'The Matrix Resurrections': A Subversive Sequel That Reckons with Its Own Existence
Updated: Jan 24
It's a fair assumption that most people tend to think of The Matrix franchise, they think of the original film that started it all. Most people tend to ignore the sequels, and write them off as bad movies. The sequels are definitely more polarizing and received mixed reviews, but still managed to make a fair amount of money at the box office. While the first film is a bit more rooted in world building and action sequences, the sequels allowed The Wachowskis to get more experimental, and delve into the philosophy and lore of the world they created. Even though the sequels weren't as popular with audiences, the first film has stuck around in pop culture, and has had more of a lasting legacy. The first film was a phenomenon, but in the years since, it seems that people have taken a variety of different ideas and meanings from it. Some view it as an action film, some view it as a political statement, and some view it as a deep work of sci-fi that must be studied to be understood. I don't feel like I have the authority to say that any of these readings are right or wrong, as there are several interpretations to be made from the film. These different takes are just one of many things that Lana Wachowski tackles in The Matrix Resurrections, which ends up being a meta-narrative about the trilogy as a whole, as well as the current state of mainstream cinema.
In an age where cinema is dominated by sequels, reboots, remakes, and films based off existing IP, a continuation of the Matrix franchise was bound to happen sooner or later. In fact, there have been attempts to do just that in the years since the last film was released in theaters. But it wasn't until late 2019 that it was finally announced that a sequel was being made, and that Lana Wachowski was returning to direct. There was a lot of curiosity surrounding the project, as this would be the first time Lana directed without her sister, and because this sequel was coming nearly 18 years after the last installment. I personally felt that The Matrix Revolutions ended things on a rather finite note, even if it was a bit of a rushed and messy one. But given the Wachowskis' track record of making wild, yet intriguing films, I was still a bit optimistic that regardless of quality, this would at least be interesting to watch. As it turns out, the film is a worthy addition to the franchise, even if it isn't the sequel that most people would have expected.
The film brings us back to the world of The Matrix, and while most would be expecting it to be full of action and massive setpieces, Lana Wachowski opts for a different approach. Make no mistake, there are some action sequences, but the film is more concerned with returning to the lore of the franchise, and reckoning with it's place in the grand scheme of things. It's a sequel that is somehow both for and not for fans. The fans that appreciate the original trilogy in all its messy glory will probably like it, but those that disregard the sequels will probably hate it. This is a film much more concerned with bigger ideas, and those expecting a mindless action movie will be sorely disappointed.
When I first heard that the film was more meta, I thought that surely people were reading a little too far into it. But from the first scene, it is abundantly clear that the film is taking direct aim at the current state of big-budget filmmaking, and even goes after Warner Brothers themselves at one point. I don't want to go into too much detail on plot, but the film opens with more of what people were expecting from the film, before taking a sharp turn into unexpected territory. The result is a deconstruction of the franchise, and a sequel that questions its own existence. It's a critique of the type of film people have come to expect, and this is likely to make people angry. The points that Wachowski is trying to make might go over the heads of certain audience members, or they will be upset about what she is criticizing. Either way, this film is definitely going to be a hard pill to swallow for some.
I have already seen people complain about the action in the film, and while I wouldn't say it is the necessarily best in the franchise, it's still pretty solid if you ask me. There is a bit of choppiness to it, especially in the earlier part of the film, but given what Wachowski is trying to convey about blockbusters, it feels rather deliberate. It feels like she's giving the audience what they think they want, so it is funny to me that this aspect has received some of the loudest criticism. I personally feel that the action isn't the main point of the film, so it didn't bother me all that much. That being said, there are some pretty good setpieces here. The third act especially is incredible, and even more so when you consider the stunts and visual effects that went into it. Speaking of visual effects, this film looks incredible, and the VFX are one of the film's best assets. The film uses a fair amount of practical effects, but even the CGI looks better than most other films of this level. The film is also shot rather well, and pulls off some highly impressive camera moves, especially in the action sequences.
This film also has a rather robust cast, which blends returning cast members like Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, with a host of new actors. Reeves and Moss are spectacular, and the film is largely centered around the relationship of their characters. They are great individually, but still have the same excellent chemistry they did in the original trilogy. While they are the stars of the film, the supporting cast shines just as bright. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, and Neil Patrick Harris are all great, but I was particularly impressed by Jonathan Groff. This is a much different role for him, and he pulls it off amazingly. He blends smarminess with villainy so well, and is easily one of the biggest standouts here.
It feels strangely appropriate that this film came out less than a week after Spider-Man: No Way Home. In many ways, they are the antithesis of each other. Where No Way Home is admittedly a film geared towards fans of Spider-Man, and is more concerned with giving them what they want, The Matrix Resurrections is more content to disregard what the fans want, and to simply tell the story that Wachowski and her co-writers want to tell. If you feel that media is entitled to give you what you want, this film won't be what you're looking for. But if you are more intrigued when filmmakers deliver something unique and risky, you will likely be a bit more favorable towards it.
I will be the first to tell you that this film is a bit of a mess, but that's not a bad thing. This film features the type of risky filmmaking that I've come to expect from The Wachowskis. It's not for everyone, but I have a strange appreciation for their style. With this particular film, not everything works, but the parts that do work really hit with me. Some of what Lana Wachowski is saying gets a bit lost, but what comes across clear has quite a bit of substance to it. The film also gets bogged down by exposition, which is a bit frustrating, but also speaks to the ambition that the franchise has. This film has received a divisive response so far, with some gravitating towards absolutely loving it, and some absolutely hating it. I definitely lean towards the former, but I can't say I'm over the moon like some of its biggest supporters seem to be. I get some of the hate the film is getting, but at the same time, I don't fully get why people are reacting so negatively to it. I get not liking it, but some of the more extreme reactions seem hyperbolic to me. I'm still processing the film a little, but I just don't think it's nearly as bad as some are making it out to be. I do feel that I need to give it another watch to get a fuller opinion on it, but I think that this is the sequel that the franchise needs, even if it is not what the fans want. Your mileage will surely vary when it comes to this film, but as for me, I admire its ambition and feel that it is one of the more audacious blockbusters of the past several years.