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.

The Matrix Resurrections – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2022


Anthony looks in the mirro

Gory but not too scary, 2021’s Candyman is a direct sequel to 1992’s Candyman, which means it builds on the narrative and the lore of the first film rather than the 1995 and 1999 sequels. It also builds on the lore and narrative of Tony Todd’s Candyman, the first mainstream black horror whacko, someone to be pitched alongside Freddie Kruger or Leatherface in a nightmare beauty pageant.

Clive Barker wrote the original story, The Forbidden, and set the action in rundown Liverpool. Bernard Rose relocated the whole thing to Cabrini-Green in rundown Chicago for the 1992 version he adapted and directed, reshaping the story to his liking – for example, in Barker’s version Candyman would appear if you said his name out loud 13 times. Rose slimmed it down to five. Tony Todd himself came up with the backstory of Daniel Robitaille aka Candyman, the artist son of a slave who had the temerity to fall in love with a white woman and ended up at the wrong end of a lynch mob, had his hand amputated and then was stung to death by bees.

The 2021 version kicks off with unsettling opening credits – mirror images of the usual studio and production house credits, while Sammy Davis Jr sings The Candy Man song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the pitch varying drunkenly. We’re once again in Cabrini-Green, which has been gentrified in the intervening decades, where artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Matten II) and his gallerist partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris) find their “first world problems” lives disrupted by Anthony’s discovery of the Candyman legend. Hook-handed Candyman himself arrives not long after, and Anthony himself starts transforming into Candyman: The Next Generation after being stung by a bee.

Director Nia DaCosta’s version is lushly gorgeous, and uses gore effectively and sparingly. She gives us occasional money shots of, say, a neck ripped open and arterial blood pumping life onto a floor. But for the most part she works through suggestion. One foolish person after another summons the unquiet spirit by intoning the word “Candyman” five times in front of a mirror, but most of the deaths happen off screen, a long way off, through a distancing window pane or on the other side of a toilet cubicle.

Shadowplay to explain the Candyman myth
Shadowplay gives us Candyman’s backstory

No matter how unimpressive you find the original film, that “say his name five times in a mirror” idea was and remains a piece of storytelling genius and is so powerful that every time someone in this movie starts doing it, it’s like the beginning of a gruesome countdown, tension ratcheting with every repetition.

Jordan Peele wrote the treatment, along with Win Rosenfeld and DaCosta herself, and it’s tempting to see Candyman as an attempt to say something about the new universe created by Peele’s Get Out, which not only asserted that a black character could anchor a mainstream horror movie but went on to prove it when the film became a massive worldwide hit.

Candyman 2021 inhabits this universe and points out it’s not an entirely comfortable place to be. Are Anthony and Brianna just characters in this movie or are they black characters? Do they live in a post-racial world or a white world accepting them on suffrance? At one point, Anthony is being snootily addressed by a white art critic who doesn’t much like his current work. Her appetite sharpened, the critic moves on to discuss the part in Cabrini-Green’s gentrification played by Anthony and “your kind”. Anthony responds with an affronted “Excuse me!?” I meant artists, the critic says. He, rushing to judgment, had thought she meant black people. Maybe she did. Later, while Brianna does a bit of routine networking with a fellow black art curator, a neon art installation blinks away behind them as they chat. It reads, “You’re obviously in the wrong place”.

It’s all fascinating, stimulating, thought provoking and will give media studies students plenty to work through, much as the original movie did, though all this subtext does tend to slow things down, especially when comparisons are drawn between the original Candyman, lynched artist Daniel Robitaille, and the update, comfortably-off painter Anthony.

The result is a good horror movie with ambitions to relaunch the franchise. It might. It’s decently acted and slickly directed, and it has “something to say”. If it’s a bit too tasteful, you can put that down to the times we live in. This is genre, but gentrified. Put another way, a bit more Tony Todd would not have gone amiss.

Candyman – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021