I said in a blog post last year that I was not sure whether I wanted to go and see The Matrix Resurrections. So many of these sequel/reboot-many-years-after-the-originals-but-with-the-same-actors films that Hollywood has chucked out in recent years have just been rubbish – why go and see another one?
In the end it was just curiosity.
I have a tendency to waffle on, so I’m going to start with my conclusion. If you haven’t seen this film yet, there’s no point seeing it. It’s not good. That’s not to say that there weren’t one or two nice moments – there were – but overall this is a confused mess of a film. The pacing is all over the place; it feels like it should be three films rather than one, but if it were three films, they’d probably be even less enjoyable. Its use of music, dialogue, and imagery are undistinctive, and not reminiscent of that of the originals. And it feels like a fan film more than a sequel.
That last point is the main one. This really felt like a fan film. This film undermined the consistency of the world of The Matrix – contradicting many established rules. Normally I would find that very annoying with a film (I did with The Last Jedi), but with this film I don’t. I think that’s partly because I was expecting this film not to be great, and to do something like that, but also because this film seemed so much like a fan film, that it simply doesn’t register with me as being part of the Matrix series.
There are many reasons why it seemed more like a fan film. One is just the aesthetic of the film – this film had a completely different aesthetic to the other three. The aesthetic of the first three films was very distinctive, and a big part of what made it iconic. The green tint of the computer-generated world of the Matrix, the monotonous architecture, the excessive orderliness of things in the background – all of these things gave the films a distinctive aesthetic. And it reinforced one of the key ideas in the film as well – that there is something wrong with this simulated reality, and you can tell that there is, but you can’t necessarily put it into words. There appears to have been no attempt to replicate this in The Matrix Resurrections, however. The Matrix of this film appears to be bright and colourful. It appears to have the same level of disorderliness as the real world.
The music of this film is completely undistinctive. Even immediately after watching the film, I couldn’t remember any of it. But even more than just being forgettable, I noticed, even as I was watching the film, that the music was not used to any great effect. It should be obvious to any filmmaker – particularly one as experienced as Lana Wachowski – that music can greatly heighten a scene if used correctly. The music of this film was generic, and added nothing to any scene.
And a third reason – a very big reason – why this film felt like a fan film was the dialogue. I think there were only four actors in this film who reprised their roles from previous films – Keanu Reeves as Neo, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, and Lambert Wilson as The Merovingian. For all four of them (although mainly for Neo and Trinity as they were on-screen much more than the other two), their dialogue seemed completely dissimilar in tone to what it was in the previous films. The most jarring example of this was at the end of the film, where Neo and Trinity confront the new Architect character (who apparently is called The Analyst – a nice reference but lacking in the dramatic weight of ‘The Architect’ (the character I think was also badly cast, and lacked the ‘unknowability’ of The Architect or the other machine characters from the original films). Neo’s and Trinity’s lines in this scene are sarcastic, banter-y, and quippy – entirely unlike how they spoke in the original films. It is a style of dialogue that plagues American films, and rarely works.
Dialogue like this – that is so unsuited to the characters – is often an identifying feature of fan fiction – where the writer just wants to have the characters play out the scenario in their head, having given little thought to whether the characters would do or say the things they are made to.
All of this is made worse by the film trying to be very meta. Now, I like things that get a bit meta – when done well, it can really enhance a film (see Deadpool). However, it can also backfire, and it did with this film.
At the start of the film, Neo is in a new Matrix, and he believes that ‘The Matrix’ was a world-famous computer game he developed. The games company that he works for has now decided that they are going to make a fourth game in this ‘Matrix’ game franchise. And various characters say all the same things that have been said about the original Matrix films and the possibility of there being a fourth film: The Matrix was original; it was different; it was philosophy, but exciting; it’s a metaphor for capitalism; it’s a metaphor for being transgender; it was about cool action scenes; it was about ‘bullet time’; a fourth one can’t be a reboot. There’s even the idea of the creator of the Matrix (in-in-universe Neo, out-of-universe the Wachowskis) not wanting to make another game/film in the series, but being forced to by the parent company or studio. They even name-drop Warner Bros. as the ones making them do a sequel in the film!
And I think the makers of this film thought it would be clever to put this in. But it actually just comes across as pre-empting criticism of the film, while also kind of being a dig at the studio. I think the makers of this film thought this would be clever because surely an even better Matrix simulation than the first one would be one where people could even be aware of the idea of a Matrix but still not perceive it. Because making a fourth Matrix film despite the original creators not wanting to is a form of control, similar to the Matrix simulation itself, and being meta is a way of referring to the Matrix that is our real world, where this system of control exists. It all sounds clever, but it just breaks the immersivity of the film.
The whole opening to the film is us seeing a new version of the opening to the original Matrix film. We follow it through some new characters, and the whole thing just feels like someone pointing at the original film and just going ‘Look! See! Wasn’t that cool!’. When the new Morpheus appears to Neo for the first time, he says the famous ‘At last.’ line, and then talks about how he wasn’t sure about the callback but that it was hard to resist. (He then makes a joke about the rather mundane setting – this film tries to be funny in places too and it REALLY doesn’t work.)
All these references back feel like the makers of the film trying to give the fans what they want, while also saying ‘fuck you’ to them. It’s like they’re saying ‘Fine. You want the same thing over and over again? Here you go!’
And there are SO. MANY. CLIPS. from the previous films. Every opportunity the film can find to put them in, it does. And this is just disastrous – the films spends A LOT of time reminding me of better films I could be watching. This has got to be the number one thing not to do in a film: don’t remind the audience that they could be watching something else.
The film feels like a ‘fuck you’ to the studio, who, presumably, forced the making of a sequel, a ‘fuck you’ to the fans, even though only a very small number of them actually wanted a sequel, and for shallow reasons. It feels like the makers of this film both hate it, but also think they did something very clever with it anyway.
The only points in the film that were interesting were where any world-building was attempted (which I consider to be an indictment of the people who think that world-building doesn’t matter – it was the only interesting thing in this film). Learning what happened after the events of the third film was interesting.
However, this was catastrophically undermined by much of that world-building making no sense, or leaving vast, unsatisfying gaps. It’s a nice idea that perhaps some of the machines came over to the human side, but … why? Why actually wasn’t there peace? Why did some of the machines remain at war? This idea goes no further than an aesthetic in the film – some cool-looking machines on the human side. If the Anomaleum, where Neo and Trinity are kept, is so vital to keeping this new Matrix running, why isn’t it more heavily guarded? Why aren’t there sentinels in the main chamber?
Why can’t Neo fly? He can later – what was stopping him? This is just dismissed as a joke in the film. He can now seemingly project force-fields with his hands, which he couldn’t do before (except for bullets) – why have his powers gone forwards in some ways but backwards in others? Why does Trinity also have ‘The One’ powers at the end? (This could be explained by the fact that it’s a new Matrix simulation, with different flaws to the last, resulting in two ‘The One’s, but this kind of undermines the unknowability of ‘The One’. There was previously this implication that no-one really knew why ‘The One’ existed in the first place – not even the architect – just that it was inevitable, and that the extent of his powers – which worked outside of the Matrix – were also unknown. He was described as being able to change whatever he wanted in the Matrix, but we never saw that in the original films – the most unusual thing he did was to fly. At the end of this film, they can literally do whatever they want with a Thanos snap.) Why does the new Architect have control over bullet time? And why does he lose that control at the end of the film?
The film has big pacing problems. We go from the Matrix being back to the new Architect being defeated in one film. One film reverses the ending of the last film, and then repeats it. Has doing that ever worked in a film?! The final sequence is played like a ‘heist’, cutting back and forth between the planning and the action, which is not at all what you want from a Matrix film, and certainly not for your big finale.
And the action scenes in the film are dreadful. The way martial arts are used in this film is undistinctive and forgettable. The way guns are used is undistinctive and forgettable.
The Merovingian comes back, but only for one scene. He doesn’t appear to move from one position, and I don’t recall him actually interacting with the other characters – his scenes might even not have been filmed in the same room as the other actors. He just shouts at Neo for a bit. What a waste.
So, all in all, there’s almost nothing to like about this film. It shouldn’t have been made. Its main redeeming quality is that it seems so unlike a Matrix film, that it’s easy to mentally discard it, and continue enjoying the original three.