Directed by Lana Wachowski; Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon
The Matrix, now going on 23 years old, is one of the all-time most influential pieces of pop culture, spawning everything from low-brow imitations to a dirge of philosophical theses. It’s also a genuine perfect movie that slaps every bit as hard today as it did then.
It was followed by two sequels that didn’t go as hard as the first, yet offered only redeemable moments beyond their deepening of the universe’s lore. Nineteen years after The Matrix Revolutions, which saw Neo sacrifice himself to stop the man-machine war, we now have Resurrections.
It finds Neo, or Thomas Anderson, surprisingly, back in the Matrix, living as a game designer famous for creating the Matrix series, a game-version of the story we watched all those years ago. He’s struggling with his memories, because those experiences he turned into a video game felt so – and still feel – so real. But how could they be? His therapist tells him they’re his mind playing tricks on him, his business partner tells him the conglomerate that owns their little video game studio wants a fourth installment in the Matrix-series, because, duh, it’s a money maker, and all around him are people who keep throwing appraisals at him, explaining how the series is a metaphor for this, a take down of that, a searing commentary of something he’s never heard of. If the Neo of The Matrix was searching for something more, the Neo of Resurrections might feel there’s too much.
Then, when he’s fully on the edge of reality, something from the void reaches out and pulls him in. A man named Morpheus appears and offers him a red pill that will reveal all (again) and lift the curtain on the pretend-reality that Thomas Anderson occupies and told others was just a simulation.
As you can tell, Resurrections is meta-cute and is meta about being meta. This isn’t to say The Matrix wasn’t, but what’s different here is the worldview. Where 1999 harked the imminent Y2K apocalypse and touched a live wire to the dot-com bubble and infused The Matrix with world-weary Gen X nihilism, Resurrections shrugs, channels R.E.M. and belts out how it is indeed the end of the world, but the vibes are still pretty good.
Gone is the man/machine, good/evil dichotomy, and in its place a new murky reality where mankind is thriving (as close to thriving you can get in the post-apocalyptic) and the machines are in turmoil, with some nuts-and-bolts citizens now mingling with the humans in seeming coexistence. Some of them are even cute. It feels like Disney-fication at times, and unfortunately Resurrections occupies itself with the less interesting elements of the original trilogy, namely the “real world”, forgoing its core concept and philosophical quandaries to instead focus on a down-to-earth love story.
The new supporting cast of characters are a set of traffic cones for the plot to weave through, and the stakes have the heft of a limited-run spin-off, far from possessing its own arc and outlook. Because the film is, above all, nostalgic. Brief glimpses from the original trilogy flit into the narrative like painful memories to stir some sentiment, but all they do is really make plain how visually striking the original films were compared to the CGI-rrific goo that is Resurrections.
Ultimately, where it felt like The Matrix had something, some hook and perspective that saw beyond the way things were, Resurrections feels like an indulgent callback, a foolhardy attempt to satisfy a baser want for resolutions beyond what was given. I can understand the want, but Resurrections is not what Neo, Trinity, or The Matrix itself needed.