Review: The Matrix Resurrections
Posted on December 24, 2021 Posted by John Scalzi 22 Comments
Big question first: Is The Matrix Resurrections the first sequel to The Matrix that is actually essential to the story of this universe?
The answer to this is: one, there was already an essential Matrix sequel and it’s called The Animatrix, thank you very much; two, from a cinematic point of view this film was absolutely not necessary in any way whatsoever. But! It is kind of fun if you like meta on top of your meta, stuffed into a cavity of more meta and then served up on a lacy bed of even more meta, and also, it’s clear that Lana Wachowski, who directed and co-wrote this installment without her sister Lily, with whom she co-directed the previous three live-action installments, is working through some stuff here, with regard to where she last left these characters and this setting. So, good for her that she did that and managed to get Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow to pay for it all.
What’s this about meta? you ask. It’s this: The film knows you’ve seen the previous films (even the ones you sarcastically say don’t exist) and also, the film knows you know that it knows you know this. It knows that (spoilers for a two-decade-old film trilogy) you know both Trinity and Neo are dead, of impalement and christly electrocution, respectively, it knows you know that Morpheus has been recast, it knows you watched both the trailers and the various interminable YouTube dissections of the trailers by beardy monotone nerds sitting in front a green screen, and it knows you know that Lana Wachowski, brilliant as her work has been (and here I stan Speed Racer, forever and ever, amen) could probably use with a hit at this point in her career.
So, fine: The film loads all that into the first hour of the film in a way that is absolutely designed to make this movie’s TV Tropes page an impenetrable wall of text. Which, by the way, I think is pretty damn great; really, at this point, the only way the movie could have dealt with all of this was to haul out the largest possible lampshade and hang it on film and tell you to just fucking deal with it. As someone who plays with meta all the time, and will again, just you wait, I’m happy to see Lana Wachowski and the other screenwriters run toward this problem rather than away from it. Full points! Well done!
Once the meta is done and dealt with, mind you, it becomes Just Another Matrix Movie, which, well, fine: action sequences, very pretty people dressed like bougie goths in expensive sunglasses scorpion-kicking interchangeable enemies (literally, they call them “bots” in this one), some philosophical pancake-flipping that grinds scenes to a halt (again, literally in this film) and which would cause eyerolling from the adjunct professor who taught you (or, if you saw the original in the theater, your kids) Philosophy 101, and, of course, the occasionally doomed love between Neo and Trinity, now with the added psychological weight of both actors being 20 years older, which — more points! — the film leans into rather than trying to pretend these two aren’t in their fifties at this point. The nuance of what their relationship means, to themselves and to the Matrix universe, is nice to see.
All of this is stuff you’ll like if this is the sort of the thing you like, and not if you don’t. At this point the question of whether the Matrix sequels need to exist is moot, since they do and we just have to accept that fact (I will allow that The Matrix itself neither required nor necessarily invited sequels; it was delightfully self-contained. But success breeds sequels, necessary or not, and if nothing else, I bow to the Wachowskis for getting Warner Bros et al to cough up $300 million for what are basically two live-action anime films, as well as an actual anime collection with the spare change). The question at this point is how well this sequel exists in the context of everything else.
This one has its ups and downs. On one hand, this one does all right tying up loose ends and getting everyone up to speed and explaining why, after Revolutions, which promised enduring peace, we have to go through all this Matrix shit yet again (and how Neo and Trinity are, you know, not worm food). On the other hand the recasting of a couple of roles (Morpheus most obviously) gives this film the feel of a national touring company version of a successful Broadway show, in which the two leads from the years-ago original run come back for a limited engagement in Chicago with the rest of the cast filled with kids who were in elementary school when the show made its debut. The cast is fine! It’s not quite the same, however.
(There are a couple of actors from the previous films showing up here. One of them looks like how Robin Williams looked when he escaped from Jumanji. The other has been slathered in makeup which tries to suggest they do not have a pair of the most impressive cheekbones in Hollywood, and doesn’t succeed particularly well.)
There’s another thing about Resurrections that is another layer of meta, which is that this is the first film in the series made after the Wachowskis transitioned, and the whole series began to be looked at through the lens of the trans experience, which in itself has an additional layer of irony given how “redpill” was been used as a metaphor by awful cis bigots to make their shittiness seem hip and in-crowd. First, of course, fuck those people, they’re awful, and second, while I strongly suspect this film will go a long way to punt their shittiness out of the conversation around these films, which in itself is an absolute good, I’m also aware I’m not otherwise qualified to go that deep into the dynamic of transness and the Matrix films, and will leave it to others to better essay. I will say I’m happy it’s out there openly now.
Again, The Matrix Resurrections isn’t essential, but it doesn’t hurt the series and ultimately may give its overall storytelling slightly more coherence. Moreover, from a storytelling point of view, and like the original film, it seems to neither need nor invite a further sequel. Will it get one? It depends on how much it makes and how well it does on HBO Max, and, I suppose, on the cartilage elasticity of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. On the latter score, CGI and virtual universes can only do so much.
While the review is largely spoiler-free, I am allowing people to post spoilers here in the comment thread, so please be aware that if you have not seen the film some spoilers may be present. Proceed at your own risk!
Also, since someone might ask, I think this is probably the second best Matrix sequel, after Animatrix, which I found both ambitious and full of interesting creative choices. Note however I am biased as the supervising director of the Animatrix is someone I went to high school with.
“There’s another lawyer of meta?”
FWIW, here’s one Long-Time Scalzi Reader who would love to read that story!
Stay Safe and Well and “Keep On Keepiing On!”
Always Best Wishes,
Michael D. Toman
Personally, the meta stuff is what made it fun for me, as well as Lana’s willingness to use The Meta to subvert expectations as well as play to them. I agree with you that it wasn’t “essential” in any way, but I loved it anyway.
Also, Jonathan Groff is having the time of his life and the one scene between him and NPH was a supertanker full of ham just in time for Christmas dinner.
Yeah, this is where I land. The “meta” was LMAO funny for someone who’s somewhat jaded. The action sequences were per forma, and not as groundbreaking/cutting edge as the original; but I don’t require that of any movie. I quite like the sentimentality of the story and slight commentary on humanity in general being sucky.
In all, a decent value for my entertainment dollar, whether it be on the big screen or streaming.
I am disabled such that I am unable to watch movies at theaters (Man, I miss IMAX and OmniMAX soooo much!) so I am grateful that so many new studio movies have been released on streaming services such as HBO Max. My 60″ LG OLED 4K TV is no “big screen” but it looks pretty damned awesome and I’ll put my Bose surround audio system up against any rumbling, WAY TOO LOUD multiplex sound system!
All the leads are clearly happy to be there. Especially the villains, who are delightful. Loved all the meta and meta on meta. Loved the ending.
There was a Chekhov’s Gun not being fired, with the Merovingian screaming insane vengeance and then not showing up again.
But, really, definitely worth the $18 at the imax .
I think the movie is pretty meh overall. Not a lot of surprises, but a few of the special effects are neat. Three things really bother me:
Trinity is, for most of the movie, a princess locked in a literal tower. She, unlike Neo, is apparently incapable of assisting with her own rescue, and is in general much more oblivious to what’s really going on. The Trinity from the original movie is gone, replaced by a soccer mom / moto welder who could just as easily be a supporting character in a Flashdance sequel. Not until the very end of the movie does the genuine, ass-kicking, self-assured Trinity reappear.
The movie could have been a lot more fun had Trinity been the protagonist, and we could watch from her viewpoint as she goes about once again extracting a befuddled Neo from the Matrix.
Does this movie even pass the Bechdel test at all? Yeaaah, um, maybe? Pretty sure there is a convo between two women in there somewhere that isn’t about Neo. Probably. Which, for a Wachowski work, is pretty weak sauce.
Apologies to Mr. Scalzi, but this movie is a classic Old Man’s Fantasy. As in, a film where the aging protagonist, played by a very aged actor, still manages to win the day, largely thanks to the equally-aged villains conveniently dumbing and slowing down their schemes. And helped by every character explaining who they are and what they’re doing in clearly and distinctly spoken dialogue.
The movie devolves into an extended Matlock episode, where Neo fumbles through a few action-lite scenes while his adulating younger sidekicks scurry in the background, doing all the heavy lifting to set up his victory scene. (Thank you, Matrix folks, for not recasting Trinity with a twenty-something actress. At least this isn’t a standard OMF in that one sense.)
Other examples of OMF movies include every “swan song for the actor” Bond film (including the current one), Space Cowboys, Gran Torino, many of the Star Trek movies, and pretty much every recent flick involving Ahnold, Sly, or Vin.
It is well past time for Hollywood to stop stamping out these wheezing retreads and make a few more films with young unknown actors.
Uh, yes, but was it good or not?
Was it good or not? Well, Scalzi says it best: “All of this is stuff you’ll like if this is the sort of the thing you like, and not if you don’t.”
I will observe, while avoiding spoilers, that Lana W. is still very clearly a Grant Morrison fan, but I think this film might lean heavily into Donna Haraway in ways its predecessors didn’t.
Second best sequel
But being a second best sequel is a low bar
I forgot how much dang monologuing happens in the sequels
Show don’t tell
The original was cool because a lot of the philosophy was wrapped in action
Like the original dojo fight scene, the philosophy “don’t think you are faster, know you are faster” directly impacts the Wire Fu
One reason the Animatrix was so good, it was different artists so much more show don’t tell
Partly because if you tell something, if your interpretation is not canon, you have endless criticism
If you show something, it can be interpreted multiple ways
But mostly because the short duration of most Animatrix stories left little time for slow, low information density words and relied on often crowded graphics, sounds and emotion packed music
A picture is worth a thousand words, as is a good Foley track, and a good musical track
Well, for me there is STILL only one Matrix movie.
IIRC the two sequels leaned heavily into online content paired with the films (I may have learned this from one of Mikey Neumann’s videos on FilmJoy) and then the entire storyline transitioned to an MMORPG that lasted about 5 years. I didn’t play the game at all but I’ve read that this latest film tracks the game’s storyline. For what it’s worth…
I concur with David. I have no clue what you just wrote.
The sequels obviously pale in comparison to the original, but I don’t think they deserve the hate they got. I enjoyed them at the time and even more on the rewatch.
One of my gripes with the original movie is that Neo seems oddly credulous. Extracted from the Matrix, he doesn’t worry that he’s still in some sort of virtual lie. I guess it’s implied he intuitively knows the Matrix is fake, and also in the same way knows that crapsack reality is real. So I thought it was interesting that Resurrections features a more reluctant Neo, who still entertains some doubts about the reality of stuff one layer up. (And that the setting explicitly contains fake realities one layer down from the Matrix.)
I also like that it takes a different angle on the Red Pill / Blue Pill problem with Trinity, where it’s less “are you willing to face the horrible truth?” and more “are you willing to let go your connections and responsibilities?” Neo is a loner in the original, so the prospect of leaving someone behind doesn’t come up.
Also thought the way the ending of Resurrections calls back to the end of the first movie was pretty great. In some ways the protagonists are promising something to the “blue pills” like what Neo’s boast promised to the “red pills” at the end of the original. From “I’ll show them a world without you” to basically “F you we’re remaking the Matrix!” (Which is itself a bit of meta-commentary.)
I appreciated the meta and enjoyed watching the movie; I don’t know that I thought it was a particularly good film, despite being enjoyable. I have some difficulty imagining what people too young for the original trilogy actually think of this nostalgia fest, but then, it’s not for them, is it?
As for specifics, I found the thread with Smith to be the oddest part of the whole exercise. I either missed or didn’t follow the primary antagonist’s reasoning for there even being a Smith. Smith’s broader agenda seemed vague and it wasn’t clear why Neo returning was an impediment to these goals worth conflict over, given that it seemed to work out best for Smith when they were both opposing the primary antagonist. As mentioned by a previous post, the Merovingian Chekhov’s Gun of semi-coherent threats seems part of this same underdeveloped thread somehow.
… Maybe the Catrix will explain all that remains unclear.
You’re aware that Morpheus is the one from the video game, right? I thought it was a neat way to account for the difference.
My headcanon, based on the casting, is that this new Morpheus is really Doctor Manhattan, visiting the Matrix.
“…very pretty people dressed like bougie goths in expensive sunglasses scorpion-kicking interchangeable enemies …”
LOL! This both perfectly evokes the Matrix style and is hilarious enough to read aloud to my husband
Exceeded expectations for me. I watched it all the way through and was interested and entertained. I doubt there will be a sequel but if there is I want the real Mr. Smith (aka Hugo Weaving) back.
If I went to see this film, the assumptions of what I’d seen would be wrong, because I’ve seen the first Matrix movie but none of the sequels. I’d never even heard of “Animatrix.”
But I won’t be going to see it, so I guess the assumptions are right after all.
You know, if you’d seen Andy Griffith doing bullet time in Matlock or Rue MacLanahan scorpion kicking someone in The Golden Girls at around the same age Keanu and Moss are, that would be very impressive.
[Transphobic dipshittery deleted – JS]