[Nightmarish Detour Review] THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS
Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS faces the same problem that every other Matrix sequel faces, namely, that it isn’t The Matrix, but it does so with heart, humor, and a lighthearted touch. The film is less dense with the complex world-building of the previous installments, particularly the two previous sequels, and the esoteric nature and sheer amount of characters in those sequels. The film is less action-oriented and more character-driven, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be fighting and large action setpieces. It just means that the action isn’t one of the centers of the film. It’s even more interesting that the film, in my opinion, crosses over into the horror space briefly. TW: there is suicidal ideation and a form of group suicide in the film. While part of that can be explained as the Matrix program’s control of certain beings, it should be noted for those who are triggered by the subject.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is a reset, not a reboot, and hosts a more accessible philosophical discussion with the audience. Did I just say that The Matrix is philosophical? Yes, I did. While watching the film for the second time tonight, it came to me that the reputation of the Matrix film series is largely based on the eye-popping visuals and the fight scenes and stunts. The guns, all the guns. Maybe this is just me, but the philosophical themes of the series are acknowledged, usually as the red pill/blue pill dance with reality and choice, but are never really credited for being as large a part of the series as they actually are. The action and the visuals, right down to the fashionable looks of the idealized Matrix incarnations of the characters are the candy coating for the psychological musings of the filmmakers about what our world really is and who we actually are. There’s a Don DeLillo quote in the film, from his novel Americana, so the filmmakers are thinking about more than just gun battles and car chases.

The film is directed by Lana Wachowski, co-written by Wachowski, David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, Sense8) and Aleksandar Hemon (Sense8, Love Island) and stars Keanu Reeves as Neo, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Candyman, Aquaman) as Morpheus / Agent Smith, Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones) as Bugs, Jonathan Groff (Mindhunter, Hamilton) as Smith, Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst, Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Quantico) as Sati and Christina Ricci as Gwyn de Vere.

There are several action set pieces and big confrontations. All are well done, but they aren’t the preternaturally perfection of previous films because they are not the focus of the film. I have read some criticism that the previous fight coordinators were not used again as if it was a mistake. It’s not. I believe it was intentional. The series has moved on from the standards of the first film. Without growth in a film series, the series is dead from a creative standpoint. It’s only when the series moves on to tell other stories and takes the creative drive in other directions that the series remains relevant. In MATRIX RESURRECTIONS, I believe Lana Wachowski has succeeded. There’s a large well of the best kind of humanity, the imperfect but loving kind, in it.

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Perfection isn’t the goal, understanding is. MATRIX RESURRECTIONS isn’t about the guns or the violence, it’s about the heart and soul. I’m as cynical as they come, but the sincerity of this film and the humanity of it, in the plot and the actor’s performances, won me over.

A central theme seems to be human society’s foolish insistence on a binary standard. The stubborn belief that there is only the choice of this or that rather than a multitude of possibilities.

One of my favorite statements in the film that is bookended to the fallacy of the binary construct is that limitations are for the limited. It’s not so much “free your mind” as it is something like,  “Those whose thinking is limited by society’s standards are limited in their abilities and their lives.” This extends to the film’s ideas about how free thinkers are often derided by people who fear change as being crazy. It also speaks about how stepping outside of the norm of our group reality can make you question your own sanity. It’s hard to buck the hold that society’s standards force on us all and that’s why true change is so difficult.

There are references and echoes of The Matrix all over this film, but they all have a purpose. The meta aspects are the filmmakers venting their frustrations about fan expectations but also giving the audience insight into the pitfalls of making such a groundbreaking film and the heavyweight of audience expectations.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS squarely faces its own legacy. It once again questions the nature of reality. It’s a pugnacious remix of the story that is ready to fistfight with the audience’s expectations. At the same time, the film allows itself to be vulnerable and lighthearted which is one of its greatest strengths. The sturm and drang of the first film in the series are gone. Love and cooperation are big parts of themes of the film as is the strength of women. I’m desperately trying to avoid talking about the specifics of the plot, but I could fall into a discussion of the film and its meaning easily at any time.

For me, the film is very successful, because it makes me want to go back and rewatch the other two sequels to see what I may have missed. It makes me want to watch Sense8. But, most importantly, I would like to watch MATRIX RESURRECTIONS for a third time, just so I can enjoy it again. I want to watch it again to see what else might be inside it.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS arrives in theaters and HBO Max tomorrow, December 22, 2021.

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