After nearly twenty years, returning to a story like The Matrix still feels so relevant to our lives today. Few movies from 1999 can boast exciting and groundbreaking special effects as well as a mind-bending concept that forced us all to reconsider our realities. An amalgamation of science fiction, post-apocalypse, philosophy, computers, and kung fu, The Matrix trilogy and surrounding universe continuously pushed the boundaries of our expectations, and The Matrix Resurrections does the same.
As far as sequels go, Resurrections has to walk a fine line between presenting a new story for audiences while still remaining loyal to the original trilogy. Working on her own without her sister is director and writer Lana Wachowski, who conceived of Resurrections while grieving the loss of her parents and a close friend. Wachowski explained at a panel during the Berlin International Literature Festival, “I couldn’t have my mom and dad… yet suddenly I had Neo and Trinity, arguably the two most important characters in my life.” Wachowski co-wrote the film with previous Sense8 collaborators David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon.
But bringing back Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) comes with its own baggage. Both characters definitively died at the end of The Matrix Revolutions, with Neo’s death ushering in a truce between man and machine. So does Resurrections manage to pull it off? It does, but not without ruffling some of the feathers of more close-minded or erstwhile fans. In many ways, although Resurrections uses flashbacks and footage directly from the trilogy, it’s not interested in hand-holding the audience through its story.
Confirming one long-standing theory that’s been quietly upheld since the first movie, some might say that Resurrections is trying to fill some kind of “woke agenda” but those people might need to reexamine the trilogy and the Wachowskis’ work again. For its time, The Matrix was an intrinsically inventive film, putting actors of color in the forefront, while challenging concepts of control, capitalism, and rebellion from the very beginning. If anything Resurrections holds true to these concepts, following in the path of the originals. Although it introduces new characters like Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), and introduces a whole slew of new characters, the movie is still very much about Neo and Trinity.
Loyalists might have apprehensions about Yahya Abdul-Matten II‘s portrayal of Morpheus, with many questioning why Laurence Fishburne did not return, but Abdul-Mateen holds his own against the veterans without turning his performance into an impression of Fishburne. Jonathan Groff‘s Smith is another recast as Smith, who doesn’t take on as pivotal a role as Hugo Weaving‘s Smith, though his actions leave room for interpretation and growth if there is more to come.
Although the story elements are mostly strong, where Resurrection stumbles is with its action. The original trilogy brought in the work of Yuen Woo Ping, a celebrated Hong Kong martial arts choreographer, and it was clear. The action scenes of Resurrections do not live up to the same standards, the cutting is a little erratic, making the action hard to follow and appreciate at points. There are a couple of good scenes, but nothing like the memorable sequences of the trilogy.
Another aspect holding the movie back is its sometimes too on-the-nose meta references, without going into spoilers at one point a character quite literally mentions Warner Bros Studios. It’s obviously played for laughs, supposed to be a wink at the camera, but it’s far too overt. On the other hand, what the story does do extremely well, which is very exciting for those of us who love Matrix lore, is that it pushes us forward many years into the future and the human race has moved past the city of Zion.
This new city called Io is run by General Niobe (a Jada Pinkett Smith that still shines beneath a bunch of aging makeup), and it is prosperous. You can feel the significant passage of time and you know that Neo’s sacrifice was not in vain. Beneath her are the ship’s captains and crews, a new generation of human rebels. This is mostly populated by the cast of Sense8, another Wachowski masterpiece. For lovers of the extended universe beyond just the films, this new city is incredibly exciting. What stories might sprout from this new period in time? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out.
As a die-hard Matrix fan (who has spent the last four months talking hours and hours about The Matrix universe), I was always excited for Resurrections, but after all of that analysis, the movie feels like an extension of the universe rather than a soft reboot. If it’s been a few years since you’ve seen The Matrix movies, it’s definitely time for a rewatch! For those wondering how much the games play into this, especially The Matrix Online, which was originally meant to be the successor to the trilogy, it’s not an essential piece of work. That is, if you weren’t around to play The Matrix Online you’re not missing anything major, but if you were, there are nods to the game that can be spotted.
The conclusion of Resurrections leaves abundant room for follow-up. Whether it’s another animated anthology or a streaming show or another comics collection, the door has definitely been left open. Much like the previous trilogy, Resurrection rewards rewatching. Having seen it twice myself, the second watch gave me a wealth of information that I missed the first go around. This is a movie that requires a viewing on the big screen for the impact and effect, but also multiple viewings at home through HBO Max to make sure you catch all the details.
The Matrix Resurrections is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max December 22, 2021.