And… we’re back! Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are still stuck in the Matrix. Versions of Morpheus and Agent Smith return, played by new actors (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff, respectively). There are new characters, such as Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris). Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) reappear, though their characters are essentially unrecognizable.
That’s about it. It’s The Matrix, but not The Matrix. Don’t worry about the plot, it doesn’t make any sense.
Josh: I loved the first half of this movie, but I’m still trying to decide if I hated the last half or if I was just bored. I feel like I have to watch it again to see if my reaction is still the same. But it’s a two and a half hour movie and I don’t really want to do that.
Arley: I went into this with a grudge because I’m so tired of remakes, rehashes, sequels, and so on. I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would, which is saying a lot. On the other hand, we have so many great ideas in terms of what this movie could have done.
Josh: I’m trying to rank the movies and see where this one fits. I like this one more than Revolutions, I will say that much. Revolutions is pretty bad. I don’t know if I like this one more than Reloaded, because although Reloaded gets bogged down, it still has some pretty good action scenes and it still has characters I like — Gloria Foster, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving. This movie needs way more Hugo Weaving.
Arley: There’s a lot to like in those movies. Reloaded introduces a lot of cool concepts and does a really good job of building on the core idea of the Matrix. It flips what you thought was happening. They totally subvert the idea of what it means to be a chosen one. But in movie three they throw away so much of what they build, and it becomes a straight up superhero action movie with only perfunctory meaning – it’s almost as if three was written by someone else entirely.
Josh: I mean, we can sit here all day and be like, they should have done this or that or a million different things. I have some personal headcanon right now that would make a much better movie, but we’re gonna skip all that.
Arley: Let’s take this direction. Like, what are the top three things that we did like about Resurrections? Each.
Josh: I thought Yahya Abdul-Mateen did a great job as the new Morpheus. As much as I love Laurence Fishburne as that character, this was a different style of Morpheus, and he had a fun attitude and a self-awareness of what he was and what he was doing, which was at odds with what everyone else in the movie was doing. Almost all the other acting and dialogue was really bad. Niobe’s old-person makeup and acting was terrible — just cast an older actor! They’re already recasting hella people anyway.
Arley: I actually really liked the way that they interspersed images from the original movies with this one. It felt sort of like a music video. Even though at first I was like, “Wait, what the fuck?” But then I started getting into it.
Josh: The science fiction aspects of IO were really interesting — the synthients taking physical form in the real world, the reprogrammed machines who are now helping the humans. I always found Zion in the original trilogy to be so drab and boring. I’d be impatient for them to hurry up and get back to the Matrix where everything’s cool, but in this I actually wanted them to spend more time in “the real world.” But they kinda just skip past it.
Arley: There were so many cool ideas that were completely underdeveloped, throughout the whole movie. Jordan Kurella and I were talking about this movie, and he had this great line, something about how the filmmakers are “drunk on their own mythology.” Such a great way to put it. I do appreciate that they gave Trinity more power in the end. They basically corrected that too-familiar gender and role imbalance. The resolution didn’t necessarily make sense in terms of the narrative, but I don’t really care. Whatever, it’s better than the standard dude saving the love interest.
Josh: I’m really trying to think of what else I thought was good in this movie. Oh, one other thing: even though I thought NPH was completely miscast, I liked the scene where he was infodumping during bullet time. It’s kind of like the Architect conversation in the second movie, but it’s not visually boring. There’s tension building, there are some cool effects. It was a good way to do a bunch of exposition without… I mean, it literally slowed down the movie, but without slowing the movie down, you know?
Arley: My favorite role he’s ever played was Carl Jenkins in Starship Troopers. But, definitely. That scene was nicely layered, both visually and in terms of dialogue. I really liked Bugs. Actually I loved Bugs, at least, initially. The Bugs you think you’re getting, at the beginning of the movie.
Josh: Yeah, Jessica Henwick was all right. I thought her character could have been interesting, but again, they just didn’t do anything with her. Add her to the huge list of ideas that should have been expanded upon.
Arley: There were a couple of cool action moments that I did like, like when she slides down the hotel sign, she does this sort of sideways flip over onto the corner of a building, and the corner crumbles, and she stumbles. That felt fresh to me. I loved Morpheus. I like that they brought back Sati but I didn’t necessarily like what they did with her.
Josh: I want to talk about the action specifically, but I’ll save it for the end.
The beginning of The Matrix Resurrections mirrors Black Mirror: Bandersnatch — metafiction about a video game designer slowly losing the ability to distinguish the borders of reality. It’s well-trod territory. There are plenty of stories about blurring the lines of reality, such as 1990’s Total Recall; and many, many stories about entering (and even getting lost in) games, such as the iconic 1982 film Tron; and even stories about both, such as 1999 film eXistenZ. If any franchise was going to get away with going meta and being clever, it should’ve been The Matrix. But all the self-referential material vanishes halfway through and the rest of the film compresses the basic arc of the original trilogy into about an hour of screentime.
The Matrix lore is multi-channel and varied: video games that continue the story after the original movies; web comics; tie-in media, including a pretty good Neil Gaiman short story; and, additionally, several of Resurrections‘ underdeveloped ideas are taken from The Animatrix. Yet, even with all that available, it boils down to the same tired plot we’ve seen before, just the love story of rescuing one person —
Arley: Oh, yeah, I have to interrupt. I’m so sorry. But I’m very passionate about this point. I’ve really grown to detest movies where it’s like, the only important people are these two people, or this one person, and no one else really, substantially matters. Like with Star Wars where it’s like, oh, it’s really all about just one family. So that hit a nerve for me in this movie. I side with Niobe where she’s like, Wait, we’re gonna risk the entire civilization because you have a boner? I really wanted them to explore all these other cool ideas. But then machine-world-exposition is like, “I don’t know why, Neo, but every time you and Trinity are together…” blah blah blah. I’m just like, no. Don’t. Even the idea of bringing Trinity back, as much as I love Carrie-Anne Moss, and as much as I love the character of Trinity, even the idea of bringing her back undermines the whole concept of her death.
Josh: I’d like to see more plots about like mass salvation or liberation. I mean, they called the third one Revolutions, but nothing’s changing. You’re just saving one person or, like, what are you doing with these powers? Essentially, nothing.
Arley: All these interesting characters at the very beginning, they have things that they want, but then the film never follows up on their stories. Even at the end, there’s a scene where crowds are converging on the group, and Trinity pulls up on a motorcycle and tells Neo to get on and they leave —
Josh: I thought the same thing. I was like, “Wait, your whole crew!”
Arley: Who are risking their life to save your fucking ass?
Josh: You guys have superpowers and you’re just ditching everybody. Okay, but the action, I wanted to bring this up. The editing on the fight scenes looked very choppy, which I think is partially an attempt to cover up the choreography. There are good reasons to do this. God bless Keanu Reeves for all the training he does for John Wick, but he’s understandably a lot stiffer than he was in the first movies, and I guarantee that all the actors did not go through another intensive, extended martial arts bootcamp this time around. They don’t have Yuen Wo Ping returning as choreographer, obviously. So I ended up going down this rabbithole looking at the crew for Resurrections and found out that a lot of them come from Sense8, which was the Wachowskis’ Netflix series. The editor, the fight choreographer, and all the writers — plus who knows how many others — were all scooped up from that show, and I think that’s reflected in the quality of this movie. The action and the fight scenes look slapped together, or tacked on. They don’t hold that same linchpin weight as the intricately planned scenes from The Matrix or The Matrix Reloaded.
Arley: That was an opportunity for Neo to be like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna do the fighting thing,” and they could have taken the story in a really interesting direction. For example, positing that fighting is what you do when you don’t know any better, and when you’re more developed and you can stop bullets, then you can do all this other shit instead of just fighting. So they had this opportunity to take it, you know, philosophically and cinematically in a really interesting direction. I also hate narratives where a character levels up over and over to the point where you have to nerf him for the next movie. That shit drives me crazy. It’s like, I guess you’re not smart enough to build another story or create new challenges for that powerful of a character.
Josh: I don’t know what the theme of this movie is supposed to be. Every character came on with a different rant about something. I’m like, “What am I supposed to be feeling? What am I supposed to be rooting for?”
Arley: At the end of the day, the only theme — I mean, I guess this matches the original three movies — the only really consistent theme is “true love.”
Josh: Fuck that. I know I’ve been saying this for the past however many movies we’ve watched, but this is another movie where I wish they’d died at the end. Have them jump off the building, and they don’t fly. They just fall to their deaths. Jumping off buildings is not a solution. But that’s exactly what the end of the movie was talking about, that nobody wants to see this sentimental survivor crap, everyone wants their cynicism, and I guess I do fall into that also.
Arley: Or you just wanted it to be interesting, and where it goes is very predictable.
Josh: Anyway, are we going to recommend this? I think I have to watch it again, but I’d say only watch it as a — I was going to say “as a rental,” but who does rentals anymore? Watch it when it comes to a streaming service you already have. Don’t spend theater money on it.
Arley: Despite my griping, I thought it was mostly entertaining, and there were a lot of cool ideas early on. I’d say if you’re a completionist, watch it with low expectations and just have fun. It’s like Morpheus said: It’s all about the nostalgia. I do also want to point to a piece by Unity author Elly Bangs, which talks about these films as trans metaphors. Check it out here.
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Written by: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell & Aleksandar Hemon
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci & Lambert Wilson
JOSH PEARCE has stories and poetry in Analog, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cast of Wonders, Clarkesworld, IGMS, Nature, and more. Find him on Twitter: @fictionaljosh, or at fictionaljosh.com. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.
ARLEY SORG, Senior Editor, has been part of the Locus crew since 2014. Arley is a 2021 World Fantasy Award finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. He is also Associate Editor and reviewer at Lightspeed & Nightmare magazines, columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and interviewer at Clarkesworld Magazine. He grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and lives in Oakland, CA. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he can be found at arleysorg.com – where he has started his own “casual interview” series with authors and editors – and on Twitter (@arleysorg).
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