1999’s The Matrix still remains unrivaled in many aspects, be it’s signature bold, sleek cyberpunk aesthetic or the groundbreaking action sequences bolstered by the concept of bullet time. The Matrix: Resurrections is a sequel/reboot that defies and subverts expectations, framing its narrative in the most tongue-in-cheek, meta way possible, while imbuing the franchise with even more heart. While Resurrections is a narrative mess at times and often plays the nostalgia card to painful lengths, it is a wonderful addition to a trailblazing franchise, brazen enough to mock its own legacy and celebrate love as an act of true rebellion.
Lana Wachowski’s core focus in The Matrix Resurrections – the love story between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) – is neither a brand new focal shift nor an afterthought. The entirety of The Matrix trilogy has been fueled by the concept of love, as Trinity’s faith in Neo in terms of him being the “One” is nothing but a demonstration of deepest faith and affection. What is love, if not an unconditional belief in the other person’s potential, a steady and unwavering faith even in the midst of abject uncertainty? Even when Neo himself is doubtful about his fate as the One, Trinity, and also Morpheus, have absolute faith in him, gently guiding him through his path in subtle and overt ways. The parallel between love and being the One has also been explicitly drawn by The Oracle, who says being the One is like being in love – no one tells you that you are, you just know, “balls to bones.”
Keeping these instances in mind, it is natural for The Matrix Resurrections to lean heavily into this trope, which is realized rather beautifully via “a nostalgic, albeit convoluted story” that pays off massively in the end. “The Matrix Resurrections” mirrors the opening sequence of 1999s The Matrix, reiterating Smith’s (Jonathan Groff) proclamation that we, as humans, are destined to tell the same stories in different ways, a loop of variables that are different yet vaguely familiar. The character of Bugs (Jessica Henwick) helps ground the narrative effectively, as she is the one who unites the disparate elements of the plot together, from reuniting with a Modal version of Morpheus to extracting Neo successfully back into the real world. The meta-jokes and in-universe callbacks are frequent, sometimes working in tandem with the plot, and at other times, not.
The iterations of Morpheus and Smith are realized in fresh, interesting ways, although the absence of Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving does hang over the counterpart performances to a certain extent, despite smooth interpretations of the iconic roles. The baffling, overarching questions raised by Resurrections are answered in due time, but not in the way one would reasonably expect. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, as Resurrections openly mocks its own legacy, throws quips at its parent company, and manages to throw in a deliberately underwhelming end-credits scene just to make a joke. While these creative risks can be baffling at times, the core intention behind Resurrections is heartwarmingly sincere, as it bolsters a love story with the ability to defy the harshest of odds and destabilize an intricate simulacrum governed by master handlers and manipulators.
In terms of performances, while Reeves and Moss are wonderful on an individual level, the true magic lies in their intense chemistry together, much like Neo and Trinity within the ambit of the saga. Groff and Abdul-Mateen II bring considerable panache to their roles. At the same time, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Niobe is a steady, familiar presence, who ties in the past with the future in a meaningful manner. However, it is Henwick’s Bugs who steals the show, imbuing the brand new character with a balanced amount of bravado and empathy. In essence, The Matrix Resurrections might not be the kind of sequel/reboot that caters to mass expectations. Still, it definitely is One that dares to rage against the dying of the light, the result being an audacious odyssey.
The Matrix Resurrections is a 2021 Science Fiction Action Thriller film directed by Lana Wachowski. It is streaming on HBO Max.