It feels like only yesterday when Neo, Trinity and Morpheus in those cool, cool glasses, tight, tight leather pants, light, light kung fu postures, slow, slow action sequences, and deep, deep declamation swept us off our leaden 1999 feet. We had seen and heard little like it before, at least delivered with such panache. Free will vs destiny hit us long before we were confronted with those choices.
Twenty years later, The Matrix seems as fresh in its superlative tech slickness, and even more relevant in the issues it raised, as Elon Musk asks us to wonder about our realities, while Mark Zuckerberg tells us to live multiple ones. That leaves The Matrix Resurrections somewhere in the middle – the cutting-edge tech that made Neo fly then is now almost pedestrian, and while it still knows the right questions to raise, it’s not the only one raising them.
For a moment though, in the beginning, Resurrections takes us by surprise at how meta it is in realising its place both in the du jour, and in the wearing middle of a super-successful franchise. It’s sometime in the future after the last Matrix, and Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back to being Thomas Anderson. Unlike the recluse, illegal hacker of 1999 though, his talents have value now. And hence, he is a world-famous video game creator in a company owned by Warner Bros. (wink, wink). Anderson’s biggest creation is the game Matrix, and his fans can rattle off its concepts (choice, illusion, authoritarian regimes, fascist governments), but mostly to serve as hit ideas for a “sequel” (wink, wink).
So, did the world of Matrix from the previous films, which Neo remembers in flashes, really happen? Or has his mind imagined fiction from a video game to be fact – as his analyst (Harris, suitably killing it) tells him. Then why is it that Neo keeps feeling a close connection with a woman called Tiffany, and why does she look exactly like Trinity of the video game/the old films (Carrie-Anne Moss)?
Is truth hidden inside the very ordinary world of a video game, or is a video game crouching behind the very ordinary world of truth. Resurrections asks you to ponder that – again raising those very prescient questions about the world and who really are we in it. Unfortunately, it gives up on this ambition quickly, and a franchise that was as much about the mind as the machine keels unfavourably towards the latter. In the war that the film stages, there are no new things to fight over; in the battles these involve, there are no new milestones to cross.
Perhaps Lana Wachowski (one half of the directors who made the trilogy) realises that the glory Neo, Trinity and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) seek is only borrowed. And hence the film raises some questions regarding the eventual futility of wars, even ones fought for the freedom of mankind, and whose purpose do they really serve. It even acknowledges the undeniable comfort of continuity, compared to the uncertainty of disruption. However, this too remains an idea barely explored.
If Mateen is a very poor replacement for Laurence Fishburne, Groff can’t channel the chilling cynicism of the “System” as embodied by actor Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith. Resurrections does an equally great disservice to Merovingian, the silky operator of yore who, as French slipped off his suave lips, once purred, “Speaking French was like wiping your ass with silk”, and made a case for leisurely fine dining, “If we don’t ever make time, how will we have time”. Here, in torn rags, Merovingian screams out some half-intelligible babble about Zuckerberg and climate warriors, somehow to be linked to Neo’s rebellion.
While the others who make up the Neo team are as un-enchanting (Priyanka Chopra though has a decent, meaty role), there is some satisfaction to be had in Wachowski’s faith in ‘The One’ and Trinity, and in their love being able to move movies, if not mountains. This faith means that Reeves and Moss (and Weaving) of yesteryear, who were as much foils as almost-copies of each other then, can be older, slower, wrinklier.
Is choice merely an illusion, the Matrix wants us to muse. Certainly, the decision to revive Neo was dictated by studio pressures. But it’s choice that wins, not illusion, when Wachowski gives us a Neo and Trinity who are much too worn to bounce off walls or hang in the air. This, sir, is a very welcome real world.
The Matrix Resurrections movie director: Lana Wachowski
The Matrix Resurrections movie cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra
The Matrix Resurrections movie rating: 3.5 stars