After years and years of Warner Bros. trying to find a way to successfully bring back the Matrix, Lana Wachowski finally takes on the challenge without the directorial support of sister Lilly for the first time in her career. But this is no family feud, in fact, it’s quite the opposite in the case of The Matrix Resurrections. Following suit with the recent Hollywood trend of reboots, revivals, and “legacy sequels,” the studio had explored various ways of relaunching their famed Matrix IP, with or without the Wachowskis. This included basic cash grab ideas such as a possible young Morpheus prequel and other in-universe spin-offs. Whatever was being discussed, original star Keanu Reeves made it clear that he would only return if the Wachowskis were heavily involved. This is a large part as to why, despite only Lana directing, The Matrix Resurrections feels like a familial achievement.
Lana has referenced the loss of her parents as a big motivating factor in developing Resurrections. In her grieving process, she suddenly found Neo and Trinity again and says that her “brain just exploded this whole story” over one night. You can actually feel Lana capture this lightning in a bottle while watching Resurrections, as her high spirit and vivid intent is present throughout. If there was ever a way of bringing back this iconic series and doing it justice, this is surely it. But bringing back classic worlds with care and respect is only half the battle, and is often prioritized more than actually finding something new to say (see the Star Wars sequel trilogy). It’s in this regard where Resurrections is one cut above recent Hollywood comebacks. It’s bold and a bit nostalgic, though full of new ideas that build upon what this series has always been about at its core: free will and choice.
Lana Wachowski redefines what we’ve now come to know as the legacy sequel. These types of films can easily be described as soft reboots of sorts, where plenty of information is provided so the audience doesn’t necessarily need to have seen the original films while still giving them ways to enter the franchise as new fans. Most of these examples also follow the bare-bones plot structure of the first film, giving long-time fans something to recognize and new viewers an understanding of what the series is all about. Resurrections skews from this path, as it certainly introduces fresh faces and prospects for incoming audiences to cling on but is undeniably a direct sequel to the previous film, Revolutions. Suffice to say, it hugely helps to have seen each of the last 3 entries for Resurrections to hit its full impact. Though if you haven’t, Lana chooses to snippet a slew of old footage for various contexts in the plot, and even if it is quite helpful, it does happen a little too often. Perhaps that’s at the cost of directly continuing a story 18 years later?
Some are bound to be critical on what Resurrections chooses to borrow from the past. It’s familiar enough at first, Neo is trapped in the Matrix against his own will at a desk job, meets “Morpheus” who offers him the choice of red or blue pill, and its third act largely revolves around plugging back in to rescue a loved one on a suicide mission. But no matter how many times you think you’ve seen this story, you haven’t seen this one. This tale is so much more than just a rehash, Lana carefully chooses what to reuse and gives herself more than enough room to imbue Resurrections with its own DNA. Equal threads of meta-commentary and original sci-fi interweave the narrative together, making this feel totally different from the last three films yet similar enough to be recognized as a true-to-heart sequel. The most impressive feat is just how meta it goes – Lana going as far as to make Neo a surrogate for herself being pestered by Warner Bros. to make Matrix 4 – while still making complete sense for this specific story and never being too self-indulgent. It’s the right mix of poking fun at yourself + serving the film’s themes.
However, in spicing up the legacy sequel formula, a few things are left out of proportion. Much of the lore building is exquisite, but exposition dumps bring the film’s pace to a screeching halt at times. It’s not easy being tasked with catching everyone up to speed and progressing the universe further, and it mostly succeeds until the film’s two and half hour runtime starts to weigh in. Another element that is bound to draw attention is the execution of the action. The Matrix is known as one of the most influential action series of all time, so any new entry has high standards to live up to. Resurrections delivers the goods, with a few memorable set pieces the work swell in the scheme of all things, yet some of the grandeur of the previous films is not present. Where every single hit was able to be clearly seen and felt before, some are lost in translation through the editing here. Still, Lana is evidently going for something visually different with Resurrections, and the action proves to be leagues above the current blockbuster usual.
The bond between Neo and Trinity is the emotional centerpiece of Resurrections, and it couldn’t be more gratifying to see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss share the same screen presence they did two decades ago. The longing to see them together once more is enough to get you across even maybe the elements of the film that are the least to your liking, and when they are allowed to reconnect, you’ll remember just how powerful big-budget storytelling can be when pure, unfiltered romance is allowed to shine front and center. Lana fueling this narrative with Neo’s heart-aching desire to reunite with Trinity is the most admirable, and hits a deeper chord given her own personal life when writing the film. Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s names should not go unsaid as well when speaking of the cast, as they inject a great liveliness into the film. Especially Henwick, who feels like a bonafide movie star in the making.
Like any honest Wachowski project, you can tell that The Matrix Resurrections is destined for some blowback from vocal people online. And that’s fine, the film makes plenty of distinct choices that aren’t very concerned with wide audience appeal, either with its meta framing or how it chooses to progress certain old characters. But this is the kind of idiosyncrasy such blockbusters should aspire to, given that it’s what made the classic Matrix films stand out in the first place. Lana Wachowski lives up to her standards of crafting stellar science fiction while setting a new bar for why any studio or creative should want to resurrect IP in the current filmmaking landscape. If there’s any possibility that this is the start of a new trilogy, then this is not only how you set yourself above from the competition, but make it completely worthwhile.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The Matrix Resurrections hits theaters December 22!
Follow Managing Editor Andrew J. Salazar on Twitter: @AndrewJ626