There will undoubtedly be people who enjoyed The Matrix Resurrections, and that’s fine. I am not one of those people. There is a lot here to unpack and picking a place to start is perhaps the toughest part of writing this and, yes as expected, this article is riddled with spoilers. Inhales deeply. Let’s begin.
To put my grievances about Resurrections into perspective, we need to indeed return to the source. 1999’s The Matrix and its two sequels are very, very different films. The original Matrix films were always about pushing the limits of what a movie could be – epic scores, amazingly innovative effects and visuals – pioneering the bullet time effect that would be endlessly emulated (but never quite replicated) for decades to come, coupled with a finely crafted story steeped in cyberpunk/anime style flair. The Wachowskis were rockstars of the sci-fi action genre.
Fast forward to 2021, Keanu Reeves is extremely popular, the uber humble and low-key actor seems to be everywhere nowadays – with the success of his latest trilogy – the John Wick saga and videogames like Cyberpunk 2077, Reeves is in high demand. Because of this, new sequels to classic films, such as Bill and Ted have appeared so obviously The Matrix would be (over) ripe for the picking too. So much so in fact that Resurrections pokes fun at The Matrix franchise with its 4th wall meta shenanigans about Warner Brothers insisting on another sequel – with or without Reeves.
In Resurrections, Thomas Anderson/Neo is a world renown game developer, the creator of a trilogy of games based on his ‘dreams’ of The Matrix. Neo struggles with separating dreams from reality and keeps getting flashbacks (stock footage from the previous films) of the past however his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) ‘assists’ Neo in keeping his sanity by providing him with blue pills. In reality, Harris is actually ‘The Analyst’ the architect of the current iteration of The Matrix who’s been keeping Neo under the thrall of the system. To top it all off, Neo’s business partner Smith (played by Jonathan Groff) is none other than, yup, you guessed it – Agent Smith, who’s been keeping a watchful eye over Neo this entire time.
Jonathan Groff is a terrible choice to portray Smith. Painfully non-threatening and his attempts at replicating the OG Smith mannerisms falls flatter than a flat Earther’s arguments about Earth itself. It’s also worth noting that if Groff looks familiar to you it’s because he was in the series Glee. Yes, what a wonderful casting choice to fill Hugo Weavings suit and tie. Well, if Groff actually wore a suit and tie in Resurrections that is. Now, I understand that Weaving may not have wanted to be in this sequel or perhaps had work conflicts but then you know what the solution to that problem is? Take another route, and leave him out of the story. Resurrecting Smith for this sequel doesn’t even make sense – while the explanation for Neo and Trinity’s revivals are sound, Smith’s is not. Neo and Trinity were both dead in the physical world by the end of Revolutions but as detailed in this latest sequel, the machines painstakingly rebuilt/healed their bodies. Smith was thoroughly destroyed.
Smith is not the only replacement in Resurrections. Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus has been replaced by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Black Manta) but I can abide this change because it makes sense. In Resurrections, 60 years have passed in reality so the original Morpheus is long gone. This new Morpheus is an artificial embodiment of the judicious hacker who once freed Neo. The human survivors of this new world having long abandoned Zion, created a new sanctuary called Io (eye-oh) led by the now aging Niobe (as she was 32 years old in the original sequels that puts her at 92 years of age now), and work alongside some of the machines in the real world and The Matrix.
Of course, with this new sequel comes new talent (I use this term extremely loosely) as Resurrections is populated by a host of instantly forgettable characters clearly trying far too hard to emulate the slickness of the original team many of whom were plucked from another Wachowski creation – Sense8. I mean, one character has so many hairclips in that it looks like her head is made of metal and Bugs portrayed by Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist) is beyond cringe. Henwick was woeful in Iron Fist, and she’s woeful in Resurrections. Lambert Wilson returns to briefly reprise his role as the ‘self-professed trafficker of information’ Merovingian, but the sinister and suave villain has been reduced to a babbling barbarian-looking creature looking like he came straight out of a Mad Max film. So very disappointing.
Yuen Woo-ping was clearly not responsible for the martial arts choreography in Resurrections either. Woo-ping being an essential component of the original trilogy’s spectacle. In fact, Lana Wachowski is doing most of it herself with Chad Stahelski (who plays Trinity’s husband, Chad) and David Leitch assisting, and there’s no 2nd Unit for the action sequences. Well, that explains everything as the martial arts and ‘gun-foo’ are both devoid of innovation or any kind of direction it seems. Flat. Boring. Uninspired. This pretty much sums up the action scenes, and with so many people on screen during most of these scenes it just devolves into an ugly, directionless mess. Just Terrible. The thoughtfully planned out and choreographed fight spectacles of yesteryear clearly ended when The Matrix was rebooted.
To make matters worse, while Agents do feature in the beginning of Resurrections, they are benched in favour of a concept called “swarm mode”, where bots blending in as humans are turned against a target. So instead of the menacing and highly capable Agents we are subjected to normal people flailing around like they’re on some kind of bad acid trip. The bullet train scene is particularly awful.
Visually, we get sloppy camera work, an odd colour grading effect for scenes taking place in The Matrix (now completely devoid of the green hue) and there’s simply no special effects innovation in place – they had decades to improve upon or evolve the bullet time effect for a new generation but there’s just nothing here – Resurrections’ action scenes are generic at best. In fact, the beginning of the film attempts to recreate the opening of the original film and the overall look and feel is just inferior. Quite concerning that visual effects of the original film (now over 20 years old) are superior to this new ‘Matrix’. Perhaps most bizarrely though is Resurrections insistence of using a dated slow motion effect from the 80s/90s – it’s like they were deliberately taking the piss out of the franchise that pioneered the slow mo effect that would be used for decades to come.
Not to be misunderstood here, Resurrections is not a bad film, it’s just an underwhelming one. The Matrix means spectacle – I want to be amazed in the same way that made the original trilogy so captivating. Edge-of-your-seat action coupled with pseudo-philosophical lore. But, even Neo can’t save humanity this time around as he has been pretty much neutered and relinquished of this powers save for an overused bullet stopping effect that again just lacks the impact of the originals. In fact, Trinity, or Tiffany as she is named after being placed back into The Matrix does most of the heavy lifting, especially towards the end where she and Neo have basically swapped roles. Oh, how allegorical of Larry (sorry, Lana) Wachowski. Urgh, it’s all just so tiresome and dull. Even Resurrections’ closing song, Wake Up, as heard in the first Matrix film, originally performed by Rage Against the Machine has been replaced by a female led cover rendition by Brass Against. It’s a sad state of affairs when actual innovation and edginess is replaced by superficial gender swapping nonsense. I realize this is the current status quo of the world, but The Matrix has always been about pushing boundaries and fighting the system, not falling in line with it.
Another aspect woefully neglected in Resurrections is the score. How is it different? Well, once again a key component of The Matrix experience is missing. Don Davis who composed the scores for the original trilogy has been replaced by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer who previously collaborated with the Wachowskis on Sense8, and it shows. Gone are the awe-inspiring tracks such as Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burly Brawl, Neodämmerung or Navras, and in its place a forgettable and lackluster score. If I was to equate it to something, it feels like needing to poo, only to sit on the toilet for 45 minutes and be greeted by nothing more than a sad, wet fart.
Resurrections has some good ideas. I think the way that Neo and Trinity were revived was clever. Neil Patrick Harris’ Analyst made a decent antagonist and, yeah, no that’s it really. Resurrections just didn’t think big enough, didn’t have enough ambition to warrant its existence beyond being a shameless cash grab banking on Keanu Reeves’ popularity resurrecting a franchise that should have died when Neo did.