The Matrix: Resurrections (2021): An Angry Critique of Modern Blockbusters

Images courtesy WB

The Matrix (1999) is one of the most iconic films of the '90s, coming out on the tail end of the decade to herald in a future full of computers and online connections. An intoxicating blend of highly stylized action and heady philosophy it enthralled audiences all over the world and changed the way Hollywood filmed action with its amazing "bullet time" technique. The two subsequent sequels were less successful and not as highly regarded by critics and audiences alike. So here we are almost twenty years after the end of the trilogy with a new sequel, The Matrix: Resurrections. Where can the franchise go after all of this? The answer is clear: we go meta.

The film follows Neo (Keanu Reeves) who apparently is living his life as a video game developer and is back to calling himself Thomas Anderson. He created a trilogy of games that mirrors the events of the Matrix films, based on his dreams of being Neo. He sees a therapist (played by Neil Patrick Harris) who tells him that his dreams are only that and prescribes him blue pills to ground him to "reality". Thomas can't shake these thoughts, however, and when he sees Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in a coffee shop the cracks in his reality start to become unavoidable.

This film is angry at the idea that the only way new ideas can get funded is through reboots and sequels. What can you do with the red pill/blue pill dichotomy when it’s been appropriated by misogynists and fascists? That is the post-Matrix reality that Lana Wachowski had to deal with head on. A world where the same ideas are used over and over again and only slightly "reskinned" to present the illusion that it's a new thing, an endless loop and artistic prison. 

The Wachowskis continually struggle to bring really high concept stuff to fruition and often end up with messy results and Lana expresses this frustration through this movie covertly disguised as a Matrix sequel. I am admittedly enamored at the idea of Lana taking the studio's money to make a film that has a character say out loud that Warner Brothers spent (and perhaps wasted) a whole lot of money and energy bring a franchise back from the dead. Lana is cynically aware that the fact that this film exists at all is a farce, but at the same time she loves the characters of Neo and Trinity too much to do them wrong. The only pure thing left in the Matrix franchise is their love story, and thus it is the one completely earnest element in Resurrections.

As a critique of the blockbuster film industry it works, as an action film it doesn’t work. The action is sloppy, full of choppy editing, shaky cam, and lackluster fight choreography. The original films had choreography from one of the masters of the genre Yeun Woo-Ping and it's hard to get back to those heights. It is also a symptom of modern film-making in general which has trended towards less attention to one-on-one fights and more emphasis on grand CGI spectacle. It's not as if Keanu Reeves isn't up to the challenge either as he has been kicking ass over the years as John Wick--it may also tie into the theme of Neo just not being as enthused to fight because he has been revived for a trite reason. Depending on what aspect of the Matrix franchise one likes more—the philosophy or the action, that will dictate how much one likes this sequel.

I respect what Lana is trying to say with this movie even if the execution of it is decidedly mixed. She swings for the stratosphere with some seriously gutsy decisions that will definitely be divisive with fans, and despite the fact that she might not have had another chance to make a film unless it was within the context of the Matrix, she still managed to inject it with a middle finger towards capitalism and the film industry. That's pretty punk rock, if you ask me.

--Michelle Kisner