“Back to where it all began. Back to The Matrix”?! states Jonathan Groff in the trailer for the fourth entry into the colossal, influential franchise that showcased bullet time, wire work (made famous by pioneering stunt choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, leather fetishism and a new way for Keanu Reeves to say “Woah!”. Back at the start of the new millennium, the $60million budget for a unique actioner such as this, with its psychological themes about the human race, machines and technology, love and much more therein, was seen as a bit risky.
This was especially so after studio Warner Bros‘ poor streak of flops around the same time (Batman & Robin, The Postman, Sphere to name a few as well as the mooted $250million budget going on Tim Burton’s Superman Lives at the same time). 22 years later, the investment was a worthy one and not many have had the same reverberations through the industry or the cinema-going public that the film would have. Its two sequels, which followed in 2003, were huge box office successes but both left much to be desired as the ideas, themes and ideologies of the first film became excessive and impenetrable. So what of the fourth film? Coming into a different cinema landscape where its revolutions, innovations and allegorical weavings have been swapped out for connected universes and IP’s, where would The Matrix Resurrections fit exactly?
We won’t say too much on the plot here, suffice it to say that the return of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss gives you some idea as to what might be going on, with energetic new recruits, including the excellent Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, all struggling to navigate The Matrix once more. The what and why we will let you discover but despite some flashes of pure brilliance, Resurrections follows the predecessor sequels in being as perplexing, baffling and incoherent as they were.
There’s a meta slant on proceedings that Lana Wachowski and co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon seek to frame the nature of how both the film’s story and the films themselves – literally – would exist in 2021 but despite a opening act full of intriguing notions and musings quickly descends down the same baffling, confusing rabbit hole as those sequels did with overbearing talk of ideologies, free will, prophecies, fate and choice. All lofty themes, but it’s very much seen it, heard it, past it now, with its execution much sharper in the original or indeed 2012’s hugely underrated Cloud Atlas. Indeed, it also shoots for Hollywood (and its own studio), social media, video games and the new stimulus that exists in the new 21st century since the original but none of its probes and prodding’s amount to anything substantial other than a few passing giggles and knowing glances.
Of course, many will be coming to the film less for all the philosophical ideals and more for the promise of spectacular action but, unlike what has gone before, almost all of the set-pieces here fail to muster the same excitement and exquisiteness as before. Quick and precise fights seem slow and cumbersome while camera work looks shoddy and unyielding and the energy there once was has fizzled out despite the usual commitment from its cast, most notably Reeves and Moss, both of whom are never anything but compelling.
Characters in the film talk of nostalgia being a great way to cure anxiety in the film and in a year where we have seen many films hark back to their origins with varying results, perhaps most surprising of all is that the one we thought would do just that as we continue with the anxieties of our real world, is the one that falls short. I’m sure we’d all think twice about escaping all the madness of 2020/2021 to enter The Matrix, but as resurrections go, this one needed a more forceful defibrillator.
Action, Sci-Fi | 2021 | Warner Bros Pictures | 15 | Dir: Lana Wachowski | Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, Jada Pinket-Smith