When The Matrix came out in 1999, it was a groundbreaking film, both for its storytelling and its visual effects, which introduced the then-novel “bullet time.” Its subsequent two sequels were met with diminishing enthusiasm, with The Matrix Revolutions being almost universally viewed as a colossal disappointment.
So there were high expectations that the series’ reboot, The Matrix Resurrections, would not only wash away the bad taste of the third film, but also give the franchise a boost into the future. And for a while, it seems like it might be possible as writer/director Lana Wachowski (now working without her sister, Lilly) and co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon find a clever way of connecting this film back to the original.
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), having been absorbed back into the Matrix, is now a game designer. That game just so happens to tell the story of the original trilogy, one part of some very meta-storytelling. Concurrently, a new group of people who have escaped the Matrix, including Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Sequoia (Toby Onwumere), are noticing glitches in the Matrix that are conjuring scenes very similar to ones found in the first film.
To say more would be to go into spoilers, but is also very difficult as the film is ultra-complex in its plotting. To delve into all the ideas in her head, Wachowski and her writing team fill the film with so much expositional dialogue that it’s smothering. We already know that Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) will be part of the story, but characters you may only halfway remember like Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and a grown-up Sati (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) also play a big part in moving the plot forward – a least, they do if you understand the plot at all.
It seems as if Wachowski wanted to make this film as similar as possible to the first to give viewers something to latch on to before moving in new directions. But she fails in multiple ways, especially among the group of freed people. That group, save for the two already mentioned, are nowhere near as memorable as the original group, and with the addition of a new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – who also starts off as an Agent – it quickly becomes confusing what kind of story Wachowski is trying to tell.
The muddled storytelling wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the film delivered on the action side. But where once things like Neo stopping bullets and characters running up walls seemed amazing, now they’re expected, giving only minor thrills. Worse, Wachowski returns to the same moves over and over again, making most of the scenes feel dull and repetitive.
Reeves has had a renaissance in recent years thanks to the John Wick series, but the 57-year-old actor is, to put it mildly, looking his age. The story plays into the idea that his character has grown older, but the role no longer fits him like a glove. Moss is a bit of a better fit, but the Neo/Trinity bond has lost some of its luster, and it’s only in her action scenes where she truly comes alive. None of the new additions meet the star power of the two leads, although Henwick and Onwumere might benefit from this exposure.
Ultimately, The Matrix Resurrections seems to serve no purpose. It neither reinvents the original heroes for a new time nor introduces compelling new characters to have fans begging for more. To paraphrase Cypher (Joe Pantaliano) from the original film, perhaps the characters are now best left living in ignorant bliss inside the Matrix.
The Matrix Resurrections opens in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22.