Those who are good at what they do make it look easy. For all the financial arm wrestles, meticulous storyboarding and influence pilfering from all kinds of cultural and philosophical nests, the original Matrix was as effortlessly crafted as it was expertly intricate.
But the world has changed. I feel that the Matrix Resurrections tried not to reinvent a wheel it partly invented, just reiterate the importance of human emotion in a machine and technology dominated world. Resurrections plays on more tangible strengths. While it may rely too much on its own legacy, it does just about enough to justify its existence.
It’s as important to recap where (literally and metaphorically) we left the Matrix universe as well as establish the simulated landscape 20 years on, with our previously deceased protagonists. Well, the film is suffixed with the word “Resurrections” after all.
At the end of the Matrix Revolutions, a truce was reached between humans and machines. Mutual reliance. Harmony. The man seen as a savior by some and an anomaly by one in particular saved both worlds from the common threat- the maniacal agent Smith. But Smith, as well as Neo and Trinity are back- how is this possible? What Is believed to be the seventh iteration of the Matrix is surely just a more stable update by the architect?
Neo seemingly is living an ordinary existence under his original moniker of Thomas A Anderson 20 years after the conclusion of the trilogy, but is given drugs resembling the blue pill to counteract strange hallucinations and dreams and anxiety he’s been having.
At this point, a gleefully sinister Neil Patrick Harris flip flops between being sympathetic to just plain mean.
I’m trying hard not to spoil any plot points, suffice to say that Initially Smith and Harris remix our perception of their roles as antagonists. Every day we reboot. Wake up. Go to work. Neo was a savior, superhero and even a god.
However, we are no longer just seeing either world through Neos eyes. Instead, his audience fuels his confusion, with his manipulated subconscious trying to understand his role, albeit with a degree of distance. He knows something isn’t right, yet his reputation precedes him and he’s the literal victim of his own doing.
Ironically enough, Neos as well as The Matrix’s reputation precedes it with an overarching sense of returning to the scene of the crime. The first film is used not only as a continual reference, but more of a springboard. Resolutely pushing the narrative and motives forward while being explicitly meta and reminiscent.
Smith explains to Neo his final nihilistic revelation: “It was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.”
But the game has evolved and Neo seeks the truth, and the true purpose of not just himself. Now more than ever before, the Matrix Resurrections is a love story. It’s the emotional heart of a historically layered mechanism. The tantalizing ambiguity of Neo and Trinitys first meeting is the spine of the film and redefines the idea of choice.
Fittingly, hard lines are replaced by mirrors and reflections deal with the questions asked in the first film.
The deluge of nods, winks and cameos with a mostly satisfying evolution of the social commentary evident in the time since the first films release, the first act is gloriously if at times over indulgently self aware. How this is tackled ranges from ironically represented deja vu to awkwardly brazen acknowledgment.
The action is almost understated compared to recent blockbusters, Resurrections keeps things pretty tight, no where near the bloated action scenes and verbose exposition of the sequels and certainly no time for 15 minute car chases or burly brawls. The new special effects and technology are predictably slick, also carrying a bit of narrative weight as well. The cinematography is stellar, light and shadow creating kinetic and striking, and fleetingly iconic imagery.
Old characters have a very mixed degree of relevance, from almost comedic relief to exposition personified, but everything just about manages to keep pace.
While Harris and Groff are entertaining in their despicable plans, the new characters are mainly in the background, with only Bugs serving as a narrative lynch pin. Her presence brings us back into both the real and simulated world, with her attitude and snappy dialogue keeping things going.
I haven’t mentioned Morpheus, partly because it’s best you… “see for yourself”.
In the real world, Neo is once again faced with choice. But it is a potentially selfish one. Somewhat unfortunately the film does end up in the trap of chasing a Macguffin, but with an incredibly realized new machine world and inhabitants, a “new Zion” and a narrative evolution of bullet time, we are propelled through the various motives and altercations.
The film explores the notion that hope and despair are nearly identical, blurring the line between facts and fiction and the suppression of conflicting feelings. Confronting desire and fear while
conforming to the idea of comfort in certainty, Resurrections deals with forcing you to know your place and the amount of energy resistance.
Knowing the circumstances in which it came about makes Resurrections as resonant as the first was seminal, and ultimately dealing with acceptance. Moving on. Memories are valuable but sometimes let the past go. I can think of parallels all over the place- everything from Star Wars The Force Awakens to Jurassic World but ultimately, if reluctantly, it was good to just go back into that world.
Enjoyable, emotional and visually stunning, the Matrix Resurrections is the creators personal catharsis and another conclusion to an IP I had paradoxically let go of yet continually thought about for the last two decades. Does it use the first film too much? Probably. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and there were sequences that were more thought provoking than I thought they’d be.
EDIT! After seeing the film a second time, I just want to add that while it’s still mostly entertaining, it has as many problems as it does interesting ideas. The core relationships are still worth investing in, it’s slick, stylish and beautiful. BUT, it drags in places, the literal reliance on the first film was nostalgic and first time round felt almost disingenuous at times. While the ideas about choice, acceptance, purpose and reality are still interesting, along with things like dissociative personality or creators curse, it’s meta commentary swings from enlightening to embarrassing.
I still enjoyed it. But it’s definitely a different experience second time round.