2021 has been a massive year of nostalgia when it comes to cinema, between Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Spiderman: No Way Home, Dune and many other sequels and remakes, and even in other media, with bands like ABBA coming back with new albums decades after their last. And The Matrix Resurrections is no exception: a sequel to a perfectly self-contained trilogy, suddenly coming out of nowhere twenty years later and literally bringing the main characters back from the dead. And it’s not like it was released in 2019 back when Keanu Reeves was the biggest fad in Hollywood in order to cash in on his name. So why does this movie exist? Well, of course, the easy answer is money, and I don’t think there’s really a deeper reason than that. In fact, the Wachowskis didn’t want to make it at first, considering the trilogy too personal and something to be left in the past; and Lilly never changed her mind on the subject, leaving Lana to direct the movie on her own.
But what I really like about the movie is how self-aware it is of its nature as a nostalgia-filled cash-grab sequel. At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced back to Neo, or rather Mr Anderson, who is back in the Matrix with no memories, where he is now an award-winning video game developer who developed a game trilogy titled The Matrix, which is basically the original movie trilogy, which he has no idea is based on his actual memories. And after twenty years, his studio’s parent company, which is none other than Warner Bros. itself, asks them to make a sequel to the trilogy, and the viewers are treated with the hilariously self-aware and ironic comedy of Anderson and his team discussing how to keep their sequel as fresh and original as possible, with one of them arguing that they don’t even have to care about being original because audiences will eat it up regardless just because it’s Matrix. To me, this is what sets The Matrix: Resurrections apart from similar movies: instead of being cynical and insisting that it is a high-quality movie that needs to exist, it openly admits that it only exists for nostalgia and money, and tries its best to be good and fresh in spite of it. And the audience also gets some good laughs in the process.
But beyond this, the movie itself is actually a lot better than what I was expecting and complements the original trilogy really well by showing the results of Neo and the others’ efforts and how society changed after the events of the films, something that was left ambiguous at the end of Revolutions. The story takes place sixty years later, and the world is now divided in two. In one part, humans and machines are now living in harmony and working together to recreate the world and nature as they used to be, while in the other, machines are still reigning supreme and farming humans plugged to the Matrix for energy, except these humans are actually happy to be in the Matrix and don’t want to get out. This latter part is a bit questionable in today’s COVID context, and someone who isn’t aware of what The Matrix is actually about might think that the movie is about some “New World Order” conspiracy and was made by conspiracy nuts, especially since it literally uses the word “sheeple”. But of course, that’s not what it’s about at all, and this premise is simply adding a new layer of nuance to the original’s trans allegory. Maybe some people are actually content with living in the Matrix, and that’s okay. In fact in the end the Matrix even becomes a brand new opportunity for people to express themselves and do whatever they want, after Neo and Trinity take control of it and are free to make any changes they want to it, so why not embrace it?
Wait, but why are Neo and Trinity alive in the first place? Didn’t they both die at the end of Revolutions? Did they really bring back dead characters just to make a sequel? Well, yes, but it’s done in a way that surprisingly makes sense, and is the basis of the entire plot. The main antagonist, an evil version of the Architect called the Analyst, has taken control of the Matrix after destroying the Architect and is now ruling over it, taking advantage of humans’ unwillingness to escape the Matrix in order to perpetuate the machines’ rule. But with humans and machines now living in harmony in other parts of the world, machines were running out of human batteries and thus of energy, and this scarcity was causing machines to wage war on each other until the Analyst realised that Neo and Trinity would be able to provide much more energy than any number of other humans combined, and resurrected both of them before plugging them back into the Matrix with no memories. The Analyst is originally introduced as Anderson’s therapist, who helps him deal with what he thinks are hallucinations when those are actually his memories coming back, and the Analyst is posing as a therapist and prescribing him blue pills to prevent him from realizing it and escaping the Matrix before his true nature is eventually revealed about halfway through the movie. Neil Patrick Harris’s charismatic portrayal of this new villain is definitely one of the highlights of the movie, providing just as masterful of villain performance as he did in A Series of Unfortunate Events back in 2017.
But in the end, what truly surprised me about this movie is how it avoids falling into the trap of bringing down the old characters to prop up the new ones that this kind of movie tends to fall into (looking at you, Star Wars). If anything, it gives Neo and Trinity a second chance, turning the bittersweet ending of the original into a happy one where they live happily ever after. And while Morpheus is dead by the time the story happens, we learn that he eventually became the new leader of Zion, and was one that everyone looked up to. The only other character from the original who is still alive is Niobe, who is now an old woman and the leader of the new city of Io, and while she gets the Luke Skywalker treatment of being turned into a grumpy boomer whose character development took a 180 at first, she eventually becomes sympathetic again after the main characters help her get her taste for adventure back instead of dying before having the time to. And the new characters, the crew of the Mnemosyne and their captain Bugs (Jessica Henwick), are surprisingly endearing as well, and a fresh new addition to the Matrix universe. And then there is “Morpheus” (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an AI-based on the original’s personality that Neo subconsciously created within the Matrix, who helps the main characters get Neo and Trinity back from it. Abdul-Mateen’s take on the character is vastly different from Laurence Fishburne’s, trading the stoic badass personality for a loud and extravagant one, and while the character is a bit obnoxious at first, he eventually becomes more likeable throughout the movie and is definitely an interesting way to bring back the character in a way. And then there is “Smith” (Jonathan Groff), who was also recreated as a recast alternate version of the character, and is now friends with Neo, although their relationship is more of a love-hate one than really a friendship.
But in a way that remains true to the originals, this new Matrix movie is not without flaws either, and the biggest one is the same as that of the originals: it’s confusing. The introduction sees two of the new main characters stuck in what appears to be a time loop within the Matrix, only for this plot point to be dropped entirely pretty early into the movie, leaving the viewer wondering why it was even there. Additionally, it takes a while for the viewer to understand why Neo is back into the Matrix and what is going on with Trinity, and the new version of Smith is an all-around confusing character, going back and forth between being Neo’s friend and trying to kill him seemingly at random and with no explanation, before eventually betraying the Analyst and seemingly becoming the new villain, only to disappear and for the Analyst to come back instead. But hey, I guess it wouldn’t be a Matrix movie if it weren’t confusing.
In the end, I still think The Matrix: Resurrections was an unnecessary sequel, but it actually turned out to be one that I don’t regret watching. It gives the old characters the best endings they could get while also introducing us to new ones, shows the positive results of their actions and gives hope for the future of the Matrix world, and the generous use of archive footage from the original movies all but reinforces the movie’s purpose as a nostalgia trip. The Wachowskis understandably didn’t want to make this movie, but I think Lana went at it in the right way, and hopefully, this sequel’s self-awareness will make it the cash-grab to end all cash-grabs. One can hope, right?
The Matrix Resurrections opens in cinemas Boxing Day