The Matrix Resurrections (2021) Review

A TERRIBLE DECISION

TO REOPENING PANDORA’S BOX


 

1999’s The Matrix was truly something unique and a true cinematic journey, with mind-bending sci-fi visuals and action as well as philosophical ideas. Created by the Wachowskis (formerly known as Andy and Larry Wachowskis), the film, which starred Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, and Hugo Weaving, followed computer programmer Thomas Anderson, under the hacker alias “Neo”, who uncovers the truth that his reality (called The Matrix) is a simulated reality and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines who control The Matrix program. The Matrix delivered on its premise of a science fiction “Alice in Wonderland”, creating a vivid dystopian future of action and mystery, with Neo taking viewers on an intriguing hunt for purpose and understanding, with the Wachowskis capitalizing on the late 90s action aesthetics and the use of cutting-edge visual effects. The Matrix went on to become a pop culture icon for the next few years, with two sequels were quickly ordered into production, with The Matrix Reloaded being released in summer of 2003 and The Matrix Revolutions later that same year. Both sequels were ambitious projects; expanding upon the original film’s narrative and telling a much larger story. Critics and moviegoers viewed the two sequels as flawed, but still undeniably exciting at times, with the Wachowskis placing a large emphasis on the bleak future and the epic war between humans and machines, creating an enormous blockbuster ending to a saga that began with a simple question of understanding identity.  Now, roughly after eighteen years since the conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions, Warner Bros. Studios and director Lana Wachowski journey back down the proverbial sci-fi “rabbit hole” once again for their fourth installment of this franchise in The Matrix Resurrections. Is this long-awaited sequel movie worth reopening the series again or does it completely miss its mark on what made The Matrix unique with this unnecessary next chapter?

THE STORY


Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is living in San Francisco as a game designer, who’s made quite a name for himself as the mastermind creator behind of video game “The Matrix” and its two sequels, taking gamers on a wild mind-bending ride of sci-fi reality trip. These days, however, he’s dealing with bouts of depression and anxiety, working with a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) to understand some unexpected flashes of memories that he can’t fully explain, which previously inspired failed attempts of feats of superhuman abilities. Those surreal memories are further brought to the surface with coffee shop run-ins with Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), a woman he feels strange connection with, but can’t quite figure out why. Feeling as if he is losing his grip on reality, Thomas is hit with frightening situation of mental health when a chain of events begins to happen, including being confronted by a man who calls himself Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who offers the man a chance to break the chokehold of what he perceives as “the real world” from the mechanical clutches of a simulated reality. Electing to find answers, Thomas follows Morpheus and is soon joined by Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a warrior from Io who is looking to bring Thomas’s true identity of Neo, a prophesied hero, back to life to thwart a new challenge in the Matrix.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Much like what I said in my opening paragraph, there is no denying (whether you loved them or hated them) the fact of how much The Matrix franchise has left on cinematic movie landscape. Big ideas, philosophical meanings, and questions of choice and identity…. all wrapped within the filmmaking viewing experience of a big sci-fi action blockbuster endeavor. The first film definitely feels like a late 90s movie (to me personally), with a larger emphasis on the action set-pieces, while the latter sequels have more of a grand scope and scale of humanity’s war with the machines. For all of its pretense and looking back, I still love The Matrix series, with the first one having the best collective entertainment from start to finish. Additionally, I know that I’m going to get a lot of flack for this, but I did actually like the two Matrix sequels Reloaded and Revolutions. I definitely can see why people hated them, but I think that they two films told a good story and did what they were supposed to do…..expand upon the original feature and give away for a platform of epic sci-fi adventure. Of course, the two sequels were a bit messy, and the technology of CGI visual effects were exactly up to par with what the movie wanted them to be (i.e., the whole “Smith” fight in Reloaded), but again…. I liked them for what they were. I mean, the long twenty-ish minute fight scene in Reloaded was great and the whole invasion of Zion in Revolutions was just as intense and exciting to see. Plus, even though it doesn’t get mention as much as the original trilogy, but I did like The Animatrix, which were great short animated films and each one had a different style and feeling. I mean two-part “Second Renaissance” one and “Final Fight of the Osiris” were my favorite. Overall, I think that The Matrix series was and still good entertainment escapism (for better or worse); capturing large philosophical ideas within sci-fi setting, while creating big cinematic action throughout. It’s not a perfect trilogy, but it is one that has made its mark on cinema history.

This brings me back to talking about The Matrix Resurrections, a 2021 sci-fi action adventure film and the fourth installment in The Matrix franchise. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, given the amount of success that series had received, it was almost a forgone conclusion that The Matrix franchise would eventually be reopened one day….it was just a question of when and who would do it. I mean, the ending of Revolutions left a lot of room to return and explore what happens next (i.e., what became of Neo?). So, the sort of “wait game” began and nothing was really mentioned about it, with the years rolling by one after the other. It was until a few years ago that I heard the first talks of Warner Bros. Studios mentioning wanting to return The Matrix series, with the Wachowskis (at least one of them) returning to helm to the project. After that, it was officially announced, with actor Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss also returning to reprise their Matrix character lead roles for this upcoming film. Like many, that got me quite excited. Soon, the film’s movie trailers were released and, like many out there, it got me quite interested; wanting to revisit The Matrix franchise once again as I went back and rewatched them all. Of course, I did have a few doubts lingering in the back of my mind, but The Matrix Resurrections was definitely one my “most anticipated films” of 2021 and, for one, wanted to see where this fourth chapter was going to go.

So, with the movie’s release date set for December 22nd, 2021, I was planning on seeing The Matrix Resurrections during the holiday season, with the feature being the last of the Warner Bros.’s releases of 2021 that was going to be released in theaters as well as being released on HBO Max simultaneously. I decided to watch the movie on HBO Max and in the comforts of my docile dwelling as my holiday work schedule was busy and wasn’t going to have the chance to see the film in theaters. However, given my work schedule taken a bit more precedent, I got a little backed up on doing my movie reviews, with The Matrix Resurrections being one of the reviews that got delayed for a bit. Now, I finally have some time to share my thoughts on this highly anticipated film. So…. what did I think of it? Well, it’s a disappointing one. Despite a few good / interesting ideas and concepts as well as strong returning of Reeves, The Matrix Resurrections flounders within its own sci-fi aesthetics; lacking finesse and execution in almost every area, which results in a messy and disjointed sequel. There’s lot of potential that this fourth Matrix film, but Resurrections just squanders that potential in a bland and unsatisfying installment. Basically, this is one rabbit whole that you really don’t want to go down……

As mentioned, The Matrix Resurrections is directed by Lana Wachowski, whose the half of directorial team behind The Matrix trilogy as well as director / creative mind behind other projects like Speed Racer, Jupiter Ascending, and Cloud Atlas. Given her background and overall inception creation of this particular sci-fi action franchise, Lana seems like the obvious choice in shaping a fourth title in The Matrix series. In this regard, it’s a somewhat “mixed feeling” as some things don’t exactly work (more on that below), while other do. For the positives, the continuity feeling of bridging a fourth installment into the franchise from Revolutions to Resurrections is in of someone who is familiar with the source material property, with Wachowski being a prime example to unfold and present the next chapter of where Neo’s journey goes. What I can definitely praise Wachowski for doing when approaching / shaping Resurrections is making the movie about Neo and what happened to him after Revolutions. There is a couple of areas where the logic and storytelling gets a bit convoluted, but I think that Wachowski does a decent job in reintroducing the character of Neo through the eyes of his Matrix persona of Thomas Anderson; flashing glimpses of the past that can’t be explain, which act as “nostalgia catch up” to us (the viewers) in a somewhat refresher for the past Matrix films. After the first act ends, Wachowski goes head first of trying to reinvent the Matrix franchise; bringing several new ideas as well as old favorites thrown into the mix. The results are as I said a bit mixed, but there is a few snippets that actually do work.

What I think that Wachowski does best is keeps the film (for the most part) kept squarely on the protagonist character of Neo and his attempts to find / recover Trinity from the clutches of the machines. Despite all the sci-fi nuances, that has been the “beating heart” of the franchise since the beginning and I think that Resurrections places a much larger emphasis on that notion, which is a good thing; keeping the story (relatively speaking) grounded in humanity connection within a sci-fi dystopian landscape. Plus, I do like how Wachowski introduces a new character (Bugs) as a somewhat secondary protagonist character beyond Neo and Trinity (more on that below) and I think is a good and probably the best thing to come out of Resurrections. In addition, there are a few few callbacks and references from past entries that make there way into Resurrections and, while there’s too much meta, those few are welcomed sights….and I like them.

In terms of presentation, Resurrections is what you would expect from a large scale blockbuster endeavor in a somewhat good and bad way. As a whole, I think that the movie looks decent and definitely has enough “bigness” to make the film feel and look (aesthetically speaking) pleasing to look at. Like before, the urban city landscape within The Matrix virtual world looks the same, but has a more updated “modernize” look about it, which (again) speaks to the today’s world of cityscapes, with the juxtaposition of bleak and desolate dystopian future of “the real world” outside the Matrix acting as a tonal contrast, which (like the previous Matrix films) is captured beautifully. Thus, I think that the film’s production “behind the scenes” team, including Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole (production design), Lisa Brennan and Barbara Munch (set decorations), Tom Davies and Lindsay Pugh (costume designs) as well as the entire art direction department team, do good work in their respective areas; making Resurrections background setting world visually appealing. Even the film’s cinematography by Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll is relatively good; creating a few slick and sweeping moments that have that Matrix magic of old. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer, is a definite “fit” for Resurrections, which aides in the movie’s various scenes of action drama and / or character dialogue driven moments. That being said, I just don’t think the feature’s score is as strong nor as memorable as Don Davis’s score for The Matrix trilogy.

Unfortunately, Resurrections isn’t all that it is cracked up to be and, despite all the inherit hype and anticipation for this project, the film itself is weighed down by glaring problematic areas that sort of derail the project altogether. What went wrong? Well, perhaps the most problematic area that the movie struggles is in its script handling / shaping; finding Resurrections’ story to be the weakest of the entire franchise. Why? Well, to be quite honest, the plot in Resurrections is terrible. Well, that’s not to say that it has good ideas, but everything about the story is so…convoluted and lacking a cohesive structure. The script, which was penned by Wachowski as well as David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, seems to be all over the map, with the group dreaming up a lot of interesting ideas to get viewers re-interested in returning to The Matrix universe. However, what’s presented in Resurrections is very messy and haphazard; feeling disjointed right from the get-go, with the script fumbling through a series of sequences that don’t exactly work well. Yes, there is a main storyline thread and there is indeed a good dose sci-fi concept / ideas, but all of it never jives well enough together to make for some compelling science fiction action or even a noteworthy narrative. Good storytelling requires something worth telling and Resurrections just isn’t quite there when it comes to its plot. The story is just okay, but gets even worse when compounded with a lot of unnecessary sub-plot threads and world building nuances that just convolute the main narrative. This makes Resurrections bloated with superfluous details and side-stories that falter and make the feature’s main story feel bland. Plus, almost everything else about the film just screams mediocre and never really gets off the ground; feeling like a fan-service epilogue to a trilogy that really didn’t needed to be expanded upon in the first place.

In addition, another big problem in Resurrections is the multitude (and I do mean multitude) of meta content that is put into the movie. What do I mean? Well, the self-awareness of The Matrix meta references in Resurrections is astounding and almost to the point of being totally obnoxious. Yes, we get it. The Matrix is and that and quite easy to poke fun of it, for Resurrections script weaves these notions throughout a large portion of the first act of the film (and a few other areas in the rest of the feature), but amount of meta references and content definitely out stays its welcome and becomes an “eye-rolling” groaner. Some “meta” is fine in a movie, which can fun in the self-aware department of its ridiculousness nature and / or concept, but I think that we all can agree that meta references in Resurrections is way too much.

Looking beyond that, I would say that the film’s action is lacking and becomes a problem area for the film. Whether kung fu fighting, car chases, or CG visually filled fighting, The Matrix franchise has been known for the stylish (and sometimes well-choreographed) fighting sequences that have its own personal unique swagger and distinct feel throughout; producing some memorable moments within its aesthetics and dramatic action scenes. Resurrections, however, feels somewhat of a step back from the rest of the series and actually (if I’m being honest) doesn’t live up to the franchise standards of what many would expect from a Matrix title. Sure, there is plenty of those iconic styles of fighting and action in the film, but it’s all mudded and just adequate. One would think that Wachowski and her team would want to try to emulate or even top the various action style sequences with this fourth installment of the Matrix franchise. Yet, despite that notion, what’s presented in Resurrections is just okay and nothing really stands out and / or is quite memorable like some of the fight / action scenes in the previous films. To me, that’s quite disappointing, especially since the earlier Matrix movies came out almost two decades ago and that cinematic filmmaking and overall “movie magic” has certainly been updated since then. Thus, the various actions scenes in Resurrections are kind of “meh” and not that memorable.

Even the film’s visuals are a bit underwhelming. Yes, as I mentioned above, there is plenty of blockbuster flair to keep the movie going and seamless in its CGI wizardry, but a lot of it doesn’t really feel that great. I do agree that some sequences of computer generated visual effect shots are pretty good, especially ones that showcase the bleak dystopian future outside of The Matrix world and feel other areas therein. However, most of everything doesn’t really “push” the envelope of cinematic visual effects; something one would think that a new Matrix movie would try to do. Thus, what’s given is decent enough in a passable way, but isn’t quite as polish, smooth, or “mind-blowing” as one would expect from this latest entry in this sci-fi franchise.

This also brings up the film’s climatic point and resolution, which leaves a sour and almost unsatisfying taste in my mouth. What’s presented seems very rushed and not really throughout properly in the storyboard process, with Resurrections concluding on somewhat puzzling note. Yes, there is a definite ending, but it feels like that they (Wachowski and the other writers) didn’t really know how to end Resurrections’s story; drumming up a very messy ending that doesn’t have a good feeling by the time the film reaches the end credits. Again, there’s a lot of good ideas in the movie and lot of them never quite pan out, with initial setup never really having the exact payoff in the movie’s climax resolution. Thus, the ending dangles a lot of concepts unfinished and feels like a there’s a larger story that might be at play of which we’ll never see. And that’s disappointing.

The cast in Resurrections is relatively good, for the most part, with several recognizable acting talents attached to this sci-fi action project. However, much like the previous Matrix movies of the past, the various characters in the film are thinly sketched and sort of one-dimensional; serving the purpose for background characters or to move the plot forward. That being said, the acting skills of actor Keanu Reeves and actress Carrie-Anne Moss are still as strong as it was back in the original 1999 movie as Matrix protagonist and co-lead love interest character of Thomas Anderson / Neo and Trinity. Reeves, who is known for his roles in the John Wick franchise as well as Speed and Point Break, makes a fantastic return to the franchise in Resurrection; returning to the iconic Mr. Anderson / Neo character that was to be considered one of his most memorable character roles of his career. Though he has certainly age over the past twenty some odd years, Reeves is still top-notch when it comes to playing Neo; selling the character the same way that he did two decades ago. He never over acts his dialogue lines and feels very much the same; finding his Neo to be one of the more focal points (and highlight) of the feature itself. Likewise, Moss, who is known for her roles in Fido, Memento, and Jessica Jones, easily slides back into her Matrix role; finding her return as Trinity to be quite effective. Much like Reeves, Moss never overacts and overplays her portrayal of Trinity in Resurrections, with her character being more of a focal point in the film’s narrative than before. In truth, Resurrections sort of capitalizes on their characters’ relationship of Neo and Trinity for the main point of the feature’s story / plot, with the on-screen chemistry between Reeves and Moss is still as intense and quite effective as it was all those years ago. It’s the driving force behind the movie and I think that’s definitely one of biggest things that the film has going for it (as I mentioned it above). Thus, whatever you think about Resurrections, no one can really deny the fact that having Reeves and Moss return to reprise their characters of Neo and Trinity is fun, great, and wholesome for Matrix continuity.

The Matrix Resurrections has a few new cast members enlisted into The Matrix franchise, with some portraying familiar characters from the series; providing new sight in how we (as the viewer) see them. Perhaps the best one that ultimately works is in actor Jonathan Groff as Thomas’s business partner / Neo’s archnemesis…Smith. Known for his roles in Frozen, Glee, and Hamilton, Groff is fine actor and his speech dialogue and delivery lines shows that throughout his career. Thus, his inclusion in Resurrections is a welcomed one and provides the same arrogant / blithe lines that actor Hugo Weaving portrayed in the character of Smith in the original Matrix trilogy is replicated perfectly. Yes, it’s all a bit hammy, but it definitely works. In a similar fashion, actor Neil Patrick Harris turns a fun performance in the character role who is called The Analyst, Thomas’s therapist and new “Architect” of The Matrix. Known for his roles in How I Met Your Mother, Gone Girl, and Starship Troopers, Harris, much like Groff, is perfectly casted in the film and provides a calculated and smarmy bravado in The Analyst character that is amusing to watch whenever he’s on-screen. Together, both Groff and Harris give hammy performances, yet it works quite well in Resurrection’s presentation.

Beyond Reeves and Moss’s return, the only other original acting talent who returns (barring a fun, brief cameo) is actress Jada-Pinkett Smith, who reprises her Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions character of Niobe. Pinkett-Smith, who is known for her roles in Scream 2, Collateral, and The Nutty Professor, is a character that I always like from the two Matrix sequels and to see her return to reprise her role of Niobe was definitely a treat. Her character development was also somewhat interesting and a bit compelling; finding her character much older, yet wiser as the new general of the human bastion against the machines. I kind of wished that she did play a large part in Resurrections, but I did like what was given in the film’s final presentation. Sadly, of the supporting players, who doesn’t is actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who play the iconic Matrix character of Morpheus. Known for his roles in Aquaman, Candyman, and The Greatest Showman, Abdul-Mateen II is indeed a good actor and does a somewhat decent job in his performance in Resurrections. However, the film’s script mishandles his interpretation of Morpheus, including on why he looks different, as he becomes important in the first act of the movie’s story and then becomes more and more irrelevant to the plot and almost seems like an afterthought by the time reaches its climatic resolution. More to the point…. it’s kind of hard to shake off that is doing a poor man’s portrayal of what original Matrix actor Laurence Fishburne was able to accomplish in his creation of the Morpheus character. Thus, Abdul-Mateen II seems like the weakest character in Resurrections, which given the palpable importance of Morpheus in The Matrix narrative, is disappointing.

All that being said, who actually shines the best (of all the newcomers in the movie) is the character of Bugs, a young blue-haired gunslinger and captain of the Mnemosyne and who is played by actress Jessica Henwick. Known for her roles in Game of Thrones, Iron Fist, and Love and Monsters, Henwick is more of a relatively unknown compared to most of her Resurrection co-stars, but still has a great presence in the film, with Bugs connecting the dots in the first act of the feature and bringing Neo out of his Thomas Anderson shell. She fierce, capable, and definitely holds her own. I really thought that she was a fun character and, while I do hardly doubt that a sequel to Resurrections is in the cards, I would love a side spin-off film get commissioned with Henwick’s Bugs as the central character. Heck, I would’ve rather seeing that movie than this one.

Unfortunately, most of the Bug’s other crew members of the Mnemosyne, including actor Toby Onwumere (Sense8 and Empire) as the operator Sequoia, actor Brian J. Smith (Sense8 and Treadstone) as the crew’s “Neologist” named Berg, actress Eréndira Ibarra (Sense8 and Camelia La Texana) as crew member Lexy are pretty much throwaway characters; merely background characters in a few scenes. That was kind of the same with many of the additional crew members from Nebuchadnezzar from The Matrix, so I sort of knew that was going to be the case when they were first introduced. Since most of them had worked with Wachowskis on Sense8, it seems that most of them were brought on-board Resurrections for some glorified cameos. Still, for better or worse, these particular characters are thinly-sketched as the various crew members and are mostly to be considered as minor supporting players in the film. Lastly, there are a few other minor characters in Resurrections (a few cameos), so I won’t spoil them for you…. just be on the lookout for them. I found one or two of them a bit surprising.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Thomas Anderson fragile state of mind is shattered when he begins to find out who he really is and takes a journey down the rabbit hole to reawaken who he really is in the movie The Matrix Resurrections. Director Lana Wachowski latest film returns to the mind-bending sci-fi world that began back in 1999; creating a fourth installment that continues the adventure of Neo and Trinity as they fight to save their world from villainous machinations at work. While the movie does some good ideas that are well-placed and the acting is mostly fine across the board, the film itself is riddled with glaring problematic areas, including a very convoluted script, lackluster action scenes, grating over usage of meta content references, mediocre visuals, wonky narrative / creative decisions, and poor execution all the way around. Personally, I did not care for this movie. Yes, it had some great ideas and the acting all solid all the way around, but almost everything about this film is just sloppy handled and not as enticing as the original Matrix trilogy. To me, this was one of the more disappointing movies of the long-awaited sequels because it had the potential too go far and rise above the criticisms of sequel entries, but squanders its chances and falls (for the most part) flat. Thus, it should come at no surprise that my recommendation for this movie is profound “skip it” as it does little to revigorate the idea of returning to the franchise for a new cinematic age. Of course, the film’s ending is a bit ambiguous and kind of / sort of leaves the door open for a possible sequel, but, given the reception that this particular movie has received, that idea doesn’t seem to in the cards; making The Matrix Resurrections just a terrible cogent coda decision to reopen pandora’s box to mediocre fanfare.

2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)

 

Released On: December 22nd, 2021
Reviewed On: January 10th, 2022

The Matrix Resurrections  is 148 minutes long and is rated R for violence and some language

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