Was war Die Matrix about, anyway?
In a gleaming video game studio office high above the San Francisco skyline, Thomas Anderson (a bearded and tired Keanu Reeves) oversees unsuspecting creatives on the effects of Die Matrix, released in 1999. (To us, it’s the movie franchise. To them, it’s a trilogy of groundbreaking games. The difference doesn’t matter.)
Die Matrix was original and fresh, says market research. Heads nod. But why? Very quickly and to the haunting melody of Jefferson Airplane’s hit “White Rabbit” from 1967, everyone reveals how little they – and we, the audience – actually remember Die Matrix. It was more than guns and explosions, even if that shit was tight as hell. So what was Die Matrix?
It is a question The Matrix Resurrections, wrestles with much of its two and a half hour runtime. While it’s too verbose to be clear-cut, its artistic panache, unrivaled oomph, and unabashed story of torn romance are transgressive enough to shock a system dulled from other overly awesome sequels. It’s the rare sequel that intelligently deals with nostalgia and the seductive power of stories. It’s a strange and surreal image, secretly satirical but never ashamed.
The Matrix Resurrections is far from perfect and does not break new ground like its outstanding predecessor. It knows it can’t, and that’s the point. As one figure observes in a meta-fashion, “Why use old code to do something new?” Why in fact.
“Transgressive enough to shock a system dulled by other all too awesome sequels. “
Even the basic plot of The Matrix Resurrections can be a spoiler, so I’ll keep it short: Neo (Reeves) returns to find himself in a new world and on a mission to save his true love Trinity (Carrie Ann-Moss, also in her role). He is supported by a new group of rebels led by punk ship commander Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and an alternate version of his mentor Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Meanwhile, there’s a new character played by a suffocating, misplaced Neil Patrick Harris, whose blue costume is a dead sign for a purpose that is supposed to be the third act of the film.
You have a lot of questions. What you get are weirdly awkward responses. The more Resurrections digs into its plot and lore, the more things feel scripted by an AI that has been fed CW scripts. With solo director Lana Wachowski (sister Lily is not involved), this execution feels satirical and deliberate. As half of the sisters who wrote and directed Die Matrix Many moons ago there is an unmistakable impression Die Matrix is the work she is most proud of – and the work she would rather leave behind.
By Neo, whose office is decorated with awards and Matrix merch, Wachowski is expressing his tiredness to return to “where it all started” (pronounced aloud by a sharp Jonathan Groff as a restarted “Smith”). Hysterical verbal references to Warner Bros. and his ruthlessness for a sequel with or without Thomas Anderson (read: Wachowski) do more to WarnerMedia brand awareness than anyone else Space Jam: A New Legacy.
In a monkey’s paw to the studio, Wachowski grills the only question that matters: What was? Die Matrix? If you ask her, it’s a love story. That was true of his slandered sequels, Reloaded and The revolution, and now it’s true. Weird views of Neo and Trinity soaring over sunsets like Disney kings are cheesy but adorable and serious. It is also in keeping with the later Wachowski era, the weaver of sublime epics such as Cloud atlas (2012), Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Netflix Sinn8.
With their heads always in the sky, the Wachowskis never seem to be down-to-earth as artists, which is especially true for everything that has to do with Matrix. It’s also plenty for the casual moviegoer who just wants the horny action and no big, intangible questions about love and legacy. Expect many in your movie theater (if you have chosen not to stream at home) to walk outside with angry, heavy steps.
but Resurrections isn’t in love with the past like other franchise sequels (2015 The Force Awakens and this year Ghostbusters: Afterlife come to mind) as much as it is haunted by it. Wachowski stages her film hyper-consciously, how inevitable Die Matrix is. Images from the saga’s past permeate both the universe (including projection on a screen to reflect current events) and rapid flashes of lightning that resemble passing memories with frequency. The film goes into the past at every turn – “Nothing comforts fear like a little nostalgia,” says a figure behind reflective sunglasses – but keeps things at a distance. There is a distance that cannot be seen, especially not in the middle of the bombardment of familiar images. But as Morpheus would say, you can feel it.
Unfortunately, Resurrections“Numerous allusions to the past call for comparison, and in many ways Resurrections falls too short. The film has a lot of ado around the wuxia-style kung fu of the original, including a “restart” of sparring between Neo and Morpheus. But the set is missing the choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, the Hong Kong legend, whose elegant craftsmanship is just as important Die Matrix‘s legacy as the Wachowskis’ transgressive storytelling. His absence is fatal Resurrections to a pale imitation and the tactical style of its substitute, John Wick Director Chad Stahelski, badly fits the fanciful premise of the franchise.
The absence of Yuen is also evident in a terrifying camera work that does not capture the thunderous intensity of every flying kick. The result is less of a lasting impression than the Neo and Trinity’s first flight.
George Lucas once said that Star Wars is like poetry. It rhymes. For Lana Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections is like a cover song. It kills. no matter how much Resurrections Traveling, even with its new characters coming and going miserably, underdeveloped, it becomes sublime when it realizes that it is devoid of the past and the expectations of decades ago. For as much as Resurrections is haunted by its past, it is not afraid of what lies in its future.
What did Morpheus tell Neo? “Free your mind.” How quickly we forget.
The Matrix Resurrections hits theaters and HBO Max on December 22nd.