The extraordinary anti-nostalgia of The Matrix Resurrections

Film Grade: A-

Photo%3A+Warner+Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

For those wondering why The Matrix, a franchise that has lain dormant since 2003 is now receiving a new installment, this film presents a clear explanation. The head of a video game company that created three video games titled The Matrix in the world of the film says, “I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company Warner Brothers has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy. They informed me they were going to do it with or without us.” With this moment of overbearing metatext, the movie turns directly to the audience and openly admits that it’s existence is a cash grab by a massive corporation. As the film is so upfront about this fact, I feel confident naming this as one of the most artistically savvy corporate cash grabs ever made. Because, while this film’s existence may be due to the money grubbing of studio executives, the story of the film itself is so heartachingly sincere and breathtakingly ambitious that there can be no question that it was derived from a place of genuine passion. The Matrix Resurrections is the first truly great sequel to the original 1999 film, a cinematic red pill that asks audiences to wake up from Hollywood’s endless feedback loop of nostalgia-fueled reboots.

 

The film follows Neo as he finds himself back in the Matrix without the memories of his past. Plagued by strange dreams, he must face the choice between either accepting the world he knows or following the white rabbit once more and discovering what lies beyond his everyday life and who he truly is.  The plot builds upon the events of the trilogy that predated it in a miraculously satisfying manner, resurrecting the main characters of those films and the computer-generated reality of the Matrix without lessening the dramatic significance of Neo and Trinity’s deaths in Revolutions. However, the film does have a tendency to abruptly introduce plot points and characters from previous films with sporadic explanation, which could potentially make the narrative hard to follow for some viewers. But it’s not the complex plotting, but the relationship between Neo and Trinity that drives the narrative as they reconnect in this new matrix where they have been stripped of their identities and memories of each other.

 

The performances of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss evoke the wistful sense of two souls that have lost something profound in their lives, and the affection and chemistry that the two develop throughout the film endears us to this romance all over again. Ever since Lily and Lana Wachowski both came out as trans women in the early 2010s, the prevalence of the theme of identity in The Matrix trilogy has been cast in an entirely new light. Of the four Matrix films, this is undoubtedly the one that most readily lends itself to a non-cisnormative reading. The entire journey towards authenticity and self-liberation that Neo and Trinity undergo in this film can be viewed as an allegory for gender transition and the experience of transitioning in the public eye. All of the exciting new additions to the cast, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Johnathon Groff, Jessica Henwick, and Neil Patrick Harris deliver engaging performances that feed into the theme of shifting identities.

 

There was much trepidation around the fact that Lilly Wachowski would not be returning for this film, leaving Lana Wachowski without her lifelong co-director while helming this new installment in the franchise. However, the visual storytelling of The Matrix Resurrections is magnificent. The direction is distinctive and spirited, full of the stylization of a Wachowski film while ingeniously subverting our visual expectations as much as the themes and narrative subvert our storytelling ones. The color grading of The Matrix trilogy is incredibly dynamic, but it’s hues do occasionally make the images appear desaturated while Resurrections’ cinematography is awash with gorgeous tones. The action sequences, while competent, are regrettably not as masterful as one would expect. There are no new effects here that will produce anything near the sense of awe that audiences felt when viewing the bullet time effects of the first film. Wachowski also embraces the quick cuts and close ups that have become so common in post-2000s action sequences scenes that rob these scenes of a sense of momentum or inertia. Another factor in this may be the age of the actors, as both are in their fifties and unable to throw themselves at these fights in quite the same way they did twenty years ago.

 

More than anything else, The Matrix Resurrections refuses to be the safe, vapid nostalgia fest that Warner Bros. so desperately wants. Instead, the film acts as a thoughtful critique of Hollywood’s reboot culture that questions not only its own existence but also the efficacy of rebooting any franchise. In a time when studio executives slap one theme on a movie and call it a day, the complex web of meaning that this film spins from its many themes is entrancing. Like all of The Matrix films that precede it, Resurrections succeeds thematically because of the way in which it’s philosophical introspection causes us to question the world in which we live. And, while it occasionally approaches the muddiness of the thematic delivery of Reloaded and Revolutions’, the ethos it conveys is ultimately as poignant as it is versatile. It expands the metaphor of the Matrix, making the false reality of the story a representation of the torturous emptiness of our hyperconnected, dopamine powered social media age. It interrogates the legacy of its own franchise and how the iconography of the 1999 film has been so completely divorced from their original context. It teaches us that in order to free ourselves, we must move beyond the binaries that we have arbitrarily constructed, just as this film moves past the binary of art versus product. And, of course, it reminds us that Kung Fu fights, sunglasses, and black leather jackets are rad as hell.