No one needed another Matrix movie. The original from 1999 defined an era. The two sequels from 2003 were convoluted and forgettable, although they had some wonderful images. Everyone, including the Wachowski sisters, agreed that the story was done.
Everyone, that is, except Warner Brothers. There are still billions to be made from schmucks like me who will blow ten dollars to see star-studded garbage with Star Wars or Star Trek or some other beloved franchise in the title. Hollywood is recycling every last property, and Matrix could not have avoided the treatment forever.
For the first 45 minutes or so, Matrix: Resurrections shows the contour of a brilliant satire of the soul-sucking market logic that led to its creation. Just over 20 years ago, the office drone Thomas Anderson realized he was trapped in a giant simulation designed to exploit him and everyone else. He led a fight for liberation and became Neo.
A thousand books have been written to analyze the original film. Right-wing conspiracy theorists have taken up the metaphor of the “red pill” to describe someone realizing the world is controlled by Jews, feminists, or baby-eating celebrities. Yet the most interesting theory — since confirmed by the directors — says that Neo’s journey represents the struggle of trans people to break through the oppressive gender binary.
In the new film, Thomas Anderson is back in the office. Apparently, Neo was sucked back into the Matrix at the end of the third film? It was hard to understand at the time and it’s even harder to remember today. Anderson, with long hair and a beard, is now an acclaimed video game designer, celebrated for a game trilogy called — what else? — The Matrix.
His loathsome business partner informs him that their parent company, Warner Brothers, is going to force them to make a fourth installment. If they refuse, the studio will just make it without them. For a second, it seems like this film might be a Charlie Kaufmanesque masterpiece. We see a director (only one of the two sisters was roped in for this) railing against a corporate system that is far less humane than the Matrix.
The following sequence, full of trance-like repetition and the psychedelic wobble of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” is sublime. Anderson sets out to make the mandated sequel. Two decades ago, The Matrix presented corporate life as monochrome drear. Now, capitalism has put us into a round-the-clock cacophony of notifications and messages. Keanu Reeves, playing Neo but channeling Wachowski, is forced into endless meetings where a group of bros (later unsurprisingly revealed to be computer programs) discuss what made the original film a hit and what would make a new film pulse.
Anderson has to wonder if the story from his game is in fact real, or if he is suffering from a psychotic episode. As he downs endless blue pills, it’s clear that Lana Wachowski must have also felt like she was losing her mind.
After 45 minutes, however, all of this lovely ambiguity is resolved and the fourth wall is put back in place. We are left with almost two hours of more or less pointless set pieces as Neo realizes that he is in the Matrix and he needs to rescue Trinity, his great love from the first three films.
Except: Were Neo and Trinity such a great couple? Didn’t they draw together while they were busy with much more interesting things? The old Neo was fighting for the liberation of all humanity; now we are asked to believe that he is interested in absolutely nothing but LOVE (TM). It is awfully creepy that he dedicates his life to a woman whom he briefly dated 20 years earlier, and who doesn’t seem to remember him.
Hollywood, in the age of capitalism’s decline, cannot seem to picture anyone fighting for anything except heterosexual coupledom. What an end for a film that once called for total war against established gender norms! (The new pictures features plenty of queer characters and symbolism against the binary, yet this has no relevance to the plot.) It is particularly hard to care about this couple, because any spark between Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss is relegated to endless clips from two decades ago.
Everything about Resurrections — the costumes, the sets, the music – is a cheap copy of what made the original shine. One of the bro writers within the film points out, correctly, that a sequel would need something as cool as “bullet time” was in 1999. What they come up with in the actual film is … too depressing to recount here. There aren’t even any cool fights or chases. Instead, a zombie-style sequence is supposed to generate some excitement.
One interesting shift: the evil program Smith, representing relentless, inhuman evil, was once modeled after an FBI agent with sunglasses and a dark suit. The reprogramed version is now a tech CEO wearing loafers with no socks. Millennial viewers clearly know what their enemy looks like.
Everyone will go into Matrix: Resurrections understanding this is a profoundly unnecessary film. The script, thrashing around for a theme, makes references to social media — is the Matrix making us angry so we generate more heat for it? — but cannot settle on a message.
The film is all the more disappointing because the introduction shows the contours of what could have been a brilliant film. It’s too bad that Hollywood is creating a world as bland and predictable as life in the Matrix.