The Matrix: Resurrections is weird, messy fun – a jagged little pill

Director: Lana Wachowski Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris Running Time: 148 minutes

‘Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia.’ It feels like all we talk about at the movies these days. Mining the same stories for the same moments, images, lines that we recognise, trying to light the same spark for energy over and over and over again. And that can be okay. It can be pretty and fun. Or it can be hollow, unsatisfying. Or is it that binary that’s the source of the true anxiety? Why does it only have to be the red pill or the blue? The thing about going deep down a rabbit hole is that they can burrow down into all sorts of places, the real choice is all about where and what you dig.

In 1999, The Matrix undisputedly changed action movies, invigorating audiences and putting a stranglehold on executives’ attention spans – for a while there every blockbuster had to be a little bit like The Matrix. But Lana and Lily Wachowski didn’t pull their world of sexy goth kung fu fully formed out of the ether, it wasn’t ‘new’, it just felt that way, the way all exciting things do. Synthesizing their fave anime, John Woo shoot-em-ups, philosophical ramblings, all-black dress code and much more, The Matrix was –  as all the best stories are  – the Wachowskis looking back, and looking within, in order to look forwards. Processing the deaths of her parents and a close friend, an older, wiser Lana returns to the series, and characters that seemed dead and buried, in Matrix Resurrections , a movie that tunnels through the deja vu in pursuit of a fresh perspective on comfort. 

Trinity sits by a phone in an empty building, surrounded by a swat team – wait, is that right? That was the original Matrix, wasn’t it? Agent Smith enters, cool and calculating – hang on, that doesn’t look like Agent Smith as I remember him. It’s the familiar Matrix story, but something just doesn’t seem right, certainly not for Thomas Anderson, the genius behind the beloved Matrix series from 20 years ago. Keanu is the weary greying fox, popular and praised but internally unsatisfied, and so is Carrie-Ann Moss as the short-haired, sharpy-dressed motorcycle enthusiast T…iffany, the mom who has it all he moons over from across the coffee shop. Thomas is lonely, and he’s in a professional rut trying to keep his workplace rival (Jonathan Groff) happy, but his biggest worry is having another psychotic break, another spiral into thinking that he can’t go on in this world. Because it’s a fiction. His analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) is on hand with plenty of buzz words and drugs to keep those thoughts at bay, but it’s harder and harder for Mr Anderson to stay focused on what’s real. Especially when a gun-toting Morpheus shows up (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and a sci-fi crew led by Jessica Henwick yanks him out of the gaslighting and into a very different, yet familiar reality. 

Matrix Resurrections is very much Wachowski the Elder back on the Galaxy Brain bullshit of the sequels, Cloud Atlas or Sense8, which for many readers probably can’t send you running far enough. It’s absolutely worth sticking around for though, after the cheeky meta take on modern franchises and their diminishing returns in the first act, the view opens up into something we don’t see often enough in these kinds of stories today; new ideas, expansion instead of repetition, characters that have evolved and aged. Nostalgia doesn’t have to be about swaddling us in the past, it can allow us to see things in our old stories that we couldn’t see before, new ways of looking at them, a different perspective, which can allow us to do things differently going forward. This is the same story told by someone with a firmer sense of their identity, and a more developed understanding of how stories can be told. It’s someone who has definitely read Tasha Robinson’s article about ‘Trinity Syndrome’, and also someone who probably looks at modern blockbusters and wonders why they’re all sexless and terrified of sincerity.

Where Resurrections maybe doesn’t shine incredibly is in its action, which is fine and functional; fun but not game-changing. Which in fairness is a once-in-a-generation thing for an action movie to be. The wire-work and martial arts choreo on display here gives a little more weight than some of its contemporaries, but there’s more close ups and quick cuts than you would like, and a smaller scope for the shoot outs and explosions. That is partly by design though, as this story on a functional level is just less interested in apocalyptic stakes and epic violence. As the set pieces progress and the lore and reveals keep dropping, you realise what’s really going on here. It’s a heist movie about sneaking into blockbuster nostalgia-bait and getting out with a romance for adults before anyone knows what happened. Keanu and Carrie-Ann as the 50-something old flames circling back to each other amid all the noise. In the best way possible, Resurrections is sci-fi by way of Nancy Meyers, bad marriages and coffee dates, but with robots and simulations. When you want to tell this kind of story but everything has to be old IP, well, Something’s Gotta Give.

That certainly won’t work for everyone, but it’s an empathetic, emotionally engaged, exciting vision, and that’s no guarantee in today’s cinematic landscape of recognise-a-mole. With two leads fitting snugly back into the old leather,  a fun supporting cast and a genuine creative drive to find a reason for this resurrection, what unfurls is something that doesn’t just want to mine the same content for money (it does want to ALSO do that certainly), but sift through that world, which could be confining, to find a more meaningful escape. Optimistic, electric, romantic, Matrix Resurrections sees a world cleaner, more sanitised and safe, that’s harder than ever to escape and cracks its code wide open. It’s Matrix 4, familiar, but new, comforting, but not giving you everything you want or expect – a better choice than binary.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) 

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