‘The Matrix Resurrections’ Review: A Welcome Return to the Matrix
A green and black Warner Bros. logo. Streaks of green code cascading down the screen. A tapped phone call. A squad of heavily armed police officers fighting a woman in black leather. That’s the famous opening to The Matrix — and now it’s also the opening to The Matrix Resurrections. The echoes of the original film are so overwhelming, especially in these first scenes, you could easily think you’d started the wrong movie on HBO Max.
Or maybe you’re just experiencing déjà vu, which the old film famously explained as a “glitch” in its simulated reality known as “The Matrix.” That nagging sensation of familiarity not only pervades The Matrix Resurrections, it gives it purpose. Rather than simply rehash the first Matrix, co-writer/director Lana Wachowski has made a movie about (among other things) our collective cultural hunger to rehash old movies like The Matrix. The new movie wrestles with its franchise’ legacy as aggressively as Neo fighting with an agent — even if it does also indulge in recapitulating the series’ superficial pleasures like kung fu fights and cool special effects. As Morpheus says at one point in The Matrix Resurrections, “nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia.”
The Matrix Resurrections is good enough to evoke warm memories of the Wachowskis’ brilliant first Matrix. It’s also talky and confusing enough in its second act to recall the previous pair of Matrix sequels. Of those, Resurrections feels closer to The Matrix Reloaded, another movie of bold ideas, cool visuals, and a fair amount of inscrutable character motivations and technobabble dialogue.
The trailers for the film detail almost none of the actual plot, so I will try my best to talk about the story in broad strokes. Although Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) both died saving the human race in the previous Matrix trilogy, as Resurrections begins, both are inexplicably alive and well and back inside the Matrix — or as well as one can be when trapped inside a manipulative simulation of reality used to drain one’s body of its energy so it can be used to power a futuristic race of machines. Neither one remembers their past together. Neo once again works as computer programmer Thomas Anderson while Trinity thinks she’s an ordinary woman named Tiffany. The two only occasionally cross paths at their favorite coffee shop, Simulatte. (I will say this for the Matrix: It may be a pernicious system of enslavement, but damn its espresso drinks look incredible.)
Like so many people, Thomas has a good job and is quite successful, but he’s deeply unhappy. He goes to a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) who tries to convince him his feelings are normal and prescribes a regimen of those sinister blue pills that keep people connected to the Matrix’s simulation. Still, Neo can’t shake the feeling that something is missing, and his suspicions are confirmed when a blue-haired woman named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) takes him by the arm and offers him a red pill, with the promise that she can explain why he feels so disconnected from his own life.
These early scenes are The Matrix Resurrections’ strongest section, and I have intentionally avoided telling you most of the reasons why (like Neo’s latest job assignment, for example), so you will just have to take my word on it for now. After Neo escapes the Matrix for the second time, the film becomes less about exploring these larger ideas like middle-aged malaise and the nature of reality, and focuses much more on plot mechanics and exposition; explaining what happened to the world of The Matrix since we last saw it, what the few human survivors are up to now, and why Neo and Trinity are still alive even though we watched them die in The Matrix Revolutions. Even with all the explanations, though, it’s pretty difficult to follow the intricacies of the story, along with some of its characters’ motivations. (I’m honestly not entirely clear on the full specifics of this new, younger version of Morpheus, played here by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II — and I found another key supporting character even more baffling.)
The thing that always carried The Matrix, even when the earlier sequels got a little hard to follow, were the incredible actions scenes, which were intricately choreographed and shot and edited for maximum clarity. While The Matrix Resurrections’ fights and chases are stylish, they’re not quite as clear or extravagant as the ones in the earlier films. Whether that’s because the performers are older and less light on their feet (Reeves is 57, Moss is 54), or the team had less time to prepare for this film because of the pandemic, or Wachowski decided to go for a visual aesthetic in line with modern blockbusters rather than classic Hong Kong action, the result is a movie that is less viscerally thrilling than I expected or wanted.
The thing that carries The Matrix Resurrections through some of those rough patches instead is Wachowski’s obvious affection for the characters, and the actors’ reciprocal love for this world and its endless intellectual curiosities. Reeves and Moss both look fantastic for their ages — or for any age, really — but they are older, and they do imbue their characters’ wistful, unfulfilled stares at one another with a lot of depth of feeling for the time they’ve lost. The story may not be the clearest, but the movie always keeps the connection between Neo and Trinity in focus, and that’s ultimately what matters.
I do wish Trinity appeared onscreen more; her choices drive the story, but she’s mostly seen at that one coffee shop, and usually from Neo’s perspective. But where the movie ultimately arrives at, and what it says about Neo and Trinity’s shared evolution (and what that symbolizes for people in the audience) is legitimately moving. Even amidst all of the technical jargon and epic sci-fi stakes, the film really does come down to this personal connection between two lost souls. That’s something it has in common with the first Matrix too.
-While most of the updates to The Matrix’s technology work, the new film does miss the old school mechanics of going into and out of the Matrix through hardwired phones. While modern audiences might not have quite understood their usage because no one has a landline anymore, the movie misses the suspense of having to find and use this rare analog object to escape from this system of computer control. Resurrections replaces that with various doors and mirrors and portals, and it’s not entirely clear how or when they can or can’t be used, and as a result, the film is far less suspenseful.