Toss me into the camp with the few who never really got into the “Matrix” movies. The first film of the series, 1999’s “The Matrix”, was entertaining and built itself around a pretty cool premise. The second film, “The Matrix Reloaded”, features three spectacular action scenes but little else worth revisiting. The third movie, “The Matrix Revolutions”, was a forgettable slog that mercifully brought the series to an end (or so we thought).
While the idea behind “The Matrix” is interesting and its video game-ish action can be fun, it’s the series creators, the Wachowskis, that I’ve often struggled with. Their movies tend to be built around big ideas but too often feel cold and empty. Movies like “Cloud Atlas” and “Jupiter Ascending” are shining examples of how high ambition mixed with overindulgence can overpower good storytelling.
Now some 18 years since the last movie, one-half of the Wachowskis, Lana, steps back into the Matrix with “Resurrections”, a movie that seems to have been made with die-hard fans in mind. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and maybe there’s enough of that fan base to make this movie worthwhile. But for lukewarm viewers like me, or for those who have moved on from the near 20-year-old trilogy, there’s not much here to latch onto. Even worse, “Resurrections” is a slog, overburdened by endless exposition and lacking anything that feels remotely fresh.
Wachowski’s fourth installment sees Keanu Reeves reprising his role of Neo. Following his sacrifice in the previous film, Neo has been brought back and programmed into the Matrix as video game developer Thomas Anderson. He’s the creator of a popular trilogy of games inspired by a series of unexplained dreams that are actually memories from his previous time in and out of the Matrix.
After their offices are attacked by tactical troops who shoot so poorly they make Stormtroopers from Star Wars look like expert marksmen, Thomas/Neo is approached by a duller but sharper dressed Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). He once again gives the whole Red Pill/Blue Pill spiel which offers Neo a chance to have all his questions answered. Meanwhile Trinity (a returning Carrie Anne Moss) has been reinserted into the Matrix as a married mother of three named Tiffany who likes motorcycles and coffee (who doesn’t, right?)
After learning Trinity’s whereabouts, Neo wants to save her. But he’s informed by an old friend Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith reprising her role from the last two movies) that doing so could jeopardize the new underground human sanctuary called Io. But with the help of an ambitious and awe-struck young captain named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and her utterly forgettable crew, Neo defies Niobe’s warning and sets out to free Trinity. But a new force at the center of the Matrix has other plans.
Of course that is a very short summary of the story. There’s actually a ton of information crammed in along the way. In fact, for a while it feels as if every other scene includes yet another long and often tedious info dump. Everyone Neo meets seems to have a lot of explaining to do before the film can ever move forward. It’s so noticeable that you can’t help but laugh as you wait for their long-winded conversations wrap up.
Among the other new faces we meet is Neil Patrick Harris who plays Thomas’ therapist who tries to help Neo distinguish his reoccurring dreams from “reality”. We also get a dry and bland Jonathan Groff as a new version of Neo’s arch-nemesis Agent Smith. It’s obvious Groff is trying his best to recreate the villain made famous by Hugo Weaving in the first three films. Unfortunately he can’t muster half the charisma or menace that Weaving brought to the role. As a result, this iteration of Smith falls flat.
There are several other noticeable issues that I couldn’t quite shake. For example, early on there’s this whole weird self-aggrandizing meta angle where Wachowski uses game designers in a brainstorming session to tout how smart, challenging, and subversive the Matrix movies are. The problem is it never feels natural to the story. Instead it feels like a filmmaker trying to be funny or clever (honestly it’s hard to tell which).
There’s also the issue of the movie’s rather generic effects. Like them or not, the Matrix movies have always had a slick and cool look, especially during the stylish action sequences. But here nothing stands out which is surprising considering how far digital effects have come. But even the fight scenes lack energy and come across as uninspired.
As for the performances, everyone is doing the best they can. But the script (co-written by Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon) gives them painfully little to work with. Even the movie’s philosophical ramblings (a staple of the earlier films) aren’t nearly as smart or engaging as the movie thinks they are. Ultimately we’re left with a sequel that may have enough nostalgic callbacks to satisfy hardcore fans. For the rest of us it’s a needless revisit that lacks the originality of the first film and the memorable action sequences of the two earlier sequels. “The Matrix: Resurrections” is now showing in theaters and is streaming on HBO Max.