The Matrix Resurrections (2021): an intimate conclusion to the Neo saga

Don’t believe reviews that give this movie a kicking, it’s not that bad. In fact, in parts it’s rather good. One reviewer said it’s the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of this franchise, which feels apt. In that it heavily references events from the first three movies, sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes less so.

And therein lies the problem. Some fans were likely hoping for a hi-octane return to the world of the Matrix, with Keanu doing John Wick, but with added bullet time. That’s not what we get, at all. I feel the Wachowskis were never going to go down this route, particularly after the reception they got for the second and third films.

On that note, we don’t even get both of them back. Only one Wachowski (Lana) returned to direct, with the other (Lily) staying away. I get the sense that they were both burned by the creative process of having to deliver two sequels in one year (both Reloaded and Revolutions came out in 2003). Also, the first movie was so critically well received they were always going to be in ‘difficult second album’ territory.

Give us something new, but also more of the same please. The trouble is, this was never going to work. With the first movie we didn’t know what the world of the Matrix was or how it functioned. We learned about it as Neo did. By definition, sequels lose that mystery. We understand the world and how it functions. What else is new?

You could get that sense of mystery back a little by introducing new mythology, but you run the risk of getting overly convoluted and bogged down in nonsensical plot that no one cares about (Revolutions, we’re looking at you).

Enter Resurrections, nearly twenty years later.

With Keanu having had a career resurgence in recent years, on paper it made some sort of sense to revisit this achingly cool cyberpunk world. In some ways, Keanu had recent form, as he’d lent his voice to the character of Johnny Silverhand in the video game Cyberpunk 2077 (released September 2020).

I hugely enjoyed his character and performance in that game. Not that I was expecting him to do the same thing in Resurrections, but I like sci-fi Keanu. Add to the fact that he’s older and more grizzled, with a beard and long hair — he fits a futuristic and grimy noir environment well, whether that’s a cyberpunk city or the artificial world of the Matrix. Yet it’s still a video game and many of us wanted to see Neo in a movie one last time.

With Resurrections, the setup is much like various episodes of TV shows that you’ve probably seen, one where they take the hero and put them in ‘real world’ and have them question their sanity. An episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called ‘Normal Again’ does this really well.

I wish Resurrections would have fully explored Neo’s perception of reality.

It does do that, to a degree, but it also feels the need to do the usual Matrix stuff. I guess to appease the fans. So, inevitably, we have scenes we’ve seen many times before, but remixed, rehashed and reimagined — on purpose, I might add. Lana Wachowski knew what movie she wanted to make, and it’s up to us whether we want to get on board with that or rail against it.

For me, I enjoyed this greatest hits movie. I got to see older and wiser versions of Neo and Trinity, plus it had an injection of sexy young things in the form of Jessica Henwick (as ship captain Bugs) and Yaya Abdul Mateen II (a version of Morpheus).

I enjoyed how the movie embraced meta jokes around the filmmaking process, and had characters discuss the nature of the Matrix. I also enjoyed getting to spend more quiet time with Neo and Trinity. By this I mean, they weren’t running around shooting guns, but simply talking to each other. I also enjoyed Jonathan Groff’s role as a version of Agent Smith. He was clearly having a lot of fun.

In my mind Resurrections might have been better as a limited mini-series on one of the mighty streaming services out there these days. I get that the action is cinematic and arguably better on the big screen, but I also think that the cerebral sci-fi ideas it touches on might have been better suited to the small screen, and explored over a longer run time (say, 6 one-hour episodes). But I suppose that’s wishful thinking.

To conclude, I didn’t need Resurrections, but I’m happy it exists. Filmmakers can sometimes flog a franchise to death, so I’m glad one of the Wachowskis were able to deliver a movie that feels like a fitting end to the franchise. As it stands it’s got 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than I thought, given the vocal nature of some fans.

I think this movie, as the final one, will age well. Time will tell if I’m right, but it feels like a more contemplative and perhaps more emotionally-driven story than the first three.

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