During the penultimate battle between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix Revolutions, Smith, thinking he has the upper hand, proudly asserts his misplaced dominance over Neo. “The purpose of all life is to end.” Neo, in an act of defiance, rises back up with his iconic “bring it on” hand gesture as Don Davis’ score triumphantly plays in the background. They resume their battle and what follows is a gorgeous wide shot of their silhouettes against a backdrop of a large building window as they trade blows. This one-shot alone is more unique than anything in The Matrix: Resurrections.
Set twenty years after the original, it’s revealed that the events of The Matrix were a videogame created by Thomas Anderson, played once again by Keanu Reeves. Mr. Anderson, unable to decipher truth from reality, regularly visits a therapist played by Neil Patrick Harris who prescribes him blue pills to keep his visions at bay. Anderson’s business partner and boss Smith, played by Jonathan Groff, informs Anderson that Warner Brothers has assigned them to create a Matrix 4, and that they would carry through with its production regardless of Anderson’s involvement. The first third of Resurrections is undoubtedly its strongest and effectively plays with the metatextual narrative of sequels, legacy, and nostalgia. The other two-thirds, however, squander whatever promise the film might have had.
Once again, Neo is awakened from the simulated reality of the Matrix, only this time, he’s retained all of his powers and “still knows Kung Fu.” One of the biggest issues is Resurrections’ lack of stakes. We are once again given a sparring sequence between Neo and a rebooted Morpheus played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II akin to the first Matrix film; the final product, however, lacks the energy of its predecessor. The sparring sequence in The Matrix had an experienced Morpheus teaching a younger, inexperienced Neo to hone his newfound skill while also establishing the rules of the Matrix. When you add in the fluid camerawork, it helps the action move smoothly without confusing the audience. The sparring sequence in Resurrections is a half-baked retread with no character development or stakes because Neo has already gone through this. . It also doesn’t help that the camerawork of Resurrections is too frantic and lacks flow and rhythm.
At its core, The Matrix was a sci-fi romance between Neo and Trinity, and while Resurrections tries to get back to that essence, it never fully pays off. Throughout the film, it’s revealed that the machines resurrected Neo and Trinity because their love for each other was a powerful energy source that could fuel the Matrix; one cannot work without the other. It’s a new idea that could have effectively expanded the mythology of The Matrix, but because Resurrections sidelines Carrie Anne Moss’ Trinity for most of its runtime, the end result feels unearned. The chemistry between Reeves and Moss is still as poignant as it was all those years ago, but Trinity feels less like a character and more like an object in Resurrections. She has next to nothing to do save for the third act. As the film reaches its end, Wachowski gives us a moment that was meant to be the ultimate payoff but instead feels lands with a massive thud.
For a sequel to a franchise that revolutionized modern filmmaking, Resurrections feels as if it took all of the worst aspects of modern films with its lifeless CGI, underdeveloped characters, and atrocious action sequences. For whatever the sequels lacked, there was still some sort of craft and care put within its visuals and action. Not even a week upon release, Resurrections has already amassed quite the division amongst fans. While one side views Resurrections as a disownment of the original trilogy, the opposite side views the film as a brave new step for the franchise. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum, Resurrections is more concerned with ideas as opposed to actual filmmaking.
No matter how hard Resurrections tries to pave its own way, it can’t seem to shake off the shadow that was the original Matrix trilogy. At times, it tries to break the mold and subvert expectations, but with its underdeveloped characters and general lack of stakes, those subversions are more infuriating than innovative. Being subversive does not give you a pass for being uninspired and this is what Resurrections feels like: an uninspired sequel masking its true nature by pretending to be “subversive.”