The Matrix Resurrections

Neo and Trinity amid smoking rubble


Dull rather than dim,The Matrix Resurrections reanimates the corpse of the original and best of the previous three Matrix movies and sets off in the right direction before bogging down in the sort of world-building, lore-laden plotting that hobbled numbers two and three.

Some years have passed and Thomas Anderson (aka Neo aka The One but really Keanu Reeves) is now the world-famous designer of The Matrix, a trio of games that once took the world by storm. The games are still out there, though these days more in a legacy rock band kind of way. Resting on his laurels, Mr Anderson lives the gilded life of the successful and feted game designer. But he is troubled by hallucinations so vivid they seem to be flashbacks to a life he once lived, one involving slo-mo fights and long black coats. In fact these are, his analyst tells him, the disturbed fabrications of an unsound mind. We know otherwise. Especially as, in proper Matrix style, the analyst goes by the name of The Analyst (and is played with slick Bond villain unctuousness by Neil Patrick Harris).

Things kick up yet another level of meta-referencing when the company Anderson works for is commissioned by its parent company, Warner Bros, to produce a fourth Matrix game. Cue bright young gamers brainstorming their way into the world of The Matrix – handy bit of explication for those late to the party – and wondering if they’ll ever come up with anything to top “bullet time… we need a new bullet time”. Inert genius Anderson, meanwhile, looks on glumly.

The Matrix Resurrections teases. The tension is of the “when is Clint going to strap the guns back on” sort. And eventually, Neo/Anderson/Keanu does re-enter the “real world”, and for the noblest of reasons. He’s on a mission to save Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), now bumped up to full-bore love interest of a tortured sort. Why is Trinity going by the name of Tiffany? Does she know who she is? Is her loving husband (played, in a knowing bit of casting by Chad Stahelski, who was Keanu’s stunt double in the original films) really her husband? In fact is the real world really the real world at all, or in red pill/blue pill conspiracy style is humanity still being farmed in those giant hivelike structures while the rebel army darts about in what looks like a futile war of liberation? We know the answer to all those questions too.

Morpheus/Agent Smith with the red pill
Red pill? Morpheus, or is it Agent Smith?



Coat on, fray rejoined, fights incoming, this is a film relying on familiarity for a lot of its appeal. But there are noticeable absences. Laurence Fishburne most obviously, though there are enough callbacks to the first films to remind us how pivotal Fishburne’s Morpheus was in numbers one to three. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes a decent replacement as a character who appears to be both Morpheus and Agent Smith but the more he imitates Fishburne, the more Fishburne’s absence is felt.

Carrie-Anne Moss looks lithe, Keanu whisper-growls his way through a screenplay written to suit his almost Shatner-esque style of delivery, and lunges into action in a way that would be remarkable in a world without John Wick. “I still know kung fu,” he muses to himself at one point. And he does.

The first Matrix was a great action movie in a cool wrapper. Bullet time. That slo-mo helicopter crash. “Guns. Lots of guns.” The transcendent ammo-dispensing, concrete-shredding finale and all that. The second and third films had a commercial function – make money – but no artistic one. The story had been told, beginning, middle and end, Neo to the One, and did not need telling again. Or adding to with a smokescreen of pseudo-philosophical musing. Yap, yap, yap. Many extended scenes of excruciating tedium. Many over-enunciating characters with names like The Oracle or The Architect. Enter God, exit credibility.

There’s a bit of that going on here too. At one point The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) re-appears, for instance, babbles something incoherent and disappears again, his presence little more than chum for the lorehounds. On the upside there are fresh, action-style characters, like Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and Seq (Toby Onwumere) who fill the holes left by Switch (Belinda McClory) and Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) from the first film and who give the film its forward drive and much of its claim to relevance – they do new stuff.

In short, Matrix 4 never does come up with anything to outdo bullet time but it does at least have a go. It’s cool, fun and fascinating, some of the old magic still works and it’s the best Matrix movie since the first one. But then two and three were crap.




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© Steve Morrissey 2022









The Matrix

Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves, The Matrix

Who has not seen The Matrix? It’s the Gone with the Wind and Star Wars of our era, a phantasmagoria in black leather open to multiple readings that was already being described as mind-bending and complex before it even debuted. From this distance it all seems as clear as water – Mr Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a disaffected slacker/hacker is invited to visit another plane of awareness, from which vantage point he can see that the plane he once inhabited, what he thought of as the “real” world, is in fact a construct, assembled by a computer program. Strip away the program and in the real “real world” humans are being grown in tanks and harvested like battery chickens. This, Mr Anderson realises, is a bad thing.

 

The Matrix isn’t difficult in terms of plot – an eight-year-old can grasp it with ease – but it’s its openness to interpretation that gives it its power. The notion of the real world being a construct is familiar to anyone who’s read Marxist theory – it’s the idea of “false consciousness”, that we can’t see the world for what it is because we are labouring with the wrong set of ideas. “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth,” as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), the guide to this new way of seeing things, puts it. Add to the philosophical interpretation the religious one, with Mr Anderson aka Neo (an anagram of One) as Jesus, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) as his Mary Magdalene embarking on a “look but don’t touch” relationship with the saviour. Then again there are the obvious parallels with Alice in Wonderland – Neo in a world turned upside down, “tumbling down the rabbit hole” (Morpheus again). While we’re about it, let’s just mention in passing that Morpheus is the god of dreams from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses – his Book of Transformations. And now, years later, with the revelation that one of the film’s directors has changed name from Larry to Lana and is identifying as female, the whole aspect of Neo’s reprogramming, the chasteness of Neo and Trinity’s relationship, their similarity in looks suggests yet another interpretation – that they might indeed be a gender-flip of the same person? No?

Fanciful or not, it’s The Matrix’s openness to re-interpretation that keep it watchable. It’s as easy to pick holes in the film as it is with The Wizard of Oz (another fable of transformation and awakening) – the strangely slow speech of Morpheus and Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith, for instance, or the fact that, at bottom, The Matrix is an adolescent wish-fulfilment fantasy complete with portentous, “and then I save the world” plotting. Yes it is a fantasy, but the fantasy is perfect, complete – Neo quite literally goes on a journey from total ignorance of the world he lives in to complete knowledge of the entire universe. As for the sequels – they were made for financial reasons rather than artistic ones. The computer program got the upper hand there.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

The Matrix – at Amazon