It’s hard to think of a franchise that went downhill faster than The Matrix. The original worked on two levels. One minute, its game-changing special effects had us asking, “how did they do that.” The next, its philosophical story had us questioning our very existence. While The Matrix Reloaded overdosed on exposition, it delivered some of the series’ most ambitious action sequences. Reloaded would likely be more fondly remembered had it not set the stage for The Matrix Revolutions. With underwhelming set pieces and unsatisfying character deaths, Revolutions seemingly killed the franchise. Being an allegory for Jesus, though, it was only a matter of time until Neo got resurrected, especially with the Keanussance in full swing.
The Matrix Resurrections opens with a homage to the first film as a blue-haired rebel named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) encounters an alternate version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Laurence Fishburne is absent outside of archival footage, and while he’ll always be the definitive Morpheus, Abdul-Mateen brings fresh energy to the role. The same can be said for Jonathan Groff as Agent Smith, channeling Hugo Weaving without doing an impression of him. Of course, it’s initially unclear if any of these characters are real. Keanu Reeves slips back into the role of Thomas Anderson, now a game designer questioning his reality.
Tom is the mastermind behind a game trilogy called The Matrix, which follows the same storyline as the previous movies. So, how do Enter the Matrix and The Matrix Online fit into the equation? Were those games within a game? Canon or not, Tom suspects that his games are reflections of reality. His therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) pumps Tom with blue pills to deal with his anxiety, although they could be shielding him from the truth. Director Lana Wachowski cleverly occupies the screen with red and blue motifs, leaving Tom to constantly wonder what’s real and what’s an illusion. All Tom knows for sure is that he’s drawn to a fellow coffee shop patron going by Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Considering how strait-faced the original trilogy was, Resurrections’ meta approach is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Tom even encounters a typical Matrix fanboy who won’t shut up about how the franchise blew his mind. Beyond sending up the franchise’s tropes and reboots in general, there’s an involving mystery at its core. Had the film maintained this self-aware tone throughout, Resurrections might’ve been one of Hollywood’s best modern sequels. Eventually, though, Wachowski returns to the bullet time, philosophical speeches, and other hallmarks we’d expect. That’s all well and good for longtime fans, but there isn’t a set piece that compares to Reloaded’s highway chase. At two-and-a-half hours, some of the longwinded monologues also could’ve been trimmed down.
Resurrections is at its best when it tries new things. Aside from being a meta commentary, the film is also a love story. The romance has never been this franchise’s strong suit, but I found myself drawn to Neo and Trinity’s relationship more than ever before. Maybe that’s because Moss and especially Reeves have matured as performers. Maybe it’s because their dialogue feels more authentic, especially during an early encounter at the coffee shop. In any case, the film delivers the satisfying ending that we’ve wanted for almost two decades. Of course, “ending” might be the wrong word with the possibility of a fifth film on the table. Whether this is the end or a new beginning, the film could just as easily be called The Matrix Redeemed.