Everything that has a beginning has an end. For the Matrix trilogy, that end came in 2003. Trinity died and Neo sacrificed himself to end the war with the machines. The virus Smith has been destroyed, the Matrix rebooted, and the human race on Zion was finally free. Though the Oracle expressed joy over the possibility of seeing Neo again, the trilogy came to a rather definitive conclusion. For years, the Wachowskis have insisted that they said and did everything they wanted with the three films.
It is now 2021. After 18 years, after all this time, we are finally going back to where it all started. Back to The Matrix. We had so many questions going into The Matrix Resurrections, on how it would continue the story and how it would explain certain plot points and character points. It turns out so much of Resurrections is writer/director Lana Wachowski expressing that anxiety and inner battles as a creative. People are going to ask for Resurrections to justify its existence, so why not have my movie be about exactly that?
Neo (Keanu Reeves) has been revived as Thomas Anderson, except this time, the Matrix is working harder than ever to keep him pacified. With a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) constantly prescribing him blue pills, Neo lives a successful but mundane life. Even so, Neo cannot stop having visions and strange dreams. He meets a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) who sees a lot of herself in Trinity. He also can’t put his finger on why his business partner Smith (Jonathan Groff) would bring about flashbacks to his mind. Funny how nostalgia and memories can trap someone even when they are right in front of their noses.
Resurrections sets out to make one of the most unique first acts in a major blockbuster. This is largely because of its insane self-awareness – in this iteration of The Matrix, the Matrix trilogy exists. Here’s the real doozy: the “architect” behind the Matrix trilogy in this universe is none other than Thomas Anderson. It is here where the film reveals its surprisingly hilarious tone. Many of the callbacks and references are not just there for nostalgia, but to serve Wachowski’s commentary about how we as the consumer hold onto that nostalgia. But even the gags are laugh-out-loud funny. Look out for Tiffany’s husband, who evokes such strong “Chad energy,” and then surprise! His actual name is Chad!
And then the arrival of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and a young blue-haired gunslinger named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) further complicates Neo’s situation. She unveils her white rabbit tattoo, which triggers a memory, and once again, down the rabbit hole Neo goes. Instead of replicating Laurence Fishburne, the screenwriters and Abdul-Mateen create a different personality and attitude in this Morpheus. But the real scene-stealer is Henwick. With Bugs written as the audience character, almost like a representation of Matrix fandom, her role in the human resistance and finding Neo takes on a whole new meaning. It is also downright fascinating to argue which of these two characters is the bigger believer.
Once the characters are established, it’s time for Resurrections to show its action chops. Start to finish, the film is gorgeous to look at, with a fresher cleaner color palette than the green hue that shaped the Matrix sequels. The set pieces are dazzling in concept, style, and design. Though the choreography is occasionally marred by choppy editing and overreliance of close-up shots instead of wides, it is clear that every member of the cast is on their A-game here. Every punch, kick, and building leap feels exciting because you can vividly see the actors performing them. That’s right, Neo still knows kung-fu, and Reeves comfortably returns to the martial arts fights like he’s never left, but it’s the new characters who don their sunglasses and kick ass like they belong in a Matrix movie that put a real smile on my face.
Where Resurrections struggles to keep its momentum going is in the second act. This is where much of the plot pauses to do a ton of exposition and explaining. After all, it’s been decades since The Matrix Revolutions, so this film is burdened to explain everything that has happened since. What happened to Zion? The sentinels? The humans? Audiences who did not care for the long stretches of dialogue in Reloaded and Revolutions would once again be irritated with how this film explores plot and themes. So much content and plot gobbledygook gets fed into our brains in so little time that the film has to be seen again with subtitles on.
But once all the dialogue sets up the third act and what the characters must do, Resurrections taps into the heart of what makes the trilogy so great: love. The first half of the film already performs admirably on this end by giving Neo and Trinity quiet moments of dialogue, where they get to be heard and understood. But the third act takes everything we know about this relationship and makes a jaw-dropping, emotionally satisfying climax out of it. It goes to show that after all this time, Wachowski still understands that Neo and Trinity are two halves of a whole and that The Matrix has always been a story of identity and love.
The Matrix Resurrections is certainly a flawed film. It’s overlong, plodding, and full of exposition that can easily feel tedious or aimless. But it’s also directed and performed with so much self-awareness, meta-commentary, and sincerity to do something different. It’s a Matrix sequel with an existential crisis of being a Matrix sequel – exactly the kind of blockbuster that should be celebrated more often, for it takes all kinds of swings and is unafraid if they miss. Meanwhile, some of the new characters are instantly iconic and Neo and Trinity are as strong as they’ve ever been. It makes me excited to see where this story goes. The rabbit hole has deepened, and I’ll be the first to jump in.
The Matrix Resurrections will be released in theaters by Warner Bros. on December 22 and on HBO Max the same day.