It’s impossible to replicate the essential newness of the original Matrix, but Resurrections is another deeply idiosyncratic huge swing that’s destined to be underappreciated for the near future.
Was 1999 the last time a major studio picture was released to a public that didn’t know exactly what they were getting? The Matrix‘s “What is it?” ad campaign promised something revelatory and wholly original, and while that second part turned out to be a tantalizing amalgam of 30 years’ worth of sci-fi flicks and literature — and another 30 years’ worth of anime and comic books — it really did shock audiences with the new.
So look, let’s not play the aloof critic game. I was 20 when the original The Matrix was released, and it nuked me. I remember walking out of the opening night showing with a gaggle of pals; we were so collectively amped that we started throwing ourselves at alley walls, trying to launch ourselves off of them. When sequels were announced, everyone was primed for another hot dose, a feat that would ultimately prove impossible (something audiences should have realized up front, but nevermind). It’s disingenuous to call the 2003 Matrix sequels disappointing, and indeed, 20 years’ distance has proven them to be tremendous and thoughtful works of deliberate affectation. Measured against today’s landscape of endless IP regurgitation, the Wachowskis’ original trilogy can’t be seen as anything but the anomalous work of some born postmodern storytellers.
So here we are, in that scorched-earth Machine City of modern studio tentpoles, and Warner Bros. has seen fit to commission a fourth entry, The Matrix Resurrections. Lana Wachowski returns without her sister Lily to write and direct, and Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprise their roles as Neo and Trinity, respectively, even though both were dead when last we saw their characters. It’d be giving too much away to reveal how both are still in the picture, but Wachowski has come up with a characteristically personal resurrection for her creation, not merely a remix of images and sequences from the original work, but at its core a consideration of both what it means to create something that so galvanizes its audience and what indeed an artist’s responsibility is to their creation. It’s an obvious meta-tactic, but a completely necessary one; how else was anyone going to air-quotes modernize The Matrix other than to largely reject — and at the very least, revise — the multiple red-pilled Reddit threads it ended up spawning? What good is Bullet Time when every single movie drops constant speed-ramped choreography?
To that end, visually, Resurrections is a total delight. Where the original films dealt mainly in blue-grays for their “real” world and a gorgeous purple/green for the Matrix sequences, here we have a complete spectrum, hints of red and gold and deep blue everywhere. The action work may not be as rife with time-stopped tableaux — in particular, a mid-movie fight between Neo and friends against a crew of “exiled” programs is far more coarsely edited than anything we’ve seen before in this series — but it’s also exponentially faster, an expression that’s less a peek through a mediated reality than a glimpse of characters embracing control over that mediation. As an extension of that, the film purposefully — but never in a way that feels pandering — suggests that its characters are fluid beyond their physical bodies.
Maybe I’ve said too much already. In truth, nothing could ever approach that shock of the new that the original gave audiences, but this is still a quintessential Wachowski huge swing, deeply idiosyncratic and defiant of expectation, cluttered but meticulously constructed and written to theme, and unabashedly dorky. Just like the last two sequels, it’ll probably be another decade before everyone realizes this is Actually Good.
You can catch Lana Wachowski’s Matrix Resurrections in theaters or streaming on HBO Max beginning on December 22.