In an oft-quoted, periodically memed moment from the original Matrix, a somewhat minor character grimly mumbles “Not like this,” shortly before going on an eternal bye-bye. A similar thought had to pass through the Wachowskis’ minds as they watched their visually game-changing allegory about trans identity and antifascism inspire both a Gap ad and the fashion sense of mass shooters. As such, please forgive The Matrix Resurrections for being even more explicit than its wholly unsubtle predecessor.
The last 20-plus years has seen a rise in anti-trans legislation and subsequent body count. It has seen more than one murderer point to The Matrix as a legal defense. It has seen monstrous misogynists and cowardly conspiracists coopt and appropriate “taking the red pill.” Now imagine the Wachowskis being told – not asked, but told – that Hollywood was going to go ahead and do another trilogy, with or without them. As such, please forgive The Matrix Resurrections for explicitly mentioning that the film is basically ransom paid to blackmailers.
How unlikely that it wound up as one of the best films of 2021.
Actually, that’s not fair. Working without her sister, Lilly, Lana Wachowski didn’t accidentally deliver this stunningly gorgeous and, yes, painfully on-the-nose call-to-arms for empathetic adults. Resurrections demands that beleaguered, aging progressives stop patting themselves on the back for the Obama era and get to finally, actually, really fixing shit. It’s also a rabid defense of romanticism that retroactively makes all the hokey lovey-dovey stuff in the earlier films that much better. It is purposefully funny, acknowledging its self-seriousness and preaching. It is still thoughtful, despite its obviousness. It is an epic that is somehow brisk, breezy, and beautiful.
It is also very hard to recap without spoilers.
But here goes: Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) turned his delusions that he was living inside a computer simulation into a best-selling video game trilogy called The Matrix. He sees an analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) about it, and things are going fairly okay. Until his boss, Smith (Jonathan Groff), tells him that their parent company, Warner Bros, is demanding a reboot or sequel series, which they’ll do with or without Anderson’s help.
This sends the anxiety-riddled beardo into a tailspin. Before long, he meets a new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who swear that he truly is still inside a machine. Despite sorta being dead. Anderson would ignore all of this as just another breakdown, if it wasn’t for Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss). She’s a married mom who doesn’t know him but was also Anderson’s inspiration for the character of Trinity in his Matrix video games. Their connection is so strong, he’s willing to consider that maybe it’s worth pulling down the pillars of reality after all.
As Wachowski and cowriters David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon admit in a hilarious early montage, don’t expect a new “bullet time” here. This isn’t about inventing the newest special effects gimmick. It’s about two things: (1) writing a coda that prevents anyone from ever misinterpreting anything that is said in the series and (2) asking if anyone watching is actually willing to imagine a future that isn’t just rehashing the same unfinished battles and ideas over and over again. Neo doesn’t even use a gun one single time. It’s as if a million dudebro voices cried out on YouTube videos all at once.
For a series obsessed with a rabbit, it’s no wonder Resurrections dangles that carrot of imagination and asks “what now?” Hopefully “What’s next”” will involve Bugs and her remarkably endearing team of humans and nonspeaking but sentient robot pals. Unlike the wildly discordant performances in something like The House of Gucci, every performance here is tonally perfect, including the CGI AI. They are equally charismatic and melodramatic, all of them seem just about to wink and nod at the overt silliness but not enough to break the spell.
And to be clear, Resurrections casts one hell of a spell, with its unabashed sentimentalism, wild ambition, and steely-eyed determination to set right what was narratively stolen from the series. As with every bold, cheesy, turned-up-to-11 thing that Lana and her sister have done, some are certain to be turned off by the sheer authentic audacity of it all. That’s totally fine. Not everybody within the matrix in The Matrix wants to leave the matrix. Have fun recycling toxic energy, coppertops. The rest of us will resume raging against the machine with a slightly different beat than before.
Grade = A
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Danielle Solzman at Solzy at the Movies says “If you think the film is too political, the joke is on you because ALL ART IS POLITICAL.”
Angelica Jade Bastién at Vulture says “Behind a meta-narrative storytelling approach and all that stylistic gleam, The Matrix Resurrections is ultimately a love story — romantic, yes, and a paean to the community necessary for that romance to blossom into resistance. Wachowski is bold enough to argue that in a strategically queer-fashioned world, where boundaries break and the limits of the human body are rejected, choosing love is still a radical decision.”
David Ehrlich at Indiwire says “Best of all, its emphasis on the romance between Neo and Trinity allows “Resurrections” to become a devastatingly sincere movie about how love is the best weapon we have to make sense of a world that fills our heads with the white noise of war and conflict on a forever loop. All of us are stuck in our reboots. But at a time when mega-budget franchise movies can only be about themselves, Lana Wachowski has made one that pushes beyond the dopamine hit of cheap nostalgia and dares to dream up a future where mainstream films might inspire us to re-imagine what’s possible instead of just asking us to clap at the sight of history repeating itself.”