevocably changed. That happened when an unassuming movie came out in 1999 titled The Matrix.
Cyberpunk stories weren’t precisely a new thing. They were part of the science fiction sub-culture, but now we have a movie that showed us something we had never seen before, thanks to the brilliant writing and directing of Lana and Lilly Wachowski. They brought to the screen a world that could only exist in computers, yet brought a visual reality that not only dazzled the eyes of moviegoers but also brought to the surface the question that deep-thinkers and philosophers have pondered over since almost the beginning of sentient thought. What is real? By itself, The Matrix was a blockbuster of a movie, but as studios are wont to do, a sequel was demanded. What followed were two movies (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions) that never lived quite up to the power of The Matrix. And yet, 16 years after the final movie that apparently ended the franchise with barely more than a whimper, it was announced that a fourth movie in the franchise was coming out, Lana Wachowski would direct it (with David Mitchell and Aleksander Hemon as writers), and it would bring back the franchise stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, who both saw their characters perish 16 years earlier.
I went into this movie with a very low sense of expectation. As much as I loved The Matrix I also equally detested The Matrix Revolutions. A brilliant idea that was introduced in the beginning, with Neo being “The One,” felt dismissed or downplayed in the sequels. Yes, he could fight among the best of them, but here is a character who was supposed to remake the matrix he inhabited as he saw fit. Yet, even after embracing his new powers and abilities at the end of The Matrix, he never lived up to that expectation. Only when he literally plugged himself into the machine consciousness was he able to triumph against his arch-nemesis in the form of Agent Smith. Then again, given his “awakening” as it happened at the end of the first movie it felt like a bad idea to go any further with additional movies lest we become subjected to the dreaded deus ex machina syndrome. And yet, we now have a fourth movie that will resurrect two of its characters?
I will come right out and state that this movie surprised me. Perhaps it was the low-bar I had set, but this movie was far better than I had imagined. It wasn’t perfect, but it did do an admirable job of trying to correct the errors presented in the two prior sequels, most notably Neo’s abilities as “The One.” The Matrix Resurrections also did something that I found to be intriguing as well as sometimes comical. The movie became self-referential. Mentions of Warner Bros. demanding a sequel to “The Matrix” franchise (only this time in the form of a cinematic computer game) as well as pokes at social media and internet shorthand, just to name a few, gave this movie a freshness that I had not anticipated. I had expected a very linear sequel. Instead, writers Mitchel and Hemon gave us more than one left-turn in the story that did two things. First, they kept the movie from becoming overly predictable. There were certain plot points that I did expect, but how they were executed came off as a complete surprise. At the same time, they maintained most of the same beats that were present in the first movie, which delivered a final product that straddled the line of being both original as well as a nostalgic look at something that changed pop culture forever. The story also advanced the world of the machines in a way that not only did I never imagined possible but also gave rise to the idea that perhaps we need not fear our “robot overlords” quite the way we had previously conceived.
Aside from the aforementioned Reeves and Moss, the movie brought back a few characters previously seen in the franchise, most notably Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe (now the leader of the free human community) and Lambert Wilson as the pretentiously cultured The Merovingian (only time hasn’t been so kind to him as he was wonderfully portrayed in a surprisingly almost comical way). Other new characters were introduced but in a style that was almost a wink and a nod to those who have followed some of Wachowski’s prior work. Christina Ricci (Speed Racer) makes an appearance as well as several Sense8 actors (Max Riemelt, Brian J. Smith, Michael X. Sommers, and Freema Agyeman just to name a few). Wachowski, showing wonderful LGBTQ pride, also brought in out-gay actors (in addition to the already out Brian J. Smith) Neil Patrick Harris in a dazzling turn as Neo’s “therapist” and Jonathan Groff as a newly visualized Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving wanted to return as Smith, but could not due to a scheduling conflict with his theater work.). Groff’s take on Smith made him both terrifying and incredibly likable. The supporting cast in this movie was terrific as it is always great to see the wonderful people who made up the world of Sense8, but this is a movie about the characters of Neo and Trinity, and both Moss and Reeves were wonderful. Moss shows us a conflicted mother and wife, and Reeves gives us a man who is damaged and traumatized. Both were performed well, especially Reeves’ approach that was handled respectfully in regards to those who struggle with mental health.
I will echo something I have said numerous times. I like surprises, and I cannot think of a better surprise to leave 2021 with than to say that I truly enjoyed The Matrix Resurrections. As I said before, it was not perfect. There was some slight retconning regarding the relationship of Neo, Trinity, and “The One.” I don’t particularly care when such changes are made for a movie to present its story, but this time it wasn’t so egregious that it would ruin the movie-watching experience for me. In the end, it corrected most of the mistakes made in the prior two sequels and gave a faded franchise a beautiful rainbow-colored coat of paint.
I give The Matrix Resurrections 4 out of 5 Resurrection Pods.
The Matrix Resurrections
Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is currently playing in theaters as well as on HBO Max.