No-one called anything a “cultural reset” when The Matrix was released in 1999, but that’s what the Wachowskis’ mind-bending movie was. The chilling idea that humans could be imprisoned inside a virtual reality world (“the Matrix”) chimed with the times – the internet was still a relative novelty back then – and its breathtaking fight scenes proved super-influential. Soon after, every Hollywood blockbuster seemed to be ripping off The Matrix‘s “bullet-time” visual effects.
Since then, The Matrix has become a byword for Y2K nostalgia – just ask Charli XCX and Troye Sivan, who paid homage to the film in their ‘1999’ music video – without ever losing its visionary intrigue. Last year, Lilly Wachowski confirmed a fan theory that escaping the Matrix is essentially an allegory for the trans experience. So, in a way, it’s surprising the franchise hasn’t been revived sooner – especially since the original trilogy ended in 2003 with a disappointing final instalment.
Directed solely by Lana Wachowski – Lilly isn’t involved this time – The Matrix Resurrections is meta, self-referential and filled with in-jokes. Though Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) were seemingly killed in 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, it’s surely no spoiler to confirm that we find them both alive and well (ish). Now going by his original name, Thomas A. Anderson, Neo is introduced here as the famous inventor of a ground-breaking video game called… The Matrix.
Thomas seems catatonic (a Reeves specialty) and experiences dark visions that hint at a different life, but his creepy therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) prescribes him blue pills to suppress them. Equally unaware of her past, Trinity is “Tiffany”, a mother-of-three he meets at his local coffee shop. It’s a place punningly called “Simulatte” because, well, this is that kind of film.
Anyway, as anyone with even a vague awareness of The Matrix will know, Thomas aka Neo’s blue pills are designed to keep him living ignorantly inside the Matrix instead of confronting the ugly truth about the sentient machines controlling humanity. He’s forced out of his torpor when he’s ambushed at work by his stylish old mentor Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, taking over from Laurence Fishburne for reasons the film just about explains). Having joined forces with the plucky Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a cyber freedom fighter on a mission to reawaken the legendary Neo, Morpheus offers Thomas the infamous red pill that will let him see things as they really are.
Resurrections’ plot developments are as complex and convoluted as you’d expect from The Matrix, so Wachowski over-compensates by loading the dialogue with clumsy exposition and signposting self-referential moments with archive footage from the original trilogy. Because of this, Resurrections can feel like a concentration test even when it gets gripping. Still, the inventive fight scenes are definitely bracing if you’ve seen one too many toothless superhero movies, and there are some memorable performances. Jada Pinkett Smith poignantly reprises her role as Niobe, while Jonathan Groff gleefully succeeds Hugo Weaving as Neo’s scheming rival Agent Smith.
Along the way, Wachowski weaves in some timely ideas about human nature and complacency, and the fundamental importance of love. This doesn’t lead the film to an entirely satisfying climax, but it definitely gets you thinking. Call it the red pill of pandemic-era blockbusters. Maybe.
- Director: Lana Wachowski
- Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
- Release date: December 26