Movies

The Matrix Resurrections Is Less a Sequel and More a Bizarre Thinkpiece About The Matrix's Legacy 

It's the strangest, most meta sequel of the year. 

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It's hard for a Reason editor to hate a film that ends, as The Matrix Resurrections does, with a hero triumphantly declaring that "it's easy to forget what a free mind can do," and suggesting that one possibility might be to "paint the sky with rainbows." And it's even harder when that film is an ambitious and long-awaited sequel to the Matrix trilogy, an era-defining, all-time pop-culture classic that redefined big-budget action cinema for a generation. 

After nearly 20 years it's enjoyable just to revisit that film's universe. So I don't hate The Matrix Resurrections, but I also don't quite love it either. Because the best way to think of The Matrix Resurrections is not really as a Matrix sequel. It's something much, much stranger. 

Yes, the film, directed and co-written by Lana Wachowski, one of the siblings behind the original series, offers a continuation of sorts to the sci-fi trilogy that ran from 1999 to 2003, with familiar actors and characters, including star turns from Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson/Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity. Yes, it occasionally delivers gravity-defying action visuals of the sort the original trilogy was famous for (though none of the new sequences reach franchise highs). And yes, there are layers of callbacks and cameos and Easter eggs for the superfans. 

But Resurrections is far less concerned with delivering on the usual promises of a long-awaited franchise sequel-cum-reboot and more focused on interrogating the premises that inevitably power such productions. It's a weird, fascinating, frankly bizarre movie about The Matrix's legacy, and the demands of pop culture success. This isn't a sequel to The Matrix so much as an elaborate cinematic thinkpiece that attempts to answer the question: 20-some years later, why in the world are we getting a sequel to The Matrix

Insofar as the movie provides a concrete answer, it's because the movie studio suits demanded it. This notion is not subtext or metaphor; it's literally built into a scene early in the film. 

For in this version of the Matrix (the online-esque virtual world used by sentient machines to keep human minds occupied while human bodies are used to power their robot civilization), Thomas Anderson still exists as a programmer. But this is where things get weird, and some spoilery explanation of the film's ultra-high-concept conceit is required. 

Instead of a lowly corporate drone, Anderson is now the chief creative at a major video game company, a beloved figure in the world of gaming because two decades earlier he invented a game called…The Matrix.

This game is almost exactly the same as the 1999 movie that launched the film franchise here in the real world, with the same characters, key scenes, and dialogue. And those scenes and images both haunt him and define him, breaking into his reality and making him a rockstar for gamers of a certain age who loved his youthful creation. 

Our hero, then, is a man consumed by the long tail of The Matrix, whose identity is forever associated with it, and who is also trying to escape its pull. As he tells his psychiatrist, The Matrix—the video game he invented—"took over his life." When we first meet him, he's working on a new game, but work is going slowly and the project isn't taking shape. So his business partner (Jonathan Groff, who is delivering quotes from the first Matrix when we first meet him) informs him that he's been tasked with creating a sequel to The Matrix

Tasked by who? Groff's character explains that this project was handed down by the game company's corporate owners at Warner Bros.—the same movie studio that owns the original Matrix trilogy here in our real world, and thus the same studio that produced this year's sequel. The deal, Anderson is made to understand, is that the studio is making a sequel with or without him, and that he would thus be advised to participate. 

You can already see the metaphor taking shape: This is a Matrix movie about the making of a Matrix sequel, with Anderson/Neo setup as a stand-in for the original film's creators. 

And thus it is built around poking fun at the inevitable demands for a Matrix sequel, and the process by which one comes together. So we get scenes of irritating creative types brainstorming what a new Matrix game would need—a "new bullet time" to update the earlier film's signature visual, story elements that lend themself to kaleidoscopic interpretation so as to maintain cultural relevance, and so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, nearly every scene in the first two hours of the running time is devised as a direct callback to a similar scene from the original trilogy, often with direct quotes or repeated images, which plays like an extended gag about the ways that sequels are expected to recycle and remix their predecessors. 

If this sounds like a curious and unnecessarily complex gimmick on which to build a zillion-dollar action blockbuster, well, that's probably because it is. This is a meta-movie, not only about itself, but about how all franchise films inevitably become about themselves. In that way, it's rather timely, since it follows so closely on the heels of Spider-Man: No Way Home, an incredibly insular, fan-service-laden franchise sequel built entirely around pre-existing fan appreciation for the various cinematic iterations of Spider-Man. But where No Way Home simply delivered on the self-referentiality that is now de rigueur for such sequels, The Matrix Resurrections attempts to reveal that self-referentiality, exposing it at every stage of the process, almost like a Penn & Teller magic trick—even while doing exactly the thing it must do. 

There's an amusing and frequently clever self-mockery to the proceedings. And if nothing else, the movie is a fascinating experiment in franchise deconstruction. It's worth seeing for its goofy audacity, especially if you're a fan of the originals. 

But ultimately it doesn't all hold together. Partly, that's because Wachowski and co-screenwriters Aleksandar Hemon and David Mitchell don't quite seem to know what they want to say with their meta-movie narrative device aside from: Hey, look at this meta-movie gimmick! 

And partly that's because, with one possible exception at the end, none of the action scenes have the visual clarity, expert pacing, or iconic confidence that made the original trilogy's big action scenes so memorable and influential. Indeed, whenever the action scenes nod to comparable moments in the original series, the connections almost always serve as reminders of how good those action sequences were, and how muddy and uninspired most of this movie's big action beats are. As an action blockbuster, the new film is a disappointment. 

The Matrix Resurrections is an odd psycho-analysis of The Matrix's cultural footprint more than a true Matrix successor. I enjoyed its bold weirdness, but while I'm always ready for a lively thinkpiece about The Matrix, like the one Kat Rosenfield recently penned for Reason, I wish Lana Wachowski had freed her mind from the constraints of the original a little more.

NEXT: William Shatner Goes to Space

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  1. Fuck Joe Biden

  2. William Shatner goes to space

    Soon to be next passenger (for the attention).

    "Where no Trans has gone before...."

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  5. Thanks for the review. Pass.

  6. I'm sorry, this review keeps talking about some "original trilogy", rather than the "original movie", as if there had been previous sequels to The Matrix . . . or at least ones worth remembering.

    1. I saw the first one, loved it. Saw the next two based on the good memories from the first one, but they left me cold. I basically wiped them all from my memory as not worth the storage space. Now this one? I'd have to rewatch at least the first one, possibly all three, and that sounds like a terrible way to waste a lot of time.

    2. I didn't think they sank to the level of Alien3, but the 3rd Matrix left a lot to be desired, 2nd was so-so.

    3. I liked the 2nd one. The talk with the architect is amazingly well done. However, it definitely has a problem the 1st one didn't have - you can't just watch it as a popcorn action flick. It requires you to 'get' what the movie is doing to appreciate it.

      The 3rd one fell pretty flat. I was disappointed.

      This review, however, has convinced me i need to watch the new one, if only to witness a train wreck in progress.

      1. My theory all along is that they had a cool idea for the Matrix but didn't realize just how much of a hit they'd come up with. The first movie wasn't conceived of as more than a standalone story set within a larger, but undeveloped mythology.
        After the original blew up, they had to develop that mythology which they hadn't planned on doing. When they did so, they weren't writing their original idea, but tacking on elements influenced by the many interpretations they and others had of The Matrix after the fact.

        1. My impression as well. Not sequels, but $equel$.

      2. They could have trimmed fat from the 2nd and 3rd movies and combined them to make one good movie.

      3. I thought the second was the best of the original trilogy, tbh... If and when I go back to watch one of these, it is most often the 2nd... pretty much never the 3rd, sometimes the first.

        I watched the new one and thought it was "ok" but I didn't have many expectations. I think if I had, I would have found it disappointing. TBH, my overwhelming impression was "enough already, let this old horse stay dead." I'll probably watch it another time to see if I can make more sense of it - I'm not one who watches movies with a lot of concentration - but I find it hard to believe I'd want a repeat after that.

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  10. Maybe a Matrix tv series. Then an animated series. Then an alternate world version. And perhaps an MTV Beach House: The Matrix.

  11. one of the siblings behind the original series

    I thought the Wachowski Bros. were dead?

  12. Why is every reviewer out there butthurt that spider man gave fans what they want?

    1. I think Superman is just angry his woke superhero project ‘The Adventures of Superman’ will never get made.

  13. sounds like Lana Wachowski has been listening to mid-70s Pink Floyd.

  14. Hated, hated, hated “The Matrix”. I’ll take my king fu movies without half-assed intellectual pretensions, thank you.

    1. Not to mention it was like a three-hour commercial for sunglasses and leather capes.

    2. You obviously prefer your half assed intellectual pretensions from your democrat masters.

    3. This is not shocking to anyone.

    4. Spoken like a true Power Rangers fan.

    5. The plot was too complex.

    6. Please, they weren't half-assed intellectual pretensions. They were fully assed intellectual pretensions.

      1. Fair enough.

  15. Funny the comments you find in a 'Reason' magazine reader thread.

  16. And partly that's because, with one possible exception at the end, none of the action scenes have the visual clarity, expert pacing, or iconic confidence that made the original trilogy's big action scenes so memorable and influential. Indeed, whenever the action scenes nod to comparable moments in the original series, the connections almost always serve as reminders of how good those action sequences were, and how muddy and uninspired most of this movie's big action beats are.

    It sounds like that's exactly what should be expected from this.

    1. Yeah, i read that and thought: "that sounds like an intentional commentary on franchise movies".

  17. Well, this just confirms how I was already leaning. I'll wait to rent it from RedBox for a couple of bucks.

  18. "I wish Lana Wachowski had freed her mind from the constraints of the original a little more."

    She used to have balls.

    1. Idk, it takes balls to make fun of her budgetary masters in the movie they're paying for.

    2. She traded them in for the option of contemplating her navel.

  19. So, what, an action movie version of Adaptation basically...?

  20. Literally every reviewer of this film has described it as "meta". Is Zuckerberg somehow involved?

    1. Because, unlike the original, the writing is so terribly unsubtle that it makes sense for you to ask.

    1. Why? Do you read into The Matrix a pro-disease message?

  21. "It's a weird, fascinating, frankly bizarre movie."

    Might want to save this one for every single Wachowski project. Clearly they fell into the Lucas/Cameron trap (also, more tragically, Michael Cimino). Never give someone who created a great movie an infinite amount of money and total creative control. You might learn that it was a fluke or a product of youthful exuberance. At this point I'm not even sure Lucas had anything to do with Star Wars.

    I'm having trouble figuring out what kind of special effects a new Matrix movie could do that would make the impact of the original. The only movie lately that has impressed me with special effects is Dune, and that's because it went minimalist and slow, which doesn't seem appropriate for this franchise.

    1. Might want to save this one for every single Wachowski project.

      Nope. Jupiter Ascending... Speed Racer... neither weird nor fascinating nor bizarre, just dumb. Bound was only really exceptionally good if you have a male gaze delusion (whether you're male or not) for Gershon and Tilly.

      1. exceptionally good

        Sorry, exceptionally fascinating.

  22. ”You’ve been living in a dream world Neo.” The Matrix

    The compelling nature of that movie is how it reflects current global reality.

    Instead of having a computer generated parallel reality we all have been lied to through propaganda for generations.

    With the aid of mainstream media those who benefit from controlling our behaviour apply brainwashing propaganda with only as much real force as is required such that we don’t revolt and bring down the illusion.

    Our choices are limited, not by reality, but by ourselves being manipulated by propaganda and force as required.

    Those of us who recognize reality are either part of the conspiracy or steadfastly opposed to it.

    The rest of us, I’m probably talking about you are like the movie said simply aware that something isn’t right and have developed coping reactions like bigotry or carelessness. Anything that fits into the brainwashed worldview that you already recognize reality and are acting in accordance with it. Anything but the unthinkable.

    Such is life. The velvet chains of delusion are indeed comfortable and truth will definitely reveal gritty unpleasantries about ourselves and others that you will feel coerced not to expose.

    Neo had a similar choice. Take the blue pill and believe whatever you want to, or take the red pill and recognize and accept the truth, reality.

    Knowing my background here, you’re probably terrified by the prospect that I’m absolutely right. I don’t blame you, that’s how brainwashing is supposed to work. Manipulating your emotions and principles with carefully engineered misinformation.

    In fact, I am doing a similar thing only without the misinformation. I am offering the truth which is demonstrated by the fact it can’t be refuted. I know that acting in accordance with truth/reality is the driver of evolution for all living things and that your survival depends on it.

    I’m betting that many of you will recognize this and try to refute what doesn’t fit into your worldview. I know you won’t be able to refute truth. I’m betting that you will have to consciously choose blue or red. Not left vs right but bigotry and carelessness vs truth and righteousness, extinction vs evolution.

    The only choice you really don’t have is not to choose.

    1. That's like, deep, man.

    2. Never forget that Rob here is a nazi who denies the Holocaust so him talking about blue and red pills is peak irony.

      1. You will never forget that neither you nor anyone else has ever refuted anything that I’ve said here.

      2. That’s what I’m talking about.

  23. I don't quite understand what the movie is about? The plot is especially absent, the film ends with nothing, and the fifth part is inevitable. In general, The Matrix is a never-ending theme, you can write as many scenarios as you like if the viewer agrees to watch

  24. Just finished watching, D+. More modern movie garbage. Male protagonist gets nerfed in favor of Strong Wahmen and the plot goes along for the same shitty ride. Even going so far as having the line, "Don't rob her of her agency." growled at Neo.

    Remember how people in our world, by-and-large, didn't wear what Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus wore in The Matrix? Yeah, blue hair and tattoos all around. Remember how, in their world the people outside The Matrix generally didn't look like they did when they were in The Matrix? Yeah, the sleek black look inside the Matrix has been diversified with shabby shic and punk stylings and tattered rags outside the Matrix have been mended into well-made, if not dated, garments. Remember how desperate things were in the original movie when Twitch and Apoc died? Remember the profundity of Neo dying and being reborn? Yeah, nobody who matters enough to be given a name dies in this one. Remember how even in the sequels, there is at least an impending sense that Zion was going to be destroyed and the protagonists were saving humanity? Yeah, everybody seems to be trying to save Neo because, uh, Neo and Trinity need saving I guess. Even for Trinity and Neo it's not even clear that we're watching them save themselves. The line that Suderman praises about 'free minds' is uttered between Trinity and Neo in a manner meant to ape Agents and invoke a "Did we maybe just for the bad guys?" self-awareness(?). Even the acting was hit or miss from character to character and even within for some characters. Admittedly, some seemed tasked with coming up with hybrids of characters from the original but even if well executed, it comes across as muting better characters in order to achieve a poorer amalgamation.

    The additional "fear and loathing" and meta-cognitive aspects were an enhancement over the original, but they only lasted ~5 min., just enough to keep the movie from being an abject failure. And, again, generating flat disorientation rather than the detachment that the original inspired. Suderman is absolutely on point about the fighting. Garbage in comparison to the original. This movie looks more like a SyFy channel special in comparison. It makes Push look like a good movie in comparison.

    They even close on a female voice singing the same song, same lyrics as RATM's Wake Up. Maybe, just maybe, it's a profound call from the Wachowski Sisters to wake up from the stupid insanity they've walked themselves into. Don't care. Probably would've been better executed by M. Night Shyamalan. Deleted from my consciousness and not watching it again.

    1. Actually, I remember figuring out in about the first half our that Zion and the life 'outside' the Matrix were just another layer of the Matrix, and there wasn't really any way out of it. Because none of it made the least bit of sense otherwise.

      1. Sure, but especially having no ability to know any different after the first movie, it's at least plausible that the characters freshly liberated from the Matrix believed they were saving humanity. Did you think Morpheus didn't believe he was saving humanity/Zion? Even if the message turned out to be false or the wool was pulled over their or just Neo's eyes, the message that Neo is a/the great hope of survival is conveyed. There's a couple of points where they could've flat out stated what the threat was in this movie but, AFAICT, they didn't. You get the gist that people are still wary of *some* machines, but beyond that, there's not even a hint of why Neo needs saving except, uh, you know, protagonists and stuff.

        If you saw through the layers of 2 and 3 in 30 min., you're really not going to like this movie. Worse than Revenge of The Sith.

    2. ""Don't rob her of her agency." growled at Neo. "

      Lol... did you miss that that was said not to criticize Neo, but to criticize the other character? If you expect to see Wokism everywhere, you're going to see it everywhere, but that wasn't a woke line, that was actually chiding Neo for giving the other character a pass... "Don't rob of her agency" basically meant "don't make excuses for her, I'm about to bust her ass." Don't see that as woke at all.

  25. I actually thought it was pretty decent. It's more Philip K Dickian, especially in the first half, but also seems to borrow more from Gnostic theology about the divine self having both female and male aspects that must be united

  26. I loved the first three. 2 and 3 (together... it is literally one movie shot at one time split onto two reels for theateic releases) ia/are my favorite because I like resolution and a fuller universe. The first is just the teaser for me. I know... odd man out. I am OK with that.

    Spoilers below

    This one... only thing I can say is what I said to my wife as soon as it was over. "I liked it... but it should never have been made." On its own... it is absolutely acceptable as an entertaining movie on TNT when nothing else is on. But as a part of the lore... it undermines the whole point of the originals. Neo is no longer THE One... he is now One of a Pair. Since when? Since when did the Architect split the remainder of choice, the anomaly, into two where someone else has the power to manipulate the Matrix as they see fit? The One could manipulate the Matrix because he was of the Matrix. He was part code, the remainder of the balance of choice built into the system to keep everyone else captive. But now there are multiple people who can do that? And in a completely different coded Matrix, at that? And how did Smith make it from the old Matrix to the new one? Or Sati? Or Merv? If a new Matrix is built it will have new programs. Why would it ever be hooked up to the old Matrix to allow exiles and corrupt programs access to it? Is the Analyst just a shitty Architect? And way to screw Niobi. She was awesome... now she's Locke 2.0? I guess "Some things change..."

    And since when did the Machines have the ability to create carbon-based life from scratch? They literally revived two dead humans and rebuilt their bodies... and Neo never stops to think, "Holy shit... my eyes are back!" It's just hours later the Machines are like "Oh... btw... before we forget to explain this plot point, yeah... we can do that... moving on."

    And I still am not quite sure wtf is up with this new digi-Morpheus. He is Agent Smith, only aware? Is he part of the Matrix game? So he's in a game in the Matrix... but gets pulled out of the game code straight into the World of the Real and can now operate there and in the Matrix if uploaded? They did a poor job world-building and setting the rules for this new movie.

    At least the movie was self aware enough to admit in the first part that it knows it shouldn't exist. I give them credit for that.

    1. Best take on this movie I've seen... bravo. "Decent... but never should have been made" is such a good call.

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