THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS

***SPOILER WARNING***

Kevin Durant had the ball with six seconds left on the clock; his Brooklyn Nets down by two to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Freeing up some space between him and his defender, KD spun around to take what looked like a game-winning 3-pointer… SWISH!! For a brief moment, the home crowd erupted in celebration.

Euphoria quickly gave birth to bewilderment, however, as replays showed the tip of Durant’s oversized foot on the line: the dramatic last-second shot simply being only a 2-pointer. And, after heading to overtime, the Bucks were the ones who advanced to the next round of the playoffs. Like them or not, imagine how Durant, the entire Brooklyn team, and the fans all felt throughout that gut-punching slide from stunning triumph straight into confused disappointment.

On a related note, here is the review:

“Now what? Things have changed, the market’s tough… I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company, Warner Bros., has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy.”

“What?!”

“They informed me they’re gonna do it with or without us.”

[Yes, this is an actual exchange of dialogue.]

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is a winking (and lengthy) love-hate letter written by someone who, seemingly, was forced by corporate greed to revisit their past. After a 50-minute tease of a far superior film, Lana Wachowski’s first time out as a solo director takes a bizarre leap into questionable storytelling before sinking under the collective weight of meta references, heavy-handed exposition, and nostalgia-induced expectations. 

Almost by design, this movie will be THE LAST JEDI level of divisive (and not just because of the brewing social and political debates). RESURRECTIONS is a lot less serious — and far smaller in scope — than many fans of the series will probably expect and want. Pushing Zion and the potential downfall of humanity as far to the side as possible, the new installment makes it clear that this MATRIX is first, and foremost, a story about love.

[Of course, fans were already treated to two sequels (THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, both released in 2003) that did little to prove it belonged. The fatal flaw of the forced-by-box office followups is that the first movie was created as a standalone story. Neo’s entire arch of becoming ‘The One’ was completed, but ticket sales (and the rise of ‘everything now needs to be a trilogy’) dictated that the finished story needed to continue. For that reason alone, this new direction was a brilliant choice.]

RESURRECTIONS works best during the first act when it makes you question whether or not the events of the original trilogy actually occurred. Keanu Reeves is re-introduced as Thomas Anderson; now a successful video game developer (at Deus Machina) and creator of a series that should be very familiar to viewers. Setting “Is The Matrix a game or reality?” as the jump-off point is a rather ingenious way to reboot and reshape the franchise, but every self-referential nod along the way (and there are PLENTY) distracts from the overall storytelling. It takes on the feeling of being a big-budget fan film; just one that is half-parody and half-lazy.

Word-of-mouth — and, of course, ‘Bullet Time’ — turned THE MATRIX (1999) into a franchise that legitimately changed the art of moviemaking forever. Fittingly, much like B.C. and A.D., there is a clear before and after in terms of special effects and innovation when it comes to the original film. Unfortunately, that makes every technical aspect of RESURRECTIONS so much more disappointing.

All these years later, there is no longer any weight to this CG-heavy world; which, ultimately, makes everything feel flat and lifeless. Practical sets and memorable shots are substituted out in favor of unconvincing effects and general blandness. While the story itself has some interesting moments, every moment of action that is not an exact recreation of previous events is bizarrely lacking. The paint-by-number fight scenes are drab and unspectacular; overly choreographed to the point where it looks to have the style and grace of action figures in the hands of a 5-year-old.

This movie, made with an extra helping of contempt, feels like a big middle finger that was a long time coming. Wachowski uses her platform to criticize the current ‘reboot culture’ state of moviemaking (and the world of entertainment, in general); as well as the HURR DURR fans who missed the actual themes and message of the original trilogy as they flew over their empty heads. The Wachowskis created this complex world filled with important philosophical questions, but the childlike fans were too focused on the gun violence and entertainment that is “big, loud, and dumb.” With that in mind, it’s probably not a coincidence that one character inexplicably turns evil after coming across and picking up a discarded handgun (Neo, the stand-in for Lana, never uses a gun in this movie). Fair message, but it didn’t need to be delivered by the fourth Matrix film.

Of the returning actors, Carrie-Anne Moss is the true highlight (although in a role that is sidelined for most of the runtime). Although Trinity’s importance eventually takes center stage, additional time with the character was sorely needed. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Niobe, aged to look sixty years older (making the actress unrecognizable — and, honestly, replaceable), serves mainly as a plot device to give some sense of conflict. And a laughably ‘so bad, it’s bad’ cameo by Lambert Wilson (as The Merovingian from the earlier sequels) is thankfully short.

Jessica Henwick (of the upcoming KNIVES OUT 2) is Bugs, the blue-haired captain of the hovercraft Mnemosyne and audience surrogate. Amongst the newer cast members, she probably has the best balance of performance and crafted character (via the benefit of not having to step into someone else’s shoes). Henwick is quite serviceable, but the script seems to forget her far too often.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, now on a run of taking over the role of iconic Black characters, ends up with similar results to his turn in CANDYMAN (2021). With Laurence Fishburne decidedly aged out of the role, Abdul-Mateen II is our new Morpheus (sort of). His performance is the other acting highlight of the movie; albeit with a huge caveat: The actor works fine, but the character doesn’t. Unfortunately, the exact same criticism applies to Jonathan Groff taking over for Hugo Weaving (absent due to a scheduling conflict) as our new Agent Smith. A rather fantastic actor, Groff (Netflix’ MINDHUNTER) is only allowed to imitate a legendary performance instead of fully inhabiting a pivotal character. And speaking of legendary…

Neil Patrick Harris, through not fault of his own, was a horrible casting decision. As talented as the actor is, his initial appearance as a minor character is a clear tell that Mr. Anderson’s therapist is going to be our new ‘Big Bad’. After that transparent reveal is finally made, Harris’ performance feels stripped from an entirely different movie. Too hammy to be taken seriously, Harris’ portrayal of The Analyst is a huge swing and a miss.

And, then, we have Keanu Reeves.

It’s no secret Reeves has long been criticized as being more of ‘your favorite celebrity’ than ‘a great actor’ — but that description is exactly why movies like SPEED and the original MATRIX work so well. Here, he is both tired and comically wooden (one line delivery, in particular, provides the film with it’s biggest — albeit unintentional — laugh). Arguably, Reeves’ best moment occurs when he gulps during a meeting about the upcoming MATRIX IV video game after an executive (Christina Ricci, in a surprisingly short cameo) asks “and who knows how many more?”

Reeves has proven to be a great action movie star, but, in this, everyone’s favorite all-around nice guy looks every bit his age in a way that makes another JOHN WICK movie feel completely impossible. Throughout the climax (where it seems Neo’s only remaining power is that he can stop bullets), the actor’s physical presence makes you quite aware he was 56-years-old at the time of filming. It’s not nearly in the same category as Robert De Niro in THE IRISHMAN, but it is slightly awkward and plainly obvious.

[Side Note: I hate discussing an actor’s physical appearance. Besides being incredibly shallow, it’s also ridiculously hypocritical (as my current Covid-era body would surely attest). However, in context of a review about a Jesus-like superhero who knows kung fu, it’s dishonest to not comment on that aspect of moviemaking. That said, this is my public apology to both the actor and you.]

Red-pilled hardcore fans will enjoy THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS, but if you only love the first one (and haven’t seen it in awhile), the latest round will probably be a letdown. That’s a shame because there are some really good aspects of this film that are worth exploring. If you are on the fence and have HBO Max, stop after watching the fantastic first third of the movie. Otherwise, just stick to the original, instead.

Two and a Half out of Five Beers