‘The Matrix Resurrections’: This sequel levels up with a mix of nostalgia and action worth the ride
In “The Matrix Resurrections” we catch up with Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) toiling as a head game designer being dogged to make a fourth release to his “Matrix” video game series. The series is wildly popular but Thomas, plagued by neuroses, seeing a shrink and said to have suicidal tendencies, is clearly a bit of an anxiety milkshake. It’s a pretty meta opener, as series creator Lana Wachowski had been peppered over the years by Warner Bros. to make a new “Matrix” installment. (The company Thomas works for, Deus Machina, is owned by Warner Bros. in the film – how’s that for tres meta?) She ultimately agreed, though sister and series co-creator Lilly Wachowski opted out due to stress from coming out, gender reassignment and the death of their parents.
The original “Matrix” (1999) broke ground in action filmmaking and intrigued with its plays on Eastern philosophies (though more simply we’re talking a war between humans and machines à la “The Terminator”). For fans who were only semi-warmed by “Reloaded” and let down by “Revolutions” in 2003, “Resurrections” may be just the remedy. It’s nostalgic – almost to the point of being schmaltzy in its overuse of clips from previous chapters – and has a heightened sense of romance with a few kick-ass action sequences well enough meted out to avoid overload. And yeah, there’s a shitload of philosophizing about red-pill-blue-pill and choice versus complacency, which to me has always tasted like a yada-yada MacGuffin for the highbrow lot.
The Thomas Anderson of “Resurrections” is an indentured servant just like the rest of humanity, “taking the blue pill” and relegated to a false contentment when they are really sleeping energy cells in a pod farm to power machines. But the great conceit in this rekindled Matrix future-verse is not so much the hero as a corporate wonk, but the affinity and thin tendrils of romance between Thomas and Tiffany/Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, rocking the role again). When Thomas the coder meets Tiffany in a coffee shop in the bowels of his corporate office tower, she’s a soccer mom with kids and a straight-out-of L.L. Bean hubby with a type AA personality. There’s a flickering recognition on both sides, but none of that gets rekindled until Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a punked-out rebel hacker inspired by Anderson’s Matrix persona as Neo and “The One,” gets him to Morpheus. There he’s awoken with the infamous red pill (cue up Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and what’s that tattooed on Bugs’ arm?) to learn he’s just another cog in the machine, and that things are a little more complicated these days, as machines are now warring among themselves. Rebel leader Morpheus is now played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II from the “Watchman” series. The digitized retooling of the Laurence Fishburne character works out seamlessly.
In construct, “Resurrections” is more a reawakening than reboot that will likely (or so must be Warner’s hope) guide a new generation back to a sweeping franchise that’s been dormant almost 20 years. The real sell here is the chemistry between Reeves and Moss, who had romantic spark and sexual tension in past chapters – both looking fashionable and sleek in long, black dusters – but here, with a touch of weariness and eyes edged with crows’ feet, there’s something much more deep and attainably genuine; they’re soulmates, always meant to be but unable to connect. The longing and closeness of realization is an intoxicating elixir. Those hoping for “bullet time,” as Anderson’s co-worker calls it when talking about what should go in the latest Deus Machina release, might be disappointed. There’s not a lot of signature slo-mo bullet dodging. Also missing is the relentless malevolence of Hugo Weaving, who’s not back stalking Neo as Agent Smith. What we do get is one protracted and thrilling chase sequence through a gantlet of city blocks as Neo and Trinity ride again on a Ducati. (Did I mention Moss’ Tiffany persona has a motorcycle shop?) The Matrix’s response? Use sleeping humans in the chambers above as zombie-style missiles, crashing through windows and plummeting at dodging pair. The eye-popping result eerily evokes “World War Z” (2013) and, even more disturbingly, 9/11.
Like the entries before, “Resurrections” isn’t so much about where you land – though there is a revelation that many likely had a bead on 18 years ago – but the journey. One great benefit is the potpourri of personalities that provide bumpers for Neo to carom off of in his quest for truth, namely Neil Patrick Harris as his analyst; Priyanka Chopra Jonas as the oracle Sati; and most humorously, Andrew Lewis Caldwell as Thomas’ co-worker at Deus Machina.
- “The Matrix Resurrections” is at Apple Cinemas Cambridge, 168 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Alewife and Fresh Pond and AMC Assembly Row 12, 395 Artisan Way, Assembly Square, Somerville, and on HBO Max.
Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.