‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ is a self-referential disaster
“Our beloved parent company Warner Bros wants a second trilogy” is literally a line of dialogue in The Matrix: Resurrections, a self-referential, self-mocking, self-entitled, self-important piece of celebratory masturbation doubling as subpar filmmaking. Lana Wachowski’s maybe-reboot and probably cash-grab is the first Matrix sequel in almost twenty years as well as the fourth one overall. How do I know that? There’s a pitch meeting in the movie where people look through a binder labeled “Matrix IV.” Because meta! Because funny and hip, right? They tell us that the key words from the company’s focus groups are “originality” and “fresh.” Too bad Wachowski didn’t listen to those focus groups.
THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS ★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Written by: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Jada Pinkett Smith
Running time: 148 mins
The revelatory 1999 film that launched a thousand postmodern comp-lit grad papers truly broke ground with its cyberpunk storytelling and Singularity paranoia—plus a novel camera effect that seemingly froze time which the filmmakers dubbed “bullet time.” It mainstreamed ideas about trans politics and crypto fascism by fusing them to visually addictive sci-fi action-adventure. But the original and its two sequels never had characters overtly explaining how they were mainstreaming ideas about trans politics and crypto fascism. Now, with the Matrix: Resurrections, the series finally does. It also has a geeky coder yelling “We need a new bullet time!” Seriously, folks?
The grand conceit (spoiler alert!): Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who died in The Matrix: Revolutions, had their DNA harvested so they could be cloned and reborn as pod batteries in order to create a whole new version of the Matrix. The Matrix has plugged the new Neo and Trinity into a special tower called the Anomaleum, which maintains balance in the virtual world. Controlling their fate is a mysterious digital sentient who designed and oversees everything.
This all-powerful puppet master keeps Neo, back again as alter ego Thomas Anderson, sedate with a steady regimen of blue pills. In this prefab world, Anderson is the greatest gamer designer of his generation, having created the phenomenally successful, award-winning 1999 game The Matrix. “They took my life and made it into a video game,” the reawakened Neo realizes. Yep. Bonus: Wachowski includes a few loving shots of Matrix action figures, just to really drive home that this flick is a legacy-trashing dumpster fire. As for Trinity? She’s a hip, oblivious, San Fran MILF named Tiffany with two kids and a husband named Chad. I shit you not.
Notable absences include Laurence Fishburne as resistance leader Morpheus and Hugo Weaving as nefarious A.I. program Agent Smith. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II now plays Morpheus. He declares “I am Morpheus,” wears dapper outfits, re-trains Reeves in a virtual martial arts dojo, and basically does nothing else. The new Agent Smith is Jonathan Groff, who explains away the altered appearance by saying he’s been redesigned and improved, right down to his dazzling blue eyes. “His code is freaky,” someone adds. Not as freaky as this entirely misguided movie.
There are a few familiar faces for fans of the previous sequels. Jada Pinkett Smith pops up again as Niobe, this time as general of the resistance. She’s also sixty years older than she was, which means we get to hear Smith talk with a tremulous old-lady rasp and walk with a shuffling old-lady gait like she’s crashing a high school production of Cocoon. And Lambert Wilson reappears as the Merovingian, the once-suave French information trafficker with a latex kink who now looks like a shockingly hirsute vagabond with an army of goofy street-fighting irregulars straight out of a Duran Duran video.
Expect lots of lip service to tired ideas about how we’re all asleep to the truth, desire and fear drive our decisions, and we sheeple just want to be controlled. Also look forward to snappy dialogue like “the exomorph slinkys up Neo’s old umbilical cord.” Among the film’s exhausting cinematic callbacks: our heroes will run up the walls while shooting guns, unloading bucketloads of ammo. Most of the villains will have bad aim, and Wachowski will use slo-mo with impunity. “What if I can’t be what I was?” says a crisis-of-confidence Neo. “Then we’re all fucked,” replies one of the rebels. Guess we’re all fucked, then.