Almost two decades since 1999’s The Matrix exceeded all expectations, changing both the sci-fi genre and action films forever, filmmaker Lana Wachowski returns to the cyberpunk saga in an effort to rekindle the franchise. The Matrix Resurrections follows an older Neo (the still delightful Keanu Reeves) as he lives his life back in the Matrix – a simulated reality in which humans are unknowingly used as cattle by machines who harvest their energy.
Working as a game designer, his life is a stagnant routine that he grows to resent as he senses something amiss within the daily minutiae. His previous adventures and life prior to the daily grind have been reduced to bedtime stories by those who escaped the Matrix. But there are those who still hunt for Neo in this new era, including a rag-tag group of computer hackers (who may or may not be space pirates) in search of a new spiritual leader for many complicated reasons that are never clearly explained.
Decades have passed since Neo and his love Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) made the ultimate sacrifice to save the good people of Zion. The use of bullet-time technology to create seamless special effects, showcasing one jaw-dropping action set piece after another, rocked audiences and continues to impact filmmakers today. But the same can’t be said for the two films that followed. The original Matrix trilogy is made up of an innovative first chapter, a mediocre second act, and a completely confusing end-piece, creating a bizarre, uneven story that even die-hard fans have a hard time defending.
Resurrections is a film built on nostalgic foundation and not much else, but there’s still a lot to like if you’re a fan of the other film(s). It’s nice to see both Reeves and Moss return to their roles as star-crossed lovers whose existence is somehow vital to the human race. And new additions of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff as Morpheus 2.0 and Agent Smith II: Electric Boogaloo, along with franchise newcomer Neil Patrick Harris, bring some much-needed pizzazz to the high-tech tale. The remaining cast are fine as support, most of which are cast-offs from Wachowski’s canceled Netflix series Sense8 (an under-appreciated sci-fi series that makes for a sexy binge, FYI.)
Still, Resurrections is a strange film. Divided into two unequal parts, the first portion takes a big swing by embracing a self-referential portion of the story, making light of its fanbase and audience expectations. The second half sinks into the meta-hole it dug for itself, throwing out every Matrix cliche possible in an effort to stay relevant.
Also, some of the problems seen in the previous two films remain in this fourth installment, namely a mythos muddled by unclear ideology. Resurrections relies on the same jumbled doctrine of the sci-fi fable to continue what was always a somewhat perplexing story. The result makes for massive inconsistencies and plot holes that are hard to hide behind CGI. The film requires a lot of heavy lifting from its audience, including a full deep dive into the previous Matrix movies, which is quite a burden to bear.
While it’s fun to watch Neo up to his old tricks, this can only carry the movie for so long. In the end, Resurrections is an odd experiment in ‘90s sentimentality. It’s shabby storytelling wrapped in a special effects extravaganza that can’t quite be saved by Keanu’s kung fu kicks. For super fans of the original, there are elements to enjoy, but for most movie-goers, it’s best to blue pill this one.