The Matrix is hardly the first movie to get an ultra-meta sequel, but it’s hard to think of another franchise where you’d have to toe as fine a line to ensure this meta-ness wasn’t an immediate catastrophe. The first three films were already hyper-earnest looks at the nitty-gritty of human consciousness, while the two 2003 sequels in particular were ponderously philosophical, so the addition of self-satisfied self-commentary on top of that could easily lead to a situation where a film has no room for an interesting story. And so it proves with Resurrections, a dull and irritating four-quel that seems to hate itself for existing.
Resurrections spends most of its first hour re-hashing the events of the groundbreaking 1999 original. Keanu Reeves is Thomas Anderson, bored behind a computer screen and sensing something wrong with his world, before being saved from the Matrix to become Neo, the one destined to save humanity from the machines that have enslaved them in a post-apocalyptic false reality. To keep things ‘fresh’, though, the meta layers come flying thick and fast – most notably the events of the first three films being reimagined in the Matrix-verse as videogames designed by Thomas himself.
It’s a headspinner, and quite fun at first, but Lana Wachowski (writing and directing without sister Lilly) script’s insistence on mining every moment for self-reflection becomes tiresome, particularly as this commentary doesn’t really go anywhere. I’ve seen Resurrections described as an anti-sequel, taking up arms against the modern wave of franchise entries using nostalgia as plot, but that only holds true for the first half, which is then replaced by tedious expository monologues and a grand, epic ending that hardly feels earned. The one story Wachowski does do justice is the romance between Neo and the also-resurrected Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), which is genuinely sweet and should have been given a bigger share of the 150-odd minute runtime.
When together, Reeves and Moss’s performances come to life, but Reeves isn’t given enough to do when on his own (there’s only so many times he can sell ‘looking confused’ or ‘blocking bullets’ before the schtick wears thin), and most of the other cast are forgettable. Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Groff are flat as a sinister therapist and a rebooted Agent Smith, Groff in particular entirely paling in comparison to Hugo Weaving’s take on the character, while Jessica Henwick convinces in the action but not in her dialogue. Yahya Abdul Mateen gets out with more dignity intact as the new Morpheus, obviously having a blast, but you still miss Laurence Fishburne’s magnetic presence – he could actually make all the Matrix exposition exciting, something no one in Resurrections manages.
It doesn’t help that Resurrections is constantly showing you old clips of the original Matrix, reminding you of how much better not only the performances were there, but the action too. There are some fun set-pieces here, but a lot of the fight scenes and car chases feel repetitive and there’s certainly nothing as thrilling or innovative as you can find in the first film. This may be partly the point, Wachowski very consciously shifting this Matrix story from an action to a romantic one, but this intellectual justification alone doesn’t make up for a considerable backwards step for the series.
For all that Resurrections wants to be considered bold and different, there isn’t a huge amount of confidence in its central ideas. Different characters are constantly (and very literally) spelling out to the audience why ‘The Matrix’ needed to be changed and reimagined in this manner, to the point that it feels actively defensive, while the times in which it embraces classic Matrix action are underwhelming. Resurrections is a film of two overly self-conscious halves, neither of which are smart or fun enough to be worth your time.