If there is one thing that the Matrix films always deliver on, it is providing an ambitious and thoughtful concept that one could never find anywhere else. The franchise has been through its fair share of highs and lows since the original classic film debuted in 1999, but even the moments that don’t land take more risks than the majority of Hollywood blockbusters. All of this can be said for the new Matrix reboot, THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS, which returns to the world where the Earth has been taken over by machines that are holding humans in a false coded reality. The film is directed by Lana Wachowski, one of the two siblings who helmed the original Matrix trilogy, and the film retains the same dramatic flair and existential dialogue, even if the look and feel is different. Wachowski clearly has a great knowledge for the material of this franchise, creating a movie that uses the previous films to develop a new experience with strong messages about the state of consumer culture in media and the state of storytelling.
The previous film left off with the final human outpost of Zion having just been saved by Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss), both of whom sacrificed themselves to create peace between the humans and the machines, however temporary it may be. Now both find themselves living normal human lives — Neo as a video game designer and Trinity as a regular mom with a typical good-looking husband. Both start to question their reality as the film goes on, and start to realize that the same forces of evil that plagued them in the previous films may be back and keeping them in their monotonous existence. As per usual with the Wachowski Matrix films, THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is very confusing and difficult to comprehend for much of the runtime. The opening sequence drops the audience in the middle of a developing situation with no context as to what exactly is happening and why. Of course, Wachowski eventually explains this and much of the other confusion that pervades the first watch of the film, but even then the movie gets bogged down by the overly convoluted exposition and storytelling.
All of the issues seen in THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS are the same of every other Matrix film, so the confusing plot details and irrelevant existential conversations are to be expected. However, this Matrix film delivers many positives which are new and fresh even for the stereotypically innovative franchise. The storyline is similar to the very first Matrix film (Neo is trapped in the Matrix and must discover his true potential while breaking out of the clutches of the machines), but the delivery and how it gets there creates an original experience despite the thematic callbacks. The film comments very heavily on the nature of storytelling and fiction, and how the art of creation has been commodified in modern pop culture. At first, they use the video game designer position that Neo holds as a meta commentary on the massive expectation to create a good reboot of the Matrix franchise that fans will enjoy. As the movie goes, the Matrix itself becomes a fight for creative freedom and the ability to exist as a creator without corporate powers dictating each decision.
These themes were not prevalent in the previous Matrix films, and their existence here is the most fascinating and compelling aspect of RESURRECTIONS. The other fantastic addition is the new characters, most of whom end up creating more interesting arcs than the ones followed by Neo and Trinity. Neil Patrick Harris delivers one of the best performances since his How I Met Your Mother years as Neo’s therapist (“The Analyst”), and Jonathan Groff lives up to his fantastic predecessor as the new version of the rogue Agent Smith, previously played by Hugo Weaving. Jessica Henwick is also an impressive find here, playing a character who I hope they bring back and expand on in future installments. The only character that did not impress me is the new version of Morpheus played by Yahya Abdul Mateen II, a fantastic actor who just delivers cheap nostalgia in place of an actual human arc.
Abdul-Mateen’s character speaks to a larger issue of RESURRECTIONS — an overreliance on nostalgia to carry the film instead of compelling original moments. Wachowski often shows clips from the previous movies to let viewers know if a scene is calling back to a previous moment, and this technique is used so often that it feels like the movie never becomes its own narrative. I understand the need to satisfy the fans when rebooting a popular franchise such as this, but the plot sometimes never moves past the iconic moments of the original because the film constantly tries to reference them. It is an interesting irony that Wachowski comments on the difficulty of making original content in today’s culture, yet relies heavily on the previous material in the franchise to craft the narrative.
With that being said, THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS presents enough of a different and intriguing experience that it is worth the watch. The quality of this new Matrix film is similar to that of the previous two sequels, so fans will be sure to find value in the weirdness of this sci-fi adventure as they did with Reloaded and Revolutions. However, the flaws of those two are found here, and the franchise has yet to live up to the innovative and masterful first film. Wachowski proves that she has immense creativity when it comes to science fiction, and even redeems herself from the 2015 mess that is Jupiter Ascending. RESURRECTIONS definitely highlights some shortcomings and could have been a better and more satisfying reboot, but the narrative contains enough great ideas and themes that the movie fits nicely into the preexisting Matrix canon.