The Matrix Resurrections (2021) poster

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

Rating:


USA. 2021.

Crew

Director – Lana Wachowski, Screenplay – Aleksandar Hermon, David Mitchell & Lana Wachowski, Producers – Grant Hill, James McTeigue & Lana Wachowski, Photography – Daniele Massaccesi & John Toll, Music – Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer, Visual Effects Supervisor – Dan Glass, Visual Effects – Buf (Supervisors – Pierre Buffin, Felix Pirritano & Dominique Vidal), DNeg (Supervisors – Aharon Bourland & Huw J. Evans), Framestore (Supervisor – Graham Page), Inhouse VFX, Instinctual, One of Us (Supervisor – Tyson Donnelly), Rise Visual Effects (Supervisors – Markus Degen & Andreas Giesen) & Turncoat Pictures (Supervisor – Ryan Urban), Special Effects Supervisor – Brendon O’Dell & J.D. Schwalm, Production Design – Hugh Bateup & Peter Walpole. Production Company – Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures/Venus Castina Productions.

Cast

Keanu Reeves (Neo/Thomas Anderson), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity/Tiffany), Jessica Henwick (Bugs), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Morpheus/Agent Smith), Jonathan Groff (Smith), Neil Patrick Harris (The Analyst), Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe), Pryianka Chopra Jonas (Sati), Andrew Lewis Caldwell (Jude), Max Riemelt (Sheperd), Toby Onwumere (Sequoia), Lambert Wilson (The Merovingian), Christina Ricci (Gwyn de Vere), Joshua Grothe (Funktlan), Brian J. Smith (Berg), Erendira Ibara (Lexy), Michael X. Sommers (Skrace)


Plot

In San Francisco, Thomas Anderson is a successful designer of the ground-breaking The Matrix trilogy of videogames. He also has an unrequited attraction to Tiffany, a woman he frequently sees at his local coffee shop, although she is married with children. Thomas has distant memories of being Neo and of Tiffany being Trinity. Thomas’s business partner Smith announces that Warner Brothers wants them to make a fourth Matrix game and Thomas grits his teeth as ideas are tossed around. At the same time, Thomas is contacted by Bugs, a hacker who has found a backdoor in to the system and tries to convince Neo that he is being held inside The Matrix. Thomas’s analyst insists it is part of an hallucination. Neo is dragged out of The Matrix by Bugs and taken to Io, the successor to Zion, where he finds it is now sixty years since his last visit and humanity lives in co-existence with some sapient machines. Neo is insistent that he saw Trinity kept inside a pod and sets out to rescue her. However, he discovers that the machines have engineered things to keep he and Trinity imprisoned perpetually apart and are determined to make him return.


The Matrix (1999) is one of the modern landmark films. It became an instant cult film. It popularised Hong Kong Wu Xia martial arts in the West and created its own unique and entirely original visual effects called Bullet Time. The black leather, PVC, long coats and shades became a fashion statement in the cyber-hacker community. It even had an effect in the real world with there being subsequent philosophical debate about whether we are all living in the Matrix (a virtual illusion constructed around us) – recently there was a fascinating documentary about the phenomenon with A Glitch in the Matrix (2021). The term ‘the red pill’ – the pill that Morpheus offers Neo to wake up as to the true state of reality – has been co-opted by the Men’s Movement and QAnon, as well as other ideologies, even people like Elon Musk, using it as a term for offering a sudden wake-up call to reality.

The Wachowski Brothers, Larry and Andy, made two sequels shot back-to-back with The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), although most audiences agreed that these disappoint. At the same time, The Wachowskis also authorised The Animatrix (2003), a feature-length compilation of nine animated shorts set in and around the world of The Matrix. They subsequently went on to direct the live-action adaptation of the anime tv series Speed Racer (2008), the cross-historical Cloud Atlas (2012) and the space opera Jupiter Ascending (2015), as well as created, wrote, produced and directed much of the tv series Sense8 (2015-8) about eight individuals around the world who are mentally connected. They also wrote and produced the adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel V for Vendetta (2006) and then produced Ninja Assassin (2009), for their assistant director James McTeigue (who also acts as a producer here).

Just as much has been their avoidance of almost any publicity and creating an enigma around themselves. Amid this came the announcement that both had undergone sex changes. Through their first few films they are credited as The Wachowski Brothers but from 2012 are credited as just The Wachowskis due to Larry transitioning to become Lana, while Andy became Lilly in 2016.

Return to the world of The Matrix in The Matrix Resurrections (2021) 1
Return to the world of The Matrix

A further Matrix film had been pushed by Warner Brothers ever since 2003 but the Wachowskis had adamantly refused the idea. There were talks in the wind circa 2017 that Warners were planning on a revival without The Wachowskis and with a script from Zak Penn, the writer of several X-Men films and The Avengers (2012), that would purportedly star Michael B. Jordan as a younger Morpheus. In 2019, Lana chose to step back in to the director’s chair. Lilly however declined, having been absent from the sibling partnership since the second season of Sense8, stating that she wanted to rediscover herself as an artist, as well as prior commitments as producer of the comedy tv series Work in Progress (2019- ). Lana cited her reasons for the return as being the recent death of their parents and finding some comfort in symbolically resurrecting their most familiar characters.

The Matrix Resurrection arrived to mixed success It was simultaneously released by Warner Brothers to theatres and online streaming only to be entirely eclipsed at the box-office by Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), the biggest hit of the pandemic era. Indeed, in its opening week, Resurrections only ended up in third place at the box-office and is the sixth overall grossing film of December 2021. As with all of The Wachowskis films of the last decade, critical reception was all over the map.

The film opens in a way that seems to be trying to homage the original series. We get a repeat of the scene where Carrie-Anne Moss conducts a break-in and then dives out the window as the A.I.s come. Only here things are slightly off – the role of Trinity is being played by a different actress and things are being watched by Jessica Henwick who herself ends up fighting in the scenario. Later Jessica is snatched from the keystore by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as an Agent Smith who appears to have gained the ability to defy his programming. There is even a scene where Jessica gets to do a repeat of the “red pill or blue pill scene?” to Yahya.

Bugs (Jessica Henwick), Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) in The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
(l to r) Bugs (Jessica Henwick), Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II)

We then get to the scenes with Keanu Reeves, now living back in The Matrix as programmer Thomas Anderson. About this point, you get the impression that Lana Wachowski really, really didn’t want to make The Matrix Resurrections and did so under great duress. The first half of The Matrix Resurrections has been made as a direct parable about someone not wanting to make a fourth entry in their previously massively successful franchise. There’s even a scene here where Lana’s stand-in Keanu Reeves is told by boss Jonathan Groff that if they don’t make a fourth Matrix then Warner Brothers (the producers of the film series) will do it without them and cancel their contracts.

These sections make a number of digs at modern film-making by constantly recycled Intellectual Property. There are various scenes where Keanu sits around a boardroom while listening to fellow programmers pitching their ideas – one wanting to add more explosions and saying they need to find a new novelty gimmick like Bullet Time and others chiming in “reboots sell.” You get the feeling that Lana Wachowski similarly sat around various boardroom discussions listening to cringe-inducing suggestions about the new sequel and then went and used actual dialogue in the script. At one point Jessica Henwick states: “That’s what The Matrix does. It weaponises every idea. Every dream. Everything that’s important to us.”

At other points, the script make digs at the idea of the red pill being appropriated by the Men’s Rights Movement and others, while the character of Jude (Andrew Lewis Caldwell) is written in as one of the enthusiastic fanboys that have idolised every aspect of the series. Even when he gets back out of The Matrix and we get a repeat of the training scene, Keanu is constantly complaining that he is too old and not wanting to re-enter the game or being told he is too slow in his moves.

Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst in The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst

Once Keanu is dragged back out from The Matrix, Lana Wachowski updates the scenario in many ways, building on many of the questions that were left at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. We get reappearances from several actors including Keanu, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson as The Merovingian. Other characters such as Agent Smith and Morpheus are notedly played by different actors. Some of the substitutions don’t work – as the principal Agent Smith, Jonathan Groff lacks the cold inhumanity of Hugo Weaving and seems too soft-spoken and mannered, although the series does boast as replacement Neil Patrick Harris doing a nicely villainous turn as The Analyst.

I was really liking The Matrix Resurrections in the scenes with Keanu back in his role as Thomas Anderson. It was Lana Wachowski deflating the fannish mythos that had been built up around the series and equally winding in her own reluctance to return to the series. On the other hand, when we exit The Matrix, the film became far less interesting. Much of it thereafter becomes extended talk about the nature of The Matrix, the changes that Zion and the machines have undergone and the need to have Neo and Trinity re-enter it.

One of the big disappointments is that there is no big effects sequence. The first film had Bullet Time, The Matrix Reloaded had the highway chase sequence and Keanu up against multiple Agent Smiths, The Matrix Revolutions had the Battle for Zion. But this lacks any of those standout action sequences. There’s fitfully one or two during the opening sequence with Jessica Henwick falling down the side of a building and engaged in some fight moves. There are some solid action sequences – one fighting aboard a Japanese Bullet Train, another inside the cafe with SWAT teams suspended in mid-air, followed by a chase with Keanu on the back of a motorcycle blasting people away with his powers – but nothing that feels like it knocks you back in your seat as you watch The Wachowskis redefining action moves.


Trailer here


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