January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I have decided to spend every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.
Released: 22 December 2021
Director: Lana Wachowski
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $190 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jonathan Groff, and Neil Patrick Harris
Twenty years after the events of The Matrix Revolutions (Wachowski Brothers, 2003) Neo (Reeves) lives a seemingly ordinary life as Thomas A. Anderson in San Francisco where his therapist prescribes him blue pills. However, when Morpheus (Abdul-Mateen II) offers him a red pill, Neo finds his mind reopened to the world of the Matrix.
Andy and Larry Wachowski (as they were known then) hit upon their greatest and most notable success when they were able to sell Warner Brothers on The Matrix, a science-fiction film that was heavily influenced by manga and anime and made an instant and lasting impression on cinema by popularising “bullet time” and “wire-fu”. Produced for a paltry $63 million, The Matrix was a massive hit that is spawned not only two sequels but a whole slew of multimedia merchandise. However, neither of the sequels garnered quite the same critical reaction as the quasi-cult hit original; while the directors were content to allow the story to be continued, and ended, in The Matrix Online (Monolith Productions, 2005 to 2009), rumours continued to persist that a fourth film was being considered, with stars Reeves and Hugo Weaving both expressing interest in revisiting the franchise.
Development of a continuation finally gained traction in 2017, when writer Zack Penn was confirmed to be working on a fourth instalment of some kind; although Lily Wachowski chose not to commit to such a large scale production, she gave her blessing and her sister, Lana, officially returned to direct the fourth film alongside returning stars Reeves and Cary-Anne Moss. Framed as a direct continuation of where the third film left off, fans were left confused when the first trailer dropped and Lawrence Fishburne announced that he was the only member of the original cast not asked to return. The movie also attracted undue criticism when filming damaged buildings and street lights in San Francisco, and was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but The Matrix Resurrections finally released last Thursday. As of this writing, the film has made a disappointing $69.8 million at the box office and been met with largely mixed reviews; critics praised the film’s sentimental value and the return of its familiar characters while also criticising it as a redundant revisitation suffering from muddled execution.
If you’ve read my review of the original film, you’ll know that The Matrix is one of my all-time favourite films and franchises; I was obsessed with the first film when it came out and watched it religiously on sleepovers with friends. The film was ground-breaking and endlessly alluring at the time and, while some elements haven’t aged too well, it remains a firm favourite of mine. I even really enjoy the blending of philosophy and high-octane action featured in the second film and, though I was disappointed by the third, I felt like the trilogy had been wrapped up decently enough and was somewhat annoyed to find that the franchise was going to be dusted off some twenty years later (twenty years! Man, do I feel old!) as I felt like the story had been told and it seemed like a cheap cash grab to me. But…it’s the Matrix, and I do love me some Keanu Reeves, so I was obligated to check it out if only to satisfy my own morbid curiosity and having been intrigued by the vague trailers and marketing.
It’s a good job that I am such a fan of Keanu’s and the Matrix franchise as those elements ended up being some of the best parts of The Matrix Resurrections. Framed as a kind of re-quel, which treads over familiar ground (and even splices in footage of the original trilogy as flashbacks and dream sequences) while advanced the story twenty years after the last film. Despite apparently sacrificing his life to bring about peace between the machines and the humans of Zion, the man once known as Neo is alive and well in a new version of the Matrix, one without the green tint and grungy filter. Back in his original identity of Thomas A. Anderson, he is a successful videogame designer who found fame and fortune by creating an incredibly successful trilogy of (presumably virtual reality) videogames based on his disparate memories of the first three films. However, just as Anderson’s dreams and fragmented memories have created a virtual world for millions of players, so too have them plagued his sense of reality, and even drove him to try and leap off a rooftop in order to “fly away”. Following this apparent suicide attempt, his business partner, Smith (Groff), requests that he attend regular therapy sessions with the ominously named Analyst (Harris) and, thanks to a constant prescription of blue pills, Anderson is able to keep himself from suffering a psychotic break.
Despite being deep into the production of a new videogame, Binary, for is company, Deus Ex Machina, Anderson is disturbed by Smith’s insistence that they work on a new Matrix videogame, leading to a montage sequence wherein Smith, Anderson, and his fellow programmers and stuff wax lyrical with some metatextual, on the nose commentary about big corporations mining familiar franchises just to make more money off previous successes. Sadly, this kind of fourth-wall-breaking discussion permeates a great deal of The Matrix Resurrections, with even Anderson himself being saddened to be taking a creative step backwards rather than trying something new and innovative. His only reprieve is his infatuation with Tiffany (Moss), a beautiful woman he sees on a consistent basis in a coffee house and who reminds him of Trinity, a woman from his dreams and whom he programmed into his videogame. When not struggling to strike up a conversation with her, or debating his sanity, or working on Binary, Anderson is running a singular module of The Matrix that recreates the iconic opening of the original film, but with a few alterations to mix things up, but for the most part is fairly convinced that he’s just a videogame designer with mental issues and a skewed sense of identity.
All of that changes when he is suddenly met by a new incarnation of Morpheus, one seemingly pulled from his videogame world, who offers him a familiar choice: stay in his reality, or return to the real world. If you were wondering whether Lawrence Fishburne makes an appearance in this film, or his perhaps adopting a new avatar, you’ll be disappointed to find that Morpheus is long dead and only appears in archival footage; instead, where get this new version of Morpheus, one apparently spliced with elements of Neo’s old nemesis, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), to act as an agent within that loop. A far more mischievous version of the character, this new Morpheus is actually a sentient program, of sorts, who is able to communicate with and assist the heroes in the real world thanks to an advanced kind of nanotechnology, but he’s far from the wise mentor figure of his predecessor. Instead, he ‘s more like a necessary component to help convince Anderson to leave the Matrix and reclaim his identity as Neo, something he is largely reluctant to do thanks to the Analyst’s influence on his perception of the world. Still, Neo’s curiosity and familiarity with the words and images presented to him by Morpheus override his hesitation, and he’s soon joining Captain Bugs (Henwick) and the rest of her crew aboard the Mnemosyne hovercraft, sixty years after sacrificing himself to save Zion. Neo is disorientated and melancholy to find that his sacrifice didn’t appear to change much about the world, but Bugs takes him to the new Zion, Io, and reunites him with an elderly, cynical Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and learns that a peace does exist between man and machine. Shortly after the end of the war, the Matrix was purged of all former anomalies and blue-tinted machines helped the remnants of humanity to build a new haven and worked with them to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, while staving off attacks from the red-tinted, squid-like Sentinels that refused to abide by the peace treaty. The original Morpheus refused to believe that Neo’s sacrifice would fail, which led to Zion’s destruction, and a contingent of people have grown up idolising and even deifying Neo and Trinity for their actions, but Niobe’s primary concern is keeping her people safe, which leads to her reluctantly locking Neo up and pushing Bugs to defy her commander’s direct order and help spring Neo so that he can lead a desperate reinsertion into the Matrix to try and rescue Trinity.
If you’re a fan of the original film but haven’t really seen it in a while, then The Matrix Resurrections really has you covered, for the most part. It opens almost exactly like the original film, and the majority of its call-backs and references are to the ground-breaking original while repurposing some of the stronger elements of the sequels in new ways. One thing that is sadly largely absent from the film, however, is the kung-fu (or “wire-fu”, to be more accurate) fight scenes that so heavily influenced action cinema right up to present day. The first half of the film is a slow, introspective reintroduction to the world of the Matrix, one both familiar and disconcertingly different, as we follow Neo and try to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. Thanks to his fragmented memories and a skewed avatar, his sense of reality is more shot than ever, but he starts to piece his identity back together once he reawakens in the real world and is put through his paces by Morpheus. However, this isn’t really the all-powerful, full capable Neo we knew and loved; instead, he’s plagued by self-doubt and has no interest in fighting any more, especially after giving everything he had seemingly for nothing. While the world is noticeably better than the one he remembers, humanity is still somewhat divided; less and less people have been freed from the Matrix thanks to Niobe’s focus on keeping those who are free safe and the system of control he fought so hard against has simply been repurposed by a contingent of malevolent machines.
After his sacrifice, Neo’s body was taken away by the Analyst, who is revealed to basically have replaced the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) and is behind the stability of the Matrix’s new iteration and the resurrection of Neo and Trinity. Initially looking to study them, he patched them back together using a combination of the cloning technology used to grow humans and additional mechanic parts, only to find that their incredible bond threatened the very Matrix itself. However, when kept safely apart, their very presence in the Matrix vastly improved the energy output and acceptance of those plugged in, thus largely negating the peace Neo so desperately fought for. With Neo unplugged, the machines are on the brink and a new reboot of the system, something which Smith is adamant to prevent as it would mean he would once again be absorbed into the Matrix code. However, this is not my Smith; I’m sure Jonathan Groff is a great actor, and he’s clearly doing his best to channel Hugo Weaving at points, but he’s a faint shadow of Waving/Smith’s former greatness and I actually question including him at all. Had the filmmakers brought Weaving back and had Smith, like Neo, also suffer from fragmented memories and a new life, then maybe his inclusion would have been worthwhile but, instead, Smith feels very tacked on and largely inconsequential. There’s a moment where it seems like he and Neo would join forces this time around (and that does crop up again in the finale, with very little explanation), but it quickly gives way to a bust-up between the two that is one of the few highlights of the film, recalls their subway fight from the first film, and is spoiled only by the inexplicable and completely pointless insertion of the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his exiles.
A great deal of the film’s emphasis is, instead, on reuniting Neo with Trinity; while their romance was severely lacking in chemistry in the original trilogy, save for a few choice moments, they seem much more comfortable at ease with each other here, arguably because of the Analyst’s efforts to bestow them with new lives and personalities. While still a troubled and largely stoic reluctant saviour, Neo has a few more moments of levity here than in the original films, where he rarely showed much emotion at all, but is still as blinded by his love for Trinity as ever as he risks the fragile peace between Io and the machines by leading a risk attempt to convince her to return to him and the real world. This involves Bugs and Morpheus infiltrating the machine city, where Trinity’s body is held, with the help of their machine allies and Neo bartering with the Analyst with everyone’s future on the line. This proves to be a risky proposition as Neo’s God-like powers are both neutered and noticeably different this time around; although he still knows kung-fu, he cannot yet fly and his more acrobatic feats come in bursts, but he can still stop bullets and even has much more emphasis on creating shields and blasting foes away. The Analyst, however, proves to be a formidable foe as he’s ability to manipulate the Matrix’s famed “bullet time” technique to slow even the One to a crawl, but in the end he’s undone thanks to a tricky plot that sees Neo get through to Trinity, Bugs swap out with her physical body, and Trinity randomly revealed to be a new incarnation of the One as she and Neo fend off the Analyst’s swarm of ‘bots and fly off with a promise (more like a threat) to rebuild the world free from the Analyst’s influence.
I was hesitant about The Matrix Resurrections; the trailers were questionably vague and trying a little too hard to be mysterious for my liking, something which has only led to disappointment where the Matrix is concerned in the past. They also made the film seem to be a retread of the original, but over twenty years later and with some cast members inexplicably returning or absent. I feel like I could have maybe understood the need for a new Matrix movie if we’d had an entirely new cast, with maybe only Keanu returning, or seen the One reborn within the Matrix but in Keanu’s body once again (confirming a long-held theory of mine that the One always looks like Neo) rather than finding a pretty weak excuse to bring both Neo and Trinity back. It was pretty great seeing Neo back onscreen and revisiting the Matrix lore after the third movie to see where things had progressed, but I think the film played things a little too safe; not much has really changed thanks to the contingent of machines still warring against humanity, and I would have preferred to see humans and machines living and working together without any major discord and maybe have some the rogue faction be a more prominent plot point. So much of the film is focused on reintroducing Neo and the Matrix to us, which would probably be interesting for anyone who hasn’t seen the original films, but I’d wager that the vast majority of the audience has so I kind of wanted to get things moving, or maybe spend more time seeing how the Analyst was screwing with Neo’s mind rather than retreading the same old ground again but with different actors. In the end, it was an interesting enough epilogue to one of cinema’s most influential trilogies, but I honestly dread to think where the story will go when Warner Bros. greenlight an inevitable follow-up.
Could Be Better
Have you seen The Matrix Resurrections? If so, what did you think to it? Did you enjoy the direction the story took Neo and how it handled his and Trinity’s resurrections or would you have preferred to see the franchise stay dormant? Which of the new was your favourite and did you like seeing how the relationship between humanity and the machines had progressed? Were you disappointed by the lack of Lawrence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and proper fight scenes? Which of the other Matrix sequels or spin-offs was your favourite? How are you celebrating National Science-Fiction Day today? Whatever you think about The Matrix Resurrections, sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check in next Sunday for more sci-fi content!