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The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

The Matrix Resurrections' is brilliant, but not for everyone | Engadget

DIRECTOR: Lana Wachowski

CAST: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett-Smith

REVIEW:

More than a few franchises have overstayed their welcome—Alien, Predator, Terminator—and The Matrix arguably never needed sequels to begin with. The 1999 original movie, while a bit style over substance (though it wasn’t devoid of the latter) and not having aged well in a couple aspects (its overinflated sense of its own leather jacket-clad, sunglasses-wearing coolness included), was a kinetic and hyper-stylized blast. Alas, its lackluster sequels, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, fell victim to Pirates of the Caribbean Sequel Syndrome, following up a comparatively simple and straightforward original with overly padded sequels getting bogged down in labored convoluted “epic” mythology and taking themselves way too seriously. And now, almost twenty years later, Lana Wachowski (no longer co-directing with her sibling Lily) has brought us The Matrix Resurrections, a movie way past its sell-by date. An uninspired, messy, and often incoherent hodgepodge, undeservedly self-satisfied with its own copious and heavy-handed meta self-referencing, Resurrections is a turgid slog, a movie that’s not only hard to follow, but doesn’t make us care enough to bother. If this was the best the still-involved Wachowski sibling could come up with after almost two decades of developing a continuing story, The Matrix should have stayed dead.

The opening act sends us down an ultra-meta self-referential rabbit hole. Despite their apparent self-sacrificial deaths in the previous trilogy, Thomas “Neo” Anderson (Keanu Reeves) and the love of his life Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) have been resurrected and reinserted into fake lives inside the computer simulated world known as The Matrix. Why, you might ask, would the machines controlling The Matrix bring their archenemies back from the dead? The movie strains with coming up with a credible answer beyond “because the filmmakers wanted Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss back” (as will be made clear, they were unconcerned about Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving). In this rebooted version of The Matrix, Neo is once again a computer programmer, only he’s now an ultra-successful video game designer world-famous for his trilogy known as none other than…..The Matrix. Neo’s business partner Smith (Jonathan Groff) is pushing him to come up with a sequel on behalf of their benefactor Warner Bros., but Neo is having problems. He’s recovering from a past mental breakdown and suicide attempt with the “help” of an oily therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), who is obviously more than he seems, and tormented by dreams that lead him to suspect the events and storyline depicted in his Matrix video games aren’t just fiction (why, that they might have even actually happened in a past life!). And he’s particularly fixated on a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), whom he keeps running into in a coffee shop and looks an awful lot like the Trinity character in his games. Things come to a head when an AI program modeled after the original Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and free human resistance fighter Bugs (Jessica Henwick) reach out to Neo just as Morpheus did twenty years ago. Soon we’re back to red pills and blue pills, but the reawakened Neo will find a few things have changed, and his biggest challenge will be getting Trinity to snap out of it.

The Matrix Resurrections: Release date, cast, plot & more | SYFY WIRE

The Matrix Resurrections is one of the messiest, most incoherent orgies of incomprehensible plotting and meaningless special effects in recent memory, and if the nonsensically convoluted plotting doesn’t make a convincing case for why the machines kept their archenemies Neo and Trinity alive, it’s even worse when it throws revamped versions of Morpheus and Smith (not really an “Agent” anymore) into the mix. The hazy explanation for this artificial pseudo-Morpheus is unsatisfactory, and it makes even less sense what this version of Smith is still doing here, and the movie continuously throwing in archive footage reminding us of the original versions of these characters only makes the pale shadows calling themselves by their names here more lacking. The movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with Smith—who’s not even the primary antagonist this time, and in fact more of an uneasy ally—making his inclusion pointless except in an ineffectual attempt at earning still more nostalgia points that don’t work without Hugo Weaving. For as much as the script tries to make the “love story” between Neo and Trinity the center of everything, it’s haphazardly developed and disjointed. Whether it’s the passage of time, or the lack of involvement from her sibling, Lana Wachowski proves unable to resurrect (pun intended) the level of kinetic stylization that distinguished and energized the first movie. Resurrections directly invites references to the original film at every turn with copious callbacks, snippets of archive footage, and references of the most heavy-handed sort—the prologue sequence directly reenacts that of the original, right down to some dialogue—but this only highlights how flat and rote everything here feels by comparison. Even the kung-fu fight scenes aren’t very impressive this time around, clumsily-choreographed in quick cuts and closeups. The unsmiling, eternally suit-clad and sunglasses-wearing Agents are no longer intimidating. Actually, since Neo and Trinity can block bullets and fly, there’s not much sense of stakes in the action sequences. There’s a cosplay feel to the proceedings here that the movie only invites further upon itself by inviting so many comparisons to its predecessor. The original movie’s kinetic prologue rooftop chase kicked things off perfectly. Its near carbon copy here is flat and unexciting.

The acting is spotty. Keanu Reeves in the original Matrix wasn’t a great performance, but his performance here by comparison makes one feel like he’s lost what mediocre acting abilities he once possessed, veering between gravelly-voiced woodenness and scenes that are overwrought to the point of being unintentionally comical. At this point, after all the passage of time, Reeves is now better-known as John Wick than as Neo, and indeed his performance here often feels like he’s acting more like John Wick than like the Matrix protagonist. Carrie-Anne Moss, still looking good twenty years later, is more steady, but Trinity is seen mostly through Neo’s eyes, leaving her potentially dramatically fertile character arc—realizing her husband and children are part of a simulation—sketchy and underdeveloped. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Groff, as the revamped Morpheus and Smith, are imposters, and any hope they had of making the roles their own are undermined by the filmmakers intercutting their performances with archive footage of Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving (the movie’s failure to bring back Fishburne and Weaving was a sore spot for many fans, and Fishburne’s case was particularly egregious as, while Weaving had scheduling conflicts, Fishburne was not even asked to return). Abdul-Mateen seems to be enjoying himself, strutting around in the trademark sunglasses and a flashy suit and dropping a few one-liners into his exposition as a somewhat more sardonic Morpheus variation, but his version lacks the depth and gravitas of his predecessor. And, while Jonathan Groff can be entertaining in his own right in roles where he’s not competing hopelessly with an iconic predecessor, suffice it to say that he’s no Hugo Weaving. Jessica Henwick fares a little better by virtue of getting to play an original character and not playing a pale shadow of someone else, but her “Bugs” is thinly-developed and doesn’t make much of an impression. As the primary villain—insofar as there is one—Neil Patrick Harris has a little fun chewing scenery with a few snarky one-liners and a Villain Monologue or two, but he’s not the most intimidating of “big bads”. Apart from Reeves and Moss, the only series veterans to reprise their roles here are Jada Pinkett-Smith—buried under age makeup—and Lambert Wilson, whose Merovingian has, shall we say, fallen on hard times and is disappointingly wasted for someone whose deliciously oily charm made him one of the few highlights of The Matrix Reloaded.

Not having been a big fan of the prior sequels, Resurrections has only reaffirmed my opinion that the original movie didn’t need sequels in the first place. Instead of expanding the mythology and furthering the story in worthwhile directions, the sequels have proven the originality and innovation of the original is well and truly extinguished. Ironically for its title, Resurrections demonstrates only that this franchise should have stayed dead.

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