The Matrix Resurrections (2021) Review

Before I proceed any further, this is a spoiler-free review. That means I won’t be discussing any specific plot points related to The Matrix Resurrections.

Remember in the first Matrix where Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) interrogated Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), and the latter said:

How about I give you the finger and you give me my phone call?

Well, that’s exactly how I felt after watching The Matrix Resurrections. Lana Wachowski returns to the world of The Matrix, gives us the middle finger and expect us to free our minds (her other half, Lilly chose to back away this time around due to exhaustion from filming Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending and the first season of TV’s Sense8, gender transition and the death of their parents).

Because the fourth film isn’t entirely what you would expect. Sure, it still piles up with lots of nostalgia-heavy callbacks and references from scenes to dialogues and Easter eggs from the original Matrix trilogy. But Lana is more interested in offering us something radically different than what we have grown accustomed to The Matrix franchise. Something that is less about saving-the-world sci-fi seriousness as seen in the previous trilogy but more of an unlikely mix of meta-comedy and a love story between Neo (Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), all packaged under the guise of a big-budget sci-fi blockbuster.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in "The Matrix Resurrections" (2021)

And by meta, Lana, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon of Sense8 fame, chose to break the comfort zone of the trilogy’s genre trappings and veers into the uncharted territory by poking fun at her own film franchise. This can be evidently seen during the first half of the film, where the story focuses on Thomas Anderson (again) except this time, he sports a different look. A look that sees Keanu Reeves largely forgoes the trilogy’s clean-shaven appearance in favour of his now-iconic hairstyle seen in the John Wick films. We see him suffering from delusional disorders and he has to rely on the blue pills prescribed by his psychiatrist (Neil Patrick Harris) to keep his sanity in check. He also meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in a coffee shop and feels like he knows her in the past. And it gets weirder from there, as Thomas meets a mysterious blue-haired girl who called herself Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and a young guy in a colourful suit, who happens to be Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Long story short, it all feels like a deja vu all over again: Thomas follows Bug down the rabbit hole and meets the rest of her team. Then, there’s the familiar choice of taking the red pill or the blue pill. What follows next is a cross between familiarity and the unexpected outcome, where the latter is bound to be hugely polarising that would divide even the die-hard fans of the Matrix franchise.

As I mentioned earlier, The Matrix Resurrections also addresses the love story between Neo and Trinity and this is where it bugs (no pun intended) me the most. You see, those who watched The Matrix trilogy knew their love was ill-fated at the end of the third film (2003’s The Matrix Revolutions). To refresh your memory, Trinity got impaled by a metal bar following a hovercraft crash and Neo sacrificed himself fighting against Agent Smith. With the two main characters already killed off in the third film, the franchise has basically wrapped up the trilogy. Any chance of reviving the franchise is more like a desperate cash grab relying heavily on the nostalgia factor to pull in not only the existing fanbase but also introduce the world of The Matrix for the new generation.

Franchise newcomer Jessica Henwick plays Bugs in "The Matrix Resurrections" (2021)

Here, Lana chose to revive the supposedly dead Neo and Trinity and I have to say, she’s like undoing whatever sacrifice and hardship that these two characters had gone through in the trilogy. It looks as if she wants to cater to those who couldn’t accept Neo and Trinity’s doomed romance in The Matrix Revolutions in the first place. I get that Lana has gone on record that she decided to bring back Neo and Trinity into the fourth film because “it was immediately comforting to have these two characters alive again” as a result of how she processed her grief over the death of her parents. But to me, doing so turns out to be a disservice that retconning a story, which has already been said and done felt like a cheat.

I have a mixed feeling over the meta-heavy first half of the film and while it has a few worthwhile comedy moments, it would have worked better if this isn’t a Matrix movie. The second half is pretty much a rehash of most parts of the first film, albeit with a few unconventional tweaks here and there. There are plenty of gun-fu action sequences too but too bad Lana didn’t bring in legendary Hong Kong martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping this time around. Instead, she reportedly oversees the action herself and the result is sadly uneven. While there are cool moments of slow-motion and bullet-time effects that originally defined the franchise, most of the action set pieces regardless of shootouts and fight scenes are shot in incomprehensible camerawork and choppily edited.

Despite the meta-comedy and love-story approach in The Matrix Resurrections, Lana still crammed her film with the usual sci-fi mumbo jumbo and lots of exposition-heavy dialogues, where we see a character literally standing there and overexplained everything, only to make them either more confusing or barely making sense at all.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays the younger Morpheus in "The Matrix Resurrections" (2021)

Lana’s decision to shoot The Matrix Resurrections using natural lighting instead of the familiar muted blue-and-green filters is already a controversial choice long before the film is released. The natural-light aesthetics does give the film a refreshing look, even though I appreciate it better if Lana offers two different colour schemes to help distinguish the film’s real-world and virtual world.

Back to the story, I also realise Lana uses The Matrix Resurrections as her platform to incorporate LGBTQ+ references both visually (as seen in Bugs’ blue-dyed hairstyle and Morpheus’ choice of bright-coloured suit) and in dialogues as well (at one point, the word “rainbow” is mentioned). The cast, in the meantime, is a mixed bag. Keanu Reeves, who used to be so iconic as Thomas Anderson/Neo in the trilogy spends most of the time looking confused. Weirdly enough, there is little chemistry between him and Carrie-Anne Moss (still looking good even at the age of 54) because frankly, their resurrected love story feels underwhelming and lacks emotional connection.

The re-introduction of Morpheus, this time played by a younger Yahya Abdul-Mateen II instead of Laurence Fishburne in the trilogy, is sadly reduced to a parody of sorts while franchise newcomer Jessica Henwick brings a sense of vibrancy to her new character as Bugs. Jonathan Groff, who replaced Hugo Weaving due to scheduling conflicts, took over the role of Agent Smith. And while he does his moments playing the character, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Weaving remains the best for the role.

So much for The Matrix Resurrections that may have some fresh ideas both visually and tonally. But personally, I hope this sequel is a one-off because I don’t see any valid point — narratively speaking, of course — in making this into another trilogy.

Leave a Reply