Matrix Resurrections review: A tired messiah and an exhausted gospel

The elements are there. The lore is there. The set-up for a revival is there. It could have taken the questions the first three films asked and updated them for 2021.
Matrix Resurrections
Matrix Resurrections
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Let me say, here at the start, I've been looking forward to the Matrix reboot for a bit. I'm one of those people who were clued in early that the original Matrix was a trans allegory; is a trans allegory. I saw the Matrix for what it was: a direct personal message to me, saying it will be all right.

The next two films weren't so heavy on the transgender narrative, but still pushed a fair bit of person fighting evil oppressive system and explored ideas of choice, pre-determination versus self-determination, ghosts in the machine, reality and fiction, and such. Plus, way cool fight scenes. I mean, Matrix did invent bullet time. And repurposed Superman, made Superman less of a US mascot, turned red and blue into green and black.

Released in 1999, the first Matrix film told us that the Machines had become sentient – possessing artificial intelligence – and this resulted in an all out war between the machines and the humans. Then, the humans scorched the sky with nuclear detonation in the hope that the machines, deprived of a source of energy, would die out. Instead, the machines began harvesting human bio electricity to survive. The Matrix is the virtual reality simulation that the machines created, in order to keep the humans “happy” while they are unconscious and plugged into the power grid.

Over the years, Matrix, Reloaded and Revolutions, and the lore surrounding it only built up the franchise in my head. Multiple rewatches did nothing to lessen the awe I had for Neo and Trinity, change the revulsion I had for Agent Smith every time he said ‘Mr Anderson,’ and the full-on love I had for Morpheus.

And then Lana and Lilly – the creators of The Matrix – transitioned, fought the world, restored peace and tranquility and trolled the Trans Exlusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) on Twitter. When I heard the Wachowski sisters were going to make a TV series – which became Sense8 – I almost gave up eating eggs in excitement.

All this is to say, I am a bit of a fan of the Matrix universe. And I am a little disappointed with Matrix IV: Resurrections.

The explanation for why this reboot happened is there in the film. Warner Bros - the studio that backed the first three Matrix films, basically said, ‘Or else’ to the Wachowskis. And so Lana had to come back to resurrect Neo and Trinity from their well-earned death and make them fight the machines once more.

And then we cut to an elaborately meta, in-joke.

Would it be too much to ask, given it was going to happen anyway, with or without the Wachowskis, that the Wachowskis themselves do it, and do it well?

The elements are there. The lore is there. The set-up for a revival is there. It could have taken the questions the first three films asked and updated them for 2021. What is choice and free will in a world run over by selfish fascists and self-aggrandizing neo nazis? Can you see beyond the body, can you see beyond appearances and presentations, expressions when you seek love? Can you be Switch? Can you fight the police state, shape-shifting their way through your world? When someone insists you are Mr Anderson, can you be Neo?

There’s a scene in the second Matrix film, in which Councillor Hamann, a leader of Zion — the underground human city where those freed from the Matrix live — takes the insomniac Neo to the ‘engineering level.’ There, Hamann points out the machines that are pumping breathable air into Zion, filtering its waste, and doing the things that are necessary to keep a city running. Who is keeping whom alive, wonders Councillor Hamann. A meta-question within the world of The Matrix.

A tiny bit of that is here in Resurrections. The Humans are making peace with the machines, and the new human world – Io, the successor to Zion – has robots and machines, many of whom are sentient, working side by side with the humans. Even the machines that once harvested human bioelectricity to supply the machines are on ‘our side.’

However, none of these is fully explored. There’s a great set-up for questioning the role of psychiatry and mental health, for trauma, PTSD, depression. There’s a set-up for critically looking at the role of mental health practitioners. Things almost ALL of us are grappling with in 2021. Is the therapist making our lives easier? Or are we just allowing ourselves to go blunt? Are we reliving trauma or processing it?

And then we cut to an elaborately meta, in-joke.

Of course, no one says a film has to be a dissertation worthy enough of a PhD. For instance, it could just be slick action scenes.

I mean, Matrix did invent bullet time.

The trailer set us up for this. It made us believe there will be deep philosophy and fast action. There will be blood. There will be Kung Fu. Instead, we got a tired Keanu whose only schtick in the entire film was stopping bullets. “I still know Kung Fu,” Neo says. And then proceeds to not do Kung Fu for 70% of the film. Instead, we have the same set pieces – running on roofs and jumping off buildings and helicopters – that we had in the first three films. Action and fight sequences in films around the world, since 2003, changed as a direct result of the Matrix and its sequels. Many stunt choreographers and action sequence directors have built on this. Explosions and slowing downtime to see the trajectory of bullets – like in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, or martial arts and one-on-one combat – like in Kung Fu Panda (all three of them), Ong Bak, and perhaps even Keanu’s own John Wick series.

There’s a bit of that here, in Resurrections. Very short, very confused hand-to-hand combat in the scene where Neo and his new band of helpers infiltrate the Matrix again to rescue Trinity. And a halfway interesting train-based action sequence. And then we cut to an elaborately meta, in-joke.

Agent Smith, too, has been turned into an elaborate joke. For no fault of his, we must compare Jonathan Groff to Hugo Weaving and decide Weaving was by far the best ‘Smith’ Smith can be. There was a menace in Hugo Weaving’s Smith. This new Agent Smith has been turned into something of a wise-cracking goof. Where there could have been crackling tension, there are five pages of dialogues. Smith and Neo are opposites: antithetical forces looking to wipe the other out. And they do, in Revolutions. The final battle that assures peace for all of the humanity results in the death of both Smith and Neo.

To take these great antagonists and reduce their battle to office politics? And later, a non-thing? What happens to Smith after Neo comes into full possession of his memory and capacity is a travesty and no one but the writers – Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksander Hemon – can be blamed for this.

And so what we’re left with, are a series of elaborate, meta, in-jokes. And as in Sense8, a whole lot of amazing people come together – across time, distance and universes – to help two white people in love, get together.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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