The Matrix ranks as one of the most innovative and influential science-fiction films of all time. Creators The Wachowskis introduced us to the iconic “bullet time” special effect sequence and the blue pill/red pill idea as well as a distinct universe where the titular Matrix overlays the real world. Two sequels expanded this universe and got even trippier. It took 18 years for a return to this movie franchise, largely because The Wachowskis were busy with other projects and they thought that they had mined the most gold out of their concept. After watching this fourth film, I made an immediate connection to Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a way to mix new characters and challenges with familiar elements from the past in a plot that mirrors the original in places. The Matrix Resurrections feels like taking another red pill as your eyes are reopened to a world that you might not have visited for decades.
Cowriter/director Lana Wachowski goes it alone without her sister Lilly Wachowski, but with cowriters David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. Taking place long after the original trilogy, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) works as a video game designer in a successful company alongside partner Smith (Jonathan Groff). They launched a successful trilogy of games called The Matrix (in a meta connection that I didn’t like) inspired by flashes of Thomas’s memories of the past. Thomas regularly sees The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him blue pills to keep him stable and tamp down those memories. Thomas runs into Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) at a coffee shop, which triggers more flashbacks. Meanwhile, Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Morpheus (now played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II instead of Laurence Fishburne) have a plan to “wake up” Thomas and Tiffany from the Matrix into their identities Neo and Trinity to save the real world.
Although older now, both Reeves and Moss slip on these characters like a comfortable robe and are almost in on the nostalgia. All of those years of John Wick movies kept Reeves ready to handle all of Neo’s stunts and the action sequences. Moss balances Reeves’s seriousness with an earthy, homey vibe that she maybe didn’t deliver before, and her scene with Reeves when their characters merely shake hands comes off as a meet-cute scene out of a romantic comedy. Don’t worry; Moss as Trinity takes part in some amazing sequences as well. Newcomers to the series Henwick and Abdul-Mateen II inject some fresh energy in their scenes. It’s almost as if the freshmen in school enlist the help of the seniors to tackle a school assignment. Henwick commands the screen to the point where I wanted to know more about her blue-haired computer whiz and leader. Although nobody will ever replace Hugo Weaving, Groff creates his own smarmy, threatening villain to Thomas. Harris never fails to impress, even in small roles, and he thankfully doesn’t overshadow Reeves and the other actors as he stays in his zone. I’m not sure why Christina Ricci appears in just one scene. Perhaps there were others that were cut. Jada Pinkett Smith reprises her role as Niobe, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas watches over Thomas in his office with a mysterious purpose.
Fans of the trilogy will find a lot of elements that harken back to those touchstones. Wachowski uses quite a few flashbacks to the movies to remind you of certain scenes or characters just as Thomas reawakens to his true self. These flashbacks have a downside in that they also remind you of Fishburne and Weaving and how nice it would have been for them to reprise their roles alongside Reeves and Moss. The real world looks just like it did before from the flying robots to the pods that hold humans hostage and power the Matrix. A familiar sequence with Trinity escaping from authorities also gets resurrected in a new way. A fight sequence in a dojo between Thomas and Morpheus reproduces similar moves in The Matrix. With The Matrix Resurrections, everything old is new again in altered states. Fans may be disappointed that this movie doesn’t go far enough with creative new elements, scenes and stunts. Pay attention to the signs, names and places in the film. I especially liked Simulatte for the name of a coffee shop.
These movies call to mind amazing special effects and stunts, including the aforementioned “bullet time” effect from The Matrix that was duplicated by many filmmakers and a mind-blowing highway chase in The Matrix Reloaded. There are some memorable stunts in the movie with Henwick as the focus in a neat hallway scene and others where she dodges enemies put in her way to stop her mission. The finale harkens back to some of those breathtaking sights in the trilogy, and a sequence with agents appearing from every direction had me shaking my head in awe. Special effects are so commonplace these days that it takes even more to impress me. In any other film, the sprawling mechanical cityscapes and robots of the real world would be the highlight. Here, they’re the baseline. I need to compliment the filmmakers and stylists for the distinct differences between the main characters’ personas/avatars in the Matrix and the real world. These looks like the blue hair for Bugs and the outfits for other characters serve as a quick visual reminder of where things are happening. For some people new to the series, noticing these clothes and hairstyles may help them follow the narrative.
Is this the last trip into the world of The Matrix? I don’t know. I would welcome another movie or even a TV show if the story warranted the effort. I’d be perfectly happy to leave it alone. Animated stories and video games expanded the world beyond the big screen, so maybe one of those options should be the next step. I anticipate more the next John Wick movie because each one has taken the series to a new level much like The Matrix trilogy did. Ironically, the trilogy begat the John Wick series because director Chad Stahelski worked as both a stunt double for Reeves in The Matrix and a stunt coordinator for the series. The Matrix Resurrections gave me a needed fix of the world that The Wachowskis created much like a trip to an amusement park — some new rides mixed with the classics for a fun day out nonetheless.