REVIEW: ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ is the meta anti-sequel that stands apart from its predecessors

Boyce Rucker, Intern

“The Matrix: Resurrections” is the latest entry in “The Matrix” franchise since the last two films released in 2003. The original 1999 film is hailed as one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. The revival features returning cast and crew, including Keanu Reeves and director/screenwriter Lana Wachowski, and new additions as well, such as stars Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris. The fourth installment has built up much anticipation for fans of the long-dormant franchise. The film reignites nostalgia and introduces new elements to the canon, though it is a very different film from its predecessors that will inevitably leave fans divided. 

The matrix itself is a computer simulation that was constructed in the aftermath of humanity’s war with an army of machines, which left the earth as a decaying wasteland. The series is recognized for its timeless themes, namely those regarding free will and anti-capitalism, as well as its authentic martial arts fight sequences and stunning visual effects. The franchise stems from a wide range of influences, such as cyberpunk anime like “Akira” and “Ghost in The Shell” and the philosophical treatise “Simulacra and Simulation.” The sequels lean more towards the action and world-building aspects as the philosophical themes were slightly dialed back, which led to them getting a less favorable reception from critics. Despite the sequels’ shortcomings, the franchise has a strong fanbase as the series adopts a transmedia storytelling method across film, video games and comic books.

A still from “The Matrix Resurrections” (2021). (Lana Wachowski/Warner Bros.)

“Resurrections” is set sixty years after the conclusion to “Revolutions” and reintroduces us to Neo (Reeves), as he lives a seemingly ordinary life as Thomas Anderson in San Francisco. With no recollection of his past from previous films, Neo must figure out if his current reality is a new construct within the matrix, or if the matrix is truly a figment of his imagination. In his search for the truth, he encounters a new version of his mentor Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), crosses paths with his former lover Trinity (Carrie-AnneMoss) and meets a rebel leader known as Bugs (Jessica Henwick). As shades of the past come to light, Neo faces off against a powerful new enemy.

On the surface, the film seems like Warner Bros. simply milking the franchise and its name brand, but comes off more as an anti-sequel upon viewing it. The film mirrors the original in its thematic explorations and the question of reality, but it adopts a meta approach. Existentialism is still a part of The Matrix’s core themes, but “Resurrections” directs its jabs at modern Hollywood’s fascination with reboots and remakes. This critique is a large part of the film’s first act, as the original trilogy exists as a video game franchise within the new matrix simulation, with Anderson as the series’ game developer. Anderson is forced by his business partner Smith (Jonathan Groff) to develop a fourth Matrix video game, despite not having more ideas to develop a new story. The Matrix is an intellectual property that is defined by the creative imprint of The Wachowski siblings, and Warner Bros. There have been rumors of attempts to revive the franchise over the years without the siblings’ involvement, but the film makes it clear that the duo want to have a creative grasp on the series for as long as possible. This also seems like an acknowledgement of how any forthcoming entry will live up to the original film, which carries an unmatchable spirit. However, the way the message is conveyed through dialogue is not exactly subtle or done as cleverly as it could be. Whereas the original trilogy made use of multi-layered dialogue, the “Resurrections” dialogue is blatant and obviously geared towards a mass audience.

Keanu Reeves and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “The Matrix Resurrections” (2021). (Lana Wachowski/Warner Bros.)

The film is still sure to satisfy fans who are interested in the world-building aspect. Despite its futuristic setting, the franchise’s transition to a modern tech landscape feels as natural as reality’s own transition, namely from the 90’s to the present-day. The film does away with the original’s technology aesthetic, such as payphones and floppy disks, and updates it to the current reality of innovations like VR and smartphones. Seeing the canon slightly expanded and the reintroduction of fan-favorite characters creates a nostalgic feeling, while pointing towards an interesting direction, if there are any more installments.  

The film adds further credence to the original’s status as an irreplicable product of its time. While some of the aforementioned tech innovations have made things easier for us in reality, it also makes things too easy for the protagonists. As one would recall, Neo’s race to the payphone with agents in pursuit is one of the most tension-filled scenes of the original film. Compared to the original’s, “Resurrections’” grand finale featuring explosions, superpowers and a multitude of reinforcements, it seems too overblown and predictable. This film indulges too much in grand spectacle and simplicity for its characters, as there are not many scenes that make us feel like they are truly in danger. 

The film’s action sequences are visually stunning at times, but they do not have the naturalistic and practical feeling of its predecessors. The originals’ authentic fight scenes are owed to martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping. His direction saw the actors perform their own stunts during fight sequences, without much use for a double, as their movements were reminiscent of what we’d see in classical Hong Kong martial arts films. On the other hand, this film’s fight sequences are sometimes hard to make out, as there are too many brief close-up shots that cut away too quickly. The intensity and weight of the fight scenes are absent in this film, as it seems greater focus is given to the meta themes and storyline.

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix Resurrections” (2021). (Lana Wachowski/Warner Bros.)

Despite a few shortcomings, the biggest draw for this film is the returning stars: Reeves and Moss. Neo and Trinity’s relationship is a defining part of the trilogy and is elevated to greater focus in this film. As the philosophy behind the matrix is the series’ main draw, Neo and Trinity were never fully-developed characters with deep motivations, but it was the two stars’ performances that refined the characters and made them fan-favorites. Reeves continues to showcase Neo’s stoic nature and imbue an everyman quality in the character. Interestingly, as Reeves is defined by the tough John Wick persona in recent memory, he retreats to a more rattled performance style comparable to the first Matrix film, when Neo learned the secrets of the matrix. As Trinity lives an ordinary life as Tiffany for most of her screen time, the better aspects of Moss’s performance comes during the third act. Moss retains the character’s ruggedness that makes her character stand alongside the likes of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as one of the most iconic female heroes in the sci-fi genre. Moss portrays both the rugged edge that Trinity has when faced against adversaries and the emotional vulnerability in the romantic scenes she shares with Reeves. The film shows that the two co-stars still share chemistry after 18 years, despite how brief their scenes together may be.

“The Matrix Resurrections” does not recapture the intrigue and mystery of the 1999 film, but it does recognize this in a meta fashion and it shows that it is still a world worth exploring. The film will be divisive among long-time fans, but it stands apart as an interesting approach to the matrix canon.