Film review: ‘THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

For many, the Wachowski’s original 1999 Matrix movie – which depicted a freedom fighting cyber hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) battling to free humanity from a computer simulated world – was a sensation. Many talked about being blown away by its hyper-kinetic action sequences and never-before-seen computer generated special effects which included a slow-motion style known as ‘bullet time’.  A few were also tantalised by its philosophical references to the likes of Plato’s allegory of the cave, Descartes’ meditations on the nature of reality, free will versus determinism and false consciousness within a totalitarian society.

I was initially lukewarm about The Matrix and its sequels.  I thought the effects were gimmicky and designed to appeal to video game obsessives and at least some of the action redundant as it happened within a computer simulation where various characters could instantly regenerate, so there was limited danger. I also found the jerky, mechanical martial arts a bit naff.  As I’ve learned more about The Matrix’s philosophical ideas, though, the films have grown in my estimation although the action still seems a bit silly and tends to overwhelm the story’s more cerebral aspects.

The original trilogy’s final instalment The Matrix: Revolutions seemed to end at a reasonably logical point but with sequels and reboots now the cash cows of Hollywood, it was perhaps inevitable that this Gen X touchstone would regenerate itself.  Now, Lana Wachowski, apparently after being very reluctant, has reanimated the franchise with The Matrix: Resurrections.  With an 18-year gap since Revolutions, does the Matrix concept still have the power to mesmerise audiences? Well, maybe. There a few great moments here but much of this film feels like a mediocre rehash of the original.

Here, the man we knew as Neo, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a computer games designer living in what appears to be contemporary San Francisco.  He’s famous for designing a game called ‘The Matrix’ in which all the events of the original films apparently took place. Increasingly, though, he’s plagued by what seem to be memories of actually being in that simulated world and he’s beginning to question his reality and his sanity.  Is he suffering from delusions or is his world part of the Matrix he believes he conjured as a game?  I won’t spoil exactly how the story unfolds but this is a Matrix film so it’s hardly a revelation to say that Mr Anderson is once again forced to interact with a cyber universe run by a maniacal and egotistical figure.

In seemingly depositing Anderson outside the world of the Matrix, the film becomes extremely meta and self-referential, with numerous references to the original films, Matrix fanboys and as Anderson tries to develop a new game, the pressure to churn out sequels.  This meta approach is briefly amusing but ultimately feels like a gag rather than a compelling cinematic device.

The film takes a slightly different thematic approach to its predecessors.  Rather than exploring the earlier films’ classic philosophical issues, Resurrections depicts the Matrix as analogous to the internet and especially the Twitterverse and its toxic demagogues.  Anderson’s chief nemesis is a man referred to as The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) who may be his psychiatrist or a megalomaniacal computer program.  The Analyst talks about people in a similar fashion to certain political leaders; at one point calling the populace ‘sheeple’.  Anderson’s confrontation with the Analyst is topical but doesn’t take us down the mind bending philosophical rabbit hole we experienced in the original film.

While this film lacks some of the qualities that made the earlier Matrix films so startling, it keeps some aspects of those films that could have been jettisoned. Once again, cerebral issues are too often booted aside for elaborate but emotionally hollow actions sequences and clunky fight scenes.  The requisite kung fu battles, while employing some vertigo-inducing effects, are stiff, robotic and lack genuine thrills.  Also, as in the earlier films we’re subjected to a character (here a grown-up Sati (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) who was a little girl in Revolutions) who delivers huge slabs of exposition that are meant to clarify the story but just make it murkier.

Something that may prove a little disconcerting for Matrix obsessives is that this film looks different to its predecessors with cleaner and glossier cinematography rather than the grungy, green-tinted style of the original trilogy.  Using a more vivid colour palette, the Wachowski’s have fashioned an often more visually striking but less mysterious-looking film than those we saw 20 years ago.

Performances are a bit mixed here.  In some ways they mark an improvement.  Carrying a little more psychological baggage as Neo, Reeves (who has understandably matured as an actor) creates a slightly more nuanced character than the monotone stoner of the original films.  Carrie Anne Moss, who is always welcome, still imbues heroine Trinity with bracing intelligence and strength although she’s not given as striking a role in the action as she was in the original film.  Resurrections focuses on their relationship but while this might induce some dopamine rushes of nostalgia, it’s not exactly a romance for the ages and again demonstrates a weakness with emotional engagement in Wachowski films.

Most of the other performances in Resurrections vary from middling – such as Jadet Pinkett-Smith reprising her role as rebel leader Niobe – to the preposterous as in Lambert Wilson’s crazed Catweazle-like portrayal of the once-menacing Merovingian.

While The Matrix: Resurrections is mostly passable and for brief moments stunning sci fi action fare, it seems that, as with the belated Terminator sequels it can be very difficult recapture the magic of the past.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Sci-fi/ action/ adventure.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Lana Wachowski.

Release date: 26th Dec 2021.

Running time: 148 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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