The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections is an auto-critique about the state of the world

Strong in ideas and mixed in execution, the latest Matrix film is nonetheless essential viewing for fans of the franchise.

For better and for worse, The Matrix Resurrections operates on two frequencies: a reboot of a beloved franchise and a video essay examining the shifting cultural traditions that have shaped the reception of the original film. More than just a cute homage, it is about what made the original film work and reclaiming its ideas from a fringe toxic fanbase. Characters discuss the pressures of Warner Bros., forcing on them a sequel they never wanted, a room full of writers discussing the resonance of the original film with varying levels of depth. 

Tom, aka Neo (Reeves), is a video-game designer who quietly longs for a woman at his coffee shop, Tiff (Moss). Under pressure to produce the fourth game in an already completed franchise, Tom goes through the motions, taking, like clockwork, his little blue pill prescribed by his analyst. His life is unhappy. Everyone speaks in memes and internet-speak. Unaware that he is trapped in the Matrix, he nonetheless goes through the motions of a man living in a world that doesn’t seem quite real. 

As he stops taking the pills, though, the fabric of his reality begins to alter. He has memory flashes, and his mirror reflection isn’t what it seems. It’s not long before he’s pulled back out of the Matrix and expected, once again, to save the world.

The stakes are far different from the original franchise in terms of the narrative quest. The screenplay scales things back, focusing on the love story between two people. To say the film is a romance though feels reductive. It’s a movie about communion and the idea that love can be transcendent. At its heart, the film preaches that genuine social change doesn’t come from an individual but rather a community. In a film industry dominated by messiah imagery, partially inspired by the wild success of The Matrix, it feels radical to reject that ideology — particularly in an era so dominated by the self. 

The film operates heavily as an auto-critique, lambasting the state of an industry. It’s a film that argues against its own existence while updating a forward-looking franchise for an entirely new and radical era. Lana Wachowski doesn’t hide the fact that she has grown and changed. Her priorities have shifted, and her time in the industry has often not been kind. It’s a film that preaches love in the face of enormous personal and social loss. 

That being said, the film doesn’t wholly work. The ideas are strong; the execution is middling. It’s a lot of people standing around and talking. The bookends are vital, but the middle section drags, at least for an audience (specifically me) who has little passion for world-building and jargon. As Neo is introduced to the new city outside the Matrix, we are updated on the evolution of society since the last film. The machine itself has also changed, realizing that anger and frustration produce more energy and pacify people even more than creature comforts. 

The action also doesn’t stand up to the original, though the film cleverly adopts video-game logic in its largest set-pieces. Again, the film wins conceptual points, even if it falters somewhat on actual entertainment value. It’s genuinely difficult to criticize a movie that offers the sharpest and most incisive critiques within its own narrative framing. The movie almost knows it’s bad while also highlighting why it’s also great and beautiful and wonderful. It’s an improbably bold approach to blockbuster filmmaking in an era of algorithmic storytelling.

Rich in ideas and sentiment, it’s easy to admire The Matrix Resurrections. Lana Wachowski created a kind of manifesto about the work of an artist. Rather than give the audience what they want (guns and martial arts, I guess), she takes the story where she wants it to go. It’s not purely escapist fare and challenges the audience on their viewing habits and critical skills. The film works best in retrospect; it comes alive when discussed and broken apart in many ways. Particularly in seeking out its greatest champions, reading and engaging with their analysis was often a greater pleasure than watching the film itself. It’s fundamentally a film about love, and regardless of my feeling about the narrative ups and downs, that undeniably comes through. ■

The Matrix Resurrections is available to rent or buy on VOD as of Friday, Jan. 14.

The Matrix Resurrections, directed by Lana Wachowski

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