In 1999 the worlds of science-fiction and action movies were forever changed thanks to a little film called The Matrix. The film, which saw computer hacker Thomas ‘Neo’ Anderson (Keanu Reeves) discover that the world he was living in was just a reality constructed by machines, wowed audiences across the globe. It was a movie that redefined cinema, the Wachowski’s pushing the boundaries and paving the wave for a whole new generation of film-making. With The Matrix being such a phenomenal success, a second and third part were quickly ordered. These sequels, filmed back-to-back and released with months of one another, paled in comparison to the first film, getting lost in philosophical musings and over-the-top action in an attempt to one-up the original. Many thought the series was over, content enough with the trilogy (weaker parts and all), even one of its creators, Lily Wachowski, seemed happy to end things there. Lana Wachowski’s mind never seems to have left The Matrix however, and now steps back into the spotlight with her first solo feature, The Matrix Resurrections.
Before I get into my thoughts on The Matrix Resurrections, I’ll preface the rest of this review by stating that The Matrix is a dear favourite film of mine. Upon its release I was a member of the exact target demographic. I was a teenager with a healthy appetite for grittier sci-fi action movies (think The Terminator and Aliens) and had a leaning towards alternative / rock music; I fell in love on first viewing. This sadly came via the format of VHS (yes I’m old) as my planned cinema experience was scuppered when the friend I was meant to see it with ended up watching it the day before without me. She then wasn’t in the mood to watch it again so soon (why I don’t know) and insisted on watching Wild Wild West instead. It’s a decision that still haunts be to this day, though thankfully in the intervening years I have since seen it on the big screen thanks to the fantastic team at The Prince Charles cinema in London. The Matrix also holds a place in my heart for more personal reasons (which you can read about here). That being said, I was disappointed by both of its sequels and remained underwhelmed by both upon a recent re-watch. And, despite being as big a Keanu fan as I am, I just haven’t been super excited about this new film. That is until I watched it, and once more felt myself falling in love with the fabricated world and its characters.
You can’t have a Matrix film without the characters of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus, and all return for this fourth outing. Bringing the three back is a tall order considering both Trinity and Neo were believed to have perished during the climax of trilogy finale, The Matrix Revolutions. Resolving this problem is likely the main reason why it has taken quite so long to revisit the infamous cyber reality, but the time and attention has paid off. The explanation of their return is answered quickly, coherently, and more believably than one might expect. Reboots and their ilk have become the currency of the film industry, and whilst some succeed, other fail spectacularly. The Matrix Resurrections walks the right side of this treacherous tightrope, offering up fresh ideas and directions without spoiling the magic of its history. Lana Wachowski’s devotion to this world and its inhabitants, new and old, feels very personal and it’s the heartfelt care and attention that helps make this a true continuation from the source, and not just another rehash.
From it’s opening moments, The Matrix Resurrections pays homage and respect to what has come before. Locations, dialogue, and even the soundtrack are all detailed throwbacks to what has been experienced before, and yet Wachowski manages to avoid conjuring the feeling of regurgitation, instead instilling a sense of deja vu, which in itself is yet another ode to The Matrix. There’s a freshness to the approach at kick-starting the franchise off again, and whilst the action isn’t as genre-shattering as it was before, it boasts plenty for fans to enjoy. An effort has been made to include those new to the series, but in all honesty, if you aren’t familiar with the original trilogy you’ll be left struggling to comprehend what is happening. The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t have the same level of gate-keeping as some other reboots on the market, the uninitiated are not left completely in the cold, with new characters acting as conduit for them. It does however pack it’s runtime with plenty of callbacks whose inclusion will be lost on the new audience members, but adored by the old.
Everyone remembers the magic of John Wick Chapter 2 when Keanu Reeves was reunited with Laurence Fishburne onscreen. Here we have the reunion of Trinity and Neo. Despite being made twenty years later, neither Reeves nor Carrie-Anne Moss appear to have aged significantly, a factor that plays nicely into the artificial world in which their characters are living in. The pair of actors have always had great on-screen chemistry but this is the first film that really feels as if it focuses on the relationship between the two. Early scenes between the pair also pose an eerie reflection of how the trajectory of their off-screen lives have gone, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, a common theme for this new version of Matrix film. The dynamic between the pair has evolved into something more complex than previous outings and further exploration would be greatly received (by this writer at least).
It’s not all about the old though, new additions to the cast, Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, blend into the world seamlessly, feeling as though they’ve always been there. It’s a testament to both the writing and the acting talent that their transition is so smooth. As Bugs, Henwick is a steely blend of the first film’s Trinity and Morpheus, acting as both guide and confidant to this version of Neo. Elsewhere, Abdul-Mateen is having the time of his life injecting some sparkle and fun into his portrayal of Morpheus 2.0. Both characters also firmly conform to the Matrix movie law of looking effortlessly cool, and I look forward to seeing a new wave of cosplayers on the convention circuit.
At two and a half hours long (which includes an end credit sting) this is the longest Matrix film since the first, but feels shorter than both Reloaded and Revolutions thanks to its scaled back philosophy lessons. The first hour flashes past in the blink of an eye, a nostalgic retread of familiar beats, worked in with some post modern self-referential whit, which seduces fans into a nest of comfort. Just after the hour mark the pacing wobbles, stutters, and becomes stagnant for just an instant too long; a catch-up on the world outside of the construct induces flashbacks to the not-so-great sequels, but thankfully before falling too far down this rabbit-hole, the film corrects itself. Focus once more returns to the virtual world and things get exciting once more. Not quite “guns, lot’s of guns” bullet-time levels of ecstasy, but plenty to please action lovers.
The only thing that can hurt the success of The Matrix Resurrections is the state of world into which it has been released. With cases of Covid-19 rising thanks to a new variant, the viability of cinemas to remain open in the immediate future remains uncertain. A closure of movie theatres would undoubtedly hurt the box office, which in turn would be disastrous for any potential new trilogy.
With The Matrix Resurrections Lana Wachowski bucks the trend of so many reboots by crafting something that is heartfelt, tender, and feels like a true continuation of its source. Homage and respect is paid to what has come before, but in such a way that it doesn’t feel like endless fan service has just been shoehorned in to appease the rabid fanboys. In fact, the die-hard fanboys may take issue at the changes in characters and action, but those that understood the essence at the heart of the original trio of films will fall head over heels once more.
Watching the return of this series to the big screen, which I only had a passing interest in thanks to reboot burnout, was like reuniting with a long-lost friend. There’s a level of comfort and familiarity, alongside presentation of enough new content to keep things interesting. A return to the magic of the original, played out in different ways, The Matrix Resurrections gave me full body goosebumps on more than one occasion, and I can’t wait to return for another watch.
The Matrix Resurrections is in cinemas across the UK now.
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