We live in a time worthy of awe.
It’s fitting that Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections has come out against Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that I enjoyed and that I acknowledge is the personification of the nostalgia ouroboros in which we live our daily lives. One film plays on how desperately we miss simpler times, calling everything to itself to run a charming but hollow victory lap, while the other constantly toys with expectation and dares to question the very reason for its existence. Reviving this analog franchise for the social media age is a risky move, but the concept’s very resistance to compliance and the efforts it makes to be new and different are what make it stand out.
Much like Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), formerly known as Neo, I’ve felt trapped in a loop for quite some time. Treadmills are wonderful for exercise, but when everyday life starts to feel like running to nowhere things get sticky. Thomas is seeing an analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) after a suicide attempt, each day a struggle to accept his reality when he sees the cracks in the world around him. See, Thomas is a world-famous video game designer that is best known for his Matrix Trilogy. After pouring so much of himself into these games his grasp on reality slipped, leading him to believe he can fly. The cracks in the world are still there, though, and his mind is feeling a bit funny after a run-in with soccer mom Tiffany (Carrie Anne Moss). When his partner, Smith (Jonathan Goff), reveals in a familiar tone that their parent company is demanding the fourth game with or without their involvement (a delicious dig at Warner Brothers), Anderson begins to experience further suspicions that nothing is right about the world.
And why wouldn’t there be something wrong with it? Gone are the green tinting and hyper-stylized action sequences (don’t worry, there’s some of it), traded out for the warm colors of Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky if it were transported to lovely San Francisco. Neo is no longer draped in a leather cassock, instead just dressed like a normal human being. He’s retained his John Wick look, but the performance is as pure as you’d expect for a Matrix film. Dropping this bored, depressed, tired individual into this new reality makes for an unsettlingly personal look into the mind of Lana Wachowski herself, perhaps no more obviously than a montage of ennui as a bunch of nerdy game designers and marketing experts (blink and you’ll miss Christina Ricci) attempt to break down what exactly The Matrix is and what it meant to people.
Lana’s answer? “Fuck off, this is a romance!”
Whatever your issues with The Matrix Resurrections, it is achingly personal and sincere. While blockbusters like Ready Player One and Spider-Man: No Way Home weaponize our nostalgia for cheaply hollow emotional resonance (it works on me, I admit it), the new Matrix film dares to deliver real sentimentality and chemistry between its leads that has nothing to do with their previous performances. We don’t need to know everything about the original trilogy (though it helps) because so much of it has permeated our culture. We know what taking the red pill does, and it isn’t what a bunch of conservative incels have co-opted. We know Neo and Bullet Time, Morpheus and black leather, and we know just how wild a fight scene can be. None of that is necessary now, instead relying on our knowledge to remind us that the Wachowskis consider love to be the most powerful force in the universe.
This has always been the message of the franchise. Most remember the original film for its action and imagery, forgetting that Neo is Sleeping-Beautied back to life with a kiss from Trinity. The romance wasn’t exactly the theme of that film, so for a sequel the sisters simply made the onscreen couple horny as hell for one another. Twenty years later the two still have real chemistry, but their love has grown up as well.
It’s helped along, of course, and there’s a wonderful new cast of characters to explore, from the blue-haired Matrix fangirl Bugs (Jessica Henwick) to the new, younger, lounge-singer-esque Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and no version of this adventure could exist without acknowledging its past characters. The shadow of those films looms large over this one, daring it to follow in their footsteps and almost angry at its refusal. The Matrix Resurrections is a film about the legacy of the franchise and its effect on those that grew up with it, daring them to be as creative and depressed that they just wanted more of the same. Bugs and Morpheus are those fans, along with a slew of other obvious one-to-one representations of those inspired by the original film.
The Matrix Resurrections is going to piss a lot of you off. It should, as it’s aggressively screaming about how bored it is by what most of us want in a legacy sequel. I’m undeniably in love with this beautiful little romance, at one point crying so hard because it made me think of how much I love my fiancee. That’s the type of film this is, and it makes no apologies. It doesn’t need to, and it commands as much respect as you have ever had for originality and creativity. Give it a go, and when you’re mad that it toyed with your expectations ask yourself…would you really have been happy if it met them?
The Matrix Resurrections is currently in theatres and streaming on HBO Max until January 22nd.