‘The Matrix Resurrections’ or — Coded for Emotion?
I wasn’t too sure how bothered I was about another Matrix sequel. After all, the previous two had practically destroyed any charm or mystique of the original movie and there’s nothing more depressing than a nostalgia-filled cash-grab. Besides, was there anything else interesting to say about this somewhat sterile universe? Maybe not but what is interesting is the approach taken by ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ (2021) in that it is almost entirely driven by the heart (emotional connection as opposed to philosophical pontificating is what’s important here) and the result is one of the more fascinating, and definitely more moving, sequels to have come out of Hollywood in several years. And it’s a breath of fresh air.
Lana Wachowski (along with co-writers Aleksandar Hermon and David Mitchell) performs a meta hard-reset on the series where Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is now the inventor of a computer game franchise called The Matrix and is experiencing intense stress due to demands for a sequel. Anderson’s fantasy world intrudes into his real life, something his analyst assures him is only an illusion, yet when he meets a woman called Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) something is jolted inside them both that suggests maybe they have met before. Surely it’s all just coincidence, a dream or shared psychosis? Although if they have met before then it means that there is something, somewhere, determined to keep them both apart.
Now this meta, self-mocking style could turn some people off especially when the movie starts criticising the hollowness of sequels, the poison of nostalgia and even Warner Brothers itself. Maybe it’s all just a tad too cute? Personally speaking I found this a desperately refreshing and much needed approach to handling a sequel, anything other than the ‘more of the same’ sludge that seems to constantly seep out of film studios these days. Plus, this subversion is nothing surprising as The Matrix has always been about the ‘meta’ and Warner Brothers has a track record of taking the piss out of itself anyway (’Animaniacs’ was sometimes nothing but Warner Brothers bashing so there’s precedent here).
So the entire film’s nothing more than one big joke, right? That would be the case if it wasn’t for the fact that it genuinely feels as though ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ has something to say about the nature of storytelling and how narratives help define our reality. This is just one of the reasons so much of the film is set in a therapist’s practise. So it’s less about whether we live in a simulation or not (never a terribly interesting philosophical question anyway) and more about what we do with the stories we inhabit. Maybe this is a consequence of having a novelist as one of your screenwriters?
This gives ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ a more mature vibe than the pretentious waffling of the first three and this maturity extends most explicitly to the relationship between Neo and Trinity because this film is, first and foremost, a love story and a surprisingly moving one at that. In fact, I was quite ruffled by how touched I was by this romantic relationship, so much so that when Trinity and Neo were having to fight off inevitable and insurmountable forces preventing them from connecting I was shocked at how much I was desperately wanting these two to finally be together. I actually CARED about these two and I can’t remember the last time I felt that way about any character in a modern blockbuster.
Unfortunately the film does have some undeniable flaws, some of which are specific to the movie itself and some inherent to the series as a whole. As usual, any time the movie steps out of the malleable and pliable realm of the Matrix and into the “real world” of Zion (or, in this case, Io) the film grinds to a shuddering halt. The dialogue is still as daft as ever with phrases such as “foetus fields” and “modal Morpheus” being distinctly memorable in their silliness, but the script is highly aware of its own ridiculous pomposity this time around so it adds to the knowing fun.
The special effects here vary wildly from the impressive to borderline rushed and even though the film isn’t slow it could certainly have benefitted from one more big action set-piece so if you’re looking for something along the lines of ‘The Matrix Reloaded’s highway chase you’ll be sorely disappointed.
But what action there is here does carry real emotional weight and the moment when our two heroes are desperately trying to reach each other’s hand grabbed me more than any large scale CGI mayhem ever could have. This is a movie that respects and cares about its two central characters intensely and that emotionality is clear and present. It was an emotionality I very much responded to.
It would be a mistake to view the meta, subversive commentary of ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ as nothing more than a sign of cynical bitterness, a flippant “fuck you!” to the system. That’s all there, sure, but this is a movie functioning very much from the heart.